Special teams have been home to a number of creative plays this year —— from fake punts to hidden returners, Inside The Pylon has profiled them all. So whether you are more excited by a blocked punt or great punt coverage, we have it for you. Today, Chuck Zodda breaks down the Indianapolis Colts attempting a fake punt in their regular season matchup with the Dallas Cowboys.
Punting is boring. Snap, kick, cover, repeat. Yawn. However, the Indianapolis Colts do nearly everything in their power to make punting exciting. First and foremost, they employ Pat McAfee, punter and kickoff specialist extraordinaire, who turned in one of the more memorable kicker tackles in recent memory:
McAfee is also one of the elite punters in the NFL, making The Associated Press All-Pro team this season. Averaging 46.7 yards per kick, he places nearly 77% of his punts outside the numbers and generates fair catches 27.5% of the time. He is the living embodiment of punting perfection, his skill rivaled by few others.
But there are occasions when watching a ball fly through the air for nearly five seconds while traveling 70 yards downfield just isn’t enough. Sometimes fans need to see a punter do something out of the ordinary.
Go For Glory
Facing the Dallas Cowboys in Week 16, the Indianapolis offense sputtered to a zero-yard “drive” on their first possession. On their own 19-yard line, the Colts trotted out McAfee and the punt unit:
Indianapolis aligns in “punt spread” formation, with one gunner positioned outside the numbers on each side of the seven-man line. McAfee has his heels 14 yards behind the line of scrimmage, awaiting the snap. Dallas sets up with one man blocking each of the gunners, as is customary in the NFL. Before the snap, the Cowboys reposition the blocker away from the right gunner (circled in yellow), moving him closer to the offensive line in an attempt to bring pressure from the outside:
Now just outside the left hash (circled in yellow), the Cowboys alignment leaves the Colts right gunner, Dewey McDonald (#31), completely unblocked (circled in blue). The personal protector (circled in red) stands up and acts as if he is wiping off his jersey. For people who have played football at any level, this may be used as a sign to “wipe off” any special play that had been called. However, in this case, it is an indication that Indianapolis sees an opportunity because of the Dallas adjustment:
On the snap, McDonald sprints downfield and is well beyond the Cowboy dropping off the line to cover him. McAfee spots him. Glory awaits. McAfee rears back and lofts the ball, sending it sailing through the air for just a fraction of the hang time of his punts. But to the punter, it seems like an eternity. McAfee is about to complete a forward pass in an NFL game. The clip will be shown at retirement parties and his Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The headlines are already printed. McDonald is wide open three yards ahead of the first down marker. Bring Andrew Luck back onto the field and move the chains…
McDonald drops the ball.
Dallas takes over at the 19-yard line after the Colts fake punt fail and one play later has a touchdown courtesy of Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. McAfee weeps. Not for himself, but for punters everywhere, because his dream is for a punter to rise up and prove himself as an NFL player. Instead, McDonald simply proved that if a defensive back had good hands, he would be a wide receiver.
Against The Patriots
Unfortunately for the Colts, they likely will not have a chance to get creative against New England on Sunday. The Patriots tend to set up their coverage unit in “punt safe” much of the time, typically rushing only five or six defenders and setting up their return with the remaining men. A normal New England alignment looks like this:
The gunners have single coverage, with two spies behind the line of scrimmage initially watching for a fake, and then dropping off to double-team gunners or set up a different return. McAfee’s quest for glory will likely need to wait until another day – on this one, he will have to be content with simply being one of the best punters in the league.
Follow Chuck on Twitter @ITP_ChuckZ.
Chuck Zodda knows the importance of staying in your lane, how to fake a punt return, thehumanity of punters, proper placekicking technique and the Jets.
All video and images courtesy the NFL and NFL Game Rewind.