Denver Broncos Special Teams at the Halfway Point

DENVER - SEPTEMBER 26: Eddie Royal #19 of the Denver Broncos returns a punt against the Indianapolis Colts at INVESCO Field. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

 

The season is half over and the Broncos sit in the basement of the AFC West with a 2-6 record. Denver has a laundry list of things to clean up and there's no denying that the Special Teams haven't been, in a word, special. So I think a look at the seldom talked about third piece of the puzzle is in order. I will add these comparisons versus the rest of the league, but a better method of charting the Unit's progress would be a contrast between last season and the present to find out what the deal is. 
 

The first difference to look at in measuring the progress is the Personnel. In 2009, there were players like Darrell Reid, Josh Barrett, Jack Williams, Peyton Hillis, Alphonso Smith, Tony Carter, Casey Wiegmann, Lamont Jordan, Ben Hamilton, Tony Scheffler, Tyler Polumbus, Mitch Berger and Brett Kern.


With the normal player turnover generated for team building and improvement, the 2010 off-season brought new faces to assemble the Special Teams Units. Nate Jones, Joe Mays, Dan Gronkowski, Kevin Alexander and Cassius Vaughn entered via Free Agency. The Draft provided Syd'Quan Thompson, Perrish Cox, DeMaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.

There were also some holdovers such as Darcel McBath, David Bruton, Wesley Woodyard, Spencer Larsen, Richard Quinn, Mario Haggan and Robert Ayers. Here is a list of the Special Teams Tacklers for 2009:

Player
TKL
Darrell Reid 
10
Spencer Larsen
10
Darcel McBath
10
Josh Barrett
9
David Bruton
9
Mario Haggan
7
Wesley Woodyard
7
Peyton Hillis
5
Jack Williams
2
Alphonso Smith
2
Kenny McKinley
2
Champ Bailey
1
Lonie Paxton
1
Daniel Graham
1
Andre' Goodman
1
Vernon Fox
1
Matt Prater
1
Matthew Willis
1
Robert Ayers
1
Richard Quinn
1
Tony Carter
1



As you can see, five of the top 7 contributors (highlighted) are still with the Broncos. Now contrast that with the 2010 Special Teams Tackles through Week 8:

Joe Mays
 5
Cassius Vaughn
 4
David Bruton
 4
Wesley Woodyard
 3
Syd' Quan Thompson
 3
Nate Jones
 3
Dan Gronkowski
 2
Kevin Alexander
 2
Eric Decker
 2
Lonie Paxton
 2
Lance Ball
 1
Perrish Cox
 1
Matthew Willis
 1
Darcel McBath
 1
Jarvis Moss
 1
Richard Quinn
 1
DeMaryius Thomas
 1


There are 11 new players (highlighted) on the Special Teams Unit this year.

Note: Cassius Vaughn has 2 Fumble Recoveries. Lonie Paxton and Spencer Larsen have both downed one punt.

If you were to extrapolate the tackles in the bottom chart, the numbers will fall short of those from last year's campaign. The reason for this is twofold. In the attempt to find the best players for each Unit, the components have been shuffled on an almost weekly basis since Training Camp. For example, Kenny McKinley (R.I.P.), Alphonso Smith, Tony Carter, Matthew Willis, Cassius Vaughn, Syd'Quan Thompson, Perrish Cox and Darcel McBath have all been used as Punt Coverage Gunners this season. Injuries have also taken their toll. Missed games by key 2009 Special Teams players have caused the Tackles to be spread out among the Coverage Units. Darcel McBath has missed five games (weeks 1, 2, 6, 7 and 8). Wesley Woodyard has missed five games too (weeks 2, 4, 6, 7 and 8). Spencer Larsen missed weeks 4 and 5, and Robert Ayers. weeks 6, 7 and 8. I believe this has had an affect on the Special Teams Units this season. 

Matt Prater is having another solid season as the Broncos Field Goal Kicker. He has made 12 out of his 13 Field Goal attempts (92%) and his season long is 59 yards. The lone miss came at an inopportune time though and could have made a difference against the Jets in week 6. Of course there was another Field Goal opportunity missed when Lonie Paxton fumbled a snap during a separate attempt later in the same game. Matt has made 16 of 17 extra point conversions.

Matt has booted 36 Kickoffs. The average landing area is the 6 yard line. He has totaled 14 touchbacks which is 4th in the league. The Mile High altitude has allowed him to make 13 touchbacks in 17 tries. One was an Onside kick that was recovered by Nate Jones and the other three were returned to the 23 yard line. The average starting position after Kickoffs for the Broncos opponents is the 27 yard line. The Kick Coverage Unit has allowed 1 Touchdown (the Titans in week 4) and they are 1 for 2 in Onside kick recoveries.

The Kick Return Unit has 17 returns, which is dead last in the league. Collectively, they have a 24.2 average (13th) and a long of 65 yards. Individually, DeMaryius Thomas has taken the majority with 11 returns for a 25.6 average. He broke off a 65 yard return and has fumbled once. Perrish Cox has 4 returns with an 18.3 average. Eddie Royal has returned one kickoff 33 yards and Eric Decker has one return for 23 yards. For perspective, LaRod Stephens-Howling of the Arizona Cardinals has 32 Kick Returns and Leon Washington of the Seattle Seahawks has the highest average of 33.7 yards per Return.  
              
Britton Colquitt has Punted 43 times in 2010. That is the 3rd most in the league and is a testament to the Broncos failures on 3rd Down. Britton is averaging 44.4 yards per punt (13th), and has a net of 37.5 yards (19th). Colquitt has placed 11 punts Inside the 20 (18th), had 3 Touchbacks (11th) and caused 11 Fair Catches (5th). The average starting position for Broncos opponents off of Punt Returns is the 31.6 yard line.
      
For a little perspective, Andy Lee of the 49ers has 46 Punts. Shane Lechler is number two with 49.8 yard average and (1st) in Net yardage with 42.8 for the Raiders. Mike Scifres of the Chargers is the league leader with 50.1 yards per punt, but out-kicks his coverage since he has a 27.0 Net yard average.

The Punt Coverage Team has had 22 returns against them. They are allowing an average return of 10.8 yards, the longest being a 63 yarder by Golden Tate of Seattle during Week 2. Cassius Vaughn recovered a muffed Punt in the Seattle game. This Unit hasn't allowed a touchdown return.

The Punt Return Unit has 18 returns for a 9.6 yard average. That is good for a middling 16th in the league. The longest return was by Eddie Royal (32 yards) and the group has 6 fair catches and zero returns for touchdowns. Royal has 14 returns for an 11.8 average and one fumble. Perrish Cox has returned 3 punts an average of 4 yards and has one fumble. Syd' Quan Thompson has returned one punt 10 yards and has one fumble.

Eddie Royal is still the best Punt Return man on the Broncos and DeMaryius Thomas has room to grow as the kick returner. Other than the 3 touchbacks, a shank and the two very short punts last Sunday, Britton Colquitt has been an upgrade over his predecessors. He hasn't made a habit of out-kicking the coverage unit and does a good job pinning the opponent in their own end of the field. Matt Prater is the next best thing since Jason Elam left for Atlanta. I wouldn't call him the second coming of Elam, but the Broncos are in good shape with both of their kickers. The Coverage Units however, could stand some consistency. Their averages aren't bad, but lapses on the wrong occasion have made life difficult for the Offense and Defense.
Things like Jarvis Moss' penalty that erased a 78-yard punt return touchdown by Eddie Royal on Sunday have got to be cleaned up. There is definitely room for improvement and hopefully the Bye week will allow some injuries to heal. Overall, I'd have to give the Denver Broncos Special Teams a grade of C.

Go Broncos!




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