Percy Harvin’s Return Adds to Special Teams Dominance

Nov 17, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin (11) returns a kickoff against the Minnesota Vikings during the second quarter at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Football isn’t generally considered to be a game of subtlety. The violence that permeates the sport prevents a reputation for subtlety emerging. However, to those who know football well it is apparent that the sport is full of strategic nuances and understated factors that go into determining the outcome of every game. When someone says something like, “The Broncos are going to win the Super Bowl because Peyton Manning is just too good” there could be some truth to that statement but there is so much it ignores. Even in a league where quarterbacks are king there is always a lot more going on. It is easy to boil football games down to “Manning vs. Brady” or “The Seahawks Secondary vs. Drew Brees” but it’s never that simple.

On that note I thought I would discuss one of the subtle factors that make the Seahawks a good team. With a 10-1 record it is clear to all NFL fans that there is something going on in Seattle. Guys like Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman are household names and the Seahawks are getting some love from fans all over the country in Pro Bowl voting, which is unusual for this franchise. While there can be no doubt that these star players are the driving force behind this team’s success, there are other smaller things at work. One of the most significant of those smaller factors is the special teams units.

As kick returning is becoming more and more marginalized in today’s NFL special teams may seem less important than in the past. However, field position is always valuable and, with the exception of turnovers, said field position is most often dictated by the kicking and kick coverage teams. If you are consistently able to put your offense in a good position to score with kick and punt returns it is a huge advantage. Needless to say, preventing big returns from opposing teams is equally important.

There are four aspects to controlling field position through special teams: kickoff coverage, kickoff returns, punt coverage and punt returns. So far this season the Seahawks have been dominant in two of those phases: punt coverage and punt returns. The following chart shows Golden Tate’s punt returning this year compared to the punt returns the Seahawks have allowed:

Player

Returns

Yards

Yards per Return

Long

Fair Catches

Golden Tate

31

401

12.9

71

6

All Opponents

11

15

1.4

10

18

 

The difference here is staggering. Despite punting less than their opponents the Seahawks have forced three times as many fair catches. They have only allowed 15 yards on returns and 10 on those came on a single return. The domination here is complete and the credit goes first and foremost to Golden Tate and Jon Ryan, but also to the blockers and gunners on these units.

When it comes to kickoffs the Seahawks have been not only been unable to dominate, they have actually been outplayed.

Team

Returns

Yards

Yards per Return

Long

Seahawks

22

454

20.6

58

Opponents

30

747

24.9

40

These numbers are slightly troubling, but they ignore a pretty big factor: the return of Percy Harvin. Harvin’s well documented ability with the ball in his hands could have the Seahawks dominating in three of the four aspects of special teams described above. So far this season the Seahawks have used Jermaine Kearse as their primary kickoff returner (I personally don’t understand why they haven’t tried Christine Michael) who has been unspectacular in the role. Unspectacular is the last word that anyone is going to use to describe Percy Harvin. Although mainting his 58.0 yards per return average for the entire year is impossible, his career statistics in the area are pretty unbelievable:

Year

Returns

Yards

Yards Per Return

Touchdowns

Long

2009

42

1156

27.5

2

101

2010

40

933

23.3

1

95

2011

16

520

32.5

1

104

2012

16

574

35.9

1

105

2013

1

58

58.0

0

58

Total

115

3241

28.2

5

105

 

In both 2011 and 2012 those yards per return averages led the league. Even if we assume that Percy Harvin returns kicks closer to his career average than what he did in 2011 and 2012, he will be a huge upgrade on what the Seahawks have already. You can feel pretty confident that he can top the 24.9 yards per return put up by Seattle’s opponents.

If the Seahawks go deep in this year’s playoffs it will due to their superlative defense and balanced offense. That’s not being disputed here. However, the special teams units, especially the punt and punt return units, are pretty impressive as well. With the return of Percy Harvin the Seahawks can now almost definitely out-return opponents on kickoffs the way they have been doing on punts, although definitely not the same extent. These special teams units tend to only get credit on the biggest possible plays but if they are consistently beating opponents, even by a little bit, that is a huge help to this team. Say that Harvin averages 28.2 yards per return from here on out and the coverage unit continues to allow 24.9. That advantage of a couple of yards isn’t going to make any headlines but it’s definitely useful. Next time Golden Tate gets a routine 11 or 12 yard punt return keep in mind that such a return is longer than a single one the Seahawks have allowed this year. These things take a back seat to the more glamorous parts of the game, and rightfully so, but if the Seahawks hoist the Lombardi Trophy this year special teams coordinator  Brian Schneider is going to deserve far more credit than he gets.

 

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  • Calibandawg

    Do you ever proofread?

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