2018 Colts Review: Special Teams

2019_0105_HOU_1971

INDIANAPOLIS — Stable excellence is something the Indianapolis Colts are used to on special teams, which is often the forgotten phase of football when discussed broadly. That theme certainly continued in 2018.

Adam Vinatieri (the greatest kicker in NFL history) just concluded his 13th season with the team, Rigoberto Sanchez is punting, kicking off and holding kicks after inheriting the job from Pat McAfee, who followed Hunter Smith. And then there is Luke Rhodes at long snapper, the converted linebacker taking over for Matt Overton, who replaced former Colts 11-year snapper Justin Snow.

Adam Vinatieri

  • 23-of-27 (85.2%) on field goal attempts, 44-of-47 (93.6%) on extra points attempts, 113 points

What is there left to say about Vinatieri?

2018 was a season of accomplishments for "The Goat," as he became the NFL's all-time leading scorer (2,600) as well as its leader in regular season wins (215) and field goals (582).

Among Vinatieri's accomplishments, he also passed Gary Anderson (161) for the most field goals made from 40-49 yards in NFL history and passed Phil Dawson and John Kasay (42) for the fourth-most made field goals from 50 or more yards in NFL history.

In terms of longevity, Vinatieri passed Jeff Feagles for the third-most regular season games played in NFL history (353), and passed Robert Mathis and Justin Snow for the seventh-most games played in franchise history (193). Vinatieri became the fourth player ever to play in an NFL game at the age of 46 years or older, joining George Blanda (48), Morten Andersen (47) and John Carney (46), and he joined Blanda as the only players to appear in a playoff game at 46 years or older.

Vinatieri was awarded with the Week 8 AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after he claimed the all-time scoring title against the Oakland Raiders.

Rigoberto Sanchez

  • 57 punts, 46.1 average, 42.7 net average, long-63, 24 inside-20, five touchbacks, 4.4-yard opponent punt return average
  • 88 kickoffs, 59 touchbacks, 25.9 average starting field position, 20.5-yard opponent kickoff return average

"Rigo" followed up an award-winning rookie season in 2017 with an arguably even better campaign in 2018.

Sanchez finished among the top 10 punters in the league in yards per return allowed (first), net punt average (third), percentage of punts returned (fifth, 36.8 percent), punt average (eighth) and hang-time (tied-10th, 4.38 avg). He is also among the top kickoff specialists in the NFL, finishing tied for third in kickoff hangtime (4.10 avg), fourth in yards per return allowed (20.6) and fifth in touchbacks.

“It’s very satisfying,” Sanchez told Colts.com about the type of season he was able to put together. “But I think it starts with obviously Bubba (Ventrone) (and) the expectations him and coach Frank Ross (have). The group of guys, the gunners that are doing their job — Chris (Milton) is a beast, man — everybody in the interior protecting and everything, understanding the coverages and how important it is not just for ourselves, but the whole team. It’s awesome to work with all these guys around me.”

Luke Rhodes

  • Appeared in all 18 games (included playoffs), four tackles

Rhodes set new single-season career highs in tackles and Pro Football Focus grade (80.8). Rhodes' background as a linebacker before he became a long snapper helps in his pursuit to the ball on coverage teams, and it showed in 2018.

Chester Rogers

  • 23 punt returns for 215 yards (9.3 avg), long-51, 28 fair catches and one kickoff return for 10 yards

Rogers finished ninth in the NFL punt return average among qualifying players, aided by busting a couple for large gains. He had a 33-yard return against the New England Patriots in Week 5 as well as a 51-yarder in Week 11 against the Tennessee Titans. On the latter, he actually took the punt back 74 yards to the house for a touchdown but a holding penalty negated the score. Essentially all of Rogers' punt return numbers were new single-season career highs.

Zach Pascal

  • 14 kickoff returns for 297 yards (21.2 avg), long-29

More often than not, Pascal was on the receiving end of a deep kick or one that called for a kneel-down. However, he was consistent when returning the ball, typically getting the Colts into manageable starting field position for the ensuing drive.

Pascal's biggest special teams play of the year came in the playoffs when he recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown in the Divisional Round against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Others

Matthew Adams, Zaire Franklin, Najee Goode, Chris Milton, Corey Moore and George Odum

You can't discuss special teams without the unsung heroes; the coverage units. These six players saw the most special teams coverage action for the Colts, all playing more than 200 special teams snaps: Goode (343), Adams (296), Odum (285), Milton (267), Moore (247) and Franklin (230).

Special teams tackle numbers were all close for this group, with everybody either having at least four, and led by Goode's 10. Odum followed with nine, Moore had eight, Adams and Milton had seven each and Franklin had four.

The Colts led the NFL in opponent punt return average (4.4 YPR) and were fourth in opponent kick return average (20.5).

From the specialists to the coverage units, the Colts' special teams was "special" yet again in 2018.

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