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How are Jets special teams performing in 2021?

NFL: NOV 14 Bills at Jets Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We don’t talk much about special teams, but they are very important. Around 15-20% of plays come in the game third phase. With that in mind, let’s check in to see how Jets special teams are performing.

Kicking

There’s really no way around it. Matt Ammendola has been a problem for the Jets. The team ranks 30th in the NFL with only a 68.4% rate of accuracy on field goals. How the team got to that 68.4% is also notable.

Ammendola has yet to miss from inside 30 yards. That isn’t particularly outstanding, though. There have only been two missed field goals in the entire NFL all year from inside 30 yards. Ammendola is also perfect between 30 and 40 yards. Twenty-two of the league’s thirty-two teams have not missed a field goal from that range. Only three have more than a single miss.

Where Ammendola’s issues arise are on longer distance kicks. His 40% average (2 for 5) on field goals between 40 and 49 yards gives the Jets the second worst conversion rate in the NFL on these kicks. Additionally, the Jets are the only team in the league to have at least three attempts from beyond 50 yards and zero makes.

For a guy who is on the team because his big leg theoretically could give the Jets an advantage on long kicks, Ammendola has arguably been the worst long distance kicker in the NFL through twelve weeks.

The other area where a big leg from a placekicker could come into play are on kickoffs. However, the Jets are in the middle of the pack at 14th with a 57.5% touchback rate. After kickoffs, opponent starting field position is the 27 yard line, tied with the Rams for the worst in the NFL.

Ammendola at least has only missed a single extra point, although that brought his average down to 93.3, ranking the Jets 19th in this category.

Punting

Here the Jets are squarely in the middle of the pack in many categories. The three punters the Jets have used this year have averaged 46.3 yards per punt. That ranks the team 17th. The punts have netted 41.6 yards. That ranks 21st. The Jets do have the eighth most fair catches forced with 13 despite only having the 20th most punts in the league.

The coverage unit has been vulnerable when the opponents haven’t fair caught the ball, though, as the 12 yards per return the Jets have allowed is the third worst in the league.

One might wonder whether the Jets regret letting Thomas Morstead go. Morstead was signed as a temporary replacement for Braden Mann after Mann was injured in the opener. By pretty much any objective measure, however, Morstead has been the better punter this season. His 48.2 average and 43 net far outpace Mann’s 41.6 and 36.8.

Returning

The Jets have been strong in both phases of the return game. They rank fifth in kickoff returns with a 24.6 yard average and second in punt returns with a 13.6 yard average. Braxton Berrios is the standout ranking second in the league with a 25.4 yard average on kickoff returns. He doesn’t have enough punt returns to qualify for the league leaderboard, but his 13.6 yard average would rank second if he did.

It is worth noting that the reason Berrios doesn’t qualify for the league leaderboard is his tendency to call for fair catches. His 18 fair catches this season are more than all but three teams have. In fact he is fair catching two of every three punts he returns, an extreme rate which suggests his average might be a product of only trying to return when there are obvious lanes. On the flip side, a more glass is half full interpretation is that he isn’t taking chances unless something is there.

Penalties

One thing you can’t love are the penalties the Jets are taking on special teams. No team has given up more yardage than the 140 the Jets have surrendered because of special teams penalties this year. The team’s 15 special teams penalties rank the fourth most in the league.

Notably, Justin Hardee has committed four penalties this season. That’s not what you want to see from a player who was signed specifically to play special teams.

Playing Time

Hardee is the most frequent Jets special teamer with 253 snaps. He has played 84.6% of the Jets’ special teams plays this year. Del’Shawn Phillips is second with 234 snaps (78.2%). These are the only two players to participate in more than half of the special teams plays, but Ryan Griffin and Sharrod Neasman have participated in between 40% and 50%. Additionally, Hamsah Nasirildeen participated in more than 60% of special teams snaps in all but one game he was active, and Daniel Brown participated in at least 70% of special teams snaps in every game he was active.

Tackles

Given their playing time, it is no surprise that Hardee and Phillips are tied for the team lead with 7 special teams tackles. No other member of the Jets has more than 5.

Advanced Metrics

It is difficult to condense all of this information into one comprehensive ranking. The best I can come up with is Football Outsiders’ DVOA. On special teams they rank the Jets 19th in the NFL so far. That’s clearly an upgrade on last year’s dismal 29th ranking but nowhere near the 4th ranking in 2019 or the number one spot in 2018.

Stats compiled from numerous sources including ESPN, Team Rankings, NFL Penalties, Stathead, and Football Outsiders