Rams finish 30th in annual special teams rankings for 2020

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Cameron DaSilva
·2 min read
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Special teams always takes a back seat to offense and defense in the eye of the public, but coaches and front office members know how important that third phase of the game is. The Rams have typically performed well on special teams thanks, largely to Greg Zuerlein and Johnny Hekker, but the unit has taken a major step back in the last two years.

Rick Gosselin of Sports Illustrated has ranked every special teams unit in each of the last 42 years and for the second straight season, the Rams failed to impress. In Gosselin’s 2020 rankings, the Rams finished 30th, ahead of only the Vikings (31) and Chargers (32).

Here’s an explanation of how Gosselin’s rankings are formulated; this year, the Patriots finished first.

The league’s 32 teams are ranked in 22 kicking-game categories and assigned points according to their standing – one for best, 32 for worst. The Patriots compiled 214 points to finish eight better than the runnerup Seattle Seahawks at 222.5. Those 214 points, by the way, were a record-low for the Patriots in these rankings.

The lower the point total, the better the special teams performed. The Rams finished with 507 points, 14.5 behind their upcoming opponent, the Packers (29th, 492.5 points). Though the Rams had 28 punts pinned inside the 20 by Hekker, which tied for fifth in the NFL, the kicking game and punt returns weighed Los Angeles down.

Opponents averaged 43.9 net yards per punt, which was worst in the NFL – 8.3 yards more the league-leading Jaguars. They also had four total kicks blocked, tied for most in the league with the Chargers.

The drop-off from 2017 to 2020 in special teams performance has been steep for the Rams.

  • 2017: 1st

  • 2018: 9th

  • 2019: 20th

  • 2020: 30th

That’s a unit that’s trending in the wrong direction – and fast. Hekker started the season strong and had a historically great performance against the Bears, but he’s regressed in the second half of the year.

The opposite can be said about the kicking unit, where Matt Gay has provided some much-needed stability by going five straight games without a miss. Hopefully that continues not only on Saturday against the Packers, but also into the 2021 season.

In the return game, the Rams have allowed a few big gains but have failed to create many of their own. Nsimba Webster has had his share of struggles, but the Rams don’t have many other options at punt returner.