Special teams looking to clean up mistakes, penalties

FLOWERY BRANCH – The Falcons special teams units have hit a rough patch and that has coordinator Keith Armstrong up in arms.

A punt blocked against the Saints, two missed field goal against the Redskins and a rash of penalties on returns has the intense Armstrong fired up.

“The biggest thing is that we tried to get back to fundamentals going into this week with us having an extra practice,” Armstrong said. “Just get back to the basics and back to finishing some things that we didn’t finish in the game.”

The Saints picked up some some momentum when they blocked a punt and scooped it for a touchdown. Falcons coach Dan Quinn said the unit didn’t pick up a simple twist up front.

Punter Matt Bosher is leading the league in punting with a 50.9 average, with a career-long punt of 69 yards outdoors against New York in the second game of the season. His net average of 40.5 is 14th in the league for punters with at least 15 punts.

Not only is Bosher booming the ball, he’s placing it outside the numbers and backing up the opposition’s offense. He’s had five punts downed inside the 20.

Bosher also handles the kickoff and holding duties.

“I think that he’s doing a solid job for us,” Armstrong said. “He’s always trying to get better. On his kickoffs, he did have a couple of knuckle balls, that type of thing, but that’s just from swinging on the ball too hard. His placement and his hang-time has been good.”

Bosher, who was picked in the sixth round of the 2011 draft, is in his fifth season. He averaged 4.8 seconds of hang-time on his punts last season, which was tops in the league, according to profootballfocus.com.

“I’m just making sure that I get my job done,” Bosher said. “Every week, you’re playing a good returner. Everybody can return it back on you. We just have to make sure that we go out there and I give my gunners and the rest of our inside cover guys a chance to get down the field and make a play.”

Of his 23 punts, one has blocked, one went out of bounds, one was a touchback, three fair catches and 17 were returned for 177 yards.

Bosher and the coverage team will have a tough task against the Titans, who feature dangerous returner Dexter McCluster.

“He can make you miss,” Armstrong said. “He’s quick as heck. He can get up the field or he can stretch it and make a cut. He kind of possesses a little bit of everything.”

Bosher’s hang-time will be key.

“He will take chances,” Armstrong said. “If its close, the coverage is around him and he can catch and return it, he’s going to return it.”

Bosher has a plan for McCluster.

“We’re playing outside, so you’re always having to deal with the elements,” Bosher said. “Just make sure that I’m putting the ball outside. Making sure that I give our guys the best chance to get down field and cover. They have a couple of really good returners who are speedy. They can make anybody miss in a phone booth.”

With Devin Hester on short-term injured reserved with a turf toe injury, Eric Weems has handled the kickoff and punt return duties.

He’s averaging a respectable 22 yards per kickoff return and 10.2 on punts. In 2010, when Weems went to the Pro Bowl in 2010 he averaged 27.5 yards on kickoff returns and 12.8 on punt returns.

“The biggest thing that we have to do, in the return game, if you look at it, we’ve got to play penalty free football,” Armstrong said.

Weems had an 11-yard return against New Orleans nullified by a holding penalty on Robert Alford. Weems had a 6-yard punt return against Washington nullified by a holding penalty on Ricardo Allen. Weems had a 23 yard kickoff return in the third quarter against Dallas nullified by a James Stone holding penalty.

Weems had an 11 yard return against the Giants nullified by holding penalty on Charles Godfrey.

The Falcon have had five other penalties called on the special teams plays for a total of nine penalties.

“When you get a spot foul obviously you lose the yardage,” Armstrong said. “That’s the main thing that’s been hurting us. We basically are trying to play penalty free football.”