Rick Gosselin's 2019 NFL special teams rankings: a heavenly finish for Saints

Darren Rizzi photo courtesy of USA Today

Rick Gosselin

The Miami Dolphins changed head coaches in the last decade but not their special-teams coordinator. They had a good one and were smart enough to keep him.

Darren Rizzi stayed on in Miami through the Tony Sparano, Joe Philbin and Adam Gase regimes. Offense or defense may have been a problem over the years for the Dolphins but not the kicking game. Under Rizzi, the Dolphins finished in the Top 10 in special teams in five of his nine seasons. But when the Dolphins fired Gase after the 2018 season, Rizzi decided it was time to move on.

The Dolphins finished fourth in the NFL in special teams in Rizzi’s final season in 2018. His charges were even better in his first season with the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints finished first in the NFL special-teams rankings compiled annually by Rick Gosselin for the last 41 years. The league’s 32 teams are ranked in 22 kicking-game categories and assigned points according to their standing – one for best, 32 for worst. The Saints compiled 256 points to finish 23 ½ points better than the runnerup Cincinnati Bengals.

The AFC East champion New England Patriots finished third and the AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs sixth.

The Saints finished first in four of the 22 categories, in the Top 5 in two others and the Top 10 in 10 more. The strength of the New Orleans special teams was kicker Wil Lutz and punter Thomas Morstead. The Saints finished in the Top 10 in punting, net punting and inside-the-20 punts plus field goals, field-goal percentage and extra-point percentage.

New Orleans also finished in the Top 10 in both kickoff and punt returns thanks to undrafted rookie free-agent Deonte Harris. He averaged 26.8 yards on kickoff returns and 9.4 yards on punt returns with one touchdown on his way to the Pro Bowl. The Saints also led the NFL with four blocked kicks, all on punts – one pure block and three deflections.

Bill Belichick became head coach of the Patriots in 2000 and his special teams have finished in the Top 10 in 14 of the 20 seasons since then. The Patriots have finished in the Top 5 in eight of those seasons, including two of the last three years.

Belichick carried four elite special teamers this season – Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner, Brandon Bolden and Justin Bethel – and the Patriots benefitted from that roster commitment. Slater, Ebner and Bolden all blocked kicks, Bethel recovered two fumbles and Slater one and Slater also scored a touchdown on a blocked punt, as did rookie Chase Winovich.

Belichick's special teams coordinator, Joe Judge, has been hired as the new head coach of the New York Giants.

Andy Reid became head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013 and his team has finished in the Top 10 in special teams every season since then, seven years now and counting. That’s the longest such streak in the NFL.

Few NFL coordinators -- offense, defense or special teams -- have fielded consistently quality units like Reid's long-time special-teams coach Dave Toub. Twice his special-teams led the league while coaching at Chicago in 2006-07.

2019 NFL SPECIAL TEAMS RANKINGS

1. New Orleans 256

2. Cincinnati 279.5

3. New England 284

4. Washington 301.5

5. Jacksonville 302

6. Kansas City 309.5

7. NY Giants 314

8. NY Jets 324

9. Pittsburgh 324.5

10. Detroit 329

11. Houston 330.5

12. Buffalo 341

13. Arizona 351.5

 Cleveland 351.5    

15. Philadelphia 356.5

16. Seattle 359

17. Minnesota 361.5

18. Tennessee 363.5

19. SF 49ers 365

20. LA Rams 372.5

21. Denver 376

22. LA Chargers 382.5

23. Chicago 396.5

24. Miami 402.5

25. Oakland 403

26. Green Bay 412.5

27. Baltimore 413.5

28. Carolina 417

29. Indianapolis 419

30. Atlanta 451

31. Dallas 474.5

32. Tampa Bay 491.5

Here’s a breakdown of the 22 categories:

KICKOFF RETURNS

1. Denver 28.1 yards

2. Chicago 26.8

3. Cincinnati 26.4

4. Washington 25.8

5. Buffalo 25.4

Worst: Dallas 14.9 yards

PUNT RETURNS

1. Indianapolis 17.4 yards

2. NY Jets 11.6

3. NY Giants 10.5

4. Pittsburgh 9.7

5. Houston 9.5

Worst: Green Bay 4.5 yards

KICKOFF COVERAGE

1. Houston 18.3 yards

2. NY Giants 18.8

3. NY Jets 19.0

4. Cincinnati 19.1

5. Kansas City 19.6

Worst: LA Rams 28.5 yards

PUNT COVERAGE

1. Houston 3.3 yards

2. Detroit 4.2

3. Kansas City 4.7

4. Jacksonville 4.9

5. SF 49ers 5.2

Worst: Carolina 13.3 yards

KICKOFF STARTING POINT

1. Buffalo 27.6-yard line

2. Chicago 26.7

3. Cincinnati 26.4

Denver 26.4     

5. New Orleans 25.7

Worst: LA Chargers 23.4-yard line

OPPONENT STARTING POINT

1. Houston 22.9-yard line

2. Cleveland 23.1

3. Arizona 23.8

4. Cincinnati 23.9

5. Oakland 24.1

Worst: Miami 27.9-yard line

PUNTING

1. Washington 49.2 yards

2. LA Rams 47.17

3. LA Chargers 47.16

4. Tennessee 47.06

5. Arizona 46.8

Worst: Dallas 41.2 yards

NET PUNTING

1. Jacksonville 44.4 yards

2. Washington 43.8

3. Tennessee 43.2

4. Houston 43.0

5. LA Rams 42.9

Worst: Dallas 37.2 yards

INSIDE THE 20 PUNTS

1. Tennessee 35

2. New England 33

3. Seattle 33

4. Buffalo 32

5. Oakland 31

Worst: LA Chargers 15

OPPONENT PUNTING

1. New Orleans 42.4 yards

2. New England 42.8

3. NY Jets 43.67

4. Kansas City 43.7

5. Arizona 43.8

Worst: Tampa Bay 47.4 yards

OPPONENT NET PUNTING

1. New Orleans 36.8 yards

2. Indianapolis 37.5

3. NY Jets 38.8

4. New England 39.4

5. Kansas City 39.7

Worst: Tampa Bay 44.3 yards

FIELD GOALS

1. Kansas City 33

2. New Orleans 32

3. Arizona 30

Jacksonville  30    

5. Pittsburgh 28

SF 49ers 28

Worst: Tennessee 8

FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE

1. Jacksonville 96.7 percent

2. Baltimore 96.0

3. Green Bay 95.0

4. Pittsburgh 93.3

5. Minnesota 92.0

Worst: Tennessee 44.4 percent

OPPONENT FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE

1. Buffalo 63.6 percent

2. LA Chargers 68.7

3. Seattle 69.6

4. Cleveland 70.0

5. Chicago 73.7

Worst: Atlanta 96.7 percent

EXTRA POINT PERCENTAGE

  1. Dallas 100 percent
    LA Rams 100
    LA Chargers 100
    Pittsburgh 100
    Cincinnati 100

Worst: Indianapolis 83.78 percent

POINTS SCORED

1. Indianapolis 14

2. Atlanta 12

Detroit  12     

Miami 12

New England 12

NY Jets 12

Worst: 14 teams tied with 0

POINTS ALLOWED

1. 12 teams tied with 0 points

Worst: Carolina 18 points

BLOCKED KICKS

1. New England 4

New Orleans 4    

Tennessee 4

4. Seattle 3

5. Nine teams tied with 2

Worst: 10 teams tied with 0

OPPONENT BLOCKED KICKS

1. Eight teams tied with 0

Worst: Indianapolis 4

TAKEAWAYS

1. Atlanta 5

2. New England 3

Seattle 3    

4. 5 teams tied with 2

Worst: 10 teams tied with 0

GIVEAWAYS

1. 9 teams tied with 0

Worst: Carolina, Philadelphia 3 apiece

PENALTIES

1. Buffalo 10 for 88 yards

2. Minnesota 11 for 75

3. Philadelphia 12 for 113

4. Green Bay 13 for 95

5. Indianapolis 13 for 109

Worst: Jacksonville 26 for 223 yards

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