Seahawks getting a kick on special teams

Starters, backups work with strong-legged specialists to give Seahawks top-notch unit

dave.boling@thenewstribune.comOctober 21, 2013 

Sep 29, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Seattle Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka (4) kicks a field goal in overtime to defeat the Houston Texans 23-20 at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

TROY TAORMINA — Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

RENTON — Jon Ryan’s first punt of the season for the Seahawks was returned 10 yards by Ted Ginn Jr. of the Carolina Panthers.

Because of Ryan’s precision placement and hovering hang time, along with aggressive coverage, the next 25 punts in seven games have been returned a total of minus-2 yards.

Then consider kicker Steven Hauschka. Except for the field goal blocked at Indianapolis, Hauschka has made his past 27 field-goal attempts.

And since the start of the 2012 season, playoffs included, he’s 43-for-47, with the four failures the result of two blocks and distant misses from 61 and 51 yards.

His 22-for-23 mark in outdoor conditions over the past two seasons (95.7 percent) is the best success rate of anybody in the NFL with more than 10 attempts.

Yet he draws attention only when he gets obliterated

attempting a tackle on a kickoff.

Thirty-five percent of the Seahawks’ plays are on special teams, and excellence on those units contributes significantly to the team’s six wins.

Yet the field-goal block and touchdown return against the Colts was a factor in their lone 2013 defeat. And a fumbled snap by replacement holder Chris Maragos gave a calamitous (but ultimately insignificant) touchdown to Tennessee a week later.

And that is the perfect example of how volatile – and valuable – special teams plays can be in the National Football League.

“When you get plays like that, it sheds a bad light on how well we’re playing on special teams,” said Heath Farwell, captain of the special teams. “You get two unfortunate plays and it can overshadow how well we’ve played overall. The effort really has been amazing.”

When Hauschka was left bloody and concussed after a tackle on a kickoff against the Titans, Ryan was left to line up as kicker, and Maragos, a safety, assumed Ryan’s role as holder.

It was not as absurd as it might have seemed, since Ryan had kicked field goals when he was in the CFL, and Maragos was the holder in college at Wisconsin.

But when it went awry, it made headlines.

“There’s the potential for something big on every special teams play,” Ryan said. “You look at our ‘goals board’ (in the locker room) and we’re reaching 11 or 12 every game. You might get 20 plays on special teams every game but if one goes bad, it’s what everybody sees.”

A core group of backups man the coverage and return units, but the Seahawks are a team that emphasizes special teams so much they sprinkle a number of starters on the units.

All-Pro safety Earl Thomas and Pro Bowl safety Kam Chancellor are the outside pursuers on kickoff coverage, and All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman serves as a “jammer,” who hounds the opposition’s “gunners” on punt returns.

“It says a lot about who those guys are and who we are as a team and how much special teams mean to us,” Ryan said. “You’re not going to see Pro Bowl guys rolling down there on special teams and making tackles on most teams, but our guys are really getting after it. It says a lot about the character of those guys.”

Thomas has 17 special teams tackles in his career and a touchdown off a blocked punt. Sherman scored on a 90-yard return of a blocked field goal last season.

“I love it; I love special teams,” Thomas said. “We’ve got a lot of unselfish guys and we take pride in what we do. We’re very physical, very fast, relentless and aggressive.”

Thomas deflects credit to some of the special teams aces, Maragos, Byron Maxwell, Farwell and Mike Morgan, players who have lent continuity to those units.

“Give credit to them; they’re the core of this team and we wouldn’t be where we are without them,” Thomas said.

Ryan saw how important special teams were to coach Pete Carroll from the first day.

“When this staff got here four years ago, we started over to build a nucleus, bringing in some really good special teams guys and keeping them together,” Ryan said. “It’s fun to be a part of that.”

A couple of relative newcomers, though, have been important this season.

Backup corner Jeremy Lane, in his second year, “is playing as good as anybody I’ve ever seen play at gunner (on punt coverage), splitting double teams and causing fair catches,” Farwell said.

The other is fullback Derrick Coleman “who has been unreal with his blocking and all the stuff behind the scenes that nobody really understands,” Farwell said.

Offensive regulars operate within the dictates of the scheme, and defenders have assignments and coverage duties. But the essence of special teams is flying to the ball and making plays.

“Guys give it 100 percent and just fly around and have fun with it,” Ryan said. “I think so many of the guys really enjoy it because you’re not as restricted as you are in the other elements of the game.”

Farwell and Ryan, independently, gave the same one word answer when asked to identify the most crucial component to special-teams success: Effort.

“That’s the key, guys playing with such great effort,” Farwell said. “You see starters showing how much they care about it. That’s the attitude of all the guys here, doing whatever they can to help this team win.”

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.boling@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks @DaveBoling

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