Kotwica offers reason for why Falcons didn’t fall on onside kick

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

Falcons special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica discusses the approach to the onside kick at the end of the Dallas game.

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

Falcons special-teams coordinator Ben Kotwica, like coach Dan Quinn, insisted that their players knew what to do on the onside kick against Dallas, but the players didn’t think the ball would travel 10 yards, leaving the Falcons with no need to recover the kick.

Kotwica acknowledged the team’s failure, including his own, to recover an onside kick that eventually led to a 40-39 loss to the Cowboys on Sunday.

“There was a risk that if you go into the restraining line on a ball that looked like it was not going to make it 10 yards,” said Kotwica, who addressed the media for the first time since the debacle in his weekly availability Thursday. “Again, if it doesn’t make it 10 yards, it’s a dead ball, it’s a different narrative.”

“However, if you do go in there to fall on a ball that is spinning, if you don’t field it cleanly, now, you are giving the coverage team the opportunity to field the ball. There is an element of that. That’s kind of where we are at. In the future, it’s a painful lesson and again, I think we’ll handle it different if we get that opportunity again.”

The Falcons didn’t risk an attack on the ball until it was too late.

“There is a restraining area to recover a spinning football where there is a risk if they don’t recover it cleanly that gives the kicking team the opportunity to recover the ball because then it becomes a live ball,” Kotwica said. "We should have aggressively gotten on the football. Those are smart guys. They are intelligent. They are hard-working. One went to Yale, the other one went to (Virginia). And so we should have aggressively gotten on the ball as it got close to the restraining line.

“I’m responsible for it. I’m responsible for everything the unit does and fails to do. It’s something that we’ve looked at. We’ve made the corrections. We’ve talked to the players. We’ll do a better job and look forward to Sunday’s opportunity.”

Kotwica was referencing Jaeden Graham (Yale) and Olamide Zaccheaus (Virginia) as two of the players near the football who failed a recovery attempt.

Falcons players clearly were confused during the kick.

Sharrod Neasman, Hayden Hurst, Graham and Zaccheaus formed a circle around the ball. Julio Jones stood behind Zaccheaus. No one ever made a move for the ball until it got near the 45-yard line. Right as the ball crossed the 45, Zaccheaus dove down in an attempt to recover it. However, Cowboys defensive back C.J. Goodwin fell down first and beat Zaccheaus to it.

Down by two points before the onside kick attempt, the Cowboys' Greg Zuerlein made a 46-yard field goal six plays later as time expired.

“I think first thing, you have to give Dallas and Greg credit on a great kick,” Kotwica said.

The Falcons clearly didn’t think the ball was going 10 yards until it was too late.

“I was standing there when it came off of Greg’s foot,” Kotwica said. "It went along the 38- and 39-yard line. It was going parallel. Initially, I didn’t think it was going 10 yards. However, as the ball begin to cross the 39-, 40-yard line, now you get into options in decisions-making.

“Our players knew they could go into the restraining area and recover the ball.”

Instead of waiting for the ball to stop, the Falcons should have fallen on it.

“We should have aggressively gotten on the football,” Kotwica admitted. “There’s options there. I would tell you that obviously hindsight is 20/20. We want to aggressively get the ball.”

During the timeout, Kotwica gave a final instruction.

“I remember one of my last words were, ‘Hey, go get the ball,’” Kotwica said. “That’s one of the foundations of the program here. The ball, the battle and the brotherhood. Yes, as that ball gets closer to the restraining area, we would like to get on that football.”

The Falcons have spent time after the game reviewing how to attack onside kicks.

“We just didn’t execute that,” Kotwica said. “We talked about it after the play. We talked about it postgame and then obviously film review on Monday. It’s something that we work each week. We’ll do a better job, and we look forward to the opportunity on Sunday.”

Also, linebacker Foye Oluokun, who suffered an injury in the game, otherwise would have been on the field. He’s recovered three onside kicks over the past two seasons.

“We had some injuries in the game,” Kotwica said. “Those players, there are some players that might have otherwise been in that position.”

Kotwica has never seen what the Cowboys are calling the “Watermelon” kick.

“What I have seen is the ball placed flat and the ball kicked in different forms,” Kotwica said. "I can’t say that I’ve seen that specific one, where the ball goes parallel to the restraining line on the 39-, 40-yard line and then, like a putt, it wing-foots and starts going down the hill to the right.

"Can’t say that I’ve seen that. I’ve seen the ball go past the restraining line and come back to the left. I’ve seen the high hop. There are a handful of kicks that you’ve seen, but again, you have to give Dallas and Greg credit for that kick. If that’s on grass, I don’t know if that happens. That’s a smooth surface.

“There are multiple onside kicks that in my whatever years this is, I’ve seen, but that is as good of a kick as I’ve seen.”

In Other News