Chuck Zodda has written about Matthew Slater as a punt gunner. He’s written about Slater as a blocker. He’s written about Slater as a defender. And now he’s writing about Slater again – because he’s actually that good.
The New England Patriots traveled to battle the Dallas Cowboys in Week 5, facing a stout defense that would be a tough early-season test. Both teams fizzled out on their first drives, with neither gaining any traction offensively. On the third drive of the game, Dallas went three and out again. With Chris Jones and the punting unit trotting onto the field for the second time in eight plays, Danny Amendola and the Patriots sought to gain an early edge in the game.
New England shows eight men near the line of scrimmage, though three are several yards off the line, suggesting this is a setup for a return, rather than an all-out block. Circled in red above, Matthew Slater (#18) is the key to this play:
Dallas gets off a clean snap, and Jones booms the ball away in 1.95 seconds, giving New England no chance at a block. The Patriots, as expected, utilize hold up technique (red circles) along the line to keep the Cowboys in place for as long as possible. Slater (red arrow) drifts towards the left of the frame, crossing the hash mark and continuing his track to the outside of the field.
As the punt travels downfield, the Cowboys show excellent use of coverage lanes:
The Dallas defenders have good width across the field, and move downfield as a unit. There is a little bunching near the left hash, but nothing that is cause for concern. Slater (red circle) is now at the Cowboys 45-yard line on the left numbers. As we’ve shown before, Slater’s location is usually key to determining the goal of a special teams play for the Patriots. This play is no different:
Amendola receives the punt at the New England 30-yard line – a 59-yard blast for Jones. However, the kick had only 4.56 seconds of hang time, which for a kick that long, is half a second too little. The lack of hang time allows Amendola a significant amount of room to operate. Slater (red box and arrow) snaps into action, cutting back hard to the middle and setting the first block for Amendola. Amendola makes a quick cut to the outside (yellow arrow) and takes off for the left sideline, with two other blockers setting blocks to free him in this direction.
Amendola is finally tackled at the Dallas 45-yard line after a 25-yard return. Thus, a 59-yard punt nets only 34 yards, and sets the Patriots up with good field position, eventually leading to their first field goal of the game. Once again, Slater provides a clear signal to the opposition of what is coming, but in this case, the Cowboys were unable to stop the Patriots, even with that indication.
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.