Special Kudos For Special Teams

Posted Sep 20, 2012

The kicking game again played a key role in the victory over Oakland.

There were a lot of highlights in the Dolphins’ 35-13 victory against Oakland in the home opener last Sunday.

You had Reggie Bush’s two spectacular touchdown runs, Ryan Tannehill’s first NFL TD pass, another dominating performance by the run defense, and also the team’s first takeaway of the season with Reshad Jones’ fourth-quarter interception.

What didn’t get quite as much attention, but really should not be overlooked was the work of the special teams — particularly in the first half.

It even could be argued that the biggest reason the Dolphins were in position to overtake the Raiders in the second half was because of the special teams.

A stretch? Maybe, but just remember that the Dolphins allowed Carson Palmer and the Oakland offense 263 yards in the first two quarters and didn’t force a turnover.

Yet the Dolphins trailed only 10-7. You’d expect a team with that kind of yardage without a turnover to have way more points than just 10.

But the Raiders had only one touchdown and one field goal for the simple reason that they had to drive a long way to get into scoring position every single time they had the ball in the first half.

Here’s the evidence: Oakland’s six first-half drives began at its 16, 8, 7, 14, 18 and 12.

This is called winning the game on special teams. No, the Dolphins didn’t have a long return in this game similar to Marcus Thigpen’s punt return for a touchdown in the opener at Houston, but it was just as impressive an outing in the kicking game, if not better.

Actually, winning the field position battle was the reason the Dolphins controlled the game at Houston until their barrage of turnovers in the second half.

In that game, Houston started its first three drives at its own 10, 5 and 13.

The credit for that good work should be spread throughout the 11 guys on the punt team, starting with punter Brandon Fields. After he put together a Pro Bowl-caliber 2011 season, the Dolphins rewarded Fields with a contract extension this summer and he’s done nothing but continue to deliver.

Although he did have one punt he’d like to have back - a line-drive 50-yarder that was returned 47 yards - Fields had another good day against Oakland with a 53.2-yard gross average and a net average of 43.5 (a net of 40 is considered excellent).

Fields even got some help in the punting department, as Dan Carpenter pooch-punted out of field goal formation after the Dolphins lined up to apparently attempt a 56-yard field goal. Carpenter’s 29-yard punt was downed at the Oakland 8, helping to contribute to the field position advantage the Dolphins enjoyed throughout the first half.

The importance of special teams - beyond long returns - shouldn’t be forgotten with the New York Jets coming to town this weekend.

We only have to go back two years to find a game in this series the Dolphins won primarily on the strength of their kicking game.

The Miami defense did have six sacks and two takeaways in that Week 14 game in 2010, but a huge reason the Dolphins were able to beat the Jets 10-6 was a phenomenal day by Fields, who averaged 56.4 yards with a net of 49.6.

Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff, a longtime Dolphins assistant, said on Joe Rose’s radio talk show Wednesday morning that no team in the league has a better special teams “battery” — the trio of punter, placekicker and long snapper — than Miami’s trifecta of Fields, Carpenter and John Denney.

It’s no coincidence that the Dolphins have kept the same three since Carpenter came aboard as a rookie free agent in 2008 and that the last couple of training camps the Dolphins haven’t even bothered bringing in anybody to challenge them.

Those three won’t get a lot of headlines - unless Carpenter hits a game-winning field goal or makes a kick from, say, 55 yards or so - but the Dolphins have the comfort of knowing they can always count on them.

In some cases, they can even help them steal a game or help them stay in a game to come back later. It happened Sunday, it’ll happen again.
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