While our much maligned defense played a large part in our loses in 2016, special teams also prevented us from putting more wins in the column. Will Lutz was having kicks blocked regularly it seemed. The Saints brought in coach Kevin O’Dea as an assistant to special teams and largely resolved that problem. Even normally dependable Thomas Morstead shanked a few. The biggest problem though was with the gunners on both kick-offs and punts.
Even with the shanked and short kicks Morestead still averaged over 48 yards on punts. He has been and continues to be one bright spot on the New Orleans Saints special teams roster. Last week Thomas also average 48 yards. The problem is the nets on his kick-offs and not the distance. This was also a problem in 2016 leading to opponents having great starting field positions. Our defense was already stressed enough without having to contend with short fields.
With the shake up on the coaching staff, particularly special teams, I had high hopes to see this unit improve vastly. While Will and Thomas continued to perform at their usual levels, so did the coverage units. The Saints brought in Bradford Banta as their new 2017 special teams coordinator. Against the Browns, I once again saw the problems that plagued us last season.
On a kickoff return Jake Lampman had 1 for 17 yards. This was a nice return. Tommylee Lewis had a pedestrian 8 yards on 2 punt returns. Alvin Kamara had one decent, only decent, return of 11 yards on his lone attempt.
Now for the disappointing facts on the coverage units. Jabrill Peppers gained 27 yards on one kick-off and 13 yards on a punt return. Then Mario Alford has a kick-off return of 19 yards and a 7 yard punt return. We have to do better than this in the regular season, if we expect to have a better season than the past three. I know it’s only preseason but we need to see improvement sooner rather than later. Morten Andersen was just inducted into the Hall of Fame, and special teams play is much more important in today’s NFL than it was when he played. While I’m not ready to throw in the towel, I hope to see improvements both with this week’s game against the Chargers and throughout the rest of the preseason from our gunners.