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Colts' Special Teams Units, For The Most Part, Thriving

Intro: The Indianapolis Colts have the top kicker and punter in the league through the first 10 weeks of the season, while their kick return unit ranks in the top four in the NFL.


INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts special teams coordinator Tom McMahon has a "take 'em or leave 'em" type of attitude when it comes to statistics; while they can be a good indicator of what you're doing well — and not so well — the value of some statistical categories in the NFL might be overblown a little too much.

But through 10 weeks of the 2016 regular season, McMahon, for the most part, likes what he sees from his various special teams units — both on the field and in the stat sheet.

The Colts boast the top field goal kicking and punting units in the league so far, and their kick return unit — which had two huge plays in their last game against the Green Bay Packers — ranks in the top four in the NFL.

While McMahon acknowledges there's "a long ways to go" in the season, which continues Sunday against the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium, he's encouraged by what he's seen out of his players thus far.

"There's some really good things," McMahon said. "This group, I'll tell you what, they're fun to coach. Really, really young group — youngest group I've ever had — and our veterans are leading and doing it the right way."

Here's how the Colts stack up statistically in each special teams category through 10 weeks of the regular season:

• Field goals:the Colts are one of two teams in the NFL — the Baltimore Ravens being the other — to have connected on every single field goal and extra point attempt this season. Adam Vinatieri has hit all 19 field goals — including 11-of-11 from 40 yards and beyond — and all 24 extra-point attempts.

• Punting: the Colts' Pat McAfee is No. 1 team in the NFL with a 50.8-yard average per punt; his 47.3 net yards-per-punt average is also tops in the league. Only 13 of McAfee's punts have been returned, which is tied for the seventh-least in the NFL.

• Kickoff return: The Colts average 27.3 yards per kickoff return, ranking fourth in the NFL. That's 545 total yards — which ranks second — on 20 total returns. Indianapolis is also one of three teams (Philadelphia and Miami, the others) to have returned a kickoff for a touchdown.
• Punt return: The Colts average just 6.4 yards per punt return, which ranks 26th in the league. Their longest of the season thus far has been a 20-yard return. Indianapolis has also successfully called for a fair catch on 12 punt returns, which is tied for the 13th most in the NFL.
• Kickoff coverage: Opponents get 20.9 yards per kick return so far this season against the Colts, which ranks 13th in the league. But Indianapolis has been pretty good at avoiding giving up the big kick return; the longest the Colts have allowed so far was a 32-yard return. Only four teams have allowed a shorter longest kickoff return thus far.
• Punt coverage: The Colts allow an average of 10.2 yards per punt return, ranking 14th in the league. The longest punt return Indianapolis has allowed so far has been 28 yards, which ranks 16th.

Basically, when it comes to specialists — those whose sole jobs are to perform for the special teams units (this includes the ever-consistent long snapping of Matt Overton — nobody has been better than the Colts.

The returning has been a mixed bag. Kickoff returns have seen flashes, including Jordan Todman's 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown Week 9 against the Green Bay Packers; punt returning, since dynamic playmaker Quan Bray was put on IR on Oct. 18, has been subpar.

And the Colts' kick and punt coverage units have been a little better than average so far.

For McMahon, the key is staying consistent where the Colts have done well, and continuing to address areas of improvement. It may sound simple, but it takes a lot of work by a lot of players each and every week to get the job done.

"We've got to look within ourselves," McMahon said. "We've gotta fix (them) — that's what this group's done all the way through, and I think the one thing we have to do is look at every single area that we can improve, and so far this year, these guys have came in each week and tried to do that."

McMahon said he appreciates the help he gets daily from his assistant, Maurice Drayton, as well as several other Colts coaches who have helped take hold of the team's special teams units — many of them consisting of mostly rookies or first- or second-year players — and holding them to a high standard.

"We don't have a lot of fault in our room; we're going to have a lot of fix, because there's going to be things that go wrong, and you can't ever make it any better if you don't address it," McMahon said. "And these guys are coachable; I coach hard, they respect that, they want to be coached hard, and the room's getting better."

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