Sticking out like a sore thumb, the Giants special teams are a complete abomination. What can they do to improve this languishing unit?
Incredulously, Giants management made a misguided decision to keep special teams coach Tom Quinn on the Giants payroll.
This video from the Eagles debacle serves as painful reminder. The Giants must FIX their special teams! From mistackles, to inconsistent punting, to a putrid return game and lack of touchbacks, Quinn has a lot of work to do. And if you thought the special teams were frightening to watch, they look even worse on paper. According to the data provided by the Football Outsiders, the Giants were ranked 30th. So with Quinn still on board, is there any hope for improvement?
The answer is “yes,” if head coach Tom Coughlin takes a page from his former mentor Bill Parcells. Parcells, a special teams wizard especially on punt returns, knew the impact special teams has on the outcome of football games. Parcells called this hidden yardage. Back in 1997, Parcells took over a Jets franchise which was in total disarray. His initial focus: special teams. Why? “The quickest way to get better in the NFL is with special teams,” Bill Parcells says. What did Parcells do to shore up a lackluster Jets special teams that the Giants can emulate?
1. Bring in a kicker who can boom the football. In 1997, at that time, John Hall led the NFL in touchbacks with 29. Because Hall had 29 touchbacks, the Jets lead the league in drive start differential. Having an upper hand on field position puts a team in a better chance to win games. The Giants should do the same. Bring in a kicker or kickers to challenge Lawrence Tynes. Although Tynes is accurate on field goals (82 percent conversion rate), his short kickoffs is an area of concern. In 2009 and 2010, Tynes had only Six touchbacks. Certainly, the Giants can do better in this area especially with the new rule change. If there is a 2011 season, instead of kicking off from the 30 yard line, a kicker will place the football on the 35 yard line.
2. Improve the return game. When taking over the Jets, Parcells had to improve the return game. They were dead last in the NFL. During the 1997 draft, Parcells drafted Leon Johnson. Johnson improved the Jets punt return game from the previous season. Averaging 12.1 yards per punt return, Johnson’s outstanding performance in punt returns helped turn the Jets into the best in the league. As for the Giants, despite agreeing to terms with Domenik Hixon (who is recovering from knee surgery), the Giants have to upgrade their return game too. In 2010, the Giants return game was woeful. As a team, the Giants averaged 6.1 yards per punt return and 19.0 yards on kickoff returns. These weak numbers indicate the Giants have a serious problem. Good punt/kickoff return yardage correlates to a favorable average drive start. And a very good drive start increases a team’s chances to score. Add Bill Belichick’s belief, that scoring points correlates to winning. It is no coincidence that Belichick’s special teams were the best in the NFL. Last year, the Titans improved their return game by drafting Marc Mariani. In 2009, the Titans were 25th in the league in drive start. As a result of Mariani’s superb return game, the Titans ranked third in average drive start. Giants GM Jerry Reese must find a players who can help the team.
3. Obtain an outstanding special teams player. Through Parcells tenure as a head coach, he had players like Lee Rouson, Reyna Thomspson, and Corwin Brown. These guys were the Rocks of Gibraltar of the special teams. Thompson, a notorious hard hitter, had a special place in Parcells heart. ”I have this special-teams player named Reyna Thompson,” Parcells said. The first time the Giants punted, an NBC camera was isolated on Thompson. He cut inside two would-be blockers and racked up the punt returner before he took a step. Lauding the play of Thompson, Parcells called him the best special teams player he ever had. Giants punter Sean Landeta’s net punting average was significantly aided by Thompson’s coverage on punts. Reese has to find a guy similar to Thompson who can improve the kick coverage.
4. Bring in competition. May the best punter win. Although Dodge was lampooned in the media for his inexcusable decision to launch a weak punt at DeSean Jackson, he is not to blame for the epic loss to the Eagles. Part of the problem with Dodge: the Giants wanted him to directionally punt, but this goes against what he did in college. While punting at East Carolina, Dodge admitted the following: he mostly boomed punts down the middle of the field. On the other hand, special teams coach Quinn is a fan of the directional approach. Former Giants punter Jeff Feagles made up for a lack of leg strength with an uncanny ability to directionally kick. This worked for the Giants and Quinn when Feagles was the punter. However with Dodge, it is a different story. The Giants drafted a guy who has a strong leg. Let him do what he does best. Kick the football far. As John Madden pointed out, “I never remember Ray shanking a punt,” recalled John Madden, his coach for six seasons. “One reason was that I never asked him to go for the coffin corner. I believe that leads to more shanked punts than punts that go out of bounds inside the 10.” Indeed, Madden is spot on. As a result of having Dodge directional kick, his punting was erratic. Consequently, it affected the punt coverage unit. This manifested with a poor punt coverage. Last year, the Giants punts coverage allowed 535 yards and two touchdowns. According to special teams captain Chase Blackburn, the Giants punt coverage team overcompensated because of Dodge’s inconsistent punting.
Evidently, the Giants plan on having Dodge on the active roster in 2011 and plan to bring in competition. Reese should have done this last year. When the Giants let go of Jai Bond, Dodge did not have any competition at training camp. Looking back, the entire organization made mistakes with Dodge. Reese did not bring in any competition. And Coughlin and Quinn wanted the guy to kick directionally. If Giants management wanted a directional kicker, they should of found someone else. Recall, when Dan Reeves was the Giants head coach he wanted a directional punter. Instead of trying to make Sean Landeta into a directional kicker, he cut Landeta and brought in Michael Horan. The Giants should have done the same thing.
In 2011, the Giants cannot let poor special teams play continue. Because of the abysmal play of the special teams, Quinn and Coughlin are now in the cross hairs. Giants co-owner John Mara decided to keep the status quo. Apparently, Mara believes it is on the players and not the coaching staff. During this offseason, we can only hope the Giants obtain quality special teams players to make special teams special in 2011.