Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

13 Dec 2012

FO Mailbag: Hidden Special Teams

I got this question over the Twitter:

hansen9j: What's the source of Tampa's ridiculously high ST hidden points (28, 17 more than second)? Baltimore's -18.7 is crazy too.

Hidden points, for those who don't know, are the elements of special teams that aren't contained in our main special teams ratings, because either the team has no control over them or these plays (such as blocked punts and field goals) are generally non-predictive. Hidden points include the value of field goals by the opponent, kickoff distance by the opponent, and punt distance by the opponent. You'll find them listed on the special teams page.

For those asking, yes, sometimes a team does have a little control over the "Hidden" number. Even though we try to account for teams that kick short to avoid good returners, you will sometimes see a team like the Bears show up with a lot of Hidden points because of how other teams kick against them. It's also up for debate whether Calais Campbell has super-special kick-blocking powers.

Anyway, yes, Tampa Bay is so far ahead of everyone else in Hidden points that it is a little astonishing. The Bucs are only 29th in special teams DVOA but if we included hidden value, they would be 13th. What's up? Well, opposing kickers have hit just 16 of 25 field goals, including that ridiculous 22-yard miss by Matt Bryant in Week 12 and three misses when Billy Cundiff was still with Washington in Week 4. By our numbers, opposing kickers have been worth -15.6 points against Tampa Bay on field goals. No other team is below -6.9 points. The other issue is punts, where Tampa Bay has two blocked punts and has taken advantage of some really short punts like Chris Kluwe kicking only 20 yards from his own 38 and Dustin Colquitt kicking only 21 yards from his own 19.

The leader on the other side is indeed Baltimore, which is a bit odd since the Ravens have the best special teams in the league otherwise. However, the Ravens can't control that opposing field-goal kickers have gone 32-for-33 against them, with the only miss by Dan Bailey of the Cowboys from 51 yards. Phil Dawson of Cleveland hit three 50+-yarders against the Ravens in Week 4. The Ravens have also faced a lot of long punts, and the shorter punts against them have generally come when the punter was already past the 50. We estimate that opposition punt distance against Baltimore has been worth 5.1 points more than average.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 13 Dec 2012

8 comments, Last at 14 Dec 2012, 2:34pm by tuluse


by Dan :: Thu, 12/13/2012 - 6:16pm

Teams do have some control over opponents' punting distance - they can catch punts on the fly or let them bounce and add distance. Have you done any analyses on this, either on whether there's consistency in opponents' punting distance, or more directly at what percent of punts are allowed to bounce, whether that varies by team, and how much distance that adds?

by JonFrum :: Thu, 12/13/2012 - 9:20pm

I doubt there's much variation there. The rule is to catch the ball until it goes inside the ten yard line. So there's only ten yards to play with at most. And no one is going to catch punts inside the five, so it's actually less than that.

Hey - why do I keep having to go through the spam filter when I'm signed in? It's a pain to hit Enter, and then have to go back through a captcha.

by Jerry :: Fri, 12/14/2012 - 4:49am

When the captcha system was expanded, there was an Extra Point where longtime regulars asked for exemptions. You can trying Emailing Aaron and asking.

by mrh :: Fri, 12/14/2012 - 2:04pm

And no one is going to catch punts inside the five, so it's actually less than that.

Brandon Tate says hi.

by tuluse :: Fri, 12/14/2012 - 2:34pm

That is no longer a hard and fast rule. The Bears often have their returners field punts inside the 5. Punters have gotten so good at backspin that a punt landing inside the 10 is usually going to be downed, not go for a touchback..

by Aloysius Mephis... :: Thu, 12/13/2012 - 10:32pm

I think that was more of a factor back in the day, when players weren't so fast. Modern punt returners are such speedsters they can get to the ball if it lands almost anywhere in the field of play.

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Thu, 12/13/2012 - 10:35pm

Usually the only punts that bounce and are fielded are very short to begin with.

by CBPodge :: Fri, 12/14/2012 - 11:21am

Johnny Hekker of the Rams excels at these. He's brilliant at doing a terrible looking punts that go about 30 yards in the air, but he then gets the ball to trundle on another 25 yards or so. Boy does some ugly 50 yard punts.