Brutal Patriots special teams stat highlights need for a change

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The Patriots need a special teams overhaul, and this stat proves it originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The New England Patriots outgained the Buffalo Bills on offense Sunday. They scored more offensive points and forced three Bills turnovers. And yet they still lost by 12.

You can thank New England's special teams for that result; Buffalo's Nyheim Hines returned two kickoffs for touchdowns at Highmark Stadium, becoming the first player to do so since Seattle's Leon Washington in 2010. When Nick Folk tried to squib kick away from Hines in the fourth quarter, he booted the ball out of bounds, giving Buffalo the ball at the 40-yard line and setting up Josh Allen's game-clinching touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs.

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It was a nightmare day for the Patriots on special teams, but it also wasn't an aberration. As Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz points out, New England finished 2022 dead last in special teams DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), an all-encompassing stat used to rank teams based on a number of variables.

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That's an eye-opening stat when you consider the Patriots have consistently ranked among the NFL's leaders in special teams DVOA throughout the Bill Belichick era. New England finished in the top 10 in special teams DVOA in 16 of the previous 21 seasons and was ranked No. 1 as recently as 2020.

That was the year Cam Achord replaced Joe Judge as the Patriots' special teams coordinator, which seemed to bode well for Achord's future. But the team's special teams play has dropped off dramatically in the last two seasons, finishing 18th in DVOA in 2021 before this season's last-place finish.

New England's 18th-place finish might have been even lower last season had Folk not booted a career-high 36 field goals. While Folk's production dropped a tick in 2022 (32 for 37 on field goals), he was far from the main culprit.

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Jake Bailey ranked last in the NFL in net punting average before being replaced midseason by Michael Palardy, who didn't fare much better. The Patriots allowed three kick returns for touchdowns in 2022 after allowing three in the previous 20 seasons.

While rookie Marcus Jones flashed in the return game, it's clear the Patriots need to make a change on special teams, especially if future Hall of Famer Matthew Slater retires this offseason. That change should start with Achord, who might be looking for a new job this offseason.