Here is the task for the New York Giants' special teams units on Sunday against the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys. Get through one game without some sort of meltdown. In six games this season, the Giants special teams have yet to manage that feat.
Week 1 -- Poor punt protection leads first to Steve Weatherford getting a punt partially blocked, then to Weatherford being roughed and tearing four ligaments in his left ankle. The Giants return one kickoff for a measly 14 yards, a theme throughout all six games thus far.
Week 2 -- The Giants surrender a 71-yard punt return to Ted Ginn of the Arizona Cardinals. Kickoff returner Quintin Demps follows that up with a fumble on the ensuing kickoff return. That turns a 16-14 fourth-quarter lead into a 22-14 deficit and ultimately costs the Giants a game they probably should have won.
Week 3 -- A Zak DeOssie bad snap costs the Giants a chance to try a 30-yard field goal. Also in this game, a Damontre Moore holding penalty costs Preston Parker a decent 12-yard punt return. Moore, however, did atone by blocking a punt.
Week 4 -- Even in a lopsided victory over the Washington Redskins the special teams cannot come away clean. Rookie Nat Berhe costs Parker a 29-yard punt return with an illegal block in the back penalty. Moore commits another holding penalty on a punt return.
Week 5 -- The Giants allow a 25-yard punt return by Devin Hester of the Atlanta Falcons. Given a chance to jump start the struggling kickoff return team, Parker fumbles a kickoff that leads to an Atlanta field goal.
Week 6 -- Punt protection becomes an issue again as Weatherford gets yet another punt partially blocked. The Giants also surrender a 43-yard punt return to Darren Sproles. Finally, Odell Beckham Jr. muffs a punt that, thankfully, a Philadelphia player knocks through the end zone for a touchback.
Yikes! The Giants' special teams have been anything but special thus far this season.
"I continue to be disappointed at one point or another with our punt game," said head coach Tom Coughlin. "Special teams-wise, yeah, we do have to clean some things up. The punter has got to produce faster, we have to get the ball out, the production efficiency has got to improve there. We do a decent job of covering up until the 43-yard punt return, which drives you crazy. An outstanding returner back there, but nevertheless, we have worked on this all week long. That area right now is a real issue for us and we are continuing to try to work on it. As you know, it just is something that has been very difficult for us to wrap our arms around consistently."
Here are a few numbers.
- The Giants are 26th in the league in punt return average at 5.8 per return. I almost feel bad for Parker. Add the two returns he had wiped out by penalties and he would be averaging a very respectable 9.4 yards per return.
- The Giants are 25th in the league in kickoff return average at 21.5 per return.
- The Giants are 30th in the league in punt returns against, giving up 14.1 yards per return.
- Here's a good stat. They are the best team in the league in kickoff coverage, giving up only 18.0 yards per return.
Dwayne Harris of Dallas is sixth in the league with an average of .7.5 yards per punt return. Harris is also sixth in kickoff returns, averaging 25.2 yards per return. Dallas placekicker Dan Bailey is 13-of-14 this season with a career-long made field goal of 56 yards.
For the Giants, Weatherford has been listed as a full participant in practice this week for the first time since suffering his Week 1 injury. Normally, a tremendous directional kicker, Weatherford has hit more punts straight down the middle this season than the Giants would like. As Coughlin indicated above, he believes the punter, perhaps inhibited by his ankle injury, has been slow to get the ball out at times.
In terms of the return game, Michael Cox gave the Giants a bit of a lift in kickoff return last week. In his first week after being signed off the practice squad. He returned two kickoffs for an average of 26.5 yards. Parker and Odell Beckham Jr. will likely continue to split the punt return opportunities.