Special teams will win some games; St. Louis a good place to start

Stedman Bailey returns a punt 90 yards on a trick play vs. Jon Ryan and the SeahawksThe Seahawks’
special teams have always been good under Brian Schneider. Well, almost
always.

They have had a little trouble against one team in one venue — and, of course, it happens to be the place where they start the season Sunday: St. Louis.

The Hawks have been beaten by Jeff Fisher’s and John Fassel’s special teams twice in the past three years, and you know Schneider and Pete Carroll are sick of it.

It’s probably no coincidence that the Seahawks added a special teams standout the week before they open the season in St. Louis. Ostensibly, Kelcie McCray is safety depth. But, it just so happens that he is one of the top special-teams guys in the NFL — which is why the Hawks had to send the Chiefs a fifth-round pick.

According to Pro Football Focus, McCray was the NFL’s best “vice” in 2014. (That’s the guy on the punt return team who hinders the gunner on the punting team.)

McCray joins a fully loaded special teams crew that Carroll strongly thinks has “a chance to be very, very good.”

Special guysThe Hawks lost two of their top teams guys, Malcolm Smith and Jeron Johnson, to free agency, but second-year players Kevin Pierre-Louis and Cassius Marsh were all over the place in the preseason and clearly are prepared to step in alongside mainstays Mike Morgan, DeShawn Shead, Brock Coyle, Derrick Coleman, Ricardo Lockette and Luke Willson.

“As the younger guys … elevated, you saw their impact. That’s KPL; that’s Cassius,” Carroll told 710 ESPN. “They had fantastic preseasons in adding to a core group that’s already pretty good.

“I don’t know if we’ll see it all in Game 1 or 2, or when it’s going to show, but over the long haul this is a really good special teams group.”

It’s appropriate that the Hawks open in St. Louis and Green Bay — special teams played key roles in two of their four games against the Rams and Packers last season.

Seattle’s teams were huge in the comeback win against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC title game. Punter Jon Ryan threw a touchdown pass to Garry Gilliam on a fake field goal, and Steven Hauschka and Chris Matthews teamed up on a pivotal onside kick with 2:07 left and Seattle trailing 19-14.

Of course, Seattle’s kicking teams lost the game in St. Louis. Russell Wilson became the first player in NFL history to throw for 300 yards and run for 100, but Seattle surrendered a 75-yard kickoff that set up one touchdown, got fooled on a punt return that went 90 yards for a TD and got burned on a fake punt late in the game that helped seal the Rams’ 28-26 win.

It was the second time the Hawks had been burned by Jeff Fisher and his special-teams coach, John Fassel, in St. Louis in three years. In a 19-13 win in 2012, Greg Zuerlein hit four field goals — including from 58 and 60 yards — and the Rams fooled the Hawks on a fake field goal as punter Johnny Hekker threw a 2-yard TD pass to Danny Amendola.

The Hawks quite obviously are aware of their failures in St. Louis, and they did all they could this year to make their kicking units even better than they have been.

The big addition, of course, was Tyler Lockett, who quickly proved this preseason that the Hawks’ return game is back in gear — like it was when Leon Washington was the main man from 2010 to 2012.

“With the addition of the return threat, we’re loaded,” Carroll said, “and we can win games on special teams.”

St. Louis would be a good place to start.

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