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Pat McAfee an Overlooked Key to Colts' Success vs. 49ers

Colts punter Pat McAfee played a big role in the Colts' win over the 49ers on Sunday and has had a tremendous start to the 2013 season, albeit a bit under the radar.

Paul Frederiksen-US PRESSWIRE

Every Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. live from Kilroy's in Broad Ripple, Pat McAfee is the center of attention.

It's rare for a punter to ever be the center of attention anywhere, which is what makes the Pat McAfee Show even bigger.  For an hour every Tuesday night, McAfee - a fan favorite in Indianapolis - is the most prominent figure at Kilroy's (sorry Bob Kravitz).  By the time he takes the field on Sundays, however, "numero uno" is overshadowed by other players, most notably one wearing number twelve.

But, as we have seen numerous times in Indianapolis, Pat McAfee (nicknamed the "Boomstick") has game-changing ability too, and this past Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers he certainly showed that.  The player that no Colts fan wants to see on the field took the field on four different fourth down plays, and on three of them he sent a punt that was downed within the ten yard line.  That's phenomenal.

Additionally, McAfee kicked off six times.  Three of them went for touchbacks and three of them were returned, with the furthest return making it out the 49ers' 13 yard line.

In fact, here's a table showing each one of McAfee's kicks from Sunday:

Pat McAfee Punts vs. San Francisco 49ers (9/22/13)
Punt From: Yards: To: Return? To? Downed/tackled by: Ensuing Drive:
IND 39 52 SF 9 - - - - - - Mario Harvey TD (91 yard drive)
IND 13 51 SF 36 14 yard return 50 Cam Johnson 3 and out
IND 46 46 SF 8 - - - - - - * Fair Catch * 3 and out
IND 49 43 SF 8 - - - - - - * Fair Catch * kneel (end half)

Pat McAfee Kickoffs vs. San Francisco 49ers (9/22/13)
Yards: To: Return? To? Tackled by: Opp. Start: Ensuing Drive:
72 (-7) 20 yards SF 13 Mario Harvey SF 13 3 and out
65 Touchback - - - - - - * Touchback * SF 20 punt
65 Touchback - - - - - - * Touchback * SF 20 punt
65 Touchback - - -  - - - * Touchback * SF 20 punt
63 2 9 yards SF 11 Griff Whalen SF 11 Turnover (fumble; 3rd play)
60 5 7 yards SF 12 Stanley Havili SF 12

Turnover (interception; 9th play)

Looking at the entire game as a whole, the 49ers average starting field position was at their own 19.3 yard line - still worse than the standard line, which is the 20 yard line (based off of where touchbacks are marked off to).  But if you take away the fact that on one drive the 49ers started at their own 41 yard line due to a missed field goal by Adam Vinatieri, the 49ers average starting field position was from their own 17.1.  That's McAfee.  In fact, aside from one punt returned 14 yards to midfield, the 49ers never made it past the 20 when McAfee was kicking.  That's impressive.  Following kickoffs, their average starting field position was the 16 yard line and following punts, their average starting field position was the 18.8 yard line.

I remember back in training camp Chuck Pagano said something that made me seriously consider just how big of an impact Pat McAfee could have on the team. I summarized it by writing that:

Chuck Pagano said last Thursday that historically, going back about a decade or so, when a team has to drive 70 or 80 yards for a score, they will get a touchdown only 15-16% of the time. That percentage is one that Pagano and Colts fans would gladly take, and it shows how pinning teams deep (which comes from the special teams unit) is really important and a necessary part of the game.

Right exactly in line with that, opponents have scored touchdowns on the Colts' defense only 13.6% of the time when McAfee and the special teams forces them to drive at least 70 yards.  Those are pretty good odds, and McAfee has done it quite a bit this year too.  In fact, every single one of his 15 kickoffs have been returned no further than the 30 yard line.  Only two of them (both by the Dolphins) were taken out past the 20 yard line.  Opponents have only scored two touchdowns (going 85 and 80 yards, respectively) and one field goal after McAfee kicks off this year.

Along the same lines, McAfee has punted 11 times this year and 7 of them have been kept within the 30 yard line (with every one of them actually being the 20 yard line or less).  On only one occasion has an opponent driven for a touchdown after that (the 49ers drove 91 yards) and only one other time have opponents gotten a field goal.

The bottom line is that of McAfee's 26 combined kicks so far this year, on 22 of them the opponent has started from their own 30 yard line or worse (84.6% of the time) and of those 22 times, only 3 times have the opponents scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive (13.6%).  That's a tremendous weapon for a team if their kicker can do that consistently, and Pat McAfee can.  And on Sunday, that was on display as much as ever, with McAfee pinning the 49ers inside the 20 on almost every kick he attempted.

While ranking the 13 most important players to the Colts' success in 2013, I listed McAfee at number ten and wrote this about him:

We saw back in December of last year in the Colts' win against the Titans just how much a Pat McAfee punt could change a game, and because of that it's also not hard to see why he is so important to the Colts' success in 2013. Though he may not get in for a lot of plays compared to the other guys on this list, the plays that he is in for are certainly important and are certainly capable of changing games. Pat McAfee comes in at number 10 on our list of the most important players to the Colts' success in 2013, and there's no reason to think that he won't live up to the expectations.

So far, he has definitely lived up to expectations and even exceeded them.  Though he may not get the recognition all of the time, McAfee has had a tremendous season and has shown how dangerous of a weapon he is.  And on Sunday, the Boomstick was at it's best.  The result?  A dominating 27-7 win.  Let's not downplay McAfee's role in the win.

G Punts Yds AVG Lng In20 TB
2013 - Pat McAfee 3 11 515 46.8 60 5 2