In Part 1, Chuck Zodda broke down the first half of Super Bowl XLIX and the special teams battle pitting Jon Ryan vs Julian Edelman. After being captivated by Katy Perry’s halftime extravaganza, Chuck went back to the film room to examine whether the Seattle Seahawks punt unit could once again stop Edelman and the talented New England Patriots return team.
With Jon Ryan netting 44.3 yards per kick in the first half, Julian Edelman and the Patriots had their work cut out for them to generate a counter-punch. After employing numerous runback strategies throughout the season, they used minor variations on middle returns during the opening 30 minutes, a rather conservative game plan. The major question entering the second half was whether New England would pull out any tricks from their extensive arsenal.
Punt Four – Bouncing Off the Walls
Ryan’s first punt of the second half came with 1:05 remaining in the third quarter with the Seahawks staked to a 24-14 lead. With the ball on the Patriots 47 as shown below, Seattle looks to pin New England deep in their own territory:
New England brings pressure on the kick, knowing they likely lack the space to set up a strong return. They stack eight men near the line of scrimmage and all of them forge ahead at the snap. Seattle’s line provides good initial protection, sealing the rushers off. However, five-year veteran long snapper Clint Gresham (#49) bounces the ball to his punter (blue circle). Ryan does well to field it cleanly and gets the kick off in 2.1 seconds with several Patriots nearby, a tick longer than the 2.0-second target time for NFL punt units:
The kick covers 33 yards over 4.9 seconds of hang time before bouncing immediately out of bounds for no return as the Seattle punt unit bears down on Edelman (blue arrows). While the result here is a win for the Seahawks, this is an unusual kick for Ryan. When punting from the right hash over the course of the season, only two of his kicks ended up at the left sideline. Ryan’s bread and butter is at the left numbers, or towards the left hash. The punt had excellent loft and took a quick jump out of bounds, but it is a directional outlier for Ryan.. On this strike, he was fortunate to create a sideways bounce, as a backwards hop could have resulted in a net distance of less than 30 yards and New England starting outside their 20-yard line.
Punt Five – Pinch Me, I’m Dreaming
Ryan had a brief respite of four minutes before the Seahawks required his services once more. With 12:22 left in the fourth quarter and the ball on the Seattle 31-yard line, Ryan trots out to try to pin his opponents:
The Patriots show the same look as on the last two punts of the first half, with four linemen (red circles) and three men behind the line of scrimmage (yellow circles). However, they make a big change after the snap:
The central Patriot off the line of scrimmage, Danny Amendola (#80) drops away from the line as he traditionally does. But Matthew Slater (#18) and Jonathan Casillas (#52) quickly pinch down on the interior linemen. This provides an extra punch in the center of the line, helping to hold them up for an extra second as Ryan launches his kick:
Unfortunately for the Seahawks, this is Ryan’s weakest punt of the night. Although the kick travels 51 yards, the hang time is only 4.1 seconds, well below Ryan’s norm. More importantly, with so much distance and less hang, Ryan has out-kicked his coverage.
Edelman catches the ball at his 17-yard line with nearly 25 yards of open space in front of him. He immediately starts upfield and, after a quick bounce to the outside, rips off a 15-yard return that results in a 36-yard net for Ryan. The Patriots gained favorable field position, starting at their 32-yard line, and went on to score the first of two late touchdowns that decided the game. The edge here goes to Edelman.
Punt Six – Finish What You Started
Yet another three-and-out forced the Seahawks to send their punt unit on one last time with 7:00 remaining:
The Patriots show a pressure look with six men on the line of scrimmage (red circles). On the snap, all six bring pressure, but two rushers on the right side execute a twist:
This is not an unusual move when trying to block a kick, as the goal is to disorient the offensive linemen and create a missed assignment with a shot at the punter. However, New England doesn’t follow through with the pressure:
Every Patriot engaged with a Seahawk uses hold-up technique, rather than attempting to block the kick. While the alignment had all the indications of pressure, the Patriots instead attempt to set up a return once again. This marked the first time New England used this scheme all season. Even on their last punt return of the year, the Patriots still presented a new design that an opponent had not yet seen from them.
That creative wrinkle notwithstanding, the kick is classic Ryan:
The punter places the ball just outside the left hash, with a huge 4.8 seconds of hang time. It forces Edelman into a fair catch, his second of the night. The only issue on the kick was distance, as the punt covered only 39 yards. While Ryan has never been known for his distance, an ideal kick would have pushed Edelman back another 3-5 yards. Nevertheless, Ryan finished strong after a couple of bumps in the middle of the game.
The Final Verdict
Ryan takes the contest on this day by a score of 4-2. Despite Edelman breaking off a 15-yard return on his fifth punt, Ryan mostly managed to contain the New England returner and prevent him from finding open field. While the Patriots and Seahawks are not scheduled to meet in the 2015 regular season, both teams project to return strong rosters, and their fans would undoubtedly love a rematch in Super Bowl 50.
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Chuck Zodda knows the importance of staying in your lane, how to fake a punt return, the humanity of punters, proper placekicking technique and the Jets.
All video and images courtesy the NFL and NFL Game Rewind.