Tom Brady’s return to Foxboro proved triumphant, as the Patriots overcame some early struggles to dominate the Bengals in the second half, leading to another solid win. With the Broncos, Raiders, and Steelers all losing, the Patriots now have sole possession of first place in the AFC, and special teams have certainly played an important role in the team’s early-season success. This week, I chose to focus on the “Core 4” special teams units, the kickoff and punt coverage units and the kick and punt return units, and the strengths and weaknesses of them.
First, the kickoff coverage unit is off to an outstanding start, allowing just 16.5 yards per return on average, good for second in the NFL, trailing just Denver. Belichick certainly has great trust in the unit, and has used the new strategy of forcing opponent to return kicks instead of kicking it through the end zone for a touchback several times a game, due to the unit’s tremendous ability to get down the field and gang-tackle.
The Patriots rank third in kickoffs returned with 15, and the two teams ahead of them, Houston and Buffalo, rank 9th and 16th, respectively, in average kick return yards. These statistics show that the Patriots have adapted to the new touchback rule better than just about anyone else in the NFL, and a huge part of that success has to be credited to the work of the coverage