Browns' special-teams loss is 49ers' gain

Browns' special-teams loss is 49ers' gain
October 30, 2011, 7:32 am
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The 49ers have improved dramatically on special teams from a year ago. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns have struggled mightily.Perhaps it's too simple to point to the fact that Brad Seely, who spent the previous two seasons with the Browns, is in his first year with the 49ers.Or maybe it's so simple because it's more than just a coincidence."It was instilled in the guys how important (special teams) is to the football team, and his attention to detail was just on point," said Josh Cribbs, who made trips to the Pro Bowl in both of Seely's two seasons with the Browns. "Even from their film now, we can look at the San Fran team and coach ourselves off them, because Seely is such a great coach."Special teams could play another important role Sunday at Candlestick Park when the 49ers (5-1) face the Browns (3-3).
Under Seely, the Browns were ranked among the best special-teams units in the NFL. But breakdowns on special teams have become commonplace for the Browns this season.The Browns had two field goals blocked last week in a 6-3 win over the Seattle Seahawks. One week earlier, the Raiders scored two touchdowns on special teams in a 24-17 win over the Browns. Jacoby Ford returned a kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown, and holder Shane Lechler threw a touchdown out of field-goal formation.Meanwhile, the 49ers have excelled behind kicker David Akers, punter Andy Lee, return man Ted Ginn and the coverage units."I don't know that I've ever had that kind of combination," Seely said of his 22 years as a coach in the NFL.Ginn had late kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns in the 49ers' 33-17 victory over the Seahawks in the opening game of the season. Lee is tied for the league lead with a 44.4 net average, and Akers has nailed two 55-yard field goals while converting 13 of 15 field-goal attempts.And Seely's impact isn't felt just on special teams. With the title of special teams coordinatorassistant head coach, Seely is often seen during games interacting on the sideline and discussing game situations with coach Jim Harbaugh."Phenomenal football coach, great teacher, technician all the way around," Harbaugh said of Seely. "Oh yeah, (I'm) leaning on him, like Abraham leaning on his staff."Seely coached special teams with the New England Patriots for 10 seasons, winning three Super Bowls along the way. When he went to the Browns with Eric Mangini, the Browns kept several players on the roster solely for special-teams contributions.One of those players was Blake Costanzo, whom the 49ers signed to a one-year contract during the first week of training camp. Costanzo ranks as the 49ers' top special-teams player."He's just a guy," Seely said. "But he has something else to him that's not measurable. On Sundays, he's a pretty good football player. He doesn't have great talent, but he does great things."Costanzo, C.J. Spillman, Tavares Gooden and Larry Grant are among the veteran players who make up the core special-teams units. Fullback Bruce Miller and tight end Delanie Walker play a lot on offense but they also have large roles on special teams."(He's) very detail-oriented," Costanzo said of Seely. "(He's) a great teacher, great motivator. It's hard to coach special teams because you've got offensive guys, defensive guys, to try to bring them all together and form a unit is pretty tough. He just does a great job of getting guys together and teaching them what to do. Everyone wants to go out there and play for him." Here are the statistical differences on special teams for the Browns and 49ers from last season. (Plus signs equate to improvements, minus signs signify declines.)
Net punting average
Browns 2010: 39.0
Browns 2011: 36.5 (-2.5)
49ers 2010: 38.2
49ers 2011: 44.4 (6.2)
Opponent net punting average
Browns 2010: 37.8
Browns 2011: 39.5 (-1.7)

49ers 2010: 37.4
49ers 2011: 35.8 (1.6)
Kickoff return average
Browns 2010: 17.0
Browns 2011: 24.0 (7)

49ers 2010: 19.5
49ers 2011: 30.9 (11.4)
Opponent kickoff return average
Browns 2010: 17.8
Browns 2011: 26.5 (-8.7)

49ers 2010: 22.2
49ers 2011: 21.3 (.9)
Field goals
Browns 2010: 23 of 28 (82.1 percent)
Browns 2011: 9 of 11 (81.8 percent)

49ers 2010: 22 of 27 (81.5 percent)
49ers 2011: 13 of 15 (86.7 percent)