To an extent, I can understand why the Seattle Seahawks didn’t fire defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr even after the worst defensive showing this team has had since 2010. I am baffled as to why Brian Schneider is still in charge of special teams despite repeatedly mediocre to bad results in recent seasons.
In al fairness, Schneider did oversee a mostly great special teams group from 2010-2015, with Leon Washington, Golden Tate, and a rookie Tyler Lockett all producing quality results in the return game. Steven Hauschka was mostly “Hausch money” dating back to his arrival in 2011, while Jon Ryan used the punt to set up the pass.
Brian Schneider: The good years (rankings by DVOA)
Then something happened. Something really bad.
Brian Schneider: The “he should probably be replaced” years (rankings by DVOA)
Taking a closer look at the DVOA breakdown, the 2016 team was brought down heavily by Hauschka’s struggles with the pushed back extra point attempts — he was just 29/35 and had several field goals and PATs blocked — as well as poor punting and/or punt coverage.
The 2017 team had Blair Walsh. They also gave up the 6th most punt return yards in the NFL and were 9th in return yards allowed per punt. I’m pretty sure 90% of those yards came in just that blowout loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
In 2018, the special teams group was a net negative everywhere except kickoff returns, and even then they were one of only five teams to allow a kick return touchdown that year. This is what I wrote after the team was eliminated by the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs:
Just in the month of December, the Seahawks gave up a kick return touchdown, two blocked punts in a single game, multiple big kick and punt returns, three missed extra points, and Sebastian Janikowski was fortunate to not have had multiple blocked kicks given the frequency of free rushers being able to get a shot at the ball.
For 2019, the Seahawks improved to 20th and were below-average across the board by the five main DVOA metrics. The return game was staggeringly useless and ranked 28th in punt return yards and 26th in kickoff returns. Their longest punt runback was 20 yards and longest kick return was a measly 33. Jason Myers was perfect from 20-39 yards but was just 6/11 on field goals of 40+ yards in the regular season, and he was among the group of kickers with the most missed extra points (4). A few of Myers’ field goal misses led directly to touchdowns at the other end. If you want encouraging news, Michael Dickson was 6th among all punters in percentage of punts landing inside the 20.
It is admittedly not easy to assess special teams even from an analytics perspective, but the results have not been encouraging for some time and that has to change in 2020. For starters, Tyler Lockett is far too valuable to remain a return man, and frankly speaking he’s long stopped being a dangerous player at that position. I’m sure film breakdown of lackluster kick and punt return coverage would involve a lot of poor gap discipline and the missed tackles that were prevalent throughout the season.
If Seattle wants to be legitimate contenders again and want to return to the glory days, special teams is among the units that has to improve, otherwise we’ll once again be looking to Russell Wilson to perform some more miracles.