The Jets did go 8-8 in a year where many predicted them to challenge the Lions 2008 season in futility. However, our special teams didn't help to achieve that record at all. This is just 'eye test' analysis, but last year our special teams barely did anything remarkable to flip field position or make game-breaking plays. The only two times they really had a positive impact were against Atlanta where we got a punt block and two great returns and against Oakland where we got a punt block. Nick Folk was outstanding, of course, but besides that the unit was overly unremarkable. We let up a punt block against the Panthers in a winnable game and, for some reason, we decided to not have a returner stationed against the Patriots in Foxboro for the majority of their punts. The punting game was often mediocre to bad. I do not recall pinning our opponent back many times, and they often had good field position due to bad punts and pedestrian coverage.
Now you may ask 'Jude, why talk about special teams?' My answer is that they help to propel an otherwise average team into the playoffs (or the reverse, in some cases). For example, look at 2010 and 2011. Special teams were very good and it helped us win many games and in 2010's case helped us to essentially wrap up a playoff spot by December. When you look at 2012, special teams directly lost several games for us, and we were nowhere near the playoffs (sloppy offensive play obviously did not help). One could make the argument that talent was a major reason for the uncharacteristically bad play. 2013, with a rookie QB, you want special teams to be proficient enough that you don't always start your drive inside your own 30 almost every game. With several new defensive starters, you don't want the punting game to be so mediocre that your opponent is starting near midfield. That did not happen and it was a contributing factor to not making the playoffs.
I often wonder why our return game was so weak, but then I realized we mainly used Kerley and Wilson. In hindsight, I wonder about the wisdom of using Kerley (who was our best receiver on the team) to just fair catch the ball or run it for 4-5 yards subjecting an injury prone receiver to more injury. The same goes for Wilson, who'd often knee it in the endzone even when he had space to run. There was never any 'speed threat' that could have gotten us back in a game or broken it open. Even when we acquired Cribbs, he rarely made any of those impact plays he was so famous for. I'm hoping with the infusion of new special teams talent as well as a new special teams coach, the unit as a whole becomes drastically better and we use it to win a couple more games we may not have had won without it.
What do you all think? Which players do you think will have a primary role in special teams this year? Should we expect a higher success rate in bigger plays? I say Ford and one of the non-starting receivers (Hakim, Saunders, Evans) should have a good impact on the return game. I hope that we see at least 5-10 extremely positive special teams plays (blocks, 50+ yard returns, pins at the 1 yard line).