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Special Teams Play in Super Bowls

   by Matt Fargo - 01/25/2007

One of the most disregarded areas in football analysis is special teams and the battle of field position. For some teams it matters more than others but as a whole, it plays a very big part in determining the outcome. Winning field position does not necessarily translate into winning the football game but teams starting from their own 30-yard line compared to their own 20-yard line are at a big advantage even though the 10 yards seems minute. Let’s break it down.

Special Teams

Thomas Jones was given the MVP in the NFC Championship for obvious reasons but Mike Greenberg from Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN tabbed Bears punter Brad Maynard the MVP and I completely agree with him. Four of his seven punts pinned the Saints offense deep inside their own territory, and the one he dumped at the Saints five-yard line led to that critical safety that halted the momentum shift that New Orleans was starting to seize.

In the weather that Chicago had on Sunday, you would think the punting would be a liability but Maynard hit punts of 48, 51 and 66 yards in the third quarter. When it was said and done, the Saints finished the game with an average starting field position of their own 22-yard line. Conversely, Chicago started its drives with an average field position of its own 44-yard line. Turnovers helped that position but the Bears started inside their 20-yard line only once after five punts.

In the other game, the punting was limited but effective. Both punters averaged over 51 yards per kick which helped the field position for both sides. The Patriots won the average starting field position battle by 12 yards as the Colts best starting spot was its own 33 yard line on 12 drives not including the final drive following the interception. This is where the Bears might not actually have an edge because Indianapolis didn’t let the poor position effect it as it had seven drives of 59 yards or more.

The Colts and Bears finished 10th and 11th respectively in net punting during the regular season but that doesn’t tell the story. Chicago was 2nd in the league in punt return average and 9th in kickoff return average as it has the most dangerous weapon in rookie Devon Hester. Hester returned three punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns during the season as he finished 2nd and 5th in return yards in those respective categories. He should be salivating after what Ellis Hobbs and New England did last Sunday.

Hobbs returned six kickoffs for a conference championship game record 220 yards while setting up a touchdown with an 80-yard runback and a field goal with a 41-yard return. Hester is no doubt capable of bringing one all the way back but if he plays like he did against Seattle, that edge could be lost. On six returns, he had only 56 yards and had three fumbles. On the season, he fumbled the ball 12 times so at that rate, there is a 2-to-1 chance that he fumbles as opposed to returning a kick for a score.

The Colts have the best clutch kicker ever in Adam Vinatieri so that is a huge edge in the kicking department. However, don’t tell that to Chicago or anyone since it isn’t true. The Bears counter with Robbie Gould who proved to be Mr. Clutch himself with that 49-yard game winner against the Seahawks. He is 32-36 on the season and that is with playing in Chicago. Vinatieri was a solid 25-28 but that was inside a dome. Overall, the Bears were near the top of the NFL in kicking efficiency while the Colts were 8th.

Looking at all of the special teams categories, Chicago does have the decisive edge. If the Bears do win, the MVP isn’t likely going to be Maynard, Hester or Gould although the latter two do have an outside shot. If anything, it will likely be a group effort. The question is will it be enough? It wasn’t enough for the Patriots in the AFC Championship and despite finishing 25 spots lower that the Bears in the league in special teams, it didn’t seem to bother Indianapolis very much either.

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