The previous record for fewest yards allowed on punt returns was held by the 1991 Buffalo Bills and stood at 53 yards. Under new Falcons special teams coordinator, Keith Armstrong, Atlanta broke that record and set a new benchmark: 49 yards. To put that in perspective, nine different players had punt returns for 50+ yards in 2009.
Ironically, Bobby April of the Bills won special teams coach of the year. Mike Smith won head coach of the year for the Falcons. Keith Armstrong's reward is success and it follows him from team to team.
Armstrong began his NFL career in 1994 with the Falcons as the safeties coach. In two years he was promoted to run the secondary. A dismal 3-13 team paved his way to Chicago.
Chicago finished last in their division every year while Armstrong was with the team. However, they finished in the top 10 on special teams every year and bested in 2000 by finishing fourth in the league.
The then-frequent playoff contender Miami Dolphins recognized Armstrong's talent, and picked him up as special teams coordinator from 2001-2007. His tutelage steered the Dolphins every year to a consistent top 10 finish in special teams.
On January 29, 2008 Keith Armstrong became the special teams coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons and the rest is history.
The significance of Armstrong's achievements since coming back to Atlanta tie into the defense. With a rookie-laden defense, field position and yards gained after a punt are critical. Atlanta finished last year ranked 24th in total defense.
Michael Koenen's booming punts provide a strong platform for Atlanta to repeat punting dominance but Armstrong is the engineer for their success. Finishing in the top ten in overall special teams again in 2009 will be crucial to Atlanta returning to the playoffs.
Orchestrating the best field position after a punt for any team in NFL history provides job security to say the least. But to improve on that mark would be astonishing.
Keith Armstrong has not received accolades for his success, but if he continues such achievements in Atlanta he won't need them.
After all, nobody in the NFL prefers an award over a ring.
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