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How special are the Patriots Special Teams?
This week, the (2-2) Denver Broncos will travel to Foxborough to meet the (2-2) New England Patriots in a Week 5 Sunday afternoon matchup. The Patriots No. 1 Offense will pit itself against the Broncos No. 7 Defense and that should be exciting to watch. However, I think the 3rd part of these two football teams may be a factor in the game. Let’s take a look at the Special Teams group for the Patriots.
- Pro Football Focus grades the Broncos Special Teams 1st overall and the Patriots at 23rd.
- Football Outsiders ranks Denver 17th and New England 24th.
Stephen Gostkowski handles all the kicking duties for New England. He is 10 for 13 (77%) on Field Goal Attempts with a Long of 53 yards, which is a Career high. Gostkowski has been a perfect 14 for 14 on Extra Points this year.
Stephen’s kickoffs average landing area is 1-yard deep in the end zone. In 29 kickoffs, he has 18 touchbacks, which is 2nd only to Matt Prater. 11 kickoffs have been returned for an average of 23.2 yards.
The Punter and Holder on place kicks is 3rd year man Zoltan Mesko. Zoltan isn’t doing so hot this year, so perhaps it is a good thing that he has the league’s No. 1 Offense in front of him. He has punted 16 times so far this season, for a 38.6 gross average and a 32.6 Net. That is quite a difference from his career marks of 44.0 yards gross and 39.3 yards Net. Mesko’s longest this season went 56 yards and he had one blocked in Week 2 against the Arizona Cardinals. The New England npunt coverage unit is allowing an average of 7.33 yards per return.
2nd year pro Danny Aiken does the Long Snapping chores for the Patriots. Danny was claimed off waivers and awarded to the New England Patriots from Buffalo during the preseason last year. He was originally signed by the Bills as a rookie Free Agent prior to their Training Camp in 2011. He played in all 16 regular season games, snapping on all punts, Field Goals and extra points and made six Special Teams Tackles.
Other notable Special Teamers for New England are Rookies (#43) Nate Ebner (3 TKL), (#38) Brandon Bolden (2 TKL) and (#27) Tavon Wilson (1 TKL). Talk about getting a return out of the younger players. Five others also have 1 Special Teams stop.
The Punt Returner for the Patriots is Julian Edelman with 6 returns averaging 10.5 yards. On occasion, Wes Welker will drop back. He has signaled for a Fair Catch 3 times and brought one back 14 yards.
Devin McCourty is the primary Kick Returner for New England, but Matthew Slater has made a 19-yard return. McCourty has 5 returns under his belt this season with an average of 23.6 yards. The Patriots have not scored a touchdown on Special Teams this year, nor have they allowed one.
One would think with the way the statistics trend, that the Broncos should dominate this aspect of the game. We know how good the Denver Kickers are. They don’t leave much to return. ST’s Coordinator Jeff Rodgers has the Broncos coverage units well coached. The only knocks I see are Denver’s returners. KR Omar Bolden has done alright, but he has only had a few opportunities. He did take one to the house during the preseason though. PR Jim Leonhard has reliable hands, but I think he hasn’t scared anyone. With the way Zoltan Mesko has been punting, maybe Leonhard can break off a big return.
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