The 6-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are visiting the 8-3 Denver Broncos this Sunday in a meaningful game for both teams. The Bucs are trying to stay in the playoff race and the Broncos are looking to secure their second consecutive AFC West Division Championship and postseason bid. We know the Buccaneers have the "Muscle Hamster," V-Jax and a solid front seven on Defense, but what about their Special Teams?
The Tampa Special Teams Coordinator is Bob Ligashesky, who is in his first year in this position. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Ligashesky coached the Broncos Tight Ends 2 years ago. That was something of an aberration, because Bob has been involved with coaching Special Teams since 1989. He’s been an NFL coach since the 2000 season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Field Goal Kicking specialist for Tampa Bay is Connor Barth. The Buccaneers must really like him, because they signed him to a 4-year, $13.2 Million contract, with a $3 Million 1st-year roster bonus in May. That’s a lot of cabbage for a guy who only kicks Field Goals. Connor has hit 20 of 25 (80%) Field Goals this year, with a Long of 57 yards. That matches his career best. Barth is 32 for 32 on Extra Point Attempts.
On the other hand (or foot if you will), Michael Koenen earns every bit of his six-year, $19.5 million deal that he inked last season. This guy punts, Holds for Field Goals and handles the Kickoff duties. Little wonder why Kickers always walk the sidelines alone.
As a Punter, Koenen has booted 51 punts with a gross average of 44.9 yards and a 38.0 yard Net. Michael’s longest punt was a 64-yarder. He has 4 Touchbacks and placed 16 Inside the 20 yard line. Six of those were downed by the coverage Unit. Koenen put 7 punts out of bounds and forced 10 Fair Catches. 24 of his punts have been returned an average of 9.58 yards. He’s also had one blocked this season. In Week 6 against the Chiefs, Shaun Draughn blocked Koenen’s punt attempt. Koenen recovered it at the Goal Line and then fumbled the ball on the 1 yard line. Edgar Jones recovered it at the 11 and ran it in to the End Zone for a Touchdown. The Bucs still won 38-10, so it was one of those rare occasions where a Blocked Punt didn’t cost the game.
Koenen’s Kickoffs land around the 4-yard line on average, though he has 48 Touchbacks in 66 Kickoffs (72.7%). 17 have been returned an average of 25.8 yards and he’s had one failed Onside Kick Attempt.
The Buccaneers Long snapper is Andrew Economos, a 6-1, 250 lb, 7th year player out of Georgia Tech. Andrew had a very good career in college, but went Undrafted in 2005. He signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in April of 2005 and was released in 2006 after spending time on the Practice Squad. Economos was picked up by Tampa Bay in 2006 and has been with them ever since. He got a 5-year, $4 Million deal in 2008 and has played 87 games for the Buccaneers, with 16 career Special Teams Tackles, including 4 in 2012. Andrew is a very dependable snapper who also does an excellent job on punt coverage.
The primary Punt returner for Tampa Bay is Roscoe Parrish, who has 18 returns with a 7.7 average. He has called for a Fair Catch on 7 occasions and his longest return this season went 26 yards. Sammie Stroughter has fielded 3 Punts for a 5.3 average and called for 3 Fair Catches.
Arrelious Benn has handled the most Kick Returns for the Bucs this season, but he has also been banged up at times. Benn has 13 returns for A 23.5 yard average and a long of 55 yards. LeQuan Lewis has returned 5 kickoffs for a 21.2 yard average and Michael Smith has fielded 3 for an 18.3 yard average. As a team, the Bucs average 3 yards more per kickoff return when Benn is on the job.
Arrelious Benn is a big contributor on Special Teams. Not only does he handle Kickoffs, but he leads the Buccaneers with 5 Special Teams Tackles. Cody Grimm also has 5 stops on Special Teams. Dekoda Watson, who is their best Punt coverage guy, has 4 Tackles and 3 Assists. Quincy Black, their best Kick coverage guy and best overall Special teamer, has 4 Tackles. Adam Hayward and Long Snapper Andrew Economos each have 4 Tackles as well.
Dekoda Watson won the Special Teams player of the month for November. Dekoda had two Tackles on kick coverage during the month, but he blocked a punt in Week 10 against the Chargers that the Buccaneers returned for a touchdown in a 34-24 victory. He also recovered a fumbled punt by Panthers returner Captain Munnerlyn in Week 11 to set up a touchdown that the Bucs used to help them win 27-21 in Overtime.
Pro Football Focus says the Broncos are 3rd on Special Teams and the Bucs 12th. Football Outsiders has Denver at 11th and Tampa at 27th. That is quite a disparity. If Sunday’s game comes down to Special Teams play, I like Denver’s chances.
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