Cody Barton has 134 snaps on special teams leading the Seahawks. He has four special teams tackles, all of which added value for Seattle. Two stopped the opposing kick returner from reaching the 25. One stopped a dangerous punt return after Michael Dickson outkicked his coverage. And one, well one mercy killed certain things clinging to life. Let’s look at all four.
Barton’s stutter and go
Barton is on the right third in from the sideline and third out from the kicker. Center. Seattle’s kick unit is mostly populated by defensive backs and skill positions players, fast guys, but Barton is very fast for a linebacker. Accounting for his position and size, his 4.67 40 ranks in the eightieth percentile. But, as someone once said, wealth is best measured by the deals one can refuse. I’m looking at you, Amy Poehler. Barton’s speed here is best measured by his ability to slow down.
First let’s look at the speed. He’s more or less apace the players running straight down the field. Fastest by far, it should be noted, is Travis Homer. He begins immediately left of the ball. The formation seems to be organized thus: fast players directly to the left and right of kicker Jason Myers, and from there slowest to fastest ranging from interior to exterior.
There are an awful lot of little things that go into good special teams play but as is so often true in football, without speed they don’t matter a wit. Coverage is best achieved by a relatively coherent string of players who enclose the returner like a net. With enough team speed, returners can be channeled to slower players. Nick Bellore, directly to Barton’s left, is notably slower than his teammates, but Bellore is a former inside linebacker and good at fighting through tackles. He leads Seattle with six special teams tackles. Barton and teammates are far enough fast enough to funnel returners toward Bellore.
And he’s far enough fast enough to fool noted special teams ace Matthew Slater with a stutter and go move.
Barton, Delano Hill and Ugo Amadi form the points of an obtuse triangle on the right. Barton already has the angle on Slater but behind Slater is fullback Jakob Johnson. Barton slows, taking four steps tap-tap-tap-tap, before cutting right and torquing his momentum hard left. Slater is fooled so badly that he ends up taking out Johnson before the downed Johnson trips Slater. Barton Moes Curly and Larry.
Which results in this:
And for those of us who like a little math with our tape, 0.14 EPA. Which is worth about as much as a five yard run on first and ten.
Barton fights through a block
Broadcast footage often makes it look like special teams players appear from thin air ready to make a tackle. But special teams is football and football is a game of games. What’s cool here is Barton breaking through the block of Zeke Turner. The UW alum is making it in the NFL the hard way.
Look for 57 just southeast of center.
Barton uses his momentum to stagger Turner before tossing him to the side. Simple stuff, but enough to add 0.060 expected points. Which isn’t a ton. When you’re doing the right thing, the benefits are often felt in dribs and drabs before the dam bursts.
Barton makes a thrackle; Barton forces a fumble
Barton is a blocker on the punt unit. That means he’s at a disadvantage.
He doesn’t get to release until after blocking. When he does, he’s opposed but not blocked by 86 River Cracraft. The Coug alum is making it in the NFL the hard way. In five years this is how computer algorithms will write all posts. Cracraft for whatever reason is assigned Shaquem Griffin. Rendering Barton’s little shake and bake to shake Cracraft useless. I will not show said shake and bake.
Dickson outkicks the coverage. Barton’s tackle does not result in value added for Seattle, at least relative to what can be expected. But it’s a good play and it help ends what could have been a dangerous return.
I timed the gif to begin a split second before Trent Taylor begins his return. Barton is the player who makes a rounded right angle right beginning just before the 30.
See him? This might help.
His angle is actually a little off. He trails Taylor and probably would not be able to catch Taylor if not for Bellore et al. blocking Taylor’s path. It’s synergistic. Minister of Good Vibes Luke Willson drives Taylor inside before being creamed. Barton drives Taylor back out. Taylor isn’t tackled. He’s triple tackled.
Now for the only play you probably cared to read about.
Barton angles toward the returner. He slows to set up the angle before ripping through and running away from the block of Johnathan Cyprien. The FIU alum is keeping his NFL dream alive the hard way. He carries a lot of momentum into his tackle.
Barton knocks the ball loose. Bellore knocks it free and recovers it. As it turns out, this is also a post about how Nick Bellore is becoming a special teams ace.
That play was worth 4.17 EPA. It ended the competitive portion of the game. San Francisco’s win probability fell 4.2% after the fumble, spending another 23 minutes of game clock in the spectacular throes of death.
It may also have ended Dante Pettis’s time in San Francisco.
Barton is good depth and a very good special teams player. He’s overqualified to be either. Somewhere he could be a frustrating starter racking up tackles. In a few years I hope he gets just that. Today, contention; tomorrow, may Barton earn a modestly deserved payday. But, today, contention, and while Seattle’s slump-proof passing game is the engine driving the Seahawks’ chances, don’t be surprised if depth and special teams prove vital to turning those chances into a Super Bowl victory.