Rick Gosselin’s 2010 NFL Special Teams Rankings
Second crown for New England special teams coach Scott O'Brien
(Published February 2011)
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are a powerful combination on the football field. So are Scott O’Brien and Belichick.
Belichick hired O’Brien as his special-teams coach in his first venture as an NFL head coach with the Cleveland Browns in the early 1990s. In 1994, the Browns led the NFL in special teams and captured a wild-card playoff spot.
But Browns owner Art Modell spent 1995 laying the groundwork to move the franchise. The Browns finished 5-11, skipped town and left Belichick behind. Modell fired him.
Fifteen years later, Belichick again hired O’Brien to coach his special teams. And again the New England Patriots qualified for the playoffs with the best special teams in the NFL, 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 Patriots finished first with a composite score of 269, five points better than the runnerup Tennessee Titans.
Seven playoff teams finished in the Top 10, including five division champions. But the Green Bay Packers finished 29th in special teams –Marc Marin tying the 2009 New Orleans Saints for the lowest finish ever by a Super Bowl champion.
The Patriots vaulted from 16th in the NFL in special teams a year ago to first under O’Brien. But the biggest leap in the rankings was staged by the Titans, who moved up 24 spots from 2009 in large part because of rookie return specialist Marc Mariani. Tennessee finished in the Top 10 in both kickoff and punt returns.
The Patriots did not lead in any of the 22 categories but finished in the Top 5 in 10 of them, including punt returns, scoring, blocked kicks and penalties. New England also finished in the Top 10 in two other categories.
Belichick has been building a younger roster in recent years and the Patriots finished the 2010 season with 23 players with two years or less experience.
Those young legs made the Patriots a faster, more physical unit on special teams _ also a more productive one. Second-year men Patrick Chung and Kyle Arrington and rookies Devin McCourty and Dane Fletcher combined for 47 tackles, a blocked kick and a fumble recovery in the kicking game.
In addition, Zolton Mesko had a superb rookie season as the punter with a 38.4-yard net average and only five touchbacks, and second-year return specialists Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman combined to run three kicks back for touchdowns.
Dallas tumbled from fourth in the NFL in special teams when the Cowboys were NFC East champions in 2009 to 20th in 2010 despite another superb season by punter Mat McBriar and the emergence of rookie Dez Bryant as a return threat with his two touchdowns on punts.
But the Cowboys ranked 27th in the NFL in kickoff coverage, lost three fumbles and suffered two blocked kicks. One of the fumbles and one of the blocked kicks were returned for touchdowns.
Another defending division champion that took a huge tumble was San Diego. The Chargers collapsed from seventh in 2009 to 32nd in 2010 and their failures on special teams caused them to miss the playoffs with a 9-7 record.
San Diego allowed five touchdowns on special teams and suffered five blocked kicks. Special-teams blunders contributed directly to the first three San Diego losses _ losses that allowed the 10-6 Chiefs to overtake the Chargers as AFC West champs.
Here’s a breakdown of the 22 categories:
Best: Atlanta, 26.5 yards
Worst: Cleveland, 17.0 yards
Best: Chicago, 17.1 yards
Worst: Pittsburgh, 6.1 yards
Best: Cleveland, 17.8 yards
Worst: Baltimore, 26.0 yards
Best: Cincinnati, 4.8 yards
Worst: San Diego, 18.9 yards
Best: NY Jets and Chicago, 31.5-yard line
Worst: Indianapolis, 22.7-yard line
OPPONENT STARTING POINT
Best: Atlanta, 22.2 yard-line
Worst: Minnesota, 30.8-yard line
Best: Dallas, 47.2 yards
Worst: Chicago, 40.1 yards
Best: Dallas, 41.7 yards
Worst: San Diego, 30.8 yards
Best: NY Jets, 42
Worst: San Diego, 13
Best: Pittsburgh, 40.4 yards
Worst: Arizona, 47.9 yards
OPPONENT NET PUNTING
Best: Chicago, 32.6 yards
Worst: Arizona, 41.4 yards
Best: Oakland and St. Louis, 33
Worst: Buffalo, 16
FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE
Best: Minnesota, 94.4 percent
Worst: Washington, 68.5 percent
OPPONENT FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE
Best: Atlanta, 65.2 percent
Worst: San Diego, 100 percent
EXTRA POINT PERCENTAGE
Best: 24 teams tied at 100 percent
Worst: Cincinnati, 93.7 percent
Best: Oakland 26
Worst: 7 teams tied with 0
Best: 6 teams tied with 0
Worst: San Diego, 34
Best: Seattle, 4
Worst: 12 teams tied with 0
BLOCKED KICKS AGAINST
Best: 13 teams tied with 0
Worst: San Diego, 5
Best: Oakland, 5
Worst: Four teams tied with 0
Best: Four teams tied with 0
Worst: Three teams tied with 4
Best: Atlanta, 7 for 53 yards
Worst: Philadelphia, 25 for 198 yards