As other parts of special teams struggle, LA Rams P Johnny Hekker improving with age
LA Rams All-Pro punter Johnny Hekker is doing more for the LA Rams than ever before. That’s a very good thing because the Rams need more from him. After all, the Rams coverage unit for punts is not up to the task of supporting Hekker’s super strong leg. And what’s the point of punting a mile if the team allows the opposing team to return the punt half-a-mile.
So Hekker took over. In fact, he pinned the Washington Football team inside their ten-yard line four times. That is a punt return of zero, and that means everything to the Rams right now.
— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) October 13, 2020
Winning is a team effort. While quarterback sacks are fun, each sack pushes the offense into reverse by eight yards. A punt off the foot of Hekker can outdistance his opposing team by as much as 12 yards per punt. That’s quite an advantage.
Taking it up a notch
Punting is so much more than kicking the ball into the endzone, or even kicking it as far as possible. So what is so special about Johnny Hekker’s performance in 2020? In a word, everything. Let’s use the statistic presentation by ESPN to illustrate what we mean. For starters, his average 0f 48.2 yards-per-punt is at an all-time career high. So too is his touchback percentage which eliminates the risk of a big return. His ability to pin the opponent within their own 20 at 46.67 percent is well above his 39 percent career average.
Hekker’s challenge is that he punts so far that he sometimes outkicks coverage. So far in 2020, that’s proving to be the case. The LA Rams punt coverage is the worst of Hekker’s career, allowing an average return of 10.2 yards.
So Hekker is making adjustments. He is punting the ball out of the endzone. He’s kicking the ball out of bounds within the 20. Each time he prevents a return with his ball placement, he is helping the Rams that much more. It was very noticeable in the latest game against the Washington Football team when the Rams piggybacked to Hekker’s punts to win the battle of field position.
As the LA Rams face more competitive opponents, the battle of field position and time of possession becomes more critical in determining the outcome of the game. As such, the Rams will lean more heavily onto the ability of punter Johnny Hekker to boom the ball further than their opponent.
Hekker is so much more than a punter for LA Rams head coach Sean McVay. He is a valuable chess piece. And in McVay’s game planning, he can be the difference between winning and losing.