Led by Austin, Special Teams Units Yielding Special Results Entering Bye Week

Posted Nov 13, 2013

Holding court near the corner of the visitor’s locker room following the Rams’ 38-8 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, kicker Greg Zuerlein could only shake his head when recounting the exploits of the Rams’ special teams units on Sunday.

Rookie Tavon Austin tallied the first career special teams touchdown of his young career on a 98-yard punt return, and totaled 172 total return yards on the afternoon. For his efforts, Austin was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week. However, Austin was not the only one on the Rams’ special teams unit to have a banner day. In light of Austin’s performance, kickoff coverage units could typically be overlooked, but that group’s contributions were no less impactful than Austin’s efforts in the Rams’ convincing victory.

On seven Rams kickoffs, the Colts were unable to cross the 20-yard line once, and had an average starting field position of their own 16-yard line. Three times, the Rams stopped Indianapolis inside their own 15-yard line on a kickoff return, punctuated by Cody Davis’ upending of the Colts’ David Reed at the Indianapolis 13 on the Colts’ last attempt to return a kick out of the end zone.

“Three in one game (inside the 15)?” Zuerlein mused. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that.”

In a season that has seen the emergence of Zac Stacy and the Rams’ young offensive weapons, as well as the team’s recent strides on the defensive side of the ball, the Rams’ most consistent unit of the year is the one led by special teams coordinator John Fassel.

“(We’ve) been working real hard at it,” Head Coach Jeff Fisher said following Sunday’s win. “Coach Fassel’s done a great job with those young guys. We challenge them every week and he had a great game plan this week.”

The year has not been without a hiccup. Austin may very well have a handful of long returns to his credit if not for an early rash of holding and block in the back penalties, though an increased focus on that area following the Rams’ Week 5 victory over Jacksonville has appeared to rectify that lone point of difficulty.

From Zuerlein and Austin to punter Johnny Hekker and the coverage units, the Rams’ special teams units have quietly performed among the league’s best through Week 10.

Hekker appears poised to make a run for his first Pro Bowl in his second NFL season, and leads the NFL in net yards per punt at 43.5. He built upon those numbers by averaging 48.4 yards on five punts, including a long of 61 yards. Zuerlein has connected on 15 of 17 field-goal attempts for the season, and  booted a 32-yard field goal in his only attempt on Sunday.

While the season’s first nine weeks revealed special teams to be a strength, Sunday’s performance stood alone in what was a virtually flawless afternoon for the group.

“It was an outstanding job on special teams,” Fisher said. “Guys were running free and just carrying over what they’re learning on the practice field into the game. Everybody took turns. Everybody was involved. (S) Cody (Davis) had some big plays. It was just good to see everybody involved. We punted the ball well, covered, and we returned it well. It was a good overall day for us.”