Because the Patriots’ innovative field goal blocking will be hard to imitate

By | September 19, 2023

The New England Patriots’ innovative field goal blocking design won’t be easy for rival coaches to successfully imitate this season.

That’s because other teams may find it more difficult to pinpoint timing perfectly like New England did Sunday night against the Miami Dolphins.

New England special teams ace Brenden Schooler caught the Dolphins by surprise by using a running start to smother Jason Sanders’ 49-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter. Schooler lined up well away from the lineup with his sights set on Miami holder Jake Bailey. Then, without warning, he sprinted infield six steps and cut across the field just as the ball was snapped, darting untouched past a caught off-guard rim protector.

The timing of Schooler’s sprint suggests that New England knew exactly when Miami long snapper Blake Ferguson would release the ball and designed his field goal block as a sneak attack to take advantage. As former longtime NFL kicker Shayne Graham told Yahoo Sports on Monday: “Obviously they saw something on film where they were able to time it perfectly. This is the only way you will be able to practice it.

ESPN’s Pat McAfee, a former punter and starter for the Indianapolis Colts, offered further insight during his show Monday, pointing out that Bailey turns his head to ask Sanders if he’s ready and then takes a deep breath before the ball is snapped. McAfee suggested that Bill Belichick might have captured that narrative during Bailey’s four seasons as a punter and starter with the Patriots from 2019-2022.

“Bill Belichick probably looked into the scout car and said, ‘How did no one realize that this guy does this?’” McAfee speculated.

Other coaches can certainly install a basket-blocking concept to mirror New England’s, but these imitators will lack the element of surprise. Graham expects special teams coaches across the NFL have already begun to stress the importance of tough counts, poring over game film for giveaways that might tip off the defense.

“I guarantee you this came up in every single special teams meeting on Monday,” said Graham, who helped coach special teams at Michigan State and Florida after retiring from the NFL in 2017. “They’re telling the long snapper , ‘Hey we need to do something to change the timing of our quick count.’ Everyone will protect themselves from this.

Miami coach Mike McDaniel said his staff did exactly that when Sanders attempted another field goal with six minutes left in the Dolphins’ 24-17 victory. The varied number of snaps allowed Sanders to initiate that kick, but he hooked it hard left.

“He wasn’t affected by that play because we made the appropriate adjustments, but it was a great call,” McDaniel said. “They used one of the moves that we always use on offense, basically like a block of the basket. I had never seen it before. So it was a great job on their part.

This isn’t the first time NFL teams have gotten creative in their efforts to block field goals and extra points. For years, defenders would take a running run and try to leap past the long snapper until the NFL banned those blocking attempts in 2017, citing player safety concerns.

It wouldn’t surprise Graham if Belichick’s clever field goal blocking design ultimately met a similar fate.

“They figured out a loophole then and the NFL closed it,” Graham said. “Now they’ve discovered another loophole, and I’m sure it’ll be a matter of time before the NFL closes this one, too.”

Until then, long snappers and starters will have to be careful not to tip over when snapping the ball. If they don’t, special teams coaches now have a weapon in their arsenal.

“I’m sure people will try to copy it,” Graham said. “I don’t know if they’ll be as successful as New England the first time.”

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