Special Teams Battle: Brian Schneider vs. John Fassel

Remember Brian Schneider? I bet most of the Raider Nation does, because Schneider coached the Raiders special teams in 2007 and 2008.

Schneider was considered by many to be a great special teams coordinator for the Raiders. What was so special about Schneider’s special teams units? Was it kick coverage or return yardage? Is John Fassel worse? He’s certainly hasn’t received the praise like Schneider did during his time with the Raiders.

Both punting and kicking seem to be more dependent on the kicker and punter. Obviously, the Raiders have two of the best. One thing you can get from punting and kicking is blocks and return touchdowns which is more indicative of coverage and coaching.

In 2007, Brian Schneider’s first season as a coach for the Raiders, the return units were near the bottom in return yardage and had no return touchdowns. The Raiders allowed punt return touchdowns, but were middle of the pack in regards to kick coverage.

Schneider’s fortunes turned in 2008, with five return touchdowns. Johnnie Lee Higgins was the punt returner in both 2007 and 2008, but really thrived in that role in the 2008. Justin Miller was the kick returner who returned two kicks for touchdowns. Was it Schneider’s coaching, Higgin’s and Miller’s return skills or a total fluke?

The kick coverage regressed to near the bottom of the league in 2008 under Schneider, a noted decline from the year before.

In 2009, the special teams regressed significantly. Johnnie Lee Higgins was crushed by Eric Weddle and has yet to recover. Perhaps he just isn’t very good at punt returns? He averaged the same yards per return in 2007 under Schneider as he did in 2009 under Fassel (5.2).

The return man for the Raiders was rotating before settling on the very slow fullback Gary Russell in 2009. Was this Fassel’s idea or were the Raiders simply out of viable options to field the kicks? Obviously the return game wasn’t working and the Raiders came into 2009 looking for a more dynamic return man to complement the solid coverage teams.

To add insult to the special teams, the kick coverage unit was the worst in the league in 2009, but appears to have bounced back in 2010, despite early indications of struggle.

That brings us to the current year. The Raiders started with Yamon Figurs as the kick returner but Jacoby Ford has taken over those duties. Nick Miller has taken over for Higgins and done a great job so far. The Seahawks awesome kick return unit is largely due to the additions of Leon Washington and Golden Tate.

Washington was a great return man until the Jets used him more as a running back last season and he broke his leg. Not only does he have six career return touchdowns, but he has at least one longer than 90 yards in each of his three seasons as the primary kick returner. Washington has a career average of 26.6 yards per kick return. Tate is averaging 11.8 yards per punt return this season.

Schneider’s units are struggling in punt coverage and the Seahawks have already given up a punt return touchdown. However, the kick return coverage team ranks in the top 10 in the NFL.

Schneider seems to have a weakness, that being his punt coverage units. His return units and kick coverage unit will likely again be strong. Schneider has had a great set of returners, particularly Leon Washington.

Fassel has had to do more with less since taking over and his special teams units appear to be bouncing back from a horrible season.

This could be the game Nick Miller breaks loose on another long return, but don’t expect too much from Jacoby Ford returning kicks. The Raiders will have to defend against the prolific Seahawks return men, who have had a major impact in three of the four Seahawks victories.

Below are the raw special teams statistics from 2007 to present.

2007: Brian Schneider
21.6 yards per kick return (25), 0 Touchdowns
5.5 yards per punt return (31), 0 Touchdowns
49.1 Average Punt (1)
41.1 Net Avg (1)
2 allowed punt return Touchdowns (32)
23 of 32, 72% Field Goals (29), 1 Blocked, 1 miss 30-39, 3 missed 40-49, 5 misses 50+
22.4 avg yards allowed per kick return (14)

2008: Brian Schneider
22.8 yards per kick return (17), 2 Touchdowns
13.0 yards per punt return (2), 3 Touchdowns
48.8 Average Punt (2)
41.2 Net Avg (1)
24 of 30, 80% Field Goals (24), 2 Misses 40-49, 4 misses 50+
1 Blocked PAT
24.4 avg yards allowed per kick return (26)

2009: John Fassel
18.2 yards per kick return (32), 0 Touchdowns
4.9 yards per punt return (29), 0 Touchdowns
51.1 Average Punt (1)
43.9 Net Avg (1)
20 of 23, 90% field goals (6), 1 miss 40-49, 2 misses 50+
25.7 avg yards allowed per kick return (32)

2010: John Fassel
20.1 yards per kick return (27), 0 Touchdowns
9.0 yards per punt return (19), 0 Touchdowns
49.0 Punt Average (1)
44.1 Net Average (1)
15 for 20, 70% field goals, 1 miss 30-39, 2 misses 40-49, 2 misses 50+
25.4 avg yards allowed per kick return (23)

2010 Seattle Seahawks: Brian Schneider
32.2 yards per kick return (1), 2 Touchdowns
9.9 yards per punt return (14), 0 Touchdowns
42.8 Punt Average (25)
36.3 Net Avg (23)
1 allowed punt return touchdown (32)
9 of 9, 100% Field Goals (1), only one attempt longer than 40 yards (51 yards).
22.1 avg yards allowed per kick return (10)

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