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Chargers Game Exemplifies How Important Special Teams Are

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Indianapolis Colts v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The Colts lost a heartbreaker in the opening week of the season, losing 30-24 in overtime to the always dangerous Los Angeles Chargers. The Colts were, by many measures, the better team throughout the day, but a horrendous day on special teams cost the Colts the win and it was a brutal reminder of how important the “3rd team of football” is in football. There’s a reason that genius coaches like Bill Belichick spend an excessive amount of time each week going over special teams: it’s a crucial part of the game that could hurt you in big games.

Adam Vinatieri’s Woeful Day

Adam Vinatieri is the greatest kicker of all time and has a spot in the Hall of Fame. He also had a terrible day and his missed kicks were a big reason why the Colts lost. Since Week 17 of last season (4 games), Vinatieri has gone 8 for 11 on extra points and 3 for 6 on field goals. Two of those missed field goals were under 30 yards, which means that he’s missed 5 kicks under 35 yards in the last 4 games. Those numbers just don’t cut it in the NFL and if he made just one of his field goals today, the Colts probably win the game.

If Vinatieri’s poor play continues, the Colts will seriously need to look into new options at kicker. The reality of kicking in the NFL is that it doesn’t matter if you’re a legend or not, if you can’t make field goals, you can’t play. Vinatieri has earned the right to as long a leash an NFL kicker gets, but that leash is getting shorter and shorter every game. Beating playoff teams on the road doesn’t happen often, so taking advantage of those chances is crucial. I hope for Adam’s sake that he was just having a bad day and he’ll return to his reliable self against the TItans next week.

The Long Snapper Penalty

Whether or not you agree with the penalty, the consequence was 4 free points for the Chargers. To be clear, the rule is that you cannot make contact with the head or neck area of the long snapper. On the play, Denico Autry lined up between the right guard and the long snapper, traveled through the gap between them and clearly his knee hit the head of the long snapper, who was pushed backwards on the play. In my opinion, it was an easy call and the correct one.

It’s hard to blame Denico Autry on this play, because he might’ve had no idea about the penalty. The blame should shift to special teams coordinator, Bubba Ventrone, who should’ve set up his field goal block team in a way that has no player in A gap. Most special teams unit steer clear of the long snapper specifically for that reason. Teams don’t even want to touch the long snapper, in order to avoid that penalty. Autry ran over him like he was any other player. Even #90 Grover Stewart ran over the long snapper, but he lined up more over the left guard. Either way, no one should be passing through those gaps and must avoid the long snapper at all costs. The special teams coordinator is to blame for that one.

The penalty gave the Chargers a free first down, and 4 free points. Those points would’ve made a huge difference at the end of the game.

The Tipped Punt and Other Miscues

The Chargers were able to tip a punt that ended up going only 20 yards. The great field position gave the Chargers 3 points. The Chargers only needed to travel 24 yards on their drive to get comfortably into field goal range for their backup kicker and punter Ty Long. Ty Long, the Chargers’ punter, went 3/3 on extra points and nailed a 40 yard field goal. He also averaged 49 yards on two punts. This guy was a stud and made Vinateri look like a shaky rookie.

Just to add insult to injury, the Colts allowed a 43 yard kick return on the first kickoff of the season!

Chester Rogers, for some odd reason, is still returning the punts for the Colts. It became very clear last season that he’s lost as a punt returner and doesn’t know when to fair catch, when to return or let the ball bounce. During the game, he weirdly allowed a ball to bounce an additional 10 yards before picking it up and running it. It’s as if he was undecided between returning it or letting it bounce, so he tried to find a median. That didn’t work and it served as further proof for why he should not be the punt returner for the team. TY Hilton, who has previous experience and scored a punt return touchdown in his rookie season, should take over those duties as the Colts groom a young player to take over.

The Fumble Recovery (The One Positive)

The unit saved their special teams coordinator from the worst game ever as they recovered a key fumble in the 2nd half. Desmond King muffed a punt and the Colts jumped on the ball like a pack of vicious wolves. They failed to score on the drive due to a questionable refereeing decision on an Eric Ebron touchdown catch and then a MISSED 29-YARD FIELD GOAL FROM ADAM VINATIERI!

Next time you have someone tell you special teams aren’t important, show them the 2019 Week 1 Colts-Chargers game and they’ll shut up pretty quick. This performance was one of the worst all-around special teams performances in recent memory and it cost them a very important win.