When it came to special efforts, the Seahawks had them

Posted Jan 18, 2013

The Seahawks’ special teams had their share of big plays in the just-concluded 2012 season, but their biggest contribution to the team’s season-long success was consistency of effort.

To understand just how well the Seahawks’ special teams played this season, it helps to get a behind-the-scenes look at what went into the process of selecting the unit’s MVP for the 2012 season.

Stymied, we went to coordinator Brian Schneider for help.

“Well, there’s always Heath Farwell,” he said. “But then there’s also Mike Rob (Michael Robinson). And Leon (Washington). And Malcolm Smith and Mike Morgan. And Jon Ryan. And then look at what Steven (Hauschka) did this season.”

And it didn’t even stop there. Asked each of those players, and they named a couple more players – Chris Maragos, Kam Chancellor, Clint Gresham, Jermaine Kearse, Jeremy Lane, Jeron Johnson, Byron Maxwell and Earl Thomas.

“It was a great group,” Schneider said. “Those guys, they just played so hard and they played together.”

To understand just how constantly well Schneider’s units played, it helps to take one last look at the large board that hangs in the hallway which connects the locker room and the training room at Virginia Mason Athletic Center.

In the Week 2 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, the Seahawks scored the first “12” that Schneider had ever had in his 19 seasons of coaching special teams. And Farwell had ever seen in his eight-season NFL career. And Ryan had ever seen in his seven-season NFL career.

But, more importantly, the Seahawks’ low “score” in the 12 categories on the board was a 6, while they also had 11 twice and a 10, and an average of 8.5.

“We were very consistent this season,” Schneider said. “Very consistent. We had the big plays, but the thing that jumped out at me was the consistency.”

Those big plays were turned in by All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, who returned a field goal that was blocked Red Bryant 90 yards for the touchdown; and Washington, who returned a kickoff 98 yards for the touchdown; and Johnson, who returned a punt that was blocked by Smith 3 yards for a touchdown; and Smith, who grabbed a muffed punt return in the end zone for a touchdown.


A closer look at the Seahawks’ special teams during the 2012 season:

Where they ranked: No. 3, according to Football Outsiders

Statistical leaders: Regular season
Punting: Jon Ryan, 45.6-yard average, 40.8 net average (franchise record)
Kicking: Steve Hauschka, 24 of 27 on field goals, 46 of 48 on PATs
Punt returns: Leon Washington, 8.7-yard average with a long of 52
Kickoff returns: Washington, 29.0-yard average with a long of 98
Coverage tackles: Heath Farwell, 15; Michael Robinson 10
Blocks: Red Bryant, field goal; Malcolm Smith, punt
Touchdowns scored: Richard Sherman, 90-yard return of a blocked field goal; Smith, recovered a muffed punt return in the end zone; Jeron Johnson, 3-yard return of a blocked punt; Washington, 98-yard kickoff return

Statistical leaders: Postseason
Punting: Ryan, 35.7-yard average, 30.3 net average
Kicking: Hauschka, 3 of 3 on field goals, 1 of 1 on PATs
Punt returns: Washington, 10.8-yard average with a long of 15
Kickoff returns: Washington, 27.7-yard average with a long of 37
Coverage tackles: Smith, 2

Captains: Farwell and Robinson

Postseason honors
Pro Bowl: Washington
Pro Bowl alternates: Farwell (second), Ryan (second)

As for the consistency, the special teams forced the defense to take the field inside the 50-yard line only four times and 10 times they gave the offense the ball inside the 50.

“When you’re talking field position, you’re providing a long field for the defense and a shorter field for the offense,” Schneider said. “And that’s really our only goal. So it was just really consistent from beginning to the end.”

And this isn’t the end, as Ryan was quick to point out.

“This thing could be going on for a while,” he said. “It’s not a flash-in-the-pan type thing, where it’s just a one-year fluke that we played this well on special teams. We’re going to just keep building on this and keep on working on that goal of owning the NFC West.”  

And there were some individual building-block efforts that underscored the overall consistency:

Washington’s 98-yard kickoff return for a TD against the Miami Dolphins was the eighth of his career, tying the NFL record. He also finished second in the league in kickoff return average (29.0) and was voted the kick returner on the NFC Pro Bowl squad.

Farwell led the team in coverage tackles (15) for the second time in his two seasons with the Seahawks. He was voted an alternate to the Pro Bowl, and also was the pick for special teams MVP because of his consistency.

Hauschka missed only three field-goal attempts. One was blocked and the other two came from 61 and 51 yards. He also kicked the ball 40 times in two weeks – field goals, PATs and kickoffs – as the Seahawks were shutting out the Arizona Cardinals 58-0 and throttling the Buffalo Bills 50-17.

Ryan broke his own club record for net punting average (40.8) and had 30 of his 65 punts – or 46 percent – downed inside the 20-yard line, after leading the league with 34 in 2011. He also was voted an alternate to the Pro Bowl.

Bryant’s field goal block was the fifth of his career – and fifth in the past two seasons – which ties for the third-highest total in franchise history.

Robinson finished second to Farwell in coverage tackles (10) with the same total he had last season.

Smith scored one touchdown and set up another.

“This is the best season we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Ryan, who joined the Seahawks in 2008. “In 2010, we did a lot of really good things. But this year was even better than that if you look at the blocked kicks, and Leon returning, Steven hitting every kick inside the 50.

“There weren’t a lot of holes in the special teams this season, and we just had so many contributions from some many guys.”

Put them all together and the Seahawks’ special teams ranked third in the league, according to Football Outsiders.  But it was the way his units went about their business that pleased Schneider.

“That’s what’s made it such a fun season,” Schneider said. “That’s the fastest season I’ve ever been a part of. And you’re playing 22 games (pre-, regular and postseason). But those guys were just great to go to work with.”