One week after allowing a 79-yard kickoff return and a 56-yard punt return to the Kansas City Chiefs, the New Orleans Saints‘ special teams unit played noticeably better in their 28-20 victory over the Oakland Raiders. New Orleans’ special teams unit allowed just 117 yards on five kickoffs and only 12 yards on one Garrett Hartley punt.
Although minor compared to offensive and defensive concerns, this special teams improvement is good news for the Saints and their fans. Football is ultimately a battle of getting good field position. Defenses must stop opposing offenses from scoring, first and foremost, but they must also prevent them from gaining too much ground and possibly pinning your offense deep in their own territory to make a scoring drive all that much more difficult.
Additionally, special teams is where non-starters can earn their bread and butter and keep a job with a team. With only 53 available spots on the active roster, non-starters will often play on the special teams unit and can sometimes find a starting job because of what they do in the kicking game. Take, for example, eight year veteran Courtney Roby. Roby sometimes plays as a receiver in practice and scrimmages, but he also plays on all of the Saints’ special teams units.
Head coach Sean Payton certainly understands the importance of proving yourself on the special teams unit. Saying after a practice earlier in the week following the the game against the Chiefs “I think the kicking game is critical for a lot of these guys making the roster,” he said. “They need to understand that.”
We’ll be able to see whether Payton’s message continues to be heard when New Orleans travels to Houston next Sunday to play the Houston Texans. Hopefully the special teams unit continues to improve its body of work.