Seahawks punt strategy on verge of NFL record

For most of his career, Jon Ryan’s task was to change field

position with booming punts.

And then the Seattle Seahawks decided they wanted to change

their punting approach. They wanted Ryan to pull back and use hang

time and directional punting to take away the danger of giving up

long returns.

”That’s been my whole career is going after the ball and

smashing it. So it’s a little bit different,” Ryan said. ”For me,

it’s taking the driver out of my hands a little bit. It seems to be

working, so I’m not going to complain.”

The Seahawks have been exceptional with achieving their goal

this season. Entering the season finale against St. Louis, the

Seahawks have allowed only 25 punt return yards on 16 returns this

season. They’re on pace to set an NFL record for fewest return

yards allowed in a 16-game season.

It’s an obscure record but highlights the importance Seattle has

put on its special teams.

”We’re very confident that we can control that and do a great

job there, but you have to have the consistency of the coverage,”

Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. ”But Jon has really been the key

factor and continuing to be so solid that we know where the ball is

going and we’ve been able to control that factor.”

Ryan has been among the most consistent punters in the league

ever since coming to Seattle in 2008. He averaged more than 45

yards in four of his previous five seasons with the Seahawks. His

net average of 40.8 yards last season was a franchise record.

But the plan changed for this season. Seattle didn’t want the

booming kicks anymore. It wanted control and direction, and an

opportunity to limit the number of returns.

The results are two-fold. Ryan’s average is down nearly four

yards per punt and on the verge of a career-low. But through a

combination of the increased hang time and solid cover downfield,

the Seahawks have allowed only 16 returns all season. The 25 yards

in returns Seattle has allowed include 10 yards to Carolina in the

season opener, seven to St. Louis and six last week to Arizona.

Seattle had allowed a total of 19 return yards entering last

week, but 6 yards on a two returns by Arizona’s Patrick Peterson

pushed Seattle past the NFL record of 22 yards allowed by the 1967

Green Bay Packers in a 14-game season.

The record for a 16-game season is 49 yards by Atlanta in

2008.

”We take a lot of pride in that. When you look at our role and

what we do and how we help our team we want to flip the field, we

want to make it a long field for the defense to go out there and

play,” Seattle reserve safety Chris Maragos said.

The change for Ryan was subtle. He had become adept at punting

end-over-end, typically used when he was trying to have full

distance control on his kicks and have them downed inside an

opponents’ 20-yard line. What Seattle decided to do this season was

to punt that way on a regular basis. It’s now normal for Ryan to

punt deep in his own end and rather than trying to get the kick to

spin in a spiral for maximum distance, will still be in the

end-over-end fashion.

Then it’s on the coverage team to get downfield and make sure

the amount of time Ryan is giving them to cover the kick isn’t

wasted.

”We’re able to get enough guys out in coverage to where even if

they’ve got time to return it we’ve got two or three guys right in

his face forcing him to make the catch,” Maragos said. ”We’ve got

guys who really understand special teams. I think that’s important.

We’ve got a really good core group of guys who know what they’re

doing.”

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org