Seahawks’ special teams deserve some praise after Packers’ collapse
There has been a lot to dissect following a season where the Seahawks fell far short of their usual standards, but one area where they did excel was the often overlooked third phase of the game.
The importance of special teams was put on full display this weekend in the Packers’ divisional round playoff loss to the 49ers. The Packers had a field goal blocked at the end of the first half, a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, and somehow had only 10 men on the field when the 49ers kicked their game winning field goal.
The NFL’s worst special teams unit turned in one of the worst special teams performances in NFL playoff history … and appears to have had only 10 men on the field for the winning field goal. pic.twitter.com/bJvPtHYXkQ
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) January 23, 2022
Packers coach Matt LaFleur acknowledged the impact of those miscues in his postgame press conference.
“I don’t know exactly what happened. I’ll have to go back and take a look at the tape,” he said. “We had two blocks in this game and obviously, it played a big part in us coming up short.”
It’s more than fair to place some of the blame on the Packers’ special teams for the loss, but it feels like that group is similar to the offensive line in that it generally gets all of the blame and none of the praise. So maybe the Seahawks’ unit deserves a little bit of praise.
First of all, it’s important to note the coaching job that Seahawks special teams coach Larry Izzo has done with his group. In September 2020, Izzo stepped in when then-special teams coach Brian Schneider had to take some personal time. Head coach Pete Carroll told reporters by December that Schneider was back with the team but made a point to acknowledge Izzo’s impressive work.
“I can’t say enough about what Larry has done to maintain our level of play and even go beyond it,” Carroll said. “To give us that kind of week-to-week consistency, it’s really separated our guys.”
Schneider ended up joining Urban Meyer’s staff in Jacksonville last offseason and Izzo officially took over as special teams coach. Under Izzo, the Seahawks managed to maintain the consistency Carroll valued and earned some recognition in the process.
SI’s Rick Gosselin just released his annual NFL special teams rankings, and the Seahawks are in the top five for the second consecutive season at No. 3. Gosselin has 22 categories that he uses to score each team. The Seahawks were tied for first in takeaways (three) and third in points scored (14).
When it comes to kicking, Jason Myers’ six missed field goals didn’t earn them any accolades, but the Seahawks did get another stellar performance from punter Michael Dickson. He led the league in punts inside the 20 for the second straight year with 40. He also provided us with one of the more educational and entertaining plays of the season when he almost had a punt blocked in their October meeting with the Rams but instead executed a double punt.
So this happened.
— NFL (@NFL) October 8, 2021
The 14 special teams points scored by the Seahawks all came courtesy of running back Travis Homer. First there was his onside kick return for a TD against the Jaguars on Halloween.
— NFL (@NFL) December 5, 2021
Then, in the Seahawks’ second game against the 49ers, Homer got his number called for a fake punt and took it all the way to the house.
— NFL (@NFL) December 5, 2021
It was film study observation by Izzo that led the Seahawks to believe there was a 49ers tendency that they could exploit, but Pete Carroll told Mike Salk on his weekly 710 ESPN Seattle appearance that Homer was the one that had the final say.
“Homer runs the whole show out there… and Tyler Ott, but Homer makes all the calls,” Carroll said. “He had to see it. He had to call it, communicate it, all that. It was beautiful, you know? We were ready to punt the ball and here comes the audible. You just have to hand it to those guys, beautiful execution.”
That play is emblematic of this unit’s season. They were well-coached, highly efficient and not afraid to have a little fun with it.