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In praise of Larry Izzo and the Seahawks’ special teams turnaround

New Orleans Saints v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Special teams was, to say the least, a bit of a liability for at least the final three seasons of Brian Schneider’s tenure with the Seattle Seahawks.

After Schneider left the team due to personal reasons at the start of the 2020 season, Larry Izzo was promoted to special teams coordinator. In the blink of an eye, Seattle went from 20th in DVOA to 3rd, its highest ranking since the 2015 season. Jason Myers had a perfect year in field goal kicking, and Michael Dickson was twice named as NFC Special Teams Player of the Week. Too bad Dickson was snubbed in Pro Bowl voting.

Fast forward to 2021, and even with Jason Myers’ very inconsistent kicking pretty much costing the Seahawks at least two if not three games this year, Seattle still ranked 5th in DVOA, marking the first time since 2012-2013 that the Seahawks have had consecutive top-5 special teams units by Football Outsiders’ metric.

While Myers’ year was not particularly good, every other aspect of Seattle’s special teams had a net positive value. Here are some of the highlights from the 2021 season:

  • Trenton Cannon’s double fumble in the Seahawks’ first win against the San Francisco 49ers, credited as forced by DeeJay Dallas and recovered by Jon Rhattigan. This takeaway off the kickoff eventually led to a touchdown off the short field.
  • In the rematch, Travis Benjamin was stripped by 2020 Pro Bowl selection Nick Bellore to open the 2nd half. Travis Homer (more on him shortly) was there for the recovery and I guess in a roundabout way, it earned them two points after Gerald Everett took away 4-5 points with an awful drop turned interception.
  • Albeit in a loss, Rasheem Green blocked a Joey Slye PAT and then scooped it up and returned it for a score against the Washington Commanders. It was the only defensive two-point conversion of the entire season and kept the Seahawks in the contest until the very end. I would’ve added an onside kick recovery in here too if not for an illegal formation.
  • Travis Homer returned a Jacksonville Jaguars onside kick for a touchdown, which is a rarity in itself and also doubled as the first kick return score for the Seahawks since Tyler Lockett at the end of 2017.
  • Against the 49ers, Homer scored on a fake punt touchdown rush of 73 yards, which comprised 22% of Seattle’s entire offensive yardage for the game.
  • Homer also forced a fumble off Arizona punter Andy Lee, which Cody Thompson recovered and set up the Seahawks’ game-winning touchdown drive.
  • Double punt.

I owe this team an apology.

Michael Dickson may have had a lot of opportunities to punt in 2021, but his percentage of kicks pinning opponents inside their 20 ranked 2nd this season. I’d argue that his past two seasons are far superior to the one that got him a first-team All-Pro selection as a rookie.

The coverage units also shined tremendously. Seattle was among the best in yards allowed per punt and kick returns, and keep in mind that key special teams ace Ben Burr-Kirven was lost for the season in August.

If you could pinpoint obvious weaknesses in Seattle’s special teams it’s the lack of a truly dangerous returnman — Freddie Swain has certainly made some questionable fair catch decisions and lacks the elusiveness and speed to be a great returner — but I question how much longer this will have any viability in the sport as teams punt less often and the kickoff is under increasing threat of extinction for player safety reasons.

Obviously we can’t go through this article without mentioning the great work of longsnapper Tyler Ott, and the likes of Cody Barton and Nick Bellore have been valuable heavy-hitters and fumble forcers both in punt and kick coverage. Travis Homer could’ve had a legit case to be a Pro Bowler for his special teams contributions in 2021.

The Seahawks were once one of the top special teams units at the start of Brian Schneider’s tenure, but even if Schneider himself didn’t step down it was probably time to move on anyway given the poorer results of his final few seasons. What Izzo has done in his first two years as the main coordinator is damn impressive and deserves more attention. We’ve seen how bad special teams can ruin a game and sometimes ruin your season when next week isn’t guaranteed.

Isn’t that right, Green Bay?