An area of the game that had me very concerned going into the season, performed pretty well for the first week of the season and played a pretty big role in the Arizona Cardinals victory. They weren't perfect by any means but all things considered it
could have been worse.
Neil Rackers: Rackers' had the worst play of the special teams units when he shanked a 35 yard field goal but he also played a huge role in the Cardinals domination of the field position. In total he had six kickoffs and four of them ended up in the endzone, two of which were touchbacks. The other two kickoffs were pooch kicks, one of those was of course recovered by the Cardinals and led to the Cardinals domination in the time of possession department. Of the two regular kickoffs that were actually returned, one was brought out of the endzone but Rossum was stopped at the ten yard line (a SF penalty actually moved the ball back to the 5). The Niners did get one good return though as Rossum brought Rackers' third kickoff out of the endzone for a return of 44 yards. Had it not been for that return though, the Cardinals might never have started pooch-kicking and the third quarter could have had a much different result. Rackers' inability to be consistent on makeable field goals is nothing short of maddening but his truly unique abilities in other areas of the kicking game help keep some heat off of him. Grade: B-
Dirk Johnson: Johnson's raw stats are pretty impressive (punting avg & net avg - 45 yards), but when you look at each punt you really get an idea of just how good he was on Sunday. First, obviously if the raw average and net average are the same, then he didn't have a single punt that was returned. He also pinned the Niners at or inside their 20 three times and one of those was accomplished with an impressive 59 yard boot. His best punt of the day though was a 35 yard beauty that Clark Haggans downed at the one yard line. The one punt that he didn't get inside the 20 was a 48 yard kick that was fair caught by Allen Rossum. Honestly, I'm not sure that Johnson could have done a better job and our cries for a new punter should be silenced for at least a week. Grade: A+
Steve Breaston: Breaston made news for a good game at receiver but he still handled his usual return duties as well and it was a mixed bag at best. He did have an impressive punt return of 17 yards that set the offense up with great field position at the Niner 40 yard line. His kickoff returns left much to be desired though
considering that his long was 19 yards and he even had one that only a single yard. It's worth remembering that his strength last year was punt returns and if his kick returns continue to be subpar, the coaching staff will have to find a way to keep J.J. Arrington active on gamedays. Grade: C
Coverage Units: Considering that there wasn't a single punt return and the Niners' kickoff return average was just 16 yards, the coverage units certainly did they're part. They did allow one big kickoff return but they made up for by shutting Rossum down at the ten yard line on one return and downing three punts inside, or at, the 20 yard line. Grade: A
Were you as impressed with the special teams as I was or is a 35 yard missed field goal just too big of a black eye to ignore? How surprised were you by Dirk Johnson and were you wondering where Arrington was on kickoffs?