Chuck Zodda is our special teams expert. Mostly because we don’t let him do anything else. But whether kickoff returns, fake punts, or fire calls, Chuck has you covered in the third phase of the game. Today we examine the critical role that punters have in determining field position, in Bryan Anger vs. Pat McAfee.
Locked in a 13-13 tie with 3:55 remaining in their Week 4 battle, the Jacksonville Jaguars looked to put together a drive to take down the Indianapolis Colts in a heated AFC South battle. The Jacksonville drive fizzled out after five plays, with the Colts forcing a punt from the Indianapolis 46-yard line with 1:56 remaining:
The Jaguars set up in spread punt formation with Bryan Anger (#19) with his heels 14 yards behind the line of scrimmage. The goal on this punt is to target the 10-yard line, as it forces the returner to fair-catch the ball. A shorter punt gives Indianapolis better field position, while a longer one is likely to bounce into the end zone after being ignored by the returner.
The operation is clean and Anger gets off the kick:
Just after the kick, Jacksonville is in perfect punt coverage. This is textbook, with great spacing between each man, and the players moving downfield as a unit. The two gunners (red circles) are 15 yards ahead of the main coverage wave. It is an absolutely outstanding job by the Jaguars, and should be used as an example by coaches going forward to correct mistakes.
Anger’s kick is fair-caught at the 15-yard line after hanging in the air for 4.43 seconds:
There are three Jacksonville defenders surrounding the returner, continuing the great coverage. Anger’s kick is not a bad one by any means. The 31-yard punt lands inside the 20-yard line, forces a fair catch, and puts the Jaguars in position to succeed. It was a good kick. But it was not a great kick.
After a 3-and-out by the Colts, punter Pat McAfee showed every person in Lucas Oil Stadium what a great kick looks like:
Indianapolis sets up in spread punt formation on the left hash. McAfee is slightly inside the hash in order to improve his angle and center himself as much as possible. Punters do this in order to give themselves as close to a standard release position as possible.
The snap is a low one, and McAfee does a tremendous job scooping the ball off the turf:
Ahead of him, the Jaguars show hold-up technique along most of the line, with the Indianapolis lineman forming a strong pocket in front of McAfee.
After the kick is released, the Colts coverage unit moves downfield:
While the Indianapolis defenders show good spacing for the most part, there are three Colts clustered just inside the numbers (blue circle) that are a minor cause for concern. However, McAfee’s punt hangs for a massive 5.21 seconds, giving the Indianapolis players plenty of time to close the gap on the Jacksonville returner, Bryan Walters (#81):
Walters receives the ball on the Jacksonville 27-yard line on the numbers. For those of you doing math at home, which I never recommend, that is a 57-yard blast from McAfee. With perfect placement. And great coverage.
Punter goes boom.
The Colts are in perfect containment position, with four players cutting off all avenues of escape for Walters. The returner ducks and dodges, but the Indianapolis defenders close in and take him down for no gain on the play:
Why was this sequence so important?
Just after this punt, Jacksonville went on a 7-play, 38-yard drive that ended with a missed 53-yard field goal by kicker Jason Myers. Myers is an undrafted rookie out of Marist, meaning he has no track record in the NFL for us to examine. But if Anger had hit his punt five yards farther to the 10-yard line, and if McAfee’s punt had been a more human 52 yards instead of the Superman-esque at 57 yards, Myers now has a 43-yard kick for the win instead of a 53-yard bomb. That greatly increases the chances of Jacksonville coming out of Indianapolis with a win, instead of an overtime loss.
In a lot of games, punters blend into the background with almost no focus on them. But this sequence shows how critical they are to influencing the outcome of the game. Anger did his job well, there is no doubt about that. But McAfee showed how valuable an elite punter can be, as he played a massive role in forcing overtime in this game that not many people may have noticed. It is because of this that he continues to be the best punter in the NFL, and a game-changing force for the Colts.
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.