Rick Gosselin’s 2004 NFL Special Teams Rankings
First crown for Buffalo special teams coach Bobby April
(Published February 2005)
Every time Mike Martz fires a special teams coach, his St. Louis Rams take a step backward in the kicking game. There are no longer any backward steps to take.
Mike Martz fired Larry Pasquale after the Rams finished 20th in the NFL in special teams in 2000. Martz terminated Bobby April after the Rams finished 24th in special teams in 2003. This offseason Martz booted Mike Stock after the Rams finished 32nd in special teams.
Martz seems to think special teams are a coaching problem in St. Louis. Except that April, who was snapped up by Buffalo after his dismissal from St. Louis, coached the Bills to a No. 1 finish on special teams in 2004 in the annual rankings compiled by Rick Gosselin.
The league’s 32 teams are ranked in 22 categories and assigned points according to their standing _ one for the best, 32 for the worst. The Bills won with a composite score of 232, 43 points better than runnerup New Orleans.
The Bills scored a league-high 36 points on special teams and finished in the Top 10 in 15 other categories. Buffalo ranked in the Top 5 in three key categories: kickoff and punt returns plus kickoff coverage.
Terrence McGee returned three kickoffs for Buffalo touchdowns and was selected to the Pro Bowl. Nate Clements and Jonathan Smith also returned punts for touchdowns, and rookie Jason Peters returned a blocked punt for another score.
First-year head coach Mike Mularkey clearly made a commitment to April and special teams this season, and the kicking game helped boost the Bills to a 9-7 record, their first winning season since 1999.
Martz has never made that commitment in St. Louis — and the Rams endured the worst season on special teams by any club in NFL history with a composite score of 556.5. Their average finish was 25th for the 22 categories.
St. Louis became the first team in the 17-year history of the rankings to finish with a score in the 500s. The previous worst was the 499.5 points by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2003. The Rams also were 88.5 points worse than the Minnesota Vikings, who finished 31st this season.
The Rams finished 8-8 and still managed to qualify for the playoffs as a wild card. But they allowed a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown to Allen Rossum in their elimination game against Atlanta.
The New England Patriots slipped from fifth in 2003 to 21st in 2004 on the way to back-to-back NFL championships. That’s the lowest a Super Bowl champion has ranked on special teams since the San Francisco 49ers finished 20th in 1994.
The NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles finished fourth this season. The Eagles are the only team to rank in the Top 10 in special teams every season of the 2000 decade.
Jacksonville changed special teams coaches in 2004, replacing Bill Bates with Pete Rodriguez, and vaulted 16 spots in the rankings from last in 2003 to 16th in 2004.
But the team that made the biggest leap in the kicking game was the Bengals, who moved from 25th in 2003 to seventh in 2004. It’s the first time since 1995 that the Bengals have been out of the 20s, much less in the Top 10.
Here’s a breakdown of the 22 categories:
Best: NY Giants, 25.12 yards
Worst: Jacksonville, 19.07 yards
Best: Atlanta, 12.4 yards
Worst: Tennessee, 4.3 yards
Best: Dallas, 17.4 yards
Worst: St. Louis, 25.5 yards
Best: Atlanta, 4.1 yards
Worst: Indianapolis, 13.6 yards
Best: NY Giants, 31.8-yard line
Worst: St. Louis, 24.5-yard line
OPPONENT STARTING POINT
Best: Atlanta, 23.6-yard line
Worst: St. Louis, 31.3-yard line
Best: Oakland, 46.7 yards
Worst: NY Jets, 38.2 yards
Best: New Orleans, 38.9 yards
Worst: Kansas City, 31.5 yards
Best: Chicago, 35
Worst: Kansas City, 12
Best: NY Giants, 38.9 yards
Worst: Denver 44.7 yards
OPPONENT NET PUNTING
Best: Chicago, 31.98 yards
Worst: Tampa Bay, 40.2 yards
Best: New England, 31
Worst: Chicago and Tampa Bay, 15 apiece
FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE
Best: New England, 93.9 percent
Worst: Chicago and Tampa Bay, 62.5 percent
OPPONENT FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE
Best: Tampa Bay, 64.5 percent
Worst: Arizona, 96.1 percent
EXTRA POINT PERCENTAGE
Best: 23 teams tied at 1.000 percent
Worst: Miami, 96.2 percent
Best: 6 teams tied with 0
Worst: Cleveland, 4
Best: Cincinnati and Philadelphia, 4 apiece
Worst: 9 tied with 0
BLOCKED KICKS FOR
Best: Oakland, 4
Worst: 12 tied with 0
BLOCKED KICKS AGAINST
Best: 12 teams tied with 0
Worst: NY Giants and Tennessee, 4 apiece
Best: Buffalo, 36 points
Worst: 12 teams tied with 0
Best: 7 teams tied with 0
Worst: Arizona and New England, 18 apiece
Best: NY Jets, 8
Worst: Washington, 27