Rick Gosselin’s 2006 NFL Special Teams Rankings
First crown for Chicago special teams coach Dave Toub
(Published February 2007)
There was something special about the Chicago Bears in 2006.
The Bears didn’t field the best offense or defense in the NFL but their special teams were second to none. Robbie Gould led the NFL in kick scoring with 143 points, and rookie Devin Hester exhibited flashes of Gale Sayers with six touchdowns on returns.
Excellence in the kicking game helped power the Bears to the Super Bowl last Sunday _ and Gould and Hester continue their seasons Sunday in the Pro Bowl. They make their debuts in Hawaii along with Chicago’s special-teams coverage ace Brendon Ayanbadejo, another first-time selection.
Hester added a seventh touchdown when he returned the opening kickoff 92 yards in the Super Bowl against the Indianapolis Colts. So it comes as no surprise that the Bears finished No. 1 in the NFL in special teams 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 Bears won with a composite score of 237.5, 2 ½ points better than the runnerup Tennessee Titans.
The Buffalo Bills, who finished first each of the previous two seasons, slipped to third in 2006.
Eight of the NFL’s 12 playoffs teams and five of the eight division champions finished in the Top 15 in special teams. But the Colts ranked 26th _ the lowest finish ever by a Super Bowl champion.
Dave Toub of the Bears is a rising star among NFL special-teams coaches. He was the assistant at Philadelphia when the Eagles led the NFL in special teams in both 2001 and 2003. He was hired by Lovie Smith in 2004 and has coached Chicago’s special teams to finishes of 10th, 11th and now first.
The Bears ranked in the Top 10 in 15 of the 22 categories, thanks in large part to Hester. His legs allowed the Bears to lead the NFL in special-team scoring with those six touchdowns, and Chicago also finished in the Top 10 in both kickoff and punt returns.
Gould set a franchise record with his 32 field goals and came within two points of breaking the club’s single-season scoring record. Then his 49-yard field goal in overtime lifted the Bears to a 27-24 victory over the Seahawks in the NFC semifinals.
The runnerup Titans also rode the return game to their lofty standing. Adam “Pacman” Jones returned three kicks for touchdowns and led the NFL in punt returns with a 12.9-yard average. Pro Bowl punter Brian Moorman was instrumental in Buffalo’s third-place finish.
Four teams made quantum leaps in the kicking game from a year ago and three of them converted that fine special teams play into playoff berths. Seattle jumped 25 spots from 30th in 2005 to fifth in 2006 and Detroit, the New Orleans and the New York Jets all jumped 21 spots.
For the second consecutive season, the Green Bay Packers finished last in the NFL in special teams. Arizona also finished in the bottom five for the second straight year.
Here’s a breakdown of the 22 categories:
Best: New England, 26.8 yards
Worst: Carolina, 19.4 yards
Best: Tennessee, 12.6 yards
Worst: Carolina, 4.6 yards
Best: Tampa Bay, 18.4 yards
Worst: Oakland, 28.6 yards
Best: Cincinnati, 5.6 yards
Worst: San Francisco, 13.2 yards
KICKOFF STARTING POINT
Best: New England, 31.6-yard line
Worst: St. Louis, 23.3-yard line
OPPONENT STARTING POINT
Best: Atlanta, 23.6-yard line
Worst: Oakland, 32.6-yard line
Best: Dallas, 48.2 yards
Worst: Jacksonville, 40.0 yards
Best: Kansas City, 39.2 yards
Worst: Jacksonville, 33.3 yards
Best: San Diego, 35
Worst: Pittsburgh, 11
Best: Kansas City, 40.8 yards
Worst: Houston, 45.3 yards
OPPONENT NET PUNTING
Best: Kansas City, 34.3 yards
Worst: Carolina, 40.7 yards
Best: Chicago, St. Louis, 32
Worst: Tampa Bay, 17
FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE
Best: Baltimore, 93.3
Worst: Dallas, 71.4
OPPONENT FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE
Best: Chicago, 66.6
Worst: Green Bay, 96.2
EXTRA POINT PERCENTAGE
Best: 22 teams tied at 100 percent
Worst: Cincinnati, 95.2
Best: 6 teams tied with 0
Worst: Chicago, 4
Best: Cincinnati, Minnesota, 4 apiece
Worst: 10 teams tied with 0
BLOCKED KICKS FOR
Best: Detroit, 4
Worst: 9 teams tied with 0
BLOCKED KICKS AGAINST
Best: 7 teams tied with 0
Worst: Atlanta, 6
Best: Chicago, 36
Worst: 14 teams tied with 0
Best: 11 teams tied with 0
Worst: 3 teams tied with 18
Best: NY Jets, 9 for 76 yards
Worst: Carolina, 23 for 195 yards