After reviewing the tape of Sunday’s 44-13 win at Kansas City, Head Coach Josh McDaniels came to a quick conclusion as to why the Broncos were able to snatch the game’s momentum early and hold onto it until the final gun.
“I think it started with our performance in the kicking game,” McDaniels said. “We knew that that had been a strength of Kansas City’s. I felt like we really challenged them in every phase of our special teams.”
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer’s units were stout from start to finish. Matt Prater went 3-for-3 on field goal attempts. Mitch Berger boomed three punts for a 51.7 yard average. Between punt and kick returns, Eddie Royal notched 149 return yards.
Perhaps most importantly, the team’s kickoff coverage was superb. On nine Matt Prater kickoffs, Kansas City was limited to an average return of 20.9 yards, the longest being a 26-yard run by Quinten Lawrence.
To McDaniels, special teams plays do not take a backseat to any other plays. Stressing complementary football from day one, he views all special teams units as equally critical to the club’s success on offensive and defense possessions.
“I think the kicking game is a huge phase for us, and very important,” he said. “And we don’t treat it any less than offense or defense. We would like to have the best players we can on the field.”
To show just how important McDaniels feels special teams is to the success of the squad, he has not hesitated to send defensive starters Champ Bailey, Andre’ Goodman and Mario Haggan out onto the field for kickoff coverage.
“We have a very unselfish team,” McDaniels said. “I don’t think there is one player on our team that wouldn’t do anything we asked of him in the kicking game – and those (starters) are good examples.
“They enjoy it, they accept the challenge, they want to be out there,” McDaniels continued. “I think a lot of time in the kicking game that is part of it – wanting to be out there, run down on the kickoff, block people and sometimes take on double teams.”
McDaniels said some teams elect to place more starters on special teams coverage than others, but that is by no means uncommon to see a position player run down kickoffs. He pointed out that Chiefs starting running back Jamaal Charles lined up for kickoff coverage as well.
Priefer has no complaints about using starters such as Bailey, Goodman and Haggan on his coverage units. He believes players like those three make for a more effective unit.
“Well if the head coach is going to let me use them, I’m going to use them,” Priefer said. “I think they’re experienced guys. They’re good tacklers. You just feel more secure with a Champ Bailey and an Andre’ Goodman out there on your kickoff team. Or a Mario Haggan or Darrell Reid on your punt team. I think especially on the coverage units, you need those type of guys that if they do break one, you’re going to have one of those guys step up and make the play if you need them to.”
– Zach Eisendrath, DenverBroncos.com