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Colts Special Teams: What a difference a year makes

Jordan Senn is an excellent coverage player on special teams
Photo: Beaverton Valley Times

All season long, we've talked about the dramatic turn around of the special teams unit. Last night was probably the best example of just how much better the coverage units are. Darren Sproles is an outstanding returner, and last year his 2 TD returns against the Colts put Indy in an early and deep hole. Last night, Sproles averaged only 20 yards a return on kicks and one punt return for 4 yards. This forced San Diego's offense to consistently start deep in their own territory.

A big reason for the improved coverage is Adam Vinatieri. His kickoffs are either soaring into the endzone or dropping down at or near the 2 or 3 yard line. Hunter Smith has also greatly improved his kicking. Rather than out-kicking his coverage unit, he is hanging the ball up more, giving his speedy coverage guys time to get down field and make the tackle.

Another big reason for the improved coverage is better players. Gone are the Aaron Mooreheads and Kenton Keiths, replaced by players like Jordan Senn, who was promoted to the active roster because of his outstanding play covering kicks and punts.

According to Football Outsiders, the Colts special teams still ranks near the bottom overall (23rd). This ranking is dragged down mostly due to the poor job the Colts have done returning punts and kicks. The Colts rank -6.3 and -3.1 on kick and punt returns, respectively. These poor rankings are really a result of losing TJ Rushing during pre-season and replacing him with an assortment of different players, from Courtney Roby to Justin Forsett to Pierre Garcon to (now) Chad Simpson and Keiwan Ratliff. Ratliff is sort of "meh" fielding punts, but Simpson seems to hit his lanes hard, which is a welcome change from all the dancing Pierre Garcon does.

Of course, no special teams discussion can conclude without talking about Adam Vinatieri's FGs. He has won two games this season on long, last-second FGs. Both were on the road. He also kicked a long FG against the Patriots that ended up being the difference in Indy's game against them several weeks ago. It is very possible Vinatieri could go to the Pro Bowl this year because of his last second heroics kicking FGs.

While both the offense and defense have struggled this year, it has been the special teams that have played the most consistently well. And if the kick and punt returns can get better, the specail teams can start to become a weapon the Colts can use to help win football games. My goodness, what a difference a year makes.