Sure, the Saints’ ground game, Drew/Michael Thomas connection, and a somewhat improved defense are the main reasons why the Saints finished the 2017 season strongly and are now off to a promising start in 2018. With that being said, the importance of special teams play cannot be overlooked. (With the exception of finding a reliable punt returner.)
Saints fans can look back (not too far) into the past and remember special teams plays that cost the Saints the football games. Blocked kicks, missed field goals, poor kick and punt coverage, and little to no production from return units all contributed to back to back 7-9 seasons in 2015 and 2016.
These bad breaks have seemed to turn in favor of the Saints since Mike Westhoff was hired to oversee special teams on November 16, 2017. Since then, the Saints have improved from bottom three in special teams rankings in 2016 to the 13th ranked special teams unit through the first quarter of this season according to footballoutsiders.com. The Saints also finished the 2017 season ranked 11th after Westhoff took over nearly halfway through the season.
There are a few plays that really stand out form the early portion of this season; all of which played a role in the Saints’ three wins. Often used as a punt protector and gunner on punt team, Taysom Hill took back his first career kick return 47 yards to spark the Saints in a close game with the Browns. In a game with little to no defense in Week Three against Atlanta, Alex Okafor broke through the line to block Matt Bosher’s punt. This set up a go ahead score midway through the third quarter. The Saints went on to win that game with a final score of 43-37. Finally, the do-it-all sparkplug for the Saints, Taysom Hill, takes a direct snap and fires a pass to Justin Hardee to a help trigger a then sputtering Saints offense.
Mike Westhoff has been an amazing hire thus far, and the Saints should feel fortunate he decided to come back for the 2018 season. With the explosive offense that the Saints possess, stealing possessions on fake punts or setting the table for Drew and company on the opponent side of the 50 all sound like a recipe for success. Look for special teams to continue positively influencing Saints’ wins throughout the year under the direction of the 70-year-old coach.