New York Giants position breakdowns: Special teams

What to make of the New York Giants special teams? That is our task in our final position-by-position breakdown.

If you watched all 16 Giants games in 2009 you know there was a special teams breakdown in one area or another nearly every week. Missed extra points and short field goals, poor kickoffs at times, inconsistent punt and kickoff coverage, bad punting, non-existent kickoff returns. You name it, at one time or another we saw heavy doses of all of that in 2009.

Question is, who is at fault? And what should the Giants do about it? I am on record as stating that special teams coach Tom Quinn needs to be replaced. I will stand by that. The guy has been special teams coach for three seasons, and for three seasons the Giants special teams play has been an issue.

This is what I wrote about Quinn a couple of weeks ago.

Using its unique +/- grading system, PFF puts the Giants special teams at -13.7 for the season. Let's compare that to the teams that qualified for the playoffs.

New York Jets (+32.8), Cincinnati Bengals (-0.4), Baltimore Ravens (+20.2), New England Patriots (+12.5), Arizona Cardinals (+21.5), Green Bay Packers (-1.0), Dallas Cowboys (+22.5), Philadelphia Eagles (+24.3).

It is plain to see from those numbers how critical special teams are to making the playoffs. Only the Bengals and Packers are average to below average on special teams.

Go back even further. Even in the Super Bowl year of 2007, Quinn's first as coordinator, the Giants were -10.2 on special teams. Last season they were -9.3, with only outstanding work by Feagles saving them from being even worse.

Please, don't try to tell me poor special teams play is an indication of a dearth of talent. It can be, sure, but not with this team. The Giants won the 2007 Super Bowl, were 11-1 at one point in 2008 and were thought to have championship level talent entering 2009. They have had plenty of talent to get the job done.

How much more evidence is needed to realize that Quinn simply is not up to this job?

That said, we still need to look at the key special teams performers individually and see how they measure up.

Jeff Feagles: Feagles hit more poor punts in 2009 than I can ever recall seeing from the 22-year veteran -- a guy some consider worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. It was easy to watch him and think he was done, that it was time for the Giants to find a new kicker with a bigger leg.

Well, not so fast. In many respects the numbers for the 43-year-old Feagles were almost identical to what they have been the past several seasons.

  • He averaged 40.5 yards per kick, right about where he has been thru seven Giants seasons and just a yard below his career mark.
  • He landed 23 kicks inside the 20 and four inside the 10, identical to 2008.
  • He forced 14 fair catches, one more than in 2008.

The bad news is that Feagles booted 17 punts out of bounds -- many of those woefully short ones. His net punting average was just 36.0 yards per punt, third-worst in the league and four yards worse than in 2008. His Pro Football Focus rating went from a +10.7 in 2008 to a -3.6 in 2009. That, again, was third-worst in the league.

Question is, has Feagles lost it or did Quinn over-coach Feagles, messing with his head and mechanics to the point where Feagles lost effectiveness? In talking with people close to the Giants, you hear the latter opinion voiced frequently.

I would like to see Feagles return a whole lot more than I would like to see Quinn still in charge of special teams. I could understand if the Giants bring in competition for him. In fact, since he will be 44 next season, I could understand letting him go. I still believe, though, that left alone to do what he has obviously known how to be dofor a long time -- kick directionally as well as any kicker ever has -- Feagles can still be a weapon.

Lawrence Tynes: Many of the same questions relating to Quinn that I asked about Feagles also apply to Tynes. I know many of you love to hate this guy, but if you have been watching the late-season and playoff games it has to make you realize the Giants could do worse. Could they do better? Yes. But, they could also do a lot worse.

Tynes missed two kicks between 20-29 yards in 2009 -- the only kicker in the league to do that. He also missed two from 30-39, and only kickers missed more than that. But, he did make 5-of-6 from outside 40 and finished with an 84.4% success rate on field goals, 13th in the league among kickers who participated in all 16 games. So, he was league average.

His kickoffs were not great, of course. PFF graded him -7.0 on kickoffs, with only two kickers faring worse.I still think, though, his kickoffs are acceptable. It's not his fault the Giants can't make a tackle, or that Quinn keeps asking him to hit those stupid-looking 'pooch' kicks that automatically give the return team the ball at the 40-yard line.

The kicker's primary job, though, is to make field goals. Despite his misses I fervently believe that in this capacity Tynes is just fine, provided Quinn quits screwing around with his mechanics and lets him do what he has always known how to do. Tynes, obviously, does not fear the big moment and that is a quality that cannot be under-estimated in a kicker.

It appears that Tynes will have competition for the job next summer from recently-signed youngster Sam Swank, and that can only be a good thing. If he gets beaten out for the job my guess is no one will shed a tear, and I trust that if they replace Tynes the Giants will do so with the belief they have found someone better.

As the saying goes, however, be careful what you wish for.

Zak DeOssie: As a long-snapper DeOssie is just fine. He has handled the punt-snapping duties for three seasons now, and stepped into the field goal and extra-point snapping duties this season when Jay Alford was injured. There is no reason for DeOssie not to continue in both of those capacities for years to come. The problem with DeOssie is the Giants used a fourth-round pick on him in 2007, and you don't use a fourth-round pick on a guy you expect to be a career long-snapper. It appears, though, that DeOssie will never be a regular part of the linebacking group. So, really it is tough to say the Giants are getting what they hoped for in DeOssie.

Domenik Hixon: It is my belief that Hixon is a quality return man. In 2009, he averaged 14.2 yards per punt return with one touchdown. Among players who returned at least 10 punts, only the electric DeSean Jackson was better (15.3 yards per return, two TDs). Hixon averaged just a pedestrian 22.3 yards returning kickoffs. I think, though, that was a function of having no place to run rather than an inability to be an explosive returner. When the returner is getting swarmed at the 20-yard line, it is not his fault.

Keep: Feagles

Let 'em compete: Tynes, Swank

Draft/Free Agency Priority (1 being the highest, 5 the lowest): 5. The Giants have too many other holes to be drafting kickers. Or guys who are solely return specialists.

(E-mail Ed at bigblueview@gmail.com)

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