The Cleveland Browns Special Teams Disaster

Some weeks, finding interesting topics can be a challenge. Week 12 of the 2015 NFL season was not one of them. The Cleveland Browns submitted arguably the worst two-minute drill in NFL history, and capped it off with a blocked field goal that was returned for the game-winning touchdown by the Baltimore Ravens. Chuck Zodda details the Browns special teams disaster.

Three seconds remained on the game clock and the Browns sent out their field goal unit after a timeout. Then, Ravens coach Jim Harbaugh used his final timeout in an attempt to ice Cleveland kicker Travis Coons. Finally, the Browns were set to either win the game with a successful kick, or send the game to overtime in the event of a miss.

Coons (#6) steps off his approach and lines up to kick:


Cleveland used standard field goal protection, with nine men deployed in protection. The primary goal is to protect the inside gaps at all cost, as edge rushers are generally too slow to block a well-drilled NFL field goal operation.

Coons is kicking from the right hash, which is typically more difficult for right-footed kickers, because their approach momentum pulls them slightly right sometimes resulting in misses to that side. Given new NFL rules this season on extra points allowing kickers the option of where to place the ball, Coons has usually chosen the middle of the field, suggesting the Browns should have centered the ball on the previous play instead of running a play outside the right guard after already being on the right hash.

Maybe they figured he was never going to miss.

Cleveland gets the snap off cleanly and Coons begins his approach:


Holder Andy Lee (#8) catches the ball and places it perfectly for Coons:


Notice that the ball has a slight tilt away from Coons. Most kickers prefer this angle as it helps to counteract the tendency of kicks to hook because of the ball’s rotation. The kicker is ready to do his job.

Unfortunately, the left side of the Browns line resembles a sinkhole, with Ravens pushing the Browns line deeper into those interior lanes where penetration cannot be allowed:


In particular, left tackle Cameron Erving (#74) is now behind the rest of the Cleveland line, being driven backward by the Baltimore rushers. This opens up a gap, which, in the least surprising turn of events possible, is exactly where the block occurs:


Brent Urban (#96), making his NFL debut, squeezes through the opening and gets a hand on the kick. The lack of strength from the left side of the Browns line, and Erving in particular, deserves most of the blame for this block. However, Coons is not free and clear.

ESPN Sport Science analyzed the kick and determined that it came out with a 22 degree angle, as opposed to the 35-40 degree angle that is typically targeted on field goals. While longer kicks may have lower trajectories in an attempt to maximize distance, the angle here is too low to clear the line effectively.

The reason for the low kick is easily determined after examining a close-up of the kick:


Coons has approximately one inch between his foot and the ground as he strikes the ball, leading to an impact above the ideal sweet spot. As opposed to making contact approximately 4 inches from the bottom of the ball, Coons instead strikes the ball nearly dead-center. Rather than lifting the ball, this drives more of the force directly forward, creating a lower trajectory kick.

After analyzing all of Coons’ field goals and extra points this year, this has been a consistent issue, with his kicks being nearly blocked on several occasions. It is a small mechanical fix that will likely trade some distance for additional height, but one Coons must make in order to be successful long-term. The rest of his approach is incredibly clean and efficient, and making this adjustment will help to avoid potential blocks in the future.

Coons appears to have sped up his mechanics on this kick as well, likely because he is reaching for extra distance ‒ because this was his first NFL attempt over 50 yards, or the general excitement attempting a game winning kick on Monday Night Football. Rushing through the kick can also cause the high strike point, which is likely why the trajectory here was a similar, but exacerbated version of what Coons has shown on previous long attempts.

Thrilling Return

After the block, the ball bounces towards the sideline:


The Ravens and Browns both momentarily look around for the ball before Will Hill (#33) scoops it up:


Hill sprints up the sideline. Armonty Bryant (#95, orange box) first reaches for the ball, and then for Hill, but whiffs on both as the safety is off to the races:


Hill accelerates up the sideline with two more Browns closing on him. After blowing past them, only Danny Shelton (#71) has a chance at the speedy Raven but Hill is too fast for the nose tackle, coasting into the end zone for the winning score.

While Baltimore deserves credit for blocking the field goal, this play was the result of two critical errors by Cleveland – terrible protection technique by Erving, and the low kick from Coons. Of the two errors, the one by Erving is more egregious, but Coons will need to improve his trajectory in order to avoid this problem in the future. He has the making of a quality NFL kicker if he can address this issue. Unfortunately for the Browns, these two errors, on top of all their other errors, led to another terrible loss for a city that is likely tired of the same old story.

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.

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