Chargers Special Teams Not So Special

By Paul Maland

Dec 14, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers wide receiver Eddie Royal (11) reacts after a kickoff return during the second quarter against the Denver Broncos at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

If you research articles analyzing the productivity and areas of weakness for the Chargers, you’ll find hundreds about a patchwork offensive line and the absence of a pass rush. But what you might often see overlooked is the special teams play that is not quite as special as in previous years.

The leagues choice to move kickoffs up to the 35 yard line to minimize the opportunity of a return has worked as planned. Only six times was a kickoff returned for a touchdown in 2014. In comparison, 2011 had nine returned for touchdowns. Has it changed the way that teams roster a return specialist? Could it be that the value of a dominant returner is diminishing in the NFL? Well, consider that even punt returns touchdowns have decreased from twenty in 2011 to just thirteen in 2014.

All speculation aside, the Chargers ranked dead last in the league in longest returns. The Bolts longest kickoff return was 35 yards this season. Where is our new Sproles? Why is the coaching staff not relishing the opportunity to show off Eddie Royal’s return skills? We need a special teams spark plug that will ignite offensive drives before they even start.

Starting field position isn’t everything in the NFL, but it sure makes a drive a whole lot easier with a 5-10 yard head start. The Chargers ranked 28th in the league in field position following a kickoff, with the average starting at the 20.59 yard line. Combine that with Nick Novak having the lowest touchback rating of any kicker with 12%, and the special teams battle appears even more lopsided. To put that into perspective, the best in the league was Graham Gano of the Panthers with 75% touchback frequency. Fortunately, the Bolts coverage team handled their business well by allowing only 22 yards per return average.

December 20, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers cornerback Chris Davis (20) runs with the football on a kickoff during the first quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi

Should the Chargers look to draft of pickup a return specialist this off-season? Or give Chris Davis another shot at return specialist in 2015? We shall wait and see.