As the Redskins’ improvement from their 4-12 record in 2014 to 9-7 and the NFC East title this past season gets analyzed and broken down, the focus is on the progress at the quarterback position with Kirk Cousins and a defense that produced 27 takeaways and got better at getting off the field on third downs.
The one improvement that is not talked about much is in the third phase of the game, special teams. Every year, respected Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin goes through the numbers and does a composite ranking of special teams. He looks at the team rankings in 22 kicking-related categories and then assigns point values based on that, with the top-ranked team getting one point and the worst getting 32. He adds up the points and the ones with the lowest totals are the best teams.
In 2013 the Redskins were dead last in Gosslien’s ranking—really dead last. The Bills were 31st with 463.5 points. Washington was a mile behind with 559.5. In this ranking they were about 20 percent worse than the second-worst team in the league.
They improved somewhat in 2014 under new special teams coach Ben Kotwica. They had 444 points but they still ranked 30th.
In 2015, the Redskins took a leap up into the middle of the pack. Gosslien’s system assigned them 350.5 points, putting them 13th in the big picture.
The Redskins were ranked first in just one category, special teams points scored. The scored 20 points with three touchdowns (Rashad Ross on a blocked punt recovery, Ross on a kickoff return, Andre Roberts on a kickoff return) and a safety when the tackled the punter in the end zone at the very end of the Panthers game. Washington scored no points on special teams from 2011-2014.
One other area of great improvement was in kickoffs. In 2014 Kai Forbath sent 18 of his kickoffs for touchbacks (31st in NFL) and was 31st in net kickoff average. After Week 1 this year Dustin Hopkins replaced Forbath and booted 52 touchbacks (T-7th) and was eighth in league in net kickoff average.
The Redskins still have plenty of work to do. For one, they averaged just 4.8 yards per punt return, 31st in the league. But Kotwica certainly deserves some credit for helping to turn the special teams around and getting this headed in the right direction and the special teams as a whole needs to be acknowledged for playing a role in the team’s improved record.