Breaking Down the New York Giants' Special Teams Struggles

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Breaking Down the New York Giants' Special Teams Struggles
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It might be a cliche, but there really hasn't been anything special about the performance of the New York Giants special teams unit this season.

After nine weeks, some of their major rankings paint a not-so pretty picture.

New York Giants Special Teams Categories Rankings
Statistic League Rank
Avg. Kickoff Return 21.2 yards 26
Avg. Punt Returns 6.1 yards 26
Punt Returns Allowed for TD 3 1
Punting Net Avg. 35.4 31
Punts Downed 3 25 (tie)
Punts Inside the 20 11 24
Punt Return Yards Allowed 424 yards 1

Source: NFL.com

According to special teams coordinator Tom Quinn, who last spoke to the media on Oct. 24, there hasn't been any one specific reason for the special teams woes.

Quinn did, however, admit that the constant turnover in personnel on the special teams units created some challenges.

"You’re shuffling guys in and out and trying to find solutions that way, (and) there are not that many guys to do that with," Quinn noted.

One example of the personnel headaches Quinn has had involves rookie defensive end Damontre Moore, who has played gunner on the punt coverage team.

"It is very unusual, yeah," Quinn confirmed when asked about having a defensive end assigned to a role normally reserved to a defensive back or receiver.

Issues such as these have led to breakdowns such as guys not shedding blocks, missed tackles and poor angles.

There have also been instances where the kicking specialists have out-kicked their coverage.

The result of the inconsistencies on special teams has been a noticeable difference in the Giants' starting field position in each of their games.

As shown in this table, New York's average starting field position has been their 26-yard-line while their opponents’ average starting field position has been their 31-yard-line.

Let's take a look at some of the issues as they have applied to specific plays. 

 

Punt Coverage

Week 2: vs. Denver (Fourth Quarter, 10:32)

Punt returner Trindon Holliday became the first of three punt returners to run a punt back for a touchdown against the Giants, his return going for 81 yards.

The snap from long snapper Zak DeOssie appeared to be a little high, though punter Steve Weatherford did a nice job of pulling it down. When he punted it, the ball appeared to go off the side of his foot before traveling 50 yards.

The first problem with the coverage is that gunner Trumaine McBride (in yellow), who was closest to the punt, lost his one-on-one battle and was pushed well past Holliday (blue circle), who can be seen starting to run upfield in this frame.

The next problem was missed tackles by DeOssie and Spencer Paysinger, the former trying to dive at Holliday, who simply cut back to the middle of the field. 

Also on this play, the Giants ended up bunching together, which made it easier for Denver to combo block guys given the close proximity of the Giants’ attackers.

Note how there were four Giants (circled in yellow) who previously faced one Bronco. Holliday (blue circle), who was being chased by Louis Murphy, was headed for an area where he had four teammates (larger blue circle) who were ready to take care of one Giants blocker.

As the play progressed, a second Bronco came into the cluster of Giants and knocked two Giants to the ground. 

While Holliday continued his forward progress, it appeared that one Broncos player knocked three Giants to the ground while another was seen tying up a Giants defender.

This left Holliday with the task of simply outrunning DeOssie, who was back on his feet, and Weatherford. Holliday did just that and scored his touchdown. 

 

Kickoff Coverage

Week 7: Minnesota (Third Quarter, 8:45)

Vikings kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson’s 69-yard kickoff return was yet another example of the Giants coverage unit allowing themselves to be bunched up.

Note how nine Giants players were behind Patterson (circled in blue) while two other Giants (the red "X") were either blocked or on the ground.

"We knew (Patterson) was an excellent returner," Quinn said. "A couple of guys lost leverage. He’s running full speed, he puts his foot in the ground, and he came out full speed the other way."

The lone Giant with a chance at Patterson was Antrel Rolle, who, rather than risk taking a bad angle—if he missed, then Patterson likely would have made it into the end zone—dropped back to meet Patterson along the sideline, where he ultimately helped to push the kickoff returner out of bounds.

 

Punt Return

Week 8: at Philadelphia (Second Quarter, 7:37)

Although Giants punt returner Rueben Randle only came up with five yards on this return, it might very well have been more had Prince Amukamara (circled in blue), who was responsible for one of the Eagles gunners, not been beaten by an outside move that contributed to him falling to the ground. 

In this frame, several Giants appeared to be late in getting off their blocks and down the field.

Note how there were six Eagles plus the free gunner about to fan out to stop Randle from turning up the field.

Also note the amount of space between the Eagles, who had begun to run down the field, and the five Giants in the black box who were just starting to head in that direction. 

The Eagles' gunner was able to quickly get in Randle’s way just as the receiver fielded the punt. Instead of stepping forward, Randle was forced to take his first step to his right to avoid being instantly brought down.

Because the swarm of Eagles had started to fan out and had taken away any chance for Randle to cut back to the middle of the field, the Eagles picked up the sideline as an extra "defender" as they forced Randle out of bounds.

 

Kickoff Return

Week 3: at Carolina (Fourth Quarter, 13:30)

One of the keys to successful special teams play is to win your individual battles. Unfortunately for the Giants kickoff return team, this has not always been the case.

In this example, kickoff returner David Wilson (circled in blue) tried to follow his blockers just outside the right hash marks. (The red X's denote potential blocks Wilson had to work with, including two on the side that he planned to exploit.)

However, the yellow arrows show two Giants who lost their respective one-on-one battles.

Wilson was counting on Larry Donnell (circled in yellow) to make his block and push his man out of the way.

If Donnell, who can be seen in this screen capture lunging at his man (the same man who makes the tackle on Wilson) had made this block, Wilson then had a running lane between the two Giants blocks, "A" and "B," respectively.

Because Donnell (Block B) didn't win his battle, Wilson was stopped after gaining just 24 yards on his return.


Conclusion

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The day after the Vikings game, a game in which the Giants surrendered their third punt return for a touchdown, head coach Tom Coughlin was asked if the schemes were causing special teams to break down.

"I don’t think schematically is the answer," he said.

So what is the answer?

Linebacker Jacquian Williams, who leads the Giants with five special teams tackles, believes it’s a matter of inexperienced guys playing special teams who are struggling to get used to their added responsibilities.

"Some guys aren't comfortable yet playing on (special teams), so we’re building that," he said. "But then again, I believe that with special teams, it’s a time for guys to just go down there and make plays."

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Jacquian Williams, No. 57

Williams believes it shouldn't be hard for a player to become accustomed to playing on special teams.

"It’s not like (offense and defense)," he said. "Do your job, stay in your lane, hit the guy in the mouth, and go down there and make a tackle."

If the special teams are going to improve, Williams said each participant needs to commit to preparation and be determined to win every battle.

"The bottom line is it boils down to effort and preparation," he said. "It’s important for us to pick it up. We know that the New York Giants as an organization takes pride in playing special teams.

"We've definitely been embarrassed, and we’re going to improve our play from here on out."

 

Patricia Traina is the senior editor for Inside Football. All quotes and information obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Patricia on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina.

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