Redskins season review: Special teams

Kicker Kai Forbath made a 50-yard field goal in his NFL debut. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

Kicker Kai Forbath made a 50-yard field goal in his NFL debut. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

Throughout the years, regardless of offensive or defensive struggles, special teams had been solid for the most part for Washington. Last season saw struggles in the field goal department, as Graham Gano missed five kicks and another five were blocked. But the coverage and return units did well.

This season saw more of the same in the coverage departments, and the emergence of some new faces that helped cure other concerns.

We took a look at the offense and defense in recent weeks. Now, here’s a look at the highs and lows of Washington’s special teams units this season.

Statistical glance: Kai Forbath went an impressive 17-for-18 on field goals, and by making the first 17 attempts of his career, set an NFL record for first-year kickers. … The Redskins ranked 16th in the league on kickoff returns (23.5-yard average) and 17th on punt returns (9.3 ypr). The kickoff return average marked an improvement on last year’s 22.1-yard-per-return average, and last season, the Redskins averaged 8.9 yards per punt return. … The coverage units remained solid, but did regress, going from second in the NFL after limiting teams to 20.8 yards per kick return in 2011 to 12th in the league in 2012 with an average of 23.0 yards allowed per kick return. On punt coverage, Washington held foes to 7.8 yards per return (10th), but allowed 8.2 yards per punt return in 2012. That average ranked eighth in the league this season, however.

The good

  • Consistency on field goals: After years of ups and downs in the kicking game, and the failed Billy Cundiff experiment, Washington finally found its man in Kai Forbath, who made 17 of 18 field-goal attempts, and boasted a league-best clip of .944.
  • Alexander’s Pro Bowl nod: One of the top special teams coverage players for the five previous seasons, Alexander remained consistent, and actually became more dominant after losing more weight and increasing his speed. He led the NFL with special teams tackles and earned his first selection to the Pro Bowl.
  • Sparks in the return game: Richard Crawford took over for a struggling Brandon Banks and, with his more decisive returning style, gave Washington better results. His 64-yard return in overtime against Baltimore set up Forbath for the winning field goal. Crawford also proved more sure-handed, as he wasn’t susceptible to the frequent fumbles that Banks was guilty of. … Niles Paul’s 21.8 yard per return average ranked less than Banks’ 24-yard average. But Paul was a better decision-maker and a more straight-ahead runner, which seemed to please coaches.
  • Sure-footed Rocca: Despite tearing a meniscus in his kicking leg, punter Sav Rocca never missed a game and averaged 43.9 yards per punt, a career-best.

 

The bad

  • Banks’ struggles: Special teams play was the reason why he was on the team, but his diminished impact (league-worst 6.8-yards per punt return) and inability to hold onto the ball (he had four fumbles) landed the once-favorite of special teams coach Danny Smith on the bench.
  • Cundiff’s woes: The Redskins parted ways with Graham Gano, and instead signed Billy Cundiff. But the veteran was anything but sure-footed as he missed five field-goal attempts (three in one game) before getting the boot after five games.
  • Kickoff struggles: Forbath certainly was accurate on field goals, but struggled to get the ball to the end zone on kickoffs, recording just 15 touchbacks on 60 attempts.

The takeaway

The Redskins at last have found the answer on field goals with Forbath now in the fold, but he must get better on kickoffs. Forbath, who didn’t handle kickoffs in college, said at the end of the season that he planned to map out a plan with coach Danny Smith to help him improve his technique and distance. … Brandon Banks is a free agent, and appears to be on his way out. With an inability to contribute as a receiver and diminished impact in the returns game, Washington went away from him and turned to Crawford and Paul, who also can play on defense and offense, respectively. … Alexander finally got his due, making his first Pro Bowl, and he also contributed on defense. But he will be a free agent, and should be a priority signing. … Rocca, another free agent, would like to return as well. He is now 39, but if he can come back from knee surgery and remain effective, he would seem to have a good chance of returning.

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