Special-teams guru Mike Westhoff had no problems with the New York Jets' unconventional strategy that resulted in a blocked punt Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. He said it was a sound call, with minimal risk. He just believes the players -- Zach Sudfeld, in particular -- did a poor job of executing.
The Jets' former special teams coordinator, in a phone interview Tuesday, said he used the same three-flyer scheme on occasion. He recalled one time against the New England Patriots, when Bill Belichick was running down the sideline calling for a timeout because he thought the Jets were planning to run a fake.
Westhoff knows why Ben Kotwica, his former protege, used three flyers (or "gunners"). It was to get more speed on the field to combat Ted Ginn, one of the league's top punt returners. Frankly, I think the coaching staff also may have been haunted by the Ginn nightmare from 2009, when he burned the Jets with two touchdowns on kickoff returns as a member of the Miami Dolphins.
The risk with three flyers is that, according to the rules, it permits the opponent to place a player directly over the long snapper. The Jets didn't use three flyers against other top punter returners -- namely Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Jacoby Jones (Baltimore Ravens) -- but they employed the scheme on the first two punts to Ginn and held him to two fair catches. On the third punt, they stacked the line to block a 10-man rush.
On the fourth punt, they went back to three flyers and disaster struck.
Jason Williams covered the long snapper Tannen Purdum and rushed the A gap, between Purdum and the left guard (Sudfeld), who were lined up in a tight split -- only six inches apart. Williams changed up his rush, this time attacking away from the uncovered right guard (Garrett McIntyre) and toward the overload. The Jets still had the numbers in their favor -- seven players blocking six rushers -- but there was a technique breakdown and Williams came free to block Ryan Quigley's punt. It changed the game.
"You should be able to block that very easily," said Westhoff, who works as an ESPN radio analyst. "It's not some crazy look."
The Jets are a man-to-man team in punt protection, but they also employed a zone technique on that play, according to Westhoff. Instead of firing out of his stance to block the man in front of him, Sudfeld should've set himself to help on Williams, who shot the gap with a swim move.
"Never jump out to your man," said Westhoff, adding that Sudfeld, Purdum and McIntyre should've formed a "cup" in protecting the middle.
If there's a criticism of the strategy, it's that the Jets used it three times, allowing the Panthers to adjust. Westhoff didn't disagree with that, saying "you don't necessarily need a steady dose" of the three-flyer look. It's likely they were spooked by the third punt, which Ginn returned 24 yards. (It was nullified by a penalty.)
Westhoff's biggest beef was the quality of the personnel on special teams. Indeed, Sudfeld is a weak-blocking tight end, hardly ideal in that position on the punt team. He was moved into that role only recently because of a season-ending injury to Konrad Reuland.
"The Jets are limited in personnel," Westhoff said. "And I'm being kind."
The blocked punt will be remembered as one of the killer plays of the season.
"It devastated me and I'm not even coaching there anymore," Westhoff said. "I was sick."