Thoughts on kick offs and punts

Thoughts on kick offs and punts

Submitted by docwhoblocked on November 19th, 2012 at 6:52 PM

Mod Edit: Bumped to diaries for effort. [zl]

My brother and I have griped for several seasons now about the number of punts that seem to drop and roll for extra yards on on us.  He has suggested that we actually put one man deep and another 15-20 yards further up to catch the short ones before they can bounce and roll.  So I went to the stats and checked out the kicking game and made a .......chart? 





kick offs



kick off returns



Kick off average yds



kick off average return yds



kick off net yards



punt average yds



Punt returns average yds



Net yds/punt



# of punts



# of punt returns




Our opponents punted to us 48 times and we returned punts only 13 times (27%).   Seems we should have had more returns.  Punts out of bounds or into the end zone could account for fewer punt returns. Wouldn't those into the end zone result in reduced net yards/punt for our opponents?  This does not seem to be the case. Our opponents have averaged 42.4 yards per punt and have net of 39.3.  We have a average punt of 41.6 and our net is 36.3.  The punt average difference is less than one yard but the net yards per punt were 3 yards in favor of our opponents.

Maybe there have been more fair catches by our returners (or maybe they are not catching the ball and it is dropping and rolling for extra yards).  Short of re-watching all the games and actually counting these different scenarios I am not sure I can come up with an answer.  (Maybe there is another data base out there somewhere with the details.  I just looked at the posted stats at the U of M site.) 

I did look anther data set.  It was in the form of a ………


This chart of NFL expected points by first down starting position.  This suggests that it is particularly important not to allow the drop and roll type kick when the opponent is pinned back as the yards lost in field position are even more important since it costs you points. (Duh!)

It is also interesting to look at the kick off data.  We have kicked off 60 times and our opponents have returned it 35 times (58.3%).

They kicked off to us 44 times and we returned it 34 times (77.4%) The kickoffs are averaging about 60 yards for both us and our opponents and returns are averaging about 23 yards per return for both us and our opponents.  Our net is better and I assume that is because Wile is kicking it out of or deep enough and high enough into the end zone that it is tough to return or maybe they are just smart enough not to return it.  Looking at these numbers the average benefit for returning a kick off looks like it would only be about 3 yards beyond the 25.  (The average kick goes from the 35, 60 yards to the 5 and we return it to the 27 on average.)  You can get that for free almost every time without the risk of a fumble or injury to a good returner.  Perhaps we should never return a kick off out of the end zone and only return those kicks that are short of the 5 yard line since any beyond that will roll into the end zone.  The NFL chart above also suggests that the extra yards gained say out to the 35 or so by running it back do not put you into much better position to score points vs. the 25.  (My eyeball says you would gain less than ½ point even if you could reliably make the 35 yard line instead of the 25 which only the best punt returner can do on average.)

My brother made the following observation-

"There may be a large cost/benefit factor favoring the risk of the kick off return. Let’s say you always take the touch back. Call it 20 kicks. Then let’s say you always run it out. On 19 you end up on the 18. That’s a negative 133 yards. On the 20th you run it out for a TD. Would you trade the 19 cases of -7 in field position for the one TD? I guess it depends upon whether the TD is against ND or OSU or MSU or not."

I guess this is what the NCAA wanted with the rule change.  Maybe we are trying to return too many kickoffs. (An AP article on the kick off rule change notes the following..."Spotting the ball at the 25 should discourage .... risk-taking by the college kids. From 5 yards deep, it’ll take a 30-yard return to get to the 25. The top kick returner in the country, Purdue’s Raheem Mostert, averaged 33.48 yards per return. Seven others averaged more than 30 per return". )



Never Punt with Denard?: Fourth Down Strategy Revisited

Never Punt with Denard?: Fourth Down Strategy Revisited

Submitted by The Mathlete on September 21st, 2010 at 10:02 AM

[Ed.: Bump. This makes sense to me: Michigan should mostly dump special teams once it gets across midfield.]

As Brian highlighted in the UMass round-up, maybe forgoing the punt altogether might not be such a bad decision. He noted my earlier look at the the topic and I wanted to pull it back and revisit and refine some of the work.

I looked at the years 2004-2009 and only looked at the top 20 rated offenses for each year. This study assumes that Michigan’s offense this year will be at a top 20 caliber and provides a broad enough definition of greatness that there is a good sample size. I did not distinguish what type of offense (Texas Tech Air Raid vs Georgia Tech triple option vs spread and shred) was used to get into the top 20. I will detail more assumptions as they are applicable along the way. In place of fourth down conversion percentages I used third down conversion percentage since the data pool is much larger and covers a wider variety of opponent levels. Since the thought process on a third down and fourth downs are roughly the same in most all (for now, anyway) situations, it seems reasonable to use the third down numbers.

Time for a you know what…


Assumptions: Top 20 offense, average defense, average punt game, average field goal kicker.

Based on these assumptions, except for long yardage, the punter should grab a seat once the offense crosses midfield. On your own side of the field the decision still makes sense starting around the 30 for shorter yardage situations and becomes more viable for longer yardage as you cross further down the field. Field goals become practical with 4+ yards to gain and only from about the 5-25 yard lines.

There are two big advantages a potent offense has that make 4th down tries more logical. The first is that they have more to gain by success. With a limited number of drives in a given game, why give them away for free? The second is that they are more likely to make them. Good offenses are more likely to be in better position on fourth down and more likely to make it.  Here is a chart of great offenses fourth down conversions compared with all offenses. The right hand column was the one used for the above chart.

To Go All Teams Great Off
1 72% 74%
2 57% 60%
3 51% 54%
4 47% 50%
5 42% 45%
6 38% 41%
7 35% 37%
8 32% 34%
9 30% 32%
10 27% 30%

It’s not a huge advantage on any one given down, but Top 20 offenses convert the same opportunities about 2-3 percentage points more often than the average offense. Note: the rate of conversion for great offenses was much higher in the original analysis and is part of the reason the chart isn’t quite as go for it as the original.

But we don’t have an average <blank>

<blank> = Kicker

Let’s start with the kicking game, which is currently 5 points below average on the season and rated third worst in the country after the first three weeks.


Assumptions: Top 20 offense, average defense, average punt game, below average field goal kicker (FG make odds are reduced by 25% everywhere on the field).

The decisions near midfield obviously aren’t changed but now attempting a field goal on 4th and 5-9 from inside the 25 is no longer the most valuable option.

<blank> = Punter

I know it hasn’t been the most Zoltanic of starts for Will Hagerup, but at this point if he can hold onto the snap, there is no point in adjusting him to below average, even if he isn’t an advantage at this point.

<blank> = Defense

This is the one that seems a bit counterintuitive and Brian and I disagree on. I say that the strength or weakness of your defense is irrelevant to your offensive decision on whether or not try a fourth down conversion. My belief that it is irrelevant is based on this chart.


Great defense obviously give up fewer points than bad defenses but the key point is that the difference between a great defense and a bad defense is consistent up and down the field. Giving the opponent a first down at midfield isn’t a guarantee of a touchdown even with a bad defense and isn’t a guarantee that pinning an opponent deep against a great defense will keep the other team off the board. In fact, the gap between the two is about .25 points per first and 10 all the way from the 1 to the 90. If this is true, then the ability of the defense is irrelevant to the offense’s decision to go for it. For that to be the case, there would have to be evidence that the difference between a good defense and a bad defense changes at different points on the field.

So what does all this mean

If Michigan can maintain their feverish offensive pace this year and fail to find an adequate kicker, I think their decision set in all but late game score specific situations should look something like this:


As I noted previously, if you buy into this mentality, it opens up another opportunity, changing your early down play calling. If your four down strategy has changed, so should your down by down playcalling. It may become more viable to risk a wasted down with deep ball knowing that you have an extra, or it might just make sense to keep the ball short in the air and on the ground knowing that over four plays instead of three the likelihood of getting the yardages greatly increases so play to have the shortest possible fourth down attempt if you don’t convert before that.