The Redskins went from October 23, 2006 through September 23, 2015—a span of 141 regular and postseason games or 3,257 calendar days—getting just three touchdowns on special teams. They now have three special teams touchdowns in their last eight games.
Rashad Ross returned a kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown in Week 3. Then three weeks later against the Jets, Jeron Johnson blocked a punt and Ross recovered the ball in the end zone. Then on Sunday in Carolina, Andre Roberts took a kickoff at the one and headed up the middle. He made one man miss, broke toward the right sideline and turned on the jets, going 99 yards for the score.
Roberts’ return was different from the other two in that the game was still competitive at the time of the play. Both the Giants and the Jets games were lost long before the big special teams plays. Roberts’ return tied the game at 14 so it was the first special team score that could be called impactful, even though the Redskins didn’t score the rest of the way (except for a intentional safety in the last minute) and lost by 28.
Special teams were shaky at the start of the year. The Dolphins’ Jarvis Landry returned a punt for a touchdown for the winning score in the season opener. Earlier in the Giants game in Week 3 the Redskins allowed a punt block for a safety. But they have improve since then, giving up no big plays and making some of their own.
"Yeah, I think they're doing well,” said Jay Gruden when asked about the kicking units’ progress this year. “They're working hard. It's good to see some production. We've had two kickoff returns now, a blocked punt for a touchdown and they're doing well. They're some things we can improve on, but for the most part our kicker [Dustin Hopkins] is doing well, [punter] Tress Way had a good day yesterday. So we’ve just got to keep working.
Hopkins, signed after Week 1 to replace Kai Forbath as the kicker, has taken a lot of pressure off of the kickoff coverage team. He has booted 65 percent of his kickoffs for touchbacks. Way is still a work in progress as a punter and as the year goes on he is learning now to position his punts better and refining how he uses his strong punting leg.
According to the all-around metric used to Football Outsiders to measure special teams effectiveness, the Redskins have improved from 29th in the league last year to 13th this year.
“You know special teams is going to be a pivotal part of our game in these close games coming up the next six weeks,” said Gruden. “We have four division games. Obviously the [New York] Giants and the [Dallas] Cowboys back-to-back, and special teams are going to play a pivotal role in these close games."
You’d have to think that if they can manufacture another special teams touchdown or two in the coming six games they have a good chance of a strong finish to the season.