Cincinnati Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons’ lips pursed and his eyes squinted as he tried to recall the last time his group both blocked a kick and had one blocked in the same game.
“I don’t know that it’s ever happened,” Simmons said, before realizing he was digging too far back in his memory bank.
“Wait,” he added. “I take that back. It just happened in the Indy game.”
The good news is the Bengals have two blocks in the last four weeks, with Jordan Willis getting his hands on a punt against Indianapolis on Oct. 29, and KeiVarae Russell knocking down a 61-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the first half Sunday at Denver.
The bad news is Simmons’ group has allowed two blocks in that same span, with the Colts getting their hands on a Randy Bullock field goal, and the Broncos blocking a Kevin Huber punt.
The worse news is that those two blocks allowed are not the only miscues the Bengals have had on special teams of late. Pittsburgh executed a fake punt, Jacksonville returned a punt for a touchdown and Bullock has missed extra points in each of the last two games.
“It’s frustrating,” Simmons said. “It’s really frustrating, especially as hard as we practice it and as hard as we go at it. It is frustrating to give up plays and have negative things happen to us.
“We spend a lot of time on it, we meet a lot on it,” he added. “But it still comes down to the guys who are playing in the game have to go make the plays. And we haven’t done that well enough in those crucial areas. We can’t have breakdowns like that.”
Under Simmons direction, strong special teams been something the Bengals have been able to count on through the years.
But the roster turnover that took the Bengals from the 10th oldest team in the league to the third youngest back in September left Simmons with a large influx of new pieces, and injuries and other moves throughout the season have resulted in more shuffling of parts.
“There’s no excuses,” Simmons said. “Whoever’s in there has to play, no different than it is in any other area. I’ve never used that as an excuse. Whoever’s in there is in there because we’re counting on them to play.
“It’s up to me to get them to get it right, whoever it is,” he added. “It’s an ever-evolving thing that we have to keep working toward and getting the consistency of play. We haven’t had that at this point.”
Fortunately for the Bengals, none of the mistakes have cost them games. They won the Colts game. The fake punt in Pittsburgh came with the Steelers leading by 12 with less than seven minutes remaining. The punt return touchdown at Jacksonville came in the fourth quarter and accounted for the final seven points in a 23-7 loss. And Bullock’s missed PATs came in a four-point loss and three-point win.
Bullock, who missed the Jacksonville game with a back injury, has missed a kick in three consecutive games, bringing back memories of Mike Nugent’s struggles. The Bengals stuck with Nugent despite him missing kicks in six of seven games before signing Bullock in December.
Coach Marvin Lewis said last year’s experience means the leash won’t be as long for Bullock.
“It does affect our patience level,” he said. “We’re committed to Randy this week.”
“It’s obviously an area of concern,” Simmons added. “We’ve got to make kicks. He’s missed. That’s an issue.”
The blocked punt in Denver was a concern as well, with Simmons attributing it to a communication error.
“It was something we worked on back in OTAs,” he said. “Obviously that can’t happen. Fortunately for us, the defense bailed us out when Dre picked the pass off.”
Dre Kirkpatrick’s interception in the end zone a few plays later prevented the Broncos from converting the blocked punt into points. And in what was the highlight of the day for Simmons’ special teams, Russell’s blocked field goal at the end of the first half also kept Denver from adding points and ended up being the difference in a 20-17 win.
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“They all take meticulous notes, and one of the things (Russell) wrote at the bottom of his notes was ‘Coach, I guarantee you I’m going to get one this week,’” Simmons said. “He studied every field goal they had the entire year. It was good to see when you study that something positive like that does come to fruition.
“Hopefully there are more plays like that to come.”
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