The Third Phase

Neil Hornsby talks enhanced special teams coverage in a new weekly piece designed to shed light on those excelling in the Third Phase.

| 4 years ago

The Third Phase

third-phase-wk02bSince Day 1 here at PFF we’ve had an ethos of continuous improvement — take what we do well and make it better, take what we do less well and make it very good.

In the offseason, a number of the NFL teams who are our customers asked us for additional information this year. One of the messages that came through strongly was about improving our offering with regard to special teams. So we went out to them, sat down with their scouts and coaches and worked with them to develop a new data stream. It included full player participation (including positions and roles), the collection of new special teams metrics  and also more time spent grading the players themselves. Previously this had been almost impossible because of the requirement for high quality All-22 footage and until this year it had never been filmed in HD. Thankfully that all changed in 2013.

While the detailed data is limited to the teams we support we wanted to give you, our readers, some of the benefits of this work by providing a new weekly article we’re going to call “The Third Phase” [NB. Thanks to Khaled for the name]. While it will tangentially mention kickers, punters and returners, this is really about giving more notoriety to the guys who do the “heavy lifting” – effectively those players who would be eligible for the Special Teamer role in the Pro Bowl.

So, starting with this article and going forward, we’ll be ranking our top five special teamers each week, giving you some detail about why they were selected, mentioning some plays to look out for and also listing the guys who each week picked up the top honor. So, without further ado, here are the best special teamers of Week 2:

1. Blake Costanzo +4.5 – Chicago (19 snaps)
Roles (including snaps): KO Returns (7), KO Coverage (5), Punt Returns (4), Punt coverage (3)

While he only made a single tackle, Costanzo turned that into a forced fumble which effectively sealed the game for the Bears. However, a single hit wouldn’t have been anywhere near enough to win him top-billing on it’s own. It was his work on kick-off returns that saw him block his way to the top. On at least three separate occasions, his blocking was instrumental in securing Devin Hester space to work including a quality piece of work on the R4 (Audie Cole) on Hester’s 80-yard return.

2. Tommie Campbell +3.5 – Tennessee (22 snaps)
Roles (including snaps): Right Gunner (8), KO Coverage (6), Vice (4), Punt coverage (4)

Some gunners would be happy with five tackles in a year, never mind a single game, as Campbell had here, and his relentless pursuit of the Texans’ Keshawn Martin led to the dangerous returner only averaging 1.7 yards per punt. Not happy with that, he also made gunner Brice McCain’s life difficult when playing vice, running him out of bounds and to then to ground with 11:29 gone in the third.

3. Justin Bethel +3.0 – Arizona (24 snaps)
Roles (including snaps): KO Coverage (7), Gunner (5), Vice (5), KO Returns (4), FG Blocks (3)

Although things didn’t start so well, picking up an unlucky penalty for running into kicker, David Akers after just missing the ball, he later managed to get around Israel Idonije to claim the block and keep the Cardinals within three points of the Lions. However, although he was charged with that penalty, he drew two as well; needing to be dragged back by Dwight Bentley on a punt and DeJon Gomes on a kickoff.

=4. Jeremy Lane +2.5 – Seattle (16 snaps)
Roles (including snaps): KO Coverage (6), Vice (4), Gunner (5), FG Block (1)

He made life for 49er gunners Trumaine Brock and Perrish Cox uncomfortable all night and despite being given one-on-one responsibility on every occasion – perhaps the most difficult job in all of football is playing solo vice – he did a superior job. To be fair, there is a slight caveat on this grade, Brock is not one of the NFL’s top flyers and Lane had nowhere near this success last week going against the Panthers, Armond Smith.

=4. Eric Weems +2.5 – Chicago (19 snaps)
Roles (including snaps): KO Returns (7), KO Coverage (5), Punt Returns (4), Personal Protector (3)

Playing on exactly the same units as Blake Costanzo, Weems has completely different roles including a position that is unusual to the Bears, that of “punt fullback”. When in punt formation Weems is sent back with the punt returner and has the responsibility of blocking for Devin Hester, picking up stray gunners and the like. As well as working diligently in that capacity he also made the smartest play of the week, knowing that when Marcus Sherels flicked the ball back on a punt, in an attempt to down the ball inside the five, he could batt the ball out of the back of the end zone with impunity, saving 15 yards.

NB: These are just a few of the Special Team ratings we have. For every player graded please subscribe to our Premium Statistics:

PFF Special Teamer – 2013 Roll of Honor


Winner Team Comment


David Bruton Denver One blocked punt, a penalty drawn preventing him from blocking another and quality blocking for the returner when the Ravens actually managed to get the ball away.


Blake Constanzo Chicago Consistently excellent blocking on kick-off returns and a forced fumble when covering a kick-off.



Follow Neil on Twitter: @PFF_Neil


| PFF Founder

Neil founded PFF in 2006 and is currently responsible for the service to the company's 22 NFL team customers. He is constantly developing new insights into the game and player performance.

  • andromeda

    What position does ‘Vice’ mean please?

    • Keith Myers

      he Vice is the guy who’s in charge of blocking the gunner on punts.

    • PFF_MattC

      On punt return, it’s the spot(s) split out wide against the gunner doing press cover/blocking.

  • ItsJustWerner

    This is a very nice addition. Special teams is actually what turned me into a Bears fan. But this let’s be appreciate all-the-more the other players on the field other than Gould or Hester.