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Raiders-49ers: The Special, Special Teams

One would think that Shane Lechler would at times out kick his coverage, but one would be thinking wrong. Lechler is a freak of nature. His unbelievable distance is matched by unbelievable hang time.

This is a big reason why Lechler and the Raiders set an NFL record for net punt yards in 2009 at 43.9 per kick. This year the Raiders have actually improved on this number and Lechler has a net punt average of 49.2.

Kickoff coverage has not been as good, but it certainly isn’t bad. The Arizona Cardinals opened their Week Three contest with a kickoff return for a TD. It was the start to what was a very forgettable day for Sebastian Janikowski.

Since that game, however, Janikowski has regained his all-world form. He is splitting the uprights on field goals and every kickoff since then, except for two, has been at least four yards deep into the endzone. Of the two that weren’t, one pinned Darren Sproles on the goaline in the corner and the other was a designed squib.

Also, the Raiders should be boosted in special teams as they return to health a bit. They should have rookies Walter McFadden and Jeremy Ware back this week.

The return games are another story—a sad and ugly story. The Raiders have had problems blocking on kickoffs since last year. It hasn’t mattered who the return men were, because there was no place to go. Jacoby Ford finally broke off a nice return for 64 yards in the Week Five contest against Houston, but then struggled to hold onto the ball last week and looked abysmal.

Nick Miller finally got a chance to return punts last week and he had a beautiful second half return that he nearly took to the house. Miller is fearless and looks like he could be a dynamic punt return. The worry with him is that he will try to do too much and get clobbered catching one and fumble.

Kickoffs and punts can be tricky business in the swirling winds of Candlestick. I’ve seen Ted Ginn Jr. enough that I will get nervous every time he gets his hands on the ball.