During the regular season, punter Steve Weatherford led the NFL in punts inside the 20 and inside the 10, but in the past two playoff games he’s registered more touchbacks than he did throughout the entire 16-game season. Particularly against New England Weatherford was frustrated by his own performance, trying to pin the Patriots inside their own 2-yard line instead of going for safer kicks.
“It’s great to finish the regular season No. 1 in numerous categories, so that feels good,” Weatherford said. “But at the same time, the game against New England, I can’t wait to play the next game. I was thrilled to win that game but at the same time disappointed with getting touchbacks because that’s the worst thing. In my mind that’s the worst thing I can do.”
The last time the Jets played the Steelers was in Week 15, when Weatherford dropped three of his four punts inside the 20 and even had one downed at the 2, which quickly led to Jason Taylor’s game-changing safety. That play put the Green & White up, 22-17, meaning the Steelers needed a touchdown to win instead of a field goal to tie.
Weatherford noted that he’s going into this game with the same strategy that he did last time he went to Heinz Field, not the one he took to Foxboro.
“I’m looking for fair catches at the 7, the 8, the 5,” he said. “I’m not going to try to put it at the 1 every time. Earlier in the year I didn’t try to do that, I tried to get the ball down there with good hangtime so ‘Quice [Marquice Cole] could make a play on it. Last week I was just getting greedy. I was just trying to make a huge play for the team. Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce backwards like you want it to.”
The doctor of special teams, coordinator Mike Westhoff, studied the New England video and realized why Weatherford was a bit off the mark in the divisional round.
“We noticed that he was gaining a little ground, overstriding a little bit,” Westhoff said. “When you do that, sometimes at the last second, in order to not fall down, you fall back a little bit. That tends to put the ball lower and now you drive it so instead of hitting a soft wedge in, you’re hitting an 8-iron, and that’s exactly what he did. What we did is just like any other position, just like you’re a quarterback. You analyze the fundamentals and you go back and you break down the fundamentals and get them back to it.”
The fifth-year Illinois product will need to be on point in this game, which will certainly be decided by field position. Every inch will be fought for, which is good for the Jets because on special teams they’ve been especially good at making every yard count. In fact, the Jets are in the midst of a five game streak with no penalties on special teams, the longest such streak in this millennium for the Green & White.
“I think it’s going to play a big role in this game, the field position advantage,” said special teams ace Lance Laury. “We’re going to have to go out and punt the ball and stop them down on their side of the field. It’s going to be a big point in the game.”
Laury mentioned that the penalty-free mark is likely a result of players using proper technique and fundamentals. In addition, players like Cole as the flyer have employed their athletic advantage to put themselves in positions to make important plays while avoiding penalties. Cole has been the stopper on many of Weatherford’s punts, including Week 15 when he caught the ball at the 2.
“Marquice has done a great job all year getting down there and downing the balls and forcing fair catches and I couldn’t ask any more out of him,” Weatherford said. “So I’m just going to try to go out there and do the best that I can do. I can’t try to put it at the 1 every time. That’s what I tried to do last week and it didn’t work so well for me. I’m just going to try to go out there and create field position for our team and do what I do.”
*Special Teams Saturday
Tags: field position, Heinz Field, Marquice Cole, Mike Westhoff, PIttsburgh Steelers, Steve Weatherford
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