McDaniel not happy with Dolphins' special teams: 'Results haven’t been where we want them'

MIAMI GARDENS — Whether it's Baltimore's Devin Duvernay returning the opening kickoff 103 yards or Jason Sanders missing a crucial field goal late at the Jets or a return game that collectively is the worst in the NFL, the Dolphins special teams have been anything but special.

The Dolphins have a player who once led the league in punt returns and are dead last in punt returns. The Dolphins have a kicker who was first-team All Pro in 2020 and are in the bottom five in field-goal percentage.

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And when it comes to special teams gaffes, the image of Thomas Morstead's punt from the end zone smacking the backside of Trent Sheffield leading to a safety in the win over Buffalo will forever have a place on the blooper reel.

"I think the results haven’t been where we want them," Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said. "There’s no doubt about that."

This is not to say the special teams have not had their moments. Justin Bethel seems to have the ball in a string when it comes to tracking it and downing punts near the goal line. Morstead has limited the return yardage on his punts, falling inside the top 10 in the league. But those moments have been rare.

Dolphins punter Thomas Morstead had a punt against the Bills from his own end zone bounce off the rear end of teammate Trent Sheffield and lead to a safety at Hard Rock Stadium on Sept. 25.
Dolphins punter Thomas Morstead had a punt against the Bills from his own end zone bounce off the rear end of teammate Trent Sheffield and lead to a safety at Hard Rock Stadium on Sept. 25.

“The job is to help win games," special teams coordinator Danny Crossman said. "That’s the job. When you have plays that are not leading to you and your club winning games ... I don’t know if disappointing is the word, there are a lot of other words I would maybe use.

"But that’s not why you’re in it. Those are things you have to eliminate."

The Dolphins have lost three straight games to fall to 3-3. Miami hosts Pittsburgh Sunday night.

The struggles in the return game are stunning considering the addition of game-breaker receiver Tyreek Hill, who led the league in punt returns his rookie season, to go along with receiver Jaylen Waddle, safety Jevon Holland and running back Raheem Mostert.

The Dolphins have 14 punt return yards on six opportunities for a league worst 2.3 average. Miami's 18.6 yards kickoff return average is 29th with Mostert averaging 19.6 yards on seven returns. Miami's 167 yards on nine returns is 64 more yards than Duvernay covered on the opening kickoff at Baltimore.

Those numbers stand out more when considering opponents are averaging 10.8 yards on punt returns and 35.8 yards on kickoff returns against Miami.

Holland muffed a punt early in the loss to the Vikings Sunday but was saved by Jaelen Phillips, who recovered on the Dolphins 25.

And it was just a year ago the Dolphins traded Jakeem Grant, a Pro Bowl return man.

"I think for us, just the little things," Bethel said. "Little things here and there, because all it takes is one person to break down and one little technique to be off.

"We’re just going to keep working on the little things, knowing what we’re supposed to do and knowing where we’re supposed to be and just keep working at it and it’ll get better.”

Even reliable Jason Sanders is not as consistent

Sanders is 7 of 10 on field goals, missing as many through six games as he did in 2020. That season he made 92.3 percent of his kicks and his 36 field goals were second in the NFL. That success also led to a contract that is the third highest in the league for a kicker, $22 million over five years.

Although all his misses are from 50-plus yards, Sanders entered the season 14 of 21 on kicks of 50 yards or longer.

"I've been putting good weeks together," Sanders said. "I kick Wednesdays and Fridays. I got to have good days on Wednesdays and Fridays and I'll have a good day on Sunday."

The most damaging miss of the season came early in the fourth quarter against the Jets. With Miami trailing 19-14, Sanders was called upon for a 54-yarder that sailed wide right. His miss changed momentum and the Jets scored three more times to run away with the 40-17win.

"When we send him on the field, we expect to get points out of it," Crossman said of Sanders. "But the bottom line is it doesn’t matter what you do during the week. It matters what you do on game day. We know that, he knows that and we’ve got to improve.”

Along with several other areas in the special teams.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Miami Dolphins special teams not performing well so far in 2022