The New Orleans Saints have received plenty of attention from the media this season. Normally the praise or concern revolves around Drew Brees’ pursuit of Dan Marino’s passing record or the continued skepticism about the Saints' ability to win outdoors.
However, besides the loss of kicker Garrett Hartley in the preseason, New Orleans’ special teams have received little to no publicity. In the 2009 playoffs when the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV, Hartley was perfect throughout—including the NFC Championship game, when he nailed the game-winning field goal.
Despite the loss of Hartley, the special teams unit has not skipped a beat during the 2011 campaign. Thomas Morstead and John Kasay have played magnificently for the black and gold. Morstead leads the league in touchbacks, and Kasay has made 26 of his 31 attempts, which is the fourth-most conversions in the league.
The only weakness found in Kasay’s kicking game is his inconsistency with longer distances; all five of his misses this season have been from 40-plus yards. With that being said, he is still having a great season, and he could possibly even make the Pro Bowl.
Morstead is putting together a stellar season as well, as his average of 47.7 yards per punt is seventh-best in the league.
His net average of 43.5 yards per punt comes in second by a mere .2 yards, and it illustrates just how well the Saints punt coverage unit has played this season. When Devin Hester, the most dangerous kick returner in NFL history, came to town in Week 2, he had one punt return for negative four yards. In fact, the 19 returns against the Saints thus far have only gone for an average of 6.2 yards (118 yards total).
The Green Bay Packers are the only team in the NFL that has punted fewer times (17) than New Orleans. Although they have given up fewer total return yards, the Packers have given up nearly 15 yards per return. In addition, the Saints are second in kickoff attempts behind—you guessed it—the Packers. Both offenses keep their kickers busy throughout the game.
The only player to return a kick or punt for a touchdown against the Saints this year is Packers rookie Randall Cobb. Even with that hiccup in the opening week, the Saints special teams unit is having quite a season.
If New Orleans is going to make another run to the Super Bowl, it will take more than just Brees and the offense putting up points.