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Punts Forced / Kickoff Return Attempts: A Statistical Flyby


Darth Vader

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I was going to mention this arcane topic last year, but never got around to it, even though it bothered me.

There is a fundamental logic to an element of defense on the 2009 Jets that didn't get exploited to the hilt, but could have. The 2010 Jets seem to have addressed this. We could have been a much more dangerous team last year. Who knows how much it would have affected the bottom line, but anyway, you have to know how to ice the cake you bake.

The underlying point of seeing things like the way I am going to show them has to do basically with inter-phase efficiency: capturing optimum value from its opportunities, and seeing how different phases of the game bleed into one another, are interconnected, how opportunities are fostered by this interconnectedness, and why it is so important to get a player at a particular position that can turn the flywheel by hitting homeruns when they get their limited opportunities at the plate.

The most important concept underlying this is the idea that there is no such thing as a closed system. All systems are open systems that overlap and contribute to, bleed into others. All phases of the game bleed into one another in a way that is hard, if not impossible, to capture wholly. The attempt to explain the game of football statistically can perplexing for this reason. Stats isolate a game of myriad interconnected phases and elements. No other game is even remotely like football not only in its complexity, but in the simultaneity of moving parts that contribute to "a simple given play", and the coordination necessary on a variety of levels to even play the game. Unlike baseball, which is itself complex, but not nearly so, where just for example, a pitch, like a football play, is "strategically called", but with much less variety than a football playbook.

Anyway, every half of every game is initiated by the kicking phase of the game, which tees it off to the kick return phase, and this becomes the offense/defense phase. Every score leads into a kick-off situation (not including PAT/FG), connected to a KR situation, until the clocks run down. Likewise, teams on offense can elect to punt rather than just risk turning the ball over on downs.

When we talk about great defense, we are talking about the potential resulting function that affects opportunities in the return game, creating punt returns and limiting kick returns.

Just to show how much of a game changer kickoff returns can be, remember back to Ted Ginn's 2 TDS, or Brad Smith's TD. Momentum swingers.

We can rank the value of KO returns for TDs, and even though they may be rare, we know how TD returns encapsulate the importance of the return game. A return doesn't have to go for a TD to be significant.

+7 = A KO returned for a TD when it leads off a game or half, not as result of TD/FG

Even = A KO returned for TD, after opponent TD

+4 = A KO return for TD, after opponent FG

Fine, this means if your defense is bad, and you give up a lot of scores, your team should emphasize the KO return game. But if your defense is really good scoring-wise, you aren't going to get a lot of opportunities here. Like the Jets. On the other hand, a team with a great defense, in the order of what the Jets had last year, an explosive punt return game should be a super high priority to obtain.

It's very simple. As you defense gets better, the fewer 1st downs an opponent attains. The fewer 1st downs, the more punts forced. Additionally, the fewer 1st downs, and the more punts, and the better the defense gets overall and especially in limiting big scoring plays, the fewer scores you give up. The fewer scores you give up the fewer kick returns you get.

Better defense creates an increasingly polarized and inversely proportional relationship between kick returns and punt returns. As the defense gets better and attains a critical mass - as the elite defenses do and as we did last year - the punt returns increase dramatically while kick return opportunities in turn decrease dramatically.

Let's look. So, Rex builds this incredible defense. The isolated stats are astounding. Best we've ever seen. Let's see some D stats and the corresponding return stats. (Italicized are Defensive Stats and BOLDED are the correlating Return game stats.)

Scoring Defense: 14.8: 1st in league

KICK RETURNS: 44:1st (lowest) in league

Total 1st Downs: 237: 1st; 2nd: MIN, 271

3rd Down Made: 69: 1st (T3)

3rd Down Prcnt: 31.5%: 1st

PUNTS FORCED: 98: 1st; 2nd: SF, 95

PUNT RETURNS: 50: 1st; 2nd: SF, 49

FAIR CATCHES: 26: 1st; (SF: 13)

PUNTS FIELDED: 76 (my statistic: to avoid confusion this will be Punts Caught (PC))

PUNTS UNFIELDED: 22 (my statistic)

PUNTS FORCED (PF) = 98

PR___Yards___Average____Long___TD__Fair Catches

50-----457--------9.1---------37------0---------26-----

KICK OFF RETURNS

KR____Yards___Average___Long___TD

44-----1074-------24.4-------106------1-

We let up the fewest scores and thus received the lowest frequency of KO's in the league.

Likewise, we experienced the fewest new 1st downs, gave up the fewest amount of 3rd down conversions, had the best 3rd down stop rate, let up the fewest yards, and therefore we received the greatest amount of punts in the league. Some specific and astounding figures concerning these relationships, along with some notes and conclusions:

Significant Relationships

PF/KR ratio: 2.23 = ~ 225% more than KR; more than double!

PC/KR ratio: 1.73 = punts fair caught and returned almost double kick returns

PR/KR ratio: 1.14 = 114% of KR: The JETS were the only team with a positive margin between PR to KR.

FC% of all Fielded Punts: 34.2% = 26 of 76 punts were Fair Caught

% of Punts Non-Advanced: 49% = 26 Fair Caught + 22 Unfielded = 48 of 98.

Factoring in fair catches, bc fair catches reduce PRs, even though they mitigate risk of actually catching a punt to then return it, which is likely the most dangerous play in football (with unlikely, or at least uncertain payoff: average 8.4 yds/return league-wide, but stretched by few long gains and many short), and where the risk of losing a ball on turnover between the whistles (as opposed to a turnover on downs, or a punt, which is a turnover by choice) is not just a turnover but a potential momentum swinging turnover-negating turnover.

FC's reduce risk when a significant victory has already been won - a punt - but the return of the punt by an explosive player can add tremendous payoff to an already dominant unit. Having a PR that can break open returns is the icing on the cake the defense bakes.

When you factor in either the average per game punt return opportunity, or the total aggregate returns over a season, you are talking about creating back-breaking potential of astronomical proportions to an opposing team.

Think: An opposing offense just can't move the chains on a given Sunday. (We gave up only 237 1sts total last year and forced a total of 98 punts.) Fine. But add to that a punt returner that -all day- is going to be up to bat swinging for the fences?

No you've got icing to spread on the cake. Here are our Punts-Forced Figures for all 16 weeks of 2009. Think of these as opportunities to hit a homerun. With a better defense than everyone else, we force more of these opportunities:

6

6

7

5

4

8

5

7

4

5

5

7

8

8

6

7_

98 Punts Forced is

50 Punts Returned (457 yds/9/1 avg) plus

26 Fair Catches, equals

76 Punts Fielded (Punts Caught), leaving

22 Punts Unfielded.

=98.

To briefly compare to other random teams, here are a few showing

Kick Returns - Punts Forced - Punts Returned - Fair Catches

Team__KR__PF__PR__FC

DET-----96---66---28--15

SD------63---62---26--13

CIN-----62---83---40--19

SF-------52--95---49---13

DAL-----47---92---39--23

JETS----44---98---50--26

Punt Returns, not merely Punts Forced is the key statistic. I would surmise that the Jets positive PR-KR ratio has to do with the defense being so good that we win field position, and therefore avoid touchbacks, etc. But the stats don't bear that out. I don't know the explanation.

However, the idea of getting a guy other than the solid Jim Leonard or Cotchery to field punts is a good one. I never understood why this was not emphasized at the expense of KR, especially last year.

A guy like Joe McKnight or Kyle Wilson is almost perfect to exploit this statistical seam that will develop again if we play at a similar level.

It is the difference between small margin of victory/loss and clear victory. It is also a major equalizer, as in the case of a team like New Orleans, Baltimore or Indianapolis.

Our guys did an adequate job last year, but with the frequency of punt return opportunities we're getting, there is a major need to maximize return.

I was actually hoping for a Trindon Holliday, but perhaps Kyle Wilson, or Joe McKnight can step in here. This is a big deal and the FO bringing these two in to compete deserves major props:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUwj7JemkC4

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I love it when people actually bring meat and potatoes along with an opinion...a true rarity with this site.

I usually bring vodka and cheese doodles. Occasionally a nice pilaf. but you're totally right about the meat and potatoes.

In situations where I'm unsure, I look down at my "wwcd" bracelet and ask myself. "what would Crusher do?" Its worked so far.

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oh. and good op. read the whole thing, too.

Yes, it is good and all, and the poster can be commended for doing the work, but a simple "the Jets can improve in the punt return department by adding a better punt returner in 2010" would have sufficed.

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Good stuff. I brought up the Wilson and McKnight as punt returners in another thread and Brooklyn Jet brought up Santonio Holmes. I know he'll miss the first 4, but I think he did it in Pittsburgh.

FWIW, I think that Cotchery basically caught everything. Don't remember him fair catching much either. The problem is that he is almost no threat to go the distance. He's also a risk to lost due to injury, but that is mitigated a little now by having both Edwards and Holmes. I don't think Cotchery will be back there again.

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FWIW, I think that Cotchery basically caught everything. Don't remember him fair catching much either. The problem is that he is almost no threat to go the distance. He's also a risk to lost due to injury, but that is mitigated a little now by having both Edwards and Holmes. I don't think Cotchery will be back there again.

Cotchery returned 23 punts in 2009. He had 12 fair catches.

Numbers from other notable punt returners last season-

Welker- 27 (returns) and 16 (fair catches)

Cribbs- 38 and 3

Cosby- 40 and 19

Leonhard- 21 and 13

Sproles- 26 and 12

Burleson- 30 and 3

Hester- 24 and 5

Breaston- 38 and 11

Bush- 27 and 9

Jackson- 29 and 15

Crayton- 36 and 23

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Cotchery returned 23 punts in 2009. He had 12 fair catches.

Numbers from other notable punt returners last season-

Welker- 27 (returns) and 16 (fair catches)

Cribbs- 38 and 3

Cosby- 40 and 19

Leonhard- 21 and 13

Sproles- 26 and 12

Burleson- 30 and 3

Hester- 24 and 5

Breaston- 38 and 11

Bush- 27 and 9

Jackson- 29 and 15

Crayton- 36 and 23

That is a pretty high total. More than I expected. I wonder how many were when he first started. He got pressed into due to the injuries to Leonhard and Leon. At first he didn't look super comfortable. He catches everything and well, but he didn't look like he was looking to run with it much either.

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Good stuff. I brought up the Wilson and McKnight as punt returners in another thread and Brooklyn Jet brought up Santonio Holmes. I know he'll miss the first 4, but I think he did it in Pittsburgh.

FWIW, I think that Cotchery basically caught everything. Don't remember him fair catching much either. The problem is that he is almost no threat to go the distance. He's also a risk to lost due to injury, but that is mitigated a little now by having both Edwards and Holmes. I don't think Cotchery will be back there again.

Thanks for the mention ;), and yes Holmes did return punts in the berg.
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That is a pretty high total. More than I expected. I wonder how many were when he first started. He got pressed into due to the injuries to Leonhard and Leon. At first he didn't look super comfortable. He catches everything and well, but he didn't look like he was looking to run with it much either.

I don't have game-by-game numbers, but those can be found.

Cotchery's serviceable in the return game, but Wilson or McKnight hopefully will win the job this year. Cotchery's greatest attribute in the return game is fielding the ball. If Wilson and/or McKnight can do that (and it's not easy as we saw in the Tennessee game), they'll get the job because they are faster than Cotchery and would probably be bigger threats to gain significant yardage.

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I don't have game-by-game numbers, but those can be found.

Cotchery's serviceable in the return game, but Wilson or McKnight hopefully will win the job this year. Cotchery's greatest attribute in the return game is fielding the ball. If Wilson and/or McKnight can do that (and it's not easy as we saw in the Tennessee game), they'll get the job because they are faster than Cotchery and would probably be bigger threats to gain significant yardage.

Couldn't agree more. I just didn't remember that many fair catches. Damn facts prove me wrong.<shakes fist>

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I'd like to see some more statistical info regarding the Jets percentage of punts fielded vs. other teams. Seems to me that a FC isn't just advantageous when you have a lead, sometimes it's a positive play when compared to just letting the ball bounce and watching it travel 10 or 20 yards downfield after it does.

You have San Francisco right there with us in punts forced (good for them!), so let's compare those two teams:

_______PF___PR__FC

SF-------95---49---13

JETS-----98---50---26

The number of returns is statistically very similar: 51.5% for SF, 51% for the Jets - but the Jets have double the number of fair catches. So my question would be what was the difference between SF and the Jets there? Did SF get more touchbacks, resulting in a better net? Or did they let a lot of punts bounce, resulting in a worse one?

I think that would be the key number here: Opponents net yards punting. Don't know where to find that one.

For the Jets purposes, they did well to remain in the middle of the pack in punt return average when down to their #3 punt returner - who also happened to be their starting WR, and was probably told not to do anything stupid when returning a punt!

But like you said, I think the Jets have a number of people in house this year to battle for the punt return job, and it would be a lot of fun to get our own version of Billy "White Shoes" Johnson back there.

Yes, I'm old.

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But like you said, I think the Jets have a number of people in house this year to battle for the punt return job, and it would be a lot of fun to get our own version of Billy "White Shoes" Johnson back there.

Yes, I'm old.

K0EVm7fi0iQ
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