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Patriots special teams report: Going inside Brenden Schooler’s blocked field goal

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By: Brian Hines

Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

New England made one of the best special teams plays of the year on Sunday.

The New England Patriots special teams unit had the play of the game despite a 24-17 loss on Sunday night to the Miami Dolphins. With New England’s offense struggling, Brenden Schooler recorded a big time blocked field goal to keep the game within two scores.

It was a unique design that players credited to their trio of special teams coaches — Joe Judge, Cam Achord, and Joe Houston — in which they drilled throughout the week knowing Schooler was the perfect man for the job.

“The most important piece of that is you have to have the right guy to execute it,” longtime specialist Matthew Slater said Monday. “And Schools, a guy who has tremendous length, tremendous speed, his ability to bend is phenomenal and his quickness, I mean, I think he’s probably the only guy on the team that could execute that.

“And so we chose the right guy and I just have so much confidence in him. I know we’ve only been playing together for a little over a year but it feels like we’ve played together for a decade. I mean, his maturity, his desire to compete. So you knew in that in that moment it wasn’t gonna be too big for him. I had no doubt in my mind that he was gonna block it.”

Schooler timed the play perfectly, moving at 12.70 mph when the ball was snapped according to Next Gen Stats. With a play like that, every hundredth of a second was critical.

“The normal operation for a field goal unit from snap to kick is somewhere between 1.27 and 1.34 call it. You know, we’re talking 700th to the second there,” Cam Achord explained. “So you have to have the acceleration, the speed to turn the corner and get to the block point, you know, which is usually about five yards in front of the holder.

“The acceleration, the speed, the length, those are all kind of things that lead into what guys can play on the edge, on a field goal rush team specifically.”

While Schooler was the one who made the play, it wouldn’t have been possible just by him. The play called for the entire unit to execute their assignments, specifically Kyle Dugger who occupied Miami’s Christian Wilkins just long enough along the edge to let Schooler free.

“It’s really credit to the Schooler, in all honesty and all those guys out there are really buying in,” Achord added. “Because, you know, on that play, if Dugger doesn’t rush and bring down Wilkins as well, which is like the forgotten thing, like if he just doesn’t go well, Wilkins is gonna block him off the edge.

“So, you know, all the guys just trusting it and believing that it’s gonna work and bringing everybody down so we can get off the edge right there.”

The Indicator

To make such a play happen, New England’s coaching staff must have identified an indicator during their game preparation.

While these indicators can be a number of different things, former NFL punter and now analyst Pat McAfee believes it all came down holder, and former Patriot, Jake Bailey — as Schooler can be seen looking that direction before he takes off.

In McAfee’s break down, he points out Bailey appearing to take a deep breath before turning his attention back from the kicker to the holder (1:55 mark above). In watching some of Miami’s other kicks from Sunday night — such as their first field goal below — you can see Bailey’s head and body slightly dip at that time.

While Achord would not give the indicator away, the holder’s head was included in his explanation.

“You know, there’s things you’re looking for as the game goes on,” he said. “Whether it’s a snapper or maybe it’s a guy set the hand movements, the holder’s heads, you know, different things.

“So we go through the process just looking for any keys or details that, you know, can give you an edge.”

Matthew Slater also indicated that McAfee was on the right path: “McAfee is a very smart guy. He knows what he’s talking about,” he said on WEEI’s Jones and Mego. “I don’t want to go to deep into that, but may have been a special wrinkle for that particular situation.

As Achord noted, it likely isn’t a play that can be run weekly as each team’s operation is different. But as McAfee explained, against Miami may have been the perfect time to strike as New England could have picked up an indicator from Bailey during his time with the team.

Unique Design

Talking with several of New England’s special teamers after the game, none of them had ever seen anything like the play before. But, the team had apparently tinkered with the idea in the past.

“Never seen anything like it,” Slater said. “I think we had talked about doing that years ago when we were playing the Ravens once and the execution was lousy and the guy running it was me.

“So, it wasn’t nearly as exciting as that, but, I’ve never seen a play like that executed to perfection.”

Beyond the play against Baltimore, New England featured a similar motion pattern just last year against the Colts. The play resulted in the same result with Jonathan Jones flying off the edge for a blocked punt.

“No different than any other time you’re bringing a guy from a block standpoint motion,” Achord said. “Like Jon Jones last season against the Colts.”

With the NFL continues to make rules to limit the impact of special teams, it’s been tougher for units around the league to be more creative. New England’s staff has done their best to search for new creative ideas like the Schooler block while also following the new laws.

“I think that’s probably the biggest point of emphasis is the limitations that we’re allowed to do,” Achord said. “Like you can go to the kickoff rules. They’ve changed every year from the running stars from all the motions to your point running and jumping over the line.

“You know, everything’s about points, and trying to allow teams to score points. So when you’re preventing teams from scoring points and trying to figure out ways to stop you from doing things. So you have to have imaginations.

“You try to think as much outside the box,” he continued. “You’re trying to find that innovative thing to do that’s a little bit different, but it’s amongst the rules — and you have to play within the rules, obviously — but there’s always something you can hopefully find and figure out like, alright, well, we can’t jump and run forward towards the line scrimmage, but as long as you’re on the line of scrimmage, you know, you’re fine.

“So just thinking about the rules, like you’re saying, and going in depth, like, all right, this is legal now, how can we use it to our advantage?”

Beyond searching far and wide for new innovative ideas, having Joe Judge back in the special teams room this year with Achord and Houston has been beneficial in the entire process.

“It’s really helping us this season to have three of us out there working with the units,” Achord said. “I like to say all the time, you [have three sets of eyes] on game day so you’re seeing more. It’s just a really good working place because you got three really good coaches in there and all working together with one another and each guy may have a different idea. And that’s where it’s valuable for us.”

Copycat League

The Schooler design wasn’t the first time that New England took the league by storm with a new special teams play. Back in 2015, it was Jamie Collins who hurdled the snapper on an extra point to block the kick.

As the saying goes, the NFL is a copycat league. After watching the Collins play, the design became popular over the next two years before the NFL banned the move in 2017.

“I would say, when stuff like that happens, it’s a copycat league, you know, so you’ll, you’ll see it around,” Adrian Phillips said. “I’ve been in meetings where we’ve seen Jamie jump over the snapper for a field goal and then you saw everybody trying it and then you see that the league banded that. So I wouldn’t be surprised if we see it around.”

“There’s always like little knicks, little stuff here and there that some teams do that.”

Now with a new design on film, it would be no surprise to see other NFL teams waste little time installing the Schooler play into their playbooks.

“It’s like, oh, it’s crazy now you, you see other teams starting to do that a little bit,” Phillips added. “So it’s a copycat league when you see stuff like that. It’s cool to see. But you also know like this is probably gonna change the game a little bit.”

Inside the 20

Rookie Bryce Baringer entered the NFL Draft earlier this year as the consensus top punter available. But, that didn’t mean he had any negatives in his scouting report.

While Baringer’s monster leg was apparent, many scouts dinged him for his inability to control it at times.

From’s scouting analysis: “He has the talent to kick on the next level but might need to dial it back and kick with better hang-time and short-field touch to truly impress NFL teams.”

It was a reasonable claim, as Baringer recorded 42 touchbacks on 109 attempts over his last two seasons at Michigan State. The director of Kohl’s Kicking Camp, Jamie Kohl, who worked with Baringer in the past also identified plus-50 punting as an area of potential improvement.

Through two weeks, the rookie has put the early concerns to the side. Beyond showcasing his patented big leg, six of Baringer’s nine punts have been downed inside the 20 with just one touchback. Out of his three plus-50 attempts, two were downed inside the 10 while the other resulted in his lone touchback.

Ryland’s First

After not getting a field goal attempt throughout the entire preseason or in Week 1, rookie Chad Ryland was finally called on for an attempt against Miami Sunday night.

While it may not have been a pressure moment late in the fourth quarter, it was a moment New England needed points to avoid getting shut out at the half and to cut the lead to a one score game in the moment. Ryland knocked through the 49 yarder with plenty of leg.

The rookie seemed juiced up afterwards as he was all smiles and proceeded to boot the following kickoff completely out of the end zone. Ryland also connected on both of his extra points for the second straight week.

Originally posted on Pats Pulpit

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