The New York Jets’ special teams unit is on the rise
The 2020 season marked a fall from grace for the New York Jets‘ special teams unit. Special teams coordinator Brant Boyer watched his unit drop to 29th in special teams DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average, via Football Outsiders) after ranking fourth in 2019 and first in 2018.
Coaching under his third head coach since joining the Jets in 2016, Boyer is showing why he has stuck around for so long. He already has the unit back on track. The Jets rank seventh in special teams DVOA through five weeks of play.
Boyer’s unit is looking solid in each of the five key facets.
New York Jets’ punting
Looking to build off of a much-improved preseason to begin his second year, punter Braden Mann went down with a knee sprain after just one punt in the season opener against Carolina. He was placed on injured reserve and was expected to miss 4-to-6 weeks, putting him on track to return sometime soon after the team’s Week 6 bye.
Veteran punter Thomas Morstead was signed to replace Mann in the short-term and has been solid. Morstead ranks eighth among qualified punters with 45.8 net yards per punt and is tied for second with eight fair catches forced.
The Jets’ punt coverage can improve, as they rank seventh-worst with 10.8 yards allowed per return, but the coverage unit has been able to bend without breaking. The longest punt return by a Jets opponent thus far only went 22 yards, and that was off of a 56-yard punt.
New York’s punting unit still ranks eighth-best in DVOA despite the lackluster return average allowed. Morstead has done a good job of working in tandem with his coverage team to prevent big returns. He has also kicked with a strong combination of hang time and power to maximize net yardage.
It will be interesting to see what the Jets decide to do with Morstead and Mann once the latter returns.
Del’Shawn Phillips leads the Jets with four tackles in punt coverage, tying him for fourth-most in the NFL. Justin Hardee follows with three, tying for ninth. Hardee has also done a good job of sprinting downfield to force fair catches.
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New York Jets’ kickoffs
The sample size here is extremely small as the Jets have only kicked off five times, but the early returns have been decent.
New York has allowed 21.0 yards per kickoff return, which is tied for 15th-lowest. Four of the five returns were stopped at or before the 25-yard line.
Matt Ammendola is averaging 3.99 seconds of hang time on his kickoffs, which ranks 19th out of 34 qualified kickoff men. He has kicked 11 touchbacks on 18 kickoffs for a touchback rate of 61.1% that ranks 18th.
The Jets rank 17th in kickoff DVOA. Nothing notable has happened in this phase, neither good nor bad.
New York Jets’ punt returns
The Jets have only returned four punts, but those returns have gone for 53 yards, giving them an average of 13.3 yards per punt return that ranks third-best. They rank fourth in punt return DVOA.
All four of those returns were brought back by Braxton Berrios, who is looking to finish top-5 in punt return average for the second time in three seasons after placing third out of 38 qualifiers in 2019 with 11.4 yards per return. He ranked 16th out of 31 qualifiers with an 8.6-yard average in 2020.
Berrios is one of the most conservative punt returners in the NFL. He ranks second in the league with 10 fair catches this season, making up 71.4% of his 14 return chances.
New York Jets’ kickoff returns
There wasn’t anything of note to say about the kickoff return unit prior to Week 5 besides a Ty Johnson fumble against the Titans that was fortunately recovered by the Jets. Through four weeks, the Jets averaged 21.9 yards per kickoff return across nine chances (6 by Berrios for a 23.3-yard average and 3 by Johnson for a 19.0-yard average).
Tevin Coleman took over kickoff return duties in Week 5 and broke loose for a 65-yard return that set the Jets up at Atlanta’s 29-yard line. Coleman’s only other return was also solid, positioning the Jets at their own 28-yard line.
The Jets rank fourth in kickoff return average (26.3) and fourth in kickoff return DVOA.
New York Jets’ field goals/extra points
Matt Ammendola has been pedestrian over his small sample of opportunities to begin the season. It’s too early to declare him as definitively good, bad, or average.
Ammendola currently owns a 6-for-7 line on field goals. He has connected from 21, 22, 27, 31, 35, and 49 yards. The miss was from 53 yards against the Patriots in Week 2. He has made five consecutive attempts since then.
On extra points, Ammendola is 3-for-4, missing against the Falcons in Week 5.
Field goal/extra point kicking is the only special teams facet of the five in which the Jets have a negative DVOA score, which is a product of Ammendola’s missed extra point against the Falcons. They currently rank 19th in the category with a -1.2% DVOA.
Brant Boyer is getting it done on special teams
The Jets’ special teams unit has made an overall positive impact this season, which is fairly surprising. Boyer has faced some challenges this season but is managing to get his unit playing at a solid level.
Mann’s injury, the lack of talent and experience at kicker, the overhaul of the back-end of the roster after 2020, and an influx of extremely young contributors have provided Boyer with quite the test, but he’s been up to it, continuing to prove his worth as an excellent special teams coach.
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