Broncos vs. Jets: Week 5 special teams grades
By Justin Fried
The New York Jets special teams continued their strong start to the season helping the team to a 34-16 win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday. How does the unit grade out following this huge team victory?
The New York Jets offense has flashed at points this season and their defense has more than held their own through five weeks, but the most surprising aspect of the team to this point has to be the play of the special teams.
After a few subpar seasons and a dreadful preseason, expectations were undoubtedly low for the Jets special teams unit heading into 2018. However, through five games, special teams has actually been one of the team’s strong points as the Jets rank near the top in most statistical categories.
The most significant and astounding of which comes with the team’s return game. The Jets have longed for an exciting return man since the likes of Leon Washington and Brad Smith and really hadn’t even had an effective one since the late Joe McKnight.
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That was until the team signed veteran Andre Roberts in the offseason.
In actuality, the team likely hoped that rookie Trenton Cannon would emerge as the Jets primary return option but ball security concerns held him back in the preseason, opening up a spot for the reliable Roberts to make the team.
Since then, all he’s done is return 10 punts for an astonishing total of 231 yards averaging 23.1 yards per return, by far the most in the NFL as of Week 5. In fact, Roberts career-high in punt return yards is 263 yards which he did way back in 2010 meaning that the veteran return man could very well break that record next week after just six games.
Massive credit should be given to the entire special teams unit, not just Roberts who has reintroduced stability and flash to the Jets return game. Special teamers such as Parry Nickerson, Chris Herndon, and Kevin Pierre-Louis all had excellent blocks on Roberts 51-yard return continuing what has been an incredible season for the Jets special teams.
Praise should also go out to special teams coordinator Brant Boyer who has completely turned around this unit and made it a point of strength as opposed to one of the weaknesses of the team.
It should be noted, however, that the Jets are in pretty bad shape if Roberts were to ever go down with a significant injury. The former Atlanta Falcon left Sunday’s game at a point with an elbow injury and was replaced on one punt return by the aforementioned Cannon. The rookie proceeded to bobble his fair catch attempt nearly fumbling a Jets possession away.
Cannon is an exciting playmaker with the ball in his hands but the recurring problem is keeping that ball in his hands.
Despite the fact that he was drafted to be a return man, Cannon didn’t return punts in college and he certainly doesn’t appear to be ready to start doing so in NFL games anytime soon. The team would be wise to work out other players at punt returner in practice in case Roberts were to go down. The sure-handed Jermaine Kearse or Quincy Enunwa come to mind.
Cannon did have a nice tackle in punt coverage, however, filling in for the injured Charone Peake at the gunner position.
The kicking game was a bit of a mixed bag as kicker Jason Myers connected on two of his three field goal attempts including one from 49 yards out, but missed badly on a 30-yard attempt. The former Jacksonville Jaguars placekicker continues to struggle with kicks inside of 40 yards while looking significantly more comfortable on attempts from long range.
Over the past three years, Myers has missed just one kick in the 40-49 range but at the same time has missed three kicks in the 30-39 range. It’s an odd dynamic, but one that could cost the team going forward if the problem persists.
Punter Lachlan Edwards had a pretty quiet day punting just three times for a total of 134 yards. The Sam Houston State product downed two of his kicks inside the 20-yard line while one bounced into the end zone for a touchback.
It’s worth noting that the Jets dominated the field position battle, something that had been a major thorn in their side over the past few weeks. Part of that was due to the offense firing on all cylinders and the defense making key stops, but some of that credit should go to Edwards who did his part to pin the Broncos back when possible.
Altogether another big Andre Roberts punt return bumps the special teams grade up but a badly missed field goal from Myers somewhat negates the positives in the return game.