The problem with having a booming punter is that there is the possibility that he out-kicks his coverage team. And that has partially been the case for several years with regards to punter Shane Lechler: The Raiders have always had trouble keeping up with Lechler’s bombs.
It happened again this season, as the Raiders finished last in defensive punt return average at 13.5 yards per return. But in general, some of that lack of coverage can be attributed to the poor performance of the unit in general. After all, the San Francisco 49ers averaged 50.9 yards per punt but allowed only 8.1 yards per return.
The Raiders’ special teams squad failed again at grounding the opponent’s return game. Oakland allowed two punt returns for a touchdown in 2011. And only eight times did opponents call for a fair catch—last in the league.
Again, some of the blame can be given to Lechler, who is responsible for the hang time, direction and length of the punts, but it’s clear that the Raiders need to shore up their punting unit in order to complement Lecher’s long-ball punting.
The kickoff return unit, however, was not much better. Oakland ranked sixth-worst in opponent’s kickoff return average at 25.7 yards per return. This included one touchdown return.
Out-kicking the coverage doesn’t apply as much in kickoffs, and although Sebastian Janikowski has a strong leg too, the Raiders simply did not come through when pinning opponents deep in their own end of the field. Whether it’s tackling, routes or the wrong type of players, Oakland has been unable to corral opponents when returning kicks.
This has been a flaw for some time, and it has obviously hurt the team all around. Losing the field-position battle means that the defense is working harder to prevent teams from scoring. Ultimately, this puts more pressure on the offense to continue making first downs. Despite Janikowski’s long leg, opponents did not down the ball as often as one would hope. The Raiders ranked 20th in the NFL in touchback percentage—a testament to opponents’ confidence in reaching beyond the 20-yard line.
The Raiders may need to replace special teams coordinator John Fassel this offseason. It’s clear he hasn’t been able to do the job to help the tired Oakland special teams coverage.