FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Mistakes on special teams cost the Jets a victory last week against the Miami Dolphins. An offsides penalty on Antonio Allen, forced 11 fatigued Jets players to line up again, which prompted a shorter re-kick by Nick Folk, that Kenyan Drake took 96 yards for a touchdown. The touchdown sealed the win for Miami in the waning moments of the game. This Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, the Jets can ill afford to make the same mistakes because they face a Rams team that has a complete special teams unit that can decide the outcome of the game.
"It's never good to re-kick," said special teams coach Brant Boyer. "I think 70 percent of total re-kicks are either touchdwons or big plays, it certainly hurt us. If the referee called it your're too close. We've go to stress beign further back a bit more and we'll get that corrected this week."
Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin is the vanguard of the unit. With his electric speed and dynamic skill set, Austin is a game changer especially in the return game. He has the sixth most punt return yards in the league with 184, and his 9.2 yard return average can make Jets punter Lachlan Edwards' 43 yard punting average seem like nothing when he gets his hands on the ball. Lets not forget that during the Miami game, the Jets allowed a 57 yard punt return touchdown to Jakeem Grant that was called back for an illegal block in the back.
Austin is an all-purpose player and he hasn't lost a step since his college days at West Virginia University where he ran a 4.34. His blazing speed is what sets apart from other returners in the league and the Jets need to fill all return lanes and avoid whiffing on tackles Sunday.
"A lot of sleepless nights," is what Boyer faces when prepping for Austin. "If he's not the best punt returner in the league, he's close."
"He's a special athlete in space... he got us for a 98 yarder in Indy." The play Boyer is referring to happened in 2013 when he was special teams coach for the Indianapolis Colts. During the play, Austin waived his teammates off from getting near the ball, before picking it up at the 2-yard-line and sprinting down the right sideline in a blink of an eye.
"He's crafty.. he can make guys miss and we've got to do a good job of wrapping up," said Boyer.
Since 2012, Rams Punter Johnny Hekker leads the league in net average, yards, and opponent return average. Hekker made his second trip to the Pro Bowl last season and is one of five team captains for the Rams. With a 45.8 average, Hekker has helped the team become one of the top punt coverage teams in the NFL. Opponents are averaging only 5.4 yards per return which is second best in the league.
The Jets haven't made many plays in the return game through nine weeks into the season. C.J. Spiller was signed before last week's game but managed just 37 yards on two kickoff returns. Jalin Marshall has been the teams punt returner and has struggled to be consistent due to ball security issues. In the preseason, he showed why he was the man for the job, but we haven't seen him make the same explosive plays in the regular season.
"He's young, the confidence is there," said head coach Todd Bowles. "He attacks the ball...It doesn't mean you shelve the guy."
Boyer and offensive coordinator Chan Gailey still have confidence in the rookie as well.
"You don't put a guy in the dog house," Gailey said. "There might be a paw in there."
"He'll do a better job and I'll do a better job as well," Boyer said.
The Jets have one of the worst red zone offenses in the league and need some type of spark on specials teams in order to stay in playoff contention, mistakes won't help them in doing that at all on Sunday. Gang Green hasn't returned a punt or kick for a touchdown since 2012.
Marcus Reynolds is a staff writer for JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@Marcus_JRNL), or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).