Rick Gosselin’s 2009 NFL Special Teams Rankings
Cleveland's Brad Seely wins a second crown with a second team
(Published February 2010)
The football axiom is that offense, defense and special teams all account for a third of the game.
But in Cleveland, special teams accounted for at least two-thirds of what made the Browns tick on the football field in 2009.
The Browns finished 32nd in the NFL in offense and 31st in defense this season but still managed to win five games. That’s because Cleveland fielded the league’s best special teams according to rankings compiled annually by Rick Gosselin.
The league’s 32 teams are ranked in 22 categories and assigned points according to their standing — one for best, 32 for worst. The Browns finished first in special teams with a composite score of 215.5 — a whopping 41 points better than the runnerup Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Four division winners finished in the Top 10 in special teams: No. 4 Dallas, No. 7 San Diego, No. 8 Arizona and No. 9 Minnesota. The New Orleans Saints finished 29th — the worst ranking ever for a Super Bowl champion.
Browns coach Brad Seely has worked this magic before in the kicking game. He was the special-teams coach of the top-ranked Indianapolis Colts in 1992, then won three Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots this decade before joining the Browns in 2009.
“It’s an attitude,” Seely said. “It’s guys taking pride in what you’re doing and wanting to be good _ feeling like they can be a positive factor in a football game. We’ve always stressed that wherever I’ve been _ special teams can help us win games. It’s a tangible thing — a belief that we can be the best at what we do this year.”
Cleveland won just one of its first 12 games, defeating Buffalo 6-3 on a pair of field goals by Billy Cundiff. Cleveland’s Blake Costanzo recovered a fumbled punt by Roscoe Parrish at the Buffalo 17 late in the game to set up the winning field goal.
Victory No. 2 in December came 13-6 over Pittsburgh. Josh Cribbs returned a punt 55 yards to set up the first field goal of the game and punter Reggie Hodges pinned the Steelers inside their own 15 with four punts to tilt the field in Cleveland’s favor all night long.
Victory No. 3 came 41-34 over Kansas City featuring kickoff returns of 103 and 100 yards for touchdowns by Cribbs. Phil Dawson then kicked three field goals apiece in season-ending victories over Oakland (23-9) and Jacksonville (23-17).
“You always talk about the hidden yardage on special teams,” Seely said. “But this (season) was a case where the yards weren’t so hidden. Our special teams were a factor in games and everybody could see it.”
The best player on the Browns was Cribbs, who was selected to the Pro Bowl as the AFC kick returner. He ran back three kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns in 2009 and finished among the team’s leading kick coverage players with nine tackles. Cribbs also started at wide receiver and took quarterback snaps in the Wildcat formation.
The Browns finished first in four of the 22 special-teams categories, including kickoff coverage and points scored. Cleveland finished in the Top 5 in seven other categories and the Top 10 in two more.
The Cowboys hired Joe DeCamillis as special-teams coach in 2009 and made the biggest leap in the rankings — 23 spots. The Cowboys climbed from 27th in 2008 to fourth this season.
Two other teams also made quantum leaps of 20 spots in the rankings, Miami and Arizona. The Dolphins moved from 30th to 10th and the Cardinals from 28th to eighth.
Here’s the breakdown of the 22 categories:
Best: Baltimore, 26.2 yards
Worst: Oakland, 18.2 yards
Best: Philadelphia, 13.5 yards
Worst: San Francisco, 4.4 yards
Best: Cleveland, 18.9 yards
Worst: Oakland, 25.7 yards
Best: Jacksonville, 4.2 yards
Worst: New Orleans, 14.3 yards
Best: Cleveland, 31.4-yard line
Worst: Oakland, 22.8-yard line
OPPONENT STARTING POINT
Best: Atlanta, 21.4-yard line
Worst: Pittsburgh, 31.3-yard line
Best: Oakland, 51.1 yards
Worst: New England, 39.0 yards
Best: Oakland, 43.9 yards
Worst: New England, 34.0 yards
Best: Arizona, 42
Worst: Green Bay, 15
Best: Buffalo, 41.2 yards
Worst: Seattle, 47.2 yards
OPPONENT NET PUNTING
Best: Cincinnati, 35.2
Worst: Seattle, 41.5
Best: Philadelphia & San Diego, 32
Worst: Indianapolis & Tampa Bay, 16
FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE
Best: Arizona, 94.7 percent
Worst: Tampa Bay, 61.5 percent
OPPONENT FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE
Best: Dallas, 69.2 percent
Worst: Denver, 93.5 percent
EXTRA POINT PERCENTAGE
Best: 16 teams tied at 100 %
Worst: Washington, 92.8 percent
Best: Cleveland, 24
Worst: 10 teams tied with 0
Best: 9 teams tied with 0
Worst: Pittsburgh, 30
BLOCKED KICKS FOR
Best: Tampa Bay, 6
Worst: 9 teams tied with 0
BLOCKED KICKS AGAINST
Best: 8 teams tied with 0
Worst: Carolina, 4
Best: Oakland, 5
Worst: 5 teams tied with 0
Best: 4 teams tied with 0
Worst: Washington, 5
Best: Atlanta, 6
Worst: Green Bay, 28