Punt team tries to block out blocks
FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons fans likely would be pleased and not surprised to see special-teams coach Keith Armstrong on the field working with Eric Saubert and Foyesade Oluokun on punt protection before practice even began. They were trying to right the wrongs on the right side.
It might be surprising to know, though, that it was nothing new for a punt squad that hasn’t exactly been sterling. “We do pre-practice punt sets every Wednesday and Thurs- day,” Armstrong said.
The extra work didn’t help Saubert keep from getting beat at right guard Sunday by Pitts- burgh fullback Roosevelt Nix. He blocked Matt Bosher’s punt late in the third quarter to set up a touchdown that swung the game overwhelmingly to the Steelers.
That came two weeks to the day after Oluokun, the right tackle on the punt team, barely got any meat on Saints defensive end Alex Okafor. He raced past the right shoulder of the Falcons’ rookie linebacker and blocked Bosher’s punt to set up a short field for New Orleans, which soon scored a critical touchdown in what became a 43-37 overtime loss for the Falcons.
“I used the analogy like being on the bomb squad ... getting it right nine out of the 10 times isn’t going to get it done,” coach Dan Quinn said. “So we’ll have an extra emphasis ... on both occasions it wasn’t a certain scheme or pressure that got us. Some- times you wish it was. It was just somebody getting beat on that play.”
There have been six blocked punts through the first five weeks of the NFL season, and two came off Bosher’s right foot.
He had one punt blocked in the previous four seasons combined.
So, it’s obvious something has to improve fast for the Falcons (1-4) before they play the Buccaneers (2-2) on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
And yes, Saubert and Oluo- kun agree, there is a need for speed as they’ve been too slow after Josh Harris’ long snaps to Bosher in stepping back into protection stances. Plus, Saubert kind of got run over.
“It’s just a lapse in funda- mentals. When we get tested like that, that’s what you’ve got to fall back on,” said Saubert, a reserve tight end. “The get- off ’s got to be better . ... My getoff, I need to get back quicker to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
There are no personnel changes planned on the right side, and Saubert and Oluo- kun both said they don’t need to learn anything new. Neither time were they shocked by schemes. They were just beaten by techniques.
“Getting off faster. Yep,” Oluokun said. “We should try to get back quicker every time. They were running dif- ferent stunts, but if you get back fast every time you can sort them out.”
Not every Bosher punt is launched at the same speed.
If the Falcons find fourth down on the opponent’s side of the field, he’s trying to drop the ball on the 10-yard line or so to pin that team deep. The “flop” kicks don’t require as much power because they’re not going to travel as far, so he gets them off quicker.
Against both the Steelers and the Saints, however, the Falcons were backed up in their own territory, and Bosher was looking for more distance on the balls that were blocked. Long balls can take a tad longer to launch.
Saubert and Oluokun want to get better and Bosher does, too.
“I’m happy with what we’re doing as a group moving forward. I think there’s always something we can improve on. Myself, I can be more con- sistent in get-off (catch-to-kick time) and get it off as quick as possible.”
Armstrong is not pleased that two Falcons punts have been blocked, nor that Bosher’s gross average of 44.2 yards per punt ranks No. 23 in the NFL, and definitely not that the Falcons’ net punt average of 35.8 yards gained in field position ranks No. 30.
“I think we can do better in all phases,” Armstrong said. “... I think any time you have an issue, no matter what phase you’re working in, you have to address the issues, so there’s always more emphasis on the issues as you go through the week.”
Armstrong did not exactly detail all elements of the punt game.
Are Bosher’s boots getting away quickly enough? “Sure,” he said.
Are Harris’ snaps getting to Bosher fast enough? “Yes,” he said.
The punter claims immunity to what most people might consider human nature, and that he does not speed up his kicks after having one blocked. His goal, in fact, is to forget what’s happened, even if that seems humanly possible.
“No. We always practice to be on time,” Bosher said when asked if he accelerates after a blunted punt. “I think that in our position, punter, kicker whatever it may be, you have to have a short memory. You can’t think about what happened last whether it was a good ball, bad ball, blocked ball ... it doesn’t matter.”
Armstrong remembers everything, and he’s unhappy about what he can’t forget.
“Bottom line is this,” he said. “I’ve got to do a better job of getting them coached up, and we’ll get that done.”
Matt Bosher takes off with the ball after his punt was blocked by the Steelers. Six punts have been blocked in the NFL this season, two off Bosher’s foot.