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Seahawks Special Teams Play Has Been "Lights Out" This Season

The Seahawks are having a great season on special teams, the oft-overlooked third phase of football.

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If someone was asked to come up with a list of reasons for the Seahawks being 8-3 and in first place in the NFC West, they would no doubt point to the play of Russell Wilson and the passing game, including big seasons from DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. They'd bring up the Chris Carson-led rushing attack that helps set the tone, or perhaps the much-improved offensive line. They'd mention the defense, which has improved of late, and the playmakers on that side of the ball like Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Jamal Adams and newcomer Carlos Dunlap II.

Or maybe they'd mention Pete Carroll and John Schneider, who are in their 11th year of leading the Seahawks through the most successful run in franchise history.

What probably wouldn't come up very often, however, is the play of the Seahawks' special teams units, which is too bad. Because for all the things Seattle has done well on offense and defense this year, its play on special teams play under the watch of Larry Izzo, who is filling in for special teams coordinator Brian Schneider, who stepped away indefinitely for personal reasons before the start of the season, has arguably been the most consistent positive element of the team in 2020.

Kicker Jason Myers is a perfect 15 for 15 on field goal attempts, including a franchise-record 61-yarder in Week 10. Punter Michael Dickson is again playing at an All-Pro level and ranks in the top five in the NFL in average (49.8 yards per punt), net average (44.2), and punts downed inside the 20 (20 of 40), and he's only had four punts go into the end zone for touchback. Long snapper Tyler Ott, meanwhile, has been… well… have you noticed Tyler Ott much this season? No. That means he's doing his job very well, because in general the only time long snappers stand out is when they mess up. And while he's listed as a fullback, Nick Bellore is first and foremost a special teamer just like the aforementioned specialists, leading the Seahawks with 12 special teams tackles.

"This is as consistent as we have been," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "The kicking has just been phenomenal. Mike's averaging 49 something and 44 something net. He's only had four touchbacks during the season. He's having a great year and the placement has been exquisite. I love the consistency of our coverage groups. They have just been making plays week-in and week-out, it's a really, really good group and it's a championship part of a club that we need to come together and match their consistency and then we'll be doing pretty good on offense and defense. So it's a really positive part of our team."

As Carroll notes, the consistency involved more than just Dickson and Myers. While the Seahawks have yet to pop a huge return, their returners have been solid in terms of making sound decisions and taking care of the football—and D.J. Reed looks poised to break a return at some point—and the kick and punt coverage teams have been outstanding, contributing to the Seahawks average field position to start a drive being 5.1 yards better than their opponents, the fourth best field position differential in the NFL behind New Orleans, Baltimore and Miami. That may not sound like much, but over the course of multiple possessions each game, those yards add up. Penalties have also been rare on special teams, with the Seahawks not committing a single penalty in that phase until their Week 7 game at Arizona, and only three enforced against them all season, tied for the fewest in the league. Add all that up--the elite kicker and punter, the great coverage, the lack of penalties--and the analytics site FootballOutsiders.com ranks the Seahawks third overall in special teams play based off of its DVOA metric.

In addition to Myers' and Dickson's play, a big part of Seattle's special teams improvement has been an infusion of draft picks, particularly on defense, who are very good special teams players, players like linebackers Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven, defensive back Ugo Amadi, running back Travis Homer and defensive backs Marquise Blair and Lano Hill, though those two are currently on injured reserve. Other recent additions who have thrived on special team include receiver Penny Hart, safety Ryan Neal and tight end Jacob Hollister.

Myers, who was three for three on field goal attempts Monday, has now made 26 consecutive field goals dating back to last season, four short of the team record, while also helping the coverage unit be one of the best in the league due to the placement and hangtime of his kick.

"He's having an incredible year; he has just been rock solid," Carroll said. "He's such a tremendous athlete for this position, he's just so well-tuned and fitted to be really consistent. He's just got that makeup. He's a great worker and he's a good competitor and his mindset is strong, and he's the kind of competitor that you like as your kicker. So he's having a great year and we're counting on him. It was really a clutch decision to make at the end of that game whether we kick the ball and take a chance of giving them an opportunity, and we just went with the continuity of our group and the snapper, holder, kicker, they're awesome. So we counted on him to come through and he did, so we're fortunate to have him."

And while the casual football fan might not fully appreciate what the Seahawks have been doing on special teams, even the All-Pros who don't play on special teams like linebacker Bobby Wagner are well aware of how important that unit is to the team's success.

"They've been lights out," Wagner said when asked about Dickson and Myers. "Both of those guys have been lights out. A lot of people just watch football for the defense and offense, and they don't really understand the importance of having someone to go out there and always make the extra point, you're always confident in them making the field goal, or we get them close enough, we can try a 50 plus yard field goal. A guy like Mike, he constantly puts the defense in a great position by you know pinning them down inside the 10. Those guys have been amazing for us, they've been very crucial to our success. We wouldn't be successful without those guys."

Go behind the scenes from the Seattle Seahawks' Week 12 game vs. the Philadelphia Eagles. Eye on the Hawks is presented by Western Washington Toyota Dealers.

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