Through the first three weeks, the 2015 NFL season has been full of exciting special teams plays. Week 3 included a successful fake punt run by Colts punter Pat McAfee, and a fake attempt by the Jacksonville Jaguars that was diagnosed and attacked perfectly by the New England Patriots. Chuck Zodda breaks down the error in Jacksonville’s ways and how Matthew Slater snuffs out the fake.
The Jaguars are no strangers to fake punts, having successfully run one last season against the Minnesota Vikings. Down by 27 to the Patriots with 2:01 left in the third quarter, the Jaguars turned to a creative special teams play to try and get back in the game.
The punt unit trotted onto the field and set up in spread punt formation on the 22-yard line:
Punter Bryan Anger has his heels on the 8-yard line, with one gunner spread wide on each side of the formation. The Patriots counter with six men on the defensive line, and two men 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage. This alignment doesn’t give any clues to New England’s intentions, as it is a flexible formation that can either bring pressure, set up a return, or sit back in a “safe” return to watch for fakes.
Personal protector Corey Grant (#33, blue circle) raises his arms out to the side for two seconds while yelling something to his teammates. Grant does not do this on any other punts over the course of this game. Matthew Slater (#18) and Patrick Chung (#23) quickly key on the signal. It is in plain sight and unique to this play, giving the Patriots the scent of misdirection on a play where disguise is paramount. It is safe to say that Grant will not be doing his Peyton Manning impression again for us anytime soon. Strike one.
The two punt gunners (blue arrows) take off downfield to draw their blockers away from the line of scrimmage. This is exactly what you would like to see from them. However, Anger (yellow circle) contributes nothing to this fake, simply standing with his hands at his sides during the snap. There is no reaction to a supposed bad snap or strong play acting for a punt. Strike two for the Jaguars.
Strike three. Slater brings down Grant for a minimal 2-yard gain, snuffing out the play completely and giving the Patriots the ball back at the Jacksonville 24-yard line. His ability to recognize the fake pre-snap, read where the play was going, and use his athleticism to get to the right spot were key in holding the Jaguars to minimal yards on the play. The diagram of this play shows how Slater was able to quickly react and stop the play:
This play is another great example of why Slater is so valuable to the Patriots, despite hardly playing on offense or defense. It also speaks to Bill Belichick’s continued emphasis on players who compete in all three phases of the game, and is a major reason why the Patriots were able to keep Jacksonville at bay throughout the course of the game.
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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 NFL Game Pass.