Give me 60 seconds to rant, please. Starting…now.
In light of a big week for highlight-reel special-teams plays, the importance of the third, often forgotten aspect of football has become a prevalent talking point on generic football analysis shows. Last night, NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, whom I usually love to watch and learn from, re-stated an old cliché:
“Special teams are one-third of the game.”
It’s a point that makes me want to hurl my remote at my television set. No, special teams are not one-third of the game. Not even close. An average NFL game has about 10 kickoffs, nine punts and four field goal attempts. Even if you include extra points (an average of about five per game) it’s very rare that an NFL game has more than 25 special-teams plays. A solid chunk of those plays end with the ball sailing out of bounds or into the end zone for a kneel down and a touchback.
A typical NFL game has about 130 plays from scrimmage. Do the math, people. If there are 150 plays in a football game, only about 25 of them will be special-teams plays. And that’s being generous. Even if every special-teams plays carried the same importance as regular plays from scrimmage, special teams still wouldn’t make up more than about 25 percent of the game.
As far as impact goes, take any game with 10 big plays and there’s a chance one, maybe two of those plays will have come on special teams. This year, there have been 21 kick return touchdowns and 10 punt return touchdowns. That’s 31 return scores in 224 games.
Does having a particularly good return man or field goal kicker help? Absolutely. Does it change your team? Almost never. Ultimately, every starter you have on offence and defence is more important to your team’s success than your kicker, your punter or your return man.
Special teams can help a team win or lose a game. And because an NFL team’s season can turn on one play, it’s extremely important that you have a competent special-teams unit with players who have the ability to make a big kick, knock a punt out of bounds at the two-yard line and take a kickoff return the distance. But guys who can do that can be had for a fraction of the dollars it costs to bring in a quality starter anywhere else on the field.
There’s a reason scrubs play on special teams. Ninety percent of the time, they just don’t matter.