Playcalls, alignments, techniques, and concepts litter the commentary and writing about football. Inside the Pylon wants everyone to understand the game differently than you did before you read our site, so our glossary will have clear explanations with video examples. We hope you enjoy the game in a new way.
A wall return is a directional punt return where the return team seeks to line its blockers up in a vertical “wall” running down one side of the field in order to provide a clear path for the returner. Wall returns can be particularly effective against teams with predictable punters, as the direction of the kick can naturally create leverage against the pursuing coverage unit. However, wall returns also create risk, in that the returner may be left without adequate blocking if the punt is in a different location than anticipated.
Wall returns are one of the many strategies a punt return unit can use to create opportunities for their returner. The basic mechanics of a wall return are relatively simple:
The New England Patriots bring pressure against the Chicago Bears punt unit in the above still. While the Patriots do not show any clues to their return initially, Matthew Slater (#18, circled in red) is the key to reading this as a wall return. At the snap, he attacks the edge of the punt formation from the right side.
Just after the kick, the setup for the wall begins:
Slater, as well as Jonas Gray (also circled in red, #35) are now retreating down field. Their goal is to loop to the left side and set up the wall for Julian Edelman (#11, not pictured). As the play develops, the wall becomes clear:
With the kick heading towards Edelman, Slater and, Gray are outside the left hash and have established outside position on the Chicago punt team. They work towards Edelman with the ball still in flight:
Slater, Gray, and several other Patriots are now in position to attack the Bears from the left. This gives Edelman a clear alley down the left side of the field, resulting in a 42-yard return for the Patriots.
The ITP Glossary is curated by Mark Brown. The incomparable Chuck Zodda contributed to this entry.
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All video and images courtesy the NFL and NFL Game Rewind.