Newly acquired kicker Connor Barth was not known for his ability to kickoff well prior to coming over to the Denver Broncos. In fact, the last time he was the kickoff specialist for a team was with Tampa Bay prior to the NFL’s competition committee moving the ball up to the 35-yard line.
Needless to say, it’s been awhile for Barth in terms of kicking the ball off — and kicking field goals for that matter — but the Mile High air is sure to help his cause in the playoffs and down the stretch. The Broncos have a road game in Cincinnati and San Diego as well remaining on the schedule along with a home game this weekend against the Bills and a season-capper against the Raiders.
Barth’s shorter kickoffs were noticeable in the Broncos’ big win over the Kansas City Chiefs, who had excellent starting field position the entire game. His inability to kick the ball even into the end zone was a glaring weakness of his game, but it could wind up benefitting the Broncos in the long run.
Am I crazy? I don’t think so…
The Broncos’ kick coverage unit has been spotty when teams decide to take the ball out of the end zone, regardless if it was on Barth’s kickoffs or Brandon McManus’, or even Matt Prater’s. Whenever someone decided they wanted to take the ball out of the end zone against the Broncos, you were holding your breath that it might go for a touchdown.
They gave up huge returns last year against Tennessee and Kansas City that I can remember off the top of my head, so kickoff coverage has been a major weakness for this team. They likely haven’t really had to even practice tackling anyone because in practices, the ball just goes out of the back of the end zone and the coverage units practice touching the returner in the end zone after the ball is already dead rather than taking angles to try and crush him before he gets to the 20-yard line.
I can’t speak to the Broncos’ situational practice of this particular scenario in a game, but my guess is with limited contact practices and limited kickoffs even returned in Denver, they don’t practice hitting on special teams that often. This limitation in Barth’s game will force them to do so, and could result in horrible field position for opposing teams in the long run.
If the Broncos can find a way to be proficient in kickoff coverage, Barth’s higher, shorter kicks will result in players getting slammed down before they even reach the 20-yard line, giving a huge advantage in field position to the Denver defense.
In my opinion, this can be viewed as a good thing. You’d rather have guys just downing the ball in the end zone if possible, but if you can have kickoff coverage guys making big plays, they are momentum shifting plays and you never know what can happen when guys are running that fast at each other. Players fumble kickoff returns all the time it seems.
At any rate, all of this is moot if the Broncos don’t improve their kickoff coverage, which is now a necessity.