For whatever reasons, ever since returning from their bye week, the Jets’ special teams haven’t been as sharp and efficient as usual.
Trouble began in Seattle on Nov. 11 when punt returner Jeremy Kerley muffed a second-quarter punt, which the Seahawks recovered and soon thereafter turned into seven points.
That was followed up at St. Louis the next week when one of Nick Folk’s field goals was blocked and a Tim Tebow fake-punt shovel pass to Lex Hilliard was stopped.
And most recently, against the Patriots on Thanksgiving, Joe McKnight fumbled a kickoff return, resulting in a TD for the opposition.
Special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff didn’t have a clear explanation for the recent struggles.
“We do things in practice,” Westhoff said, “but there’s only so many things you can do. I mean, we can’t run a live kickoff coverage in practice this time of the year. We’ve already had a million. You have to be able to hang onto it. So those instances, even though they’re separate entities — very, very frustrating.”
Yet Westhoff was pleased with his kickoff covereage unit against the Pats.
“They couldn’t get to the 20,” Westhoff said. “They couldn’t have gotten to the 20 with an all-star team running that against what we were doing. We had it. I look at it technically. I know what I’m talking about. So we have them covered.”
Westhoff was shocked the McKnight miscue occurred, particularly because it looked like he had a chance to take the return all the way.
“Here I’m seeing this develop,” the ST coordinator said. “I’m thinking, ‘We’ve got them. We’re going to hit this.’ All of a sudden it ends up becoming a gigantic play for them and they get the big Thanksgiving celebration and we get a weekend in Palookaville.”
Jets seventh-year safety Eric Smith said the mistakes and errors on special teams haven’t only been discouraging for Westhoff but for the entire unit.
“We’ve just given up a lot of plays that we don’t need to,” Smith said. “We’ve got them schemed up well, we’ve just got some guys out of position, missed some tackles or missed some blocks.”
The Arizona Cardinals, Sunday’s opponents, feature one of the NFL’s premier punt returners in Patrick Peterson. Last season as a rookie, Peterson tied the NFL single-season punt-return touchdown record, finishing with four, with all four of his scores at least 80-yard returns. Those impressive numbers certainly haven’t gone unnoticed by Westhoff.
“I’ll tell you what he’s incredible at aside from being a prolific punt returner,” Westhoff said. “He rushes field goals as good as maybe anybody I’ve ever seen. He can run under a chair. He explodes and he’s low. He’s strong. At 220 pounds, he runs through a lot of things aside from being so explosive. He’s a real factor.
“Sometimes his numbers maybe aren’t quite what he would want them to be. He takes chances. I mean, he ran a 99-yard punt return. That meant he fielded it on the 1. A lot of guys wouldn’t do that. He does that kind of stuff. So he’s very daring.”
When Peterson entered the NFL out of LSU in 2011, Westhoff listed him as his top draft prospect.
“He’s extremely, extremely talented,” Westhoff said. “I have tremendous respect for him.”
The unit is also hoping personal protector Tim Tebow will be ready to go after he didn’t see action in last week’s game due to his broken ribs.
“I think I know Tim Tebow pretty well,” Westhoff said. “The guy’s pretty tough. Anytime you have one of those things, there’s always a safety or precaution because you don’t know what it could become.”
If the Jets envision being successful Sunday, one area they should attempt to capitalize on McKnight’s specialty, kickoff returns. Arizona ranks 30th in the NFL in both their 27.9-yard average return allowed and opponents’ averaged 24.3-yard-line drive start. But as Westhoff cautioned, it all circles back to fundamentals.
“Every play is measured by the proper execution of that play,” he said. “Sometimes a really good punt return is a fair catch. That can be a heck of a play, things like that. Whatever the situation requires, I want to try to win at that situation. And I want everyone to win at it, every single guy. That’s my goal.”
*Special Teams Saturday
Tags: Arizona Cardinals, Eric Smith, Jeremy Kerley, joe McKnight, Mike Westhoff, New England Patriots, Nick Folk, Patrick Peterson
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