If anybody in the league has been obsessive about special teams in the modern football era, it’s Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. From Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski giving Belichick two decades of consistency at kicker to some elite coverage units, New England has often set the standard.
While they did manage to sneak into the postseason and earn a matchup against Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills, they did so in spite of their special teams and not because of it. It appears that Joe Judge at least had one area of expertise, as the Pats are struggling to replace him.
For the first time since Drew Bledsoe’s sophomore season in 1994, the Patriots rank as a negative special teams unit in DVOA. That unprecedented streak of consistency has been snapped due to an unusual influx of penalties and miscues that are unbecoming of a Belichick team.
The frustration boiled over during a Week 18 loss against Miami, as special teams coordinator Cam Achord was throwing a tablet on the sideline after an illegal formation penalty from defensive lineman Lawrence Guy.
Isn’t this the same franchise that drafts special teamers like Nate Ebner and employs Matthew Slater?
The New England Patriots have poor special teams this season.
The Patriots are one of the worst punt coverage teams in the league, which almost sounds impossible to believe. In fact, only five teams allowed more punt yards per return than New England. Three of them missed the playoffs, and two of those three are the lowly Bears and Jets.
Jake Bailey is not averaging as many yards per punt as he did in his standout rookie season, and they have seen three punts get blocked this year. Throw in some unnecessary penalties and you have a recipe for disaster on that unit.
Things aren’t all bad, however. Nick Folk hasn’t missed a single kick inside of 50 yards this season. Bailey is still ranked top 10 in the league in terms of yards per punt while returner Gunner Olszewski is second in yards per punt return. The penalties and poor execution has been what’s killed them.
While their playoff matchup against Buffalo could be decided by who controls the line of scrimmage or which of the two quarterbacks is more efficient, it would not be unreasonable to assume that making some clutch field goals or winning the field position battle could change the balance of power in this game.
Slater better have these guys ready to play come Saturday.