Special teams play is a major factor in the outcome of games each week. Chuck Zodda breaks down the best and worst in special teams play, with a special love for kickers and punters. So when Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee runs a fake punt, you know Zodda went to the film room.
Pat McAfee was so close in 2014. Glory was in his grasp, but unfortunately, the perfect spiral he threw to Dewey McDonald bounced off the “real football player” somewhere around his hands and fell to the ground incomplete. Cue the violins.
But 2015 is a new year. While fall is typically a time of falling leaves and preparation for winter, for McAfee it means rebirth. It means a chance at redemption. It means that there is again the chance McAfee runs a fake punt.
Speaking with Colts.com after the game, McAfee stated, “If I happen to get a snap that brings me out of the pocket a little bit and I see that the edge is wide open, I kinda got the green light. And that’s talked about probably once in training camp, but if that situation ever pops up, you know you’d better go ahead and get it.”
In this quote, McAfee appears to deny this was a pre-designed play, noting instead that he always has the option to run a fake if he feels he can pick up a first down. However, in looking at the execution of the punt protection and punt gunners on the play, it seems more likely this was an intentional fake from the outset.
With 8:32 remaining in the third quarter, the Indianapolis Colts trailed the Tennessee Titans 24-10 and looked awful on offense. As McAfee trotted onto the field on fourth down, the situation seemed dire. But it is when the situation is at its most desperate that great punters rise to the occasion:
McAfee (#1) sets up with his heels at the 6-yard line. Matt Overton (#45) is at the 20-yard line ready to snap the ball, with the rest of the Colts in spread punt formation. Nothing appears out of the ordinary at this point. The snap from Overton is high, and McAfee leaps to catch it:
Jack Doyle (#84, right) takes an aggressive line at the snap, which indicates this is a fake punt. Doyle (circled in blue), immediately goes low and attempts to cut-block the rusher in front of him.
This makes no sense in the context of punt protection. Protection units across the league use kick slides to gain depth, rather than attacking rushers in this fashion. Watching Doyle throughout the game, he does not cut on any other punts. This is a clear sign of a fake.
The rest of the line takes one kick slide, and then quickly blocks down to the left (yellow arrows), rather than continuing for a second kick slide as they did on other punt attempts. This is yet another sign of a fake.
Off-screen, the right gunner takes an outside release, turning his man’s head to the sideline and away from the side of the field McAfee eventually runs toward. Everything here points to a fake.
Drawn out, the play looks as follows:
This is a coordinated effort to draw the Titans away from the right side of the field. Had this play simply contained the cut block, McAfee might have been improvising. However, given the cut block, the down-blocking by the offensive line, and the outside release of the gunner, it is far more likely this was drawn up in advance.
McAfee catches the high snap, making it look easy – as only a punter can. Once securing the ball, he looks upfield:
Doyle has destroyed his man, leaving McAfee with a wide-open right side of the field. McAfee takes off:
After a brilliant 18-yard scamper, McAfee decides to head out of bounds, rather than reveal any other tricks up his sleeve. A good tactician never uses more force than is necessary for the job, and McAfee mercifully decides to end the play after picking up the first down. Go Pat go.
Follow Chuck on Twitter @ITP_ChuckZ.
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 NFL Game Pass.