Raiders midseason report: Special teams

November 8, 2011, 6:09 pm
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First-half storyline: Special teams coach John Fassel was a relative hot commodity in the offseason, with at least the San Diego Chargers interested in interviewing "Bones." But Al Davis stood fast and kept Fassel on staff. And why not, with the most prolific punter and placekicker already on the roster in Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski and a Pro Bowl long-snapper in Jon Condo re-signed, the core of the special teams unit would only improve under Fassel, right? Well, they got off to a fast start but have sputtered of late, especially in coverage. Blame it on so many new faces being shuttled in and out due to an alarming rash of injuries, including a strained left hamstring to Janikowski that cost him a game. Still, special teams were supposed to be a strength of this team but at the midway point, they seem to be in transition, along with the rest of the club.MVP: Janikowski. The man known as "SeaBass" may have missed the Kansas City game with that injured kicking leg, and he did not look close to being a full-go against Denver this past weekend, but he is still leading the Raiders in scoring with 58 points. He has converted all 19 of his PATs and 13 of his 14 field-goal attempts, including five of six from 50 yards or longer and his NFL record-tying 63-yarder at Denver in the season opener. Before the leg injury, the 12th-year veteran seemed a cinch to get his fist Pro Bowl nod, as he was also consistently providing touchbacks on kickoffs. Anytime the Raiders crossed midfield, they deemed themselves in scoring position with his powerful leg.Biggest surprise: Yes, that was kick returnerreceiver Jacoby Ford running down and making a tackle as the punt team's gunner against Denver. Also, weakside linebacker Quentin Groves played well on coverage units the weak after losing his starting job.Biggest disappointment: Rookie Denarius Moore is averaging just 7.9 yards per punt return and has has looked unsure in doing that.Best play: Leading Cleveland by 10 points late in the third quarter and set up for a 53-yard field goal attempt, Lechler took the snap and as Janikowski approached for the kick, Lechler stood up and found a streaking Kevin Boss for a 35-yard touchdown pass on the fake. The score put the Raiders up 24-7 and they'd need it to hold on for the 24-17 victory in which the Browns had the ball in Oakland territory in the closing seconds. Without that TD and merely a field goal, the Raiders would have led by just 20-17 and the Browns could have attempted a game-tying field goal.Worst play: Already reeling from blowing a 10-point third-quarter lead and letting Tim Tebow tie the game, the Raiders allowed Eddie Royal to break a punt return 85 yards for what turned out to be the Broncos' game-winning touchdown on Sunday. It was Royal's first punt return of the season.Key to the second half: Janikowski's injured left leg.