Left to right: Mike Westhoff, Sean Payton, Brad Banta
Photo by: The Times-Picayune
There have been a lot of reports about the Saints being interested in retaining Mike Westhoff as their Special Teams Coach heading into the 2018 season. Westhoff came out of retirement to join the Saints in the latter half of last season and brought with him some wrinkles that quickly improved the unit.
Westhoff has been coaching in the league since 1982, serving many roles with the one constant as Special Teams Coach for the Colts, Dolphins, and Jets. Westhoff has had a long and extended battle with bone cancer in his left leg and is having another surgery this summer. With that, whether or not he returns to the Saints sideline is up in the air. If he does decide to return, he’ll be a more than welcome retention for an improving Saints special teams unit. Not to mention, this city loves and rallies around that kind of resilience.
If we look at numbers to start, it’s obvious the effect Westhoff has on the team. Westhoff joined New Orleans on November 16, 2017. So we’ll break the stats up between weeks 1-10 and 11-17 that’s nine games to seven with the second split beginning November 19th- early in his adjustment period.
Kickoff and Punt Return Coverage
Weeks 1-10: 12 Punts – 11.41 yards allowed | 15 Kickoffs – 25.57 yards allowed
Weeks 11-17: 12 Punts – 9.33 yards allowed | 17 Kickoffs – 23.53 yards allowed
We always say that football is a game of inches, and Westhoff’s coverage teams saved more than two yards per return in each category. That might not feel like much, but having to go 80 yards to get to the 2-yard line is very different than 80 yards to the house. I know it seem pedantic, but that’s a complete change in gameplan.
Kickoff and Punt Returns
Weeks 1-10: 20 Punt Returns – 5.15 yards per | 18 Kickoff Returns – 19.33 yards per
Weeks 11-17: 15 Punt Returns – 7.86 yards per | 18 Kickoff Returns – 26.39 yards per
This is huge. Over two and a half yard increase in punt return yardage, including two straight games without actually registering a punt return (the only two of the season) and a massive seven yard per return increase in kickoff return yardage- also without registering a return for two games in that seven game span.
What made such a huge difference in kick returns?
Getting Playmakers on the Field
When the season began, before we knew that Alvin Kamara was going to challenge and eventually win Offensive Rookie of the Year, Kamara was fielding kick returns. But after he really came on in Week 3 against Carolina, the responsibilities shifted back to Tommylee Lewis and Ted Ginn Jr. After feeling like too many big return opportunities were missed, come Christmas Eve, Kamara was back fielding kickoffs again. In those final two games, Kamara averaged a whopping 37.8 yards per kick return, including a 106-yard touchdown against the Bucs in week 17.
But Westhoff didn’t just make changes to the return game, he did so in the coverage game, too. Westhoff is one of the masterminds behind a lot of successful (though now removed) elements that were added to the return game in his 31 years of coaching in including wedges, double-teams, and traps. Though none of those are more impressive than his masterpiece in the last third of the 2017 season when he introduce special teams demon Taysom Hill to the world. Hill, the third-string and highly touted quarterback (though we’ve not seen him throw a regular season pass yet) was a 26-year old rookie last season signed to the Saints after being cut in Green Bay. He’s got insane measurables standing at 6’3″ 240-pounds with a 4.4 40 time and a 38.5″ vertical leap. Westhoff obviously saw something in that and decided to get him involved in kick return coverage, punt return coverage, punt pursuit. All roles which he filled very, very well. Check out the highlight video below from Youtuber Sanfranfandad.
Westhoff was asked on the Dan Patrick Show his thoughts on the new kickoff rules and one of the things he mentioned is that he thinks there will now be more returns. If that’s true, along with new special teams weapons in rookies Kamrin Moore, Natrell Jamerson, and Boston Scott, Westhoff would have to think fondly of returning if his health allows.It’s no wonder why the Saints front office wants him back. If he can return and continue to improve of our return and coverage games while maintaining his eye for getting playmakers in position to excel, there’s a good chance he can finally end that chase for a Super Bowl ring.