The squib kick is the least majestic of all kicks. It does not travel as high and long as the traditional kickoff. It does not bounce and flutter beautifully like the onside kick. It does not split the uprights like a field goal. But it does have a purpose – to keep the ball away from a dangerous returner near the end of a half and prevent a big play in the kicking game. That is, as Chuck Zodda shows us, unless something goes terribly, terribly wrong.
With 1:39 remaining in the 2nd quarter, the Oakland Raiders scored to take a 14-13 lead against the Minnesota Vikings at home. On came the kickoff unit to pin the Vikings deep in their territory at the end of the half:
Oakland sets up in 5X5 kickoff formation with Sebastian Janikowski (#11) ready to kick off from the 35-yard line. Janikowski, who is tied for the second-longest field goal in NFL history at 63 yards and has 29 touchbacks in 48 kickoffs this year, is not tasked with booming the ball through the end zone here. Rather, he hits a squib kick to keep the ball away from returner Cordarrelle Patterson (#84):
Janikowski strikes the ball, keeping it low as it travels downfield and looking to generate an unpredictable bounce that will force anyone but Patterson to field the kick. However, the downside of Janikowski’s big leg is that he hits the ball too strongly here:
The ball bounces down to the Vikings 7-yard line, where Patterson bobbles the ball briefly before scooping it up. This is a critical error by Janikowski, as the ball gets downfield quicker than a typical kickoff (3.5 seconds versus 4.0-4.5), as well as ending up in the hands of Patterson. The lack of hang-time means Oakland has less time to get downfield in coverage.
The Raiders are in Kickoff Cover 1, with the L1 and R1 acting as safeties and trailing the main coverage unit by five yards (red boxes). Meanwhile, nearly the entire Minnesota return team slides to the right of the frame as they seek out their blocks (purple arrows). Oakland remains in its coverage lanes at this point, and despite being outnumbered on the right side, is still in decent shape to make a play on Patterson.
Patterson takes the ball up the numbers just inside the outside seal on the Raiders R2. Just in front of him, five Vikings are blocking three Oakland defenders in a situation that can only be described as unfair and a no-win situation. There is a solid wall of white leading the way for Patterson.
The other side of the field shows four unblocked Raiders giving chase (green boxes) as they try to recover toward the right. However, further outside, there are serious questions about what exactly Oakland L2 Taylor Mays (#27) is doing. Mays is on the Minnesota 22-yard line at the same time that Patterson is on the Minnesota 18-yard line. Yet for some unknown reason, rather than closing down his lane and creating some type of leverage on the return or being in a position to do anything, Mays has chosen to remain wide for far too long, and is completely removed from the play.
The punt return by New England’s Danny Amendola earlier this week showed how overlapping return lanes and closing down too much can be an issue. However, maintaining too much width is just as big of a problem, as it either creates seams or takes the defender out of the play completely.
Two Vikings peel back to seal off the final Oakland defenders, as Janikowski rumbles back toward midfield to attempt a tackle. Mays is still off by the right hash, never coming within five yards of any opposing player throughout the play.
As Janikowski goes down, Patterson has an unimpeded path to the end zone, and scampers in for a 93-yard return. This score gave the Vikings a lead they would not relinquish, winning 30-14 to take control of the NFC North at 7-2. The primary issue on this play was the poor squib by Janikowski, which accomplished none of the goals of the kick, but credit must be given to Minnesota for running an effective return and efficiently allocating resources to blocking in key areas.
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.