LA Chargers Fans: Let’s get real – Special teams
Few teams know better than the Chargers just how important special teams are to the success of an NFL club. Other NFL teams seemingly can throw their guys on the field and not have any concerns. Their placekicker makes field goals and kicks touchbacks. Their punter averages over 45 yards per kick with a fair-catch at the end. Their coverage teams always seem to be able to get down field before a long run back can be had. LA Chargers fans should know by now that there is no such thing as automatic, and special teams can certainly make the difference between a win and a loss.
Let’s get real about the Chargers special teams.
It has been a long time since the Chargers were solid at kicker. Nate Kaeding was a very good regular season kicker, but was unable to perform consistently in the postseason. Who can forget those brutal losses to the Jets?
Unfortunately, the need to replace Kaeding has been a more difficult task than one might imagine. After all, there are only 32 active kickers in the NFL at any one time. You would think that there would be quality replacements lined up around the block when a kicker struggles to perform. The Chargers have not had much success finding the diamonds in the rough.
In all fairness, when the San Diego Chargers signed kicker Nick Novak in 2011, it looked like he might be the guy they were looking for. He got off to a rocky start, but in 2012 and 2013 he was excellent. He averaged over 90% on his field goal attempts and was 100% on extra points. He dipped to 84.6% in 2013 and was unable to get his kickoffs into the end-zone. It was time to move on from Novak.
The Chargers thought they found their guy in Josh Lambo. Well, they were wrong. In his two years with the Chargers he averaged 81.3%. That would have been great back in the Air Coryell days, but not in the modern-day NFL.
In walks internet sensation Younghoe Koo. Fans had high hopes for Koo. In Week 1 of the 2017 season, it looked like Koo had what it takes to be a successful NFL kicker. He knocked through a 40+ yard field goal to tie the game at the end of regulation against the hated Denver Broncos. The only problem was that Denver had called a timeout to ice the young kicker. He had to repeat the performance and was unable to do so. His kick was blocked and the Chargers lost, once again in agonizing fashion. Some fans blamed Koo. Others blamed the front line. Everyone hoped it was not a sign of things to come.
Well, Week 2 rolls around and Koo has another chance to be the hero. He lines up another makeable field goal, this time to win the game against the Dolphins. It was not to be as Koo missed this one on his own, without being iced. That was about it for Koo in the fans’ eyes.
Koo played a couple more weeks and was adequate. No long field goals, but no misses either. After Week 4, he was let go and Nick Novak was brought back to the Bolts. Koo ended his career, at least with the Chargers, as a 50% field goal kicker.
After just two games, Novak has only had four field goal attempts. He has made three, all under 40 yards. He has made all of his extra point attempts, but did knock one against the upright before going through. Although most Chargers fans were begging Tom Telesco to bring Novak in, there is widespread concern that Novak no longer has the leg to get the job done.
Nowhere does that concern show it’s ugly face more than with kickoffs. Novak consistently kicks short and gives his opponent the chance to make a return. He just simply does not have the leg strength to kick the ball deep into the end-zone and force touch-backs. That inability has allowed opponents to return kicks in key situations and start drives at their own 35 or 40 yard line, instead of the 25. That is a significant problem.
On the bright side, punter Drew Kaser is turning into a solid NFL punter. He is currently ranked 13th in the NFL. He is averaging 49.9 yards per punt (gross). That is 5th in the league. His numbers go down a little bit when you look at his net yards per kick. Kaser is only averaging 41 yards per punt, when you factor in his net yards.That puts Kaser at 18th in the league. When the punts are returned, the enemy is averaging 12.5 yards per punt (15th). Is Kaser out-kicking his coverage? Are his teammates not doing their job correctly? Should Kaser try for more height on his punts, in order to help his teammates get down field in time to make a play? It’s probably a little bit of all of those factors.
Kick return has been very poor. Ranked at 29th in the league, the Chargers average 18.9 yards per kick return and their long is only 25 yards. They have yet to find the one guy who has the skills to make people miss, read the field, and hit the holes that are there for the taking. Darren Sproles has definitely left the building.
Then there is punt return. The Chargers average a measly 6.3 yards per punt return. Only eight teams in the league are worse. The longest punt return this season was a respectable, if not impressive, 23 yards (17th in the league).
As in recent years, the Chargers have put the excitement back into special teams. Kickoffs and field goals are most “exciting”. After each field goal try that goes through the uprights, you can hear the collective exhale throughout Charger Country. Before each kickoff, prayers can be heard from fans all around, asking God to provide just enough power in Novak’s leg to kick the ball into, if not through, the end zone…..like other teams seem to do with ease.
Special teams is certainly not a strength for the Bolts. Time will tell if it will be their Achilles Heel.