Even before injuries robbed them of their main return man and long snapper, Seattle’s special teams had turned into a major mess this year.
Tyler Ott can’t be much worse than Nolan Frese (on IR with an ankle injury), but did the Seahawks create a potentially bigger mess by adding Devin Hester?
Clearly uninterested in making Richard Sherman return punts in the postseason, they took a gamble on the 34-year-old former All-Pro returner, who apparently fumbled five times in 12 games before Baltimore cut him Dec. 13.
It’s a bit of a desperation move, and Seattle has to hope Hester is not nearly as mistake-prone as he was in Baltimore.
If he can hold on to the ball, he probably can offer a little something in the return game. He averaged 7.2 yards on 25 punt returns for the Ravens and 24.5 yards on kickoffs. Those numbers weren’t as good as Tyler Lockett’s 8.4 on punts and 26.3 on kicks, but they would do.
Meanwhile, fans are hoping Ott might be an upgrade over Frese, for whom hiking the ball was no snap. Frese let a couple of kicks get blocked and last week sailed a ball over Jon Ryan’s head into the end zone for a safety.
Pete Carroll said Ott’s “numbers are right as far as the tempo of getting the ball back. He’s a good-sized kid, looks good; we’re going for it like we’re not even going to think twice about it.”
Steven Hauschka has to be thinking twice about short kicks though. He was the only kicker in the NFL with a lower PAT percentage (82.9) than field-goal percentage (89.2). And two of his four missed field goals were from under 30 yards.
“Basically it has been just the ball has been low at times and they’ve been very fortunate to get them,” Carroll said. “He’s a great kicker; he’s just had some kicks that got away from him. He’s a great kicker and he’s been kicking clutch situations. He can do it; he’s been through it. We’re counting on him to do it again. He had four great field goals last week and he hit all of them. It’s mostly been an extra-point situation, for whatever reason.”
Now that the playoffs are here, every point is magnified. That means Hauschka has to hit his PATs, Ott needs to snap and block better than Frese did and Hester has to hold on to the ball and do more than fair-catch it.
Otherwise, it will just be more of the same mess we have seen all season. And it might end up costing them a playoff game.