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Browns offseason analysis: Putting the special teams under the microscope


Five days on offense -- quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end and offensive line -- and three on defense -- defensive line, linebackers and defensive backs -- leads us to our ninth and final installment of Browns position reviews.

The grand finale looks at Cleveland's special teams.

The Raw Data

K Billy Cundiff - 22-of-29 on FGs, long of 52; 28-of-28 XPs

K Garrett Hartley - 3-of-3, long of 43; 2-of-2 XPs

P Spencer Lanning - 93 punts, 44.3 average, 25 inside 20

Travis Benjamin - 15 PRs, 8.5 average, long of 37; 12 KRs, 20.5 average, long of 28

Marlon Moore - 13 KRs, 24.8 average, long of 32

Jordan Poyer - 7 PRs, 4.0 average, long of 8; 1 KR, 14 yards

Shaun Draughn - 5 KRs, 23.0 average, long of 39

Jim Leonhard - 4 PRs, 6.5 average, long of 12

Taylor Gabriel - 4 KRs, 24.0 average, long of 30

The Rankings

Field goal percentage - 78.1 - 28th

Net Punting - 39.2 yards per punt - 17th

Average punt return - 7.0 - 23rd

Opponents' punt return average - 6.7 - 5th

Kickoff return average - 22.4 - 23rd

Opponents' kickoff return average - 21.6 - 6th

Average starting field position - 19.6 - 31st

Opponents' average starting field position - 20.2 - 2nd

The High Point

Though there was a missed field goal, Cleveland's special team units did everything in their power to position the Browns for a potential upset of the Indianapolis Colts on Dec. 7. Cleveland's coverage units completely bottled up former Brown return man Josh Cribbs thanks to hard hits from Johnson Bademosi and Moore and precisely placed punts from Lanning. One of Lanning's best punts of the season directly preceded a Browns' defensive touchdown. Benjamin had arguably his best game of the season, as he ripped off a season-long 37-yard punt return to finish with an average of 16.3 yards on four punts.

The Low Point

It wasn't a specific moment, but rather a stretch of inconsistency from Cundiff that ultimately added to the Browns' woes during the second half of the season. Cundiff missed a kick in five consecutive games before he was waived Dec. 13 and replaced by Hartley. What made the misses sting was how they affected the games in which they happened. None hurt worse than his miss from 40 against the Colts, who beat the Browns by a single point. One week earlier against Buffalo, with the Browns holding a 3-0 lead, Cundiff missed from 37 to cap a second-quarter drive that went 13 plays and milked nearly 6 minutes off the clock.

Best Play

The Browns' historic comeback win at Tennessee really got rolling thanks to a play on special teams. Trailing 28-13 with 11 minutes to play, Tank Carder stormed through the line and blocked Brett Kern's punt with a swat of his left hand. The ball bounced with authority all the way into the back of the end zone for a safety. The Browns got the ball right back and scored the first of the two touchdowns it took to stun the Titans, 29-28.

Surprise, Surprise

Perhaps this shouldn't be viewed as a surprise because it's not his first year doing it, but Bademosi's consistency on punt and kickoff coverage made him one of the most valuable special teams players in the entire NFL. His presence can help explain why the Browns were among the league's best in coverage rankings on both punts and kicks. He became the second player in Browns' history to lead the team in special teams tackles (15) in three consecutive seasons and he's second in the NFL with the most special teams tackles since 2012 (44). Legendary special teams player Steve Tasker told that Bademosi had emerged as one of the NFL's best gunners.

Quote to Note

"I think this is the highest that we've been here. I always look at the opponent drive start on the kickoff part. I think, statistically, kickoff return average against we're like 10th, but drive start, we're No. 1. We've been that before, but the punt game, I think we're at No. 10 right now. That's quietly been a goal of ours to be there, and the guys have accepted that challenge." Special Teams Coordinator Chris Tabor, one week before season ended

Outlook for 2015

Hartley is an unrestricted free agent and Lanning is a restricted free agent. Moore and Draughn are unrestricted free agents and Leonhard has said he is retired from the NFL. The Browns added kickers Travis Coons and Carey Spear, neither of whom have attempted a kick in the NFL, to the reserve/futures list shortly after the season. A number of big-name kickers, including Stephen Gostkowski, Mike Nugent and Justin Tucker, are unrestricted free agents. The Browns struggled with consistency on punt and kick return, so it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibilities for the team to add a player or two who can compete with Benjamin and others for these valuable roles.

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