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Saints Week: Special Teams

APTOPIX Saints Dolphins Football

This game could end in an infinite number of ways.  Two scenarios involve either a shootout and/or a very close ending.  In fact, these teams are so evenly matched, in my opinion, that I would not be surprised if the difference is made on special teams.  If Nate Kaeding and Shaun Suisham have taught us anything lately, it’s that special teams can make or break your team’s Super Bowl hopes.

Much like the Cowboys, the Saints have the capability to kickoff deep and force touchbacks.  They don’t do it on quite the consistent basis as the Cowboys, however, and it will be interesting to see if they try to do that and risk letting Harvin return a few.  The other option would be to kick it short like many teams have done against the Vikings.  The Saints give up an average of 24.5 yards per kick return and have not allowed a touchdown all year.  Percy Harvin is a Pro Bowl returner and averages 27.5 yards per return and has scored twice.

Ryan Longwell typically does not kick it too deep, and this the Vikings coverage unit is relied on heavily.  They will have their hands full on Sunday, as Courtney Roby has the same kick return average as Percy Harvin and has brought one back for a touchdown himself.  The Vikings have been solid on kick returns for most of the year and have only allowed an average of 22.6 yards per return and no team has scored on a kick return against the Vikings.

The Saints have a solid punter in Thomas Morstead who averages 43.6 yards per punt.  He has placed 18 punts inside the 20 yard line and only punted 4 times for a touchback.  At times, however, the Saints punt coverage has proven leaky as opponents average 14.3 yards per return against them, and they’ve allowed one touchdown.  Darius Reynaud has been productive in this area all year, but has yet to have a true game changing play.  With Reynaud averaging 10.3 yards per return, he could be licking his chops for this matchup.  First the defense has to stop the Saints and force them to punt, though, and that could be a challenge for sure.

Vikings punter Chris Kluwe averages 43.9 yards per punt and has put 24 punts inside the 20.  He has had 9 punts go for touchbacks.  The key difference to note is that the Vikings have punted 73 times this season, while the Saints have only had to punt 58 times.  The Vikings give up only 7.9 yards per punt return but can still break down at times as evidenced by the one touchdown they gave up this season.  The challenge will be to keep Reggie Bush from getting into the open field. 

While Bush only averaged 4.8 yards per return in the regular season, he dominated the Cardinals last week by averaging 36 yards on 3 returns, which was highlighted by an 83 yard score.  Roby only returned two kicks for an average of 18 yards. 

Last week, the Cowboys did not allow Harvin or Reynaud to make any special teams returns.  The highlight of the playoffs, however, was the Vikings coverage units.  They shut down Patrick Crayton in the punt return game and the longest of seven kick returns for the Cowboys was only 21 yards.  Both the Vikings and the Saints bring a lot of special teams momentum into Sunday’s game.

As evidenced this weekend, kickers can be the difference in playoff games on a regular basis.  Ryan Longwell has been having a career year, as he has made 26 of his 28 field goals, including a 52 yarder.  After being somewhat unsettled at the position, the Garrett Hartley has been the saints primary kicker for the majority of the year.  Hartley has made 9 of 11 field goals, and has a long of only 38 yards, in the regular season.  Both kickers are perfect in the post-season thus far, including a 43 yarder from Hartley.

PLAYER TO WATCH:  Eric Frampton has been an under-the-radar contributor to the success of the Vikings coverage units.  However, he is often one of the first players to the ball carrier and has a team high 15 tackles on special teams.  With Bush and Roby on the docket, we will need Frampton and the rest of the coverage unit to give the defense as much of a chance as possible.  Mistake-free football is a must on special teams.


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4 Responses to “Saints Week: Special Teams”

  1. CSlinde says:

    Adam! You gotta call me ASAP!

  2. olderthandirt says:

    Special teams could be the key to winning or losing this game. Great post Adam. I hope my man Percy can break one out this weekend, or at least give us decent field position. It’s nice to be working with a short field, so at least, if nothing else, we can pin them deep in their end of the field. JA likes to pin his ears back then and give it his all to create safeties and turnovers. That’s the name of the game in the playoffs ………… TURNOVERS ……….. against them, the other guys, the ones we love to beat.

  3. Tomb... says:

    PHUK!!! Look at this from PFT:

    Harvin missing from start of practice

    Posted by Mike Florio on January 21, 2010 3:34 PM ET

    Long-suffering Vikings fans have been waiting (actually, bracing) for something to happen to derail what appears to be the team’s best shot at a Super Bowl win since 1998.

    And so plenty of them likely aren’t surprised by the latest news that, once again, receiver Percy Harvin is nowhere to be seen.

    As the Vikings commenced practice on Thursday, Harvin wasn’t on the field with his teammates, according to Judd Zulgad of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

    Obvious suspicion? Harvin’s migraine headaches have returned.

    He visited the Mayo Clinic in December after missing extended time earlier that month, and he said that doctors devised a “great plan” for treating the affliction that has bothered him for years.

    Harvin was named the AP offensive rookie of the year. He caught only three passes for 23 yards against the Cowboys and he didn’t have much of an impact in the return game — due in large part to the fact that the Cowboys only kicked off twice, and both were touchbacks.

    Also absent was defensive end Ray Edwards (knee) and defensive tackle Kevin Williams (knee).

    And that could be the bigger problem for the Vikings, given that the defensive line put the clamps on the Cowboys on Sunday.

  4. […] Big Daddy Drew wrote a very interesting post today.   Here’s a quick excerpt:This game could end in an infinite number of ways. Two scenarios involve either a shootout and/or a very close ending. In fact, these teams are so evenly matched, in my opinion, that I would not be surprised if the difference is made on … […]

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