NY Jets: The disaster that is special teams
The special teams of the NY Jets has failed to live up to expectations this year and after the season-ending injury to Nick Folk it seemed destined to get worse.
We have to be honest here, the Jets’ special teams have been a bitter disappointment this year. Which has obviously been highlighted by a slew of miscues that make ESPN on a weekly basis. Just this season alone we’ve seen guys like Darren Sproles and Dwayne Harris (nearly twice) break off long punt return touchdowns, it’s absolutely unacceptable. Then in early November, Folk suffered a season-ending injury in pregame warm-ups and suddenly this bad special teams unit seemed destined to get even worse.
I mean he didn’t get the nickname, ‘Folk Hero’ for nothing. Since coming over in 2010 from the Dallas Cowboys, Folk has been the epitome of consistency. During the 2010 season, Folk converted 30 field goals out of 39 opportunities. That same season, Folk kicked the game-winning field goal to eliminate the Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts. The following season, he kicked the game-winner in prime-time against his old Cowboys. So you get the point, Folk has been clutch for the Jets in a league where kicker turnover is the norm.
So with the Jets losing a guy like that, the chances of picking up another kicker who could come right in and contribute at the same level was probably asking for way too much, but that is exactly what Randy Bullock has done since joining the Jets nearly a month ago. Ever since being brought in for a workout with a myriad of other kickers and winning the competition, he was signed and immediately thrust in for a pivotal match-up against the Buffalo Bills on Thursday Night Football.
Dec 6, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets kicker Randy Bullock (8) kicks a field goal against the New York Giants during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
What has he done in his short stint with the Jets in 2015 after a dismal start in Houston? Oh you know, just go 6/6 (100%) field goal kicking for the Jets with 9 touch-backs on 17 kickoffs (60%) and has successfully made 11/11 (100%) of his longer 33-yard PATs. Overall, he has made 82% of his NFL field goal attempts, not counting his 18/20 (90%) on preseason field goal attempts. During the Jets’ latest game against the Giants, Bullock connected on all 3 FG attempts (and 2/2 PATs) including a game winner in overtime, to help the Jets continue their Wild Card push.
So to say the Jets were fortunate in this category is a severe understatement and in a playing style that often leads to games coming down to the bitter end, the Jets will need Bullock’s streak to continue if they want to remain in the playoff hunt. But now it’s time to put away the champagne for a second and deal with the ugly side of the Jets’ special teams unit that can no longer be ignored.
As Rich Cimini of ESPN.com pointed out in his latest post-game article: Ryan Fitzpatrick up, special teams down in Jets’ thrilling win, the Jets’ special teams unit has been atrocious and eventually could cost them a ball-game:
“Bobby April and the special-teams units: Come on, fellas, you have to be better than this. The Jets allowed their second punt-return touchdown of the season, an 80-yarder by Dwayne Harris. He almost broke a kickoff in overtime, a 43-yard return that gave great field position to the Giants. There was the Miles penalty and a couple of hiccups by punt returner Jeremy Kerley. This was another bad day in a bad season for the Jets’ special teams. One of these days it will cost them a game.”
The Jets were fortunate, usually mistakes like the one Rontez Miles made are game-changers and in all likelihood that should have cost the Jets the game, they were fortunate this time. The Jets can’t make those errors and expect to be a playoff team, special teams is a third of the game after all. Another underrated factor here is how terrible the Jets’ return game has been over the last several years, since saying goodbye to Brad Smith, their all-purpose threat.
The Jets currently rank 23rd in the league in KR (kick return) averages and Jeremy Kerley (leading punt return man) for the Jets ranks 14th in the league in PR (punt return) averages, but that really doesn’t tell the tale. Kerley has one return touchdown in his career and believe it or not that was 3 years ago and he hasn’t been close since. The Jets have experimented at the KR position all off-season and even during the 2015 regular season to no avail.
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Maybe it won’t be the top-need in the Jets 2016 off-season, but it should be on the priority list to bring in a dynamic return man. Whether that comes via a late-round flier or perhaps some invested money in free agency, the Jets haven’t had a good one in some time and it’s clearly been an issue.
Also, Bobby April needs to fix the coverage units, which has been quoted above as having several issues in that department this season. Cimini is right, this was another bad day in a bad season and I agree that it could cost this team eventually. But on the positive side, the Jets couldn’t have expected anything more than what they’ve gotten from Bullock and that’ll lead to an interesting off-season decision when it comes down to it between Folk and him.