The Seahawks’ 2020 season was marred by inconsistency on the offensive and defensive facet of the ball. The group’s one persistently elite unit was particular groups. Michael Dickson, the Seahawks’ unimaginable punter, had the second-highest punting common within the league, and had 32 punts downed contained in the 20 yard-line. No different punter had 30+.
Dickson’s brilliance was clear when he got here into the league as a rookie in 2018; he was awarded First-Group All-Professional at his place, in addition to a spot within the Professional Bowl. Dickson was given this honor largely on account of his punting quantity. He completed seventh in punts with 78, sixth in punt yards with 3,759, and 2nd in punt common, with 48.2 yards/punt. But, regardless of these stable stats, Dickson was not terribly environment friendly; he solely completed twenty second in inside-the-20 proportion (proportion of his punts that are downed contained in the opponent’s 20 yard-line) with 34.1%.
In 2020, Dickson drastically elevated his inside-the-20 proportion to 54.1%, whereas additionally citing his punting common to 49.6 yards/punt. Fortunately for the Seahawks offense, Dickson solely punted 61 instances the previous season, however when he did take the sector, he was in a position to make a big impression on the sport. In actual fact, Dickson was maybe much more deserving of All-Professional honors in 2020 than he was in 2018. Dickson’s punting report in 2020 is inseparable from the Seahawks’ success.
Off to a Scorching Begin
Identical to the Seahawks offense, Dickson acquired off to a red-hot begin in the course of the group’s first 5 video games of the season (all of which, in fact, have been victories). Within the first 5 weeks, Dickson punted 22 instances. His punts have been downed contained in the 20 yard-line an astonishing 15 instances, good for an inside-the-20 proportion of 68.2%. Had Dickson stored up this manufacturing your entire season, he would have simply led the league on this statistical class.
Dickson’s punts have been additionally essential in serving to the traditionally terrible Seahawks protection have a field-position benefit within the early a part of the season. On common, opponents who Seattle confronted in Weeks 1-5 began possessions following Dickson punts on their very own 13 yard-line; his mark for the entire season was the 16 yard-line. Dickson did this partly by managing to maintain his kicks out of the top zone, solely kicking two touchbacks throughout this stretch.
Within the first two video games, opponents scored simply three factors on eight possessions following Dickson punts. Dickson was particularly spectacular within the second of those two video games, in opposition to the New England Patriots, the place he pinned the Patriots contained in the 20 yard-line on all 4 of his punts, and inside the ten yard-line twice. This efficiency earned Dickson NFC Particular Groups Participant of the Week, and helped convey the Seahawks to the highest of the NFL’s particular groups DVOA rankings.
Dickson’s means to have an effect on the sport by flipping area place was much more pronounced in Seattle’s Week 5 Sunday Evening Soccer matchup with the Minnesota Vikings. Within the sport, Dickson was in a position to pin the Vikings at or inside their very own 15 yard-line on all 5 of his punts. His play was the distinction in a sport which Seattle received by one level with a D.Okay. Metcalf fourth down landing, the thinnest of margins.
By means of the primary 5 video games, regardless of taking part in with fairly actually one of many worst defenses in NFL historical past, Dickson’s punts have been very efficient in protecting opponents (who typically marched down the sector with exceptional ease) off of the scoreboard. Opposing groups have been solely in a position to rating touchdowns 18% of the time on possessions following Dickson punts. The effectivity of the punting unit helped Seattle to a 4th-place particular groups DVOA rating after 5 weeks. This was a large enchancment for Seattle; the unit completed twentieth in 2019, and twenty fourth in 2018 (Michael Dickson’s All-Professional season).
All Good Issues Should Come to An Finish…Kind of
The dream begin for Dickson and the Seahawks didn’t final without end, although, and as Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense returned again to Earth, so did Dickson. Over the course of the following seven video games, Dickson punted 23 instances. His inside-the-20 proportion dropped was simply 34.8% throughout this era (Weeks 7-13), which might have been good for twenty third within the NFL had it been his mark for the season. His touchback proportion in the course of the center a part of the season was worse too, going from 9.1% in Weeks 1-5 to 17.4% throughout Weeks 7-13.
A part of Dickson’s decreased degree of efficiency was because of the Seahawks’ offensive decline. As a substitute of punting from the 39 yard-line (on common) as he had from Weeks 1-5, Dickson averaged punting from the 35 yard-line throughout this stretch. This will likely look like a small distinction, however when a punter’s punting common is 49.6 yards/punt, this places their common boot on the opponent’s 16 yard-line reasonably than the 12 yard-line, considerably lowering the variety of instances a punter is ready to pin an opposing offense inside its 20 yard-line.
Nonetheless, there have been different dips in efficiency for which extra blame could be positioned on Dickson. Throughout this era of the season, his touchback proportion rose dramatically, from 9.1% in Weeks 1-5 to 17.4% (which might have been good for useless final within the NFL had it been his mark for the season), regardless of punting from additional within the Seahawks’ personal territory, on common.
Though Dickson’s efficiency definitely worsened throughout this time interval, due to a myriad of things (a few of which weren’t essentially in his management), Weeks 7-13 didn’t come and not using a few excessive factors for Dickson. Within the group’s loss in Los Angeles, Dickson punted thrice, placing all three contained in the Rams’ 13 yard-line, which was essential in establishing the Seahawks protection. He had two or extra punts downed contained in the 20 yard-line in 5 of the 7 video games from Weeks 7-13, and even positioned the protection to select up two safeties throughout this time-frame.
These successes have been marred by a two-touchback sport in opposition to the Giants, and a sport in opposition to Arizona during which none of his punts acquired contained in the Cardinals’ 30 yard-line (a sport during which he was not helped out by the offense: he punted from the Seahawks’ 28 yard-line on common). General, although, his effectivity was not dramatically affected; actually, throughout this time, the Seahawks’ particular groups DVOA elevated to six.8%, good for third within the league (an increase which was definitely enormously assisted by Jason Myers’ accuracy).
Dickson did slip up at instances throughout this stretch and produced just a few lackluster performances, however the faltering offense typically put him in troublesome positions, and he confirmed his All-Professional talents in lots of key video games. Because the Seahawks made a push for the division title within the last 4 weeks, Dickson performed at a fair larger degree, and have become extra environment friendly than he had been all season, turning an already good season into an elite one.
In the course of the Seahawks’ last 4 sport of the common season, Dickson performed like a person possessed. Returning to early-season kind, he landed 62.5% of his punts contained in the 20 yard-line, regardless of punting from his personal 33 yard-line on common from Weeks 14-17. He additionally had zero touchbacks.
As Dickson started to play at an All-Professional degree once more, the Seahawks protection was taking part in its greatest soccer of the season. The 2 labored in tandem to supply aid to a Seahawks offense that was falling aside on the seams. Throughout this four-week interval, Seahawks opponents scored on simply 37.5% possessions following Dickson punts for a median of 1.6 factors per possession (the season-long marks have been 42.6% and a couple of.1 factors, respectively). Opponents additionally scored touchdowns on simply 12.5% possessions following Dickson punts throughout this stretch, much better than the 21% mark the group recorded for your entire 2020 season.
Over the course of three video games from Weeks 14-16, Dickson landed eight consecutive punts contained in the opponent’s 20 yard-line (and 9 of 10). Whereas Dickson was glorious within the Seahawks’ division-clinching win over the Rams, placing 4 of his 5 punts inside Los Angeles’ 20 yard-line, maybe his greatest efficiency was in opposition to the Soccer Group in Week 15.
On his first punt, Dickson pinned the Soccer Group inside their very own 5 yard-line. His different three punts pressured Washington to start out their drives at their eight, ten, and 15 yard-lines, respectively. His efficiency was as soon as once more important in a one-possession Seahawks victory. For the second time within the 2020 season, Dickson had produced a statline which noticed two of his punts pinned contained in the 20, and a further two pinned inside the ten, and for the second time in 2020, he had received NFC Particular Groups Participant of the Week. At the same time as Jason Myers faltered barely, lacking two additional factors within the last 4 video games, Dickson’s environment friendly play stored the Seahawks’ particular groups DVOA at 6.8%, permitting them to complete third within the league within the class (he was additionally helped by Professional-Bowlers Nick Bellore and Tyler Ott).
The system which the Seahawks employed for victory within the last stretch of the common season was vastly completely different than what labored from Weeks 1-5; reasonably than merely counting on outscoring opponents, the late-season Seahawks’ success was centered round their protection bailing out a lackluster offense. In each cases, nonetheless, Dickson’s success was essential to that of the group; whether or not he was working in tandem with a robust protection to arrange the Seahawks offense with good area place, or pinning opponents deep in their very own territory to help a lackluster defensive unit.
Punting doesn’t typically resolve NFL video games by itself; the reality is, the case for Dickson’s punting deciding a end result can actually solely be made for 4 or 5 from the 2020 season. In opposition to New England, punting resulted in 4.13 anticipated factors added for Seattle in what was a five-point win. In opposition to Minnesota, Seattle acquired 3.57 EPA from punting in a one-point win. In opposition to Washington, Seattle acquired 4.28 EPA from punting in a five-point win, and in Week 17 in opposition to the 49ers, the Seahawks acquired 4.20 EPA from punting in a three-point win.
EPA isn’t an ideal metric, in fact; it solely defines anticipated factors added from the efficiency of the punting unit. But, there is no such thing as a doubt that Dickson’s punts contributed considerably to all of these victories, even when it wasn’t essentially the deciding issue.
Though Dickson didn’t have the identical game-changing impact in a lot of the Seahawks’ different video games, whether or not or not it’s for lack of punts or efficiency, or a big margin of victory/defeat, his EPA by no means dipped under zero. In different phrases, Dickson, even within the Seahawks’ darkest hours, was nonetheless positively contributing to the efficiency of the group. Whereas these contributions have been typically modest, Dickson was robust in different poor Seahawks performances, too, together with the loss on the Rams and the loss at house in opposition to the Giants (with 2.02 and 1.61 EPA, respectively).
It’s straightforward to look briefly at Dickson’s season and assume that his success was solely a symptom of the Seahawks’ success; that once they carried out poorly, his effectivity was dragged down as nicely. There’s definitely proof for this speculation; in spite of everything, Dickson carried out at his worst when the Seahawks’ offense was present process its mid-season transformation, and when the group was within the midst of a dropping skid. Nonetheless, by an intensive examination of the connection between the correlation between his efficiency and that, it turns into clear that Dickson is way more essential to the Seahawks’ success than first meets the attention.
A few of Dickson’s greatest performances got here in video games the place he was in a position to elevate an in any other case middling Seahawks efficiency. Sure, there have been video games, just like the loss in opposition to Buffalo, the place Dickson couldn’t have performed a lot to have an effect on the end result. But, when the Seahawks offense faltered at house in opposition to Minnesota and Los Angeles, and on the highway in opposition to San Francisco and Washington, Dickson picked up the slack and contributed considerably to Seattle’s victory, regardless of having to punt from pretty deep in his personal territory. When the Seahawks protection was on life assist in opposition to New England and Dallas, Dickson made key punts late in each video games that proved to be simply sufficient to help the protection in protecting the Patriots and Cowboys out of the top zone.
In all six of those video games, Dickson’s EPA exceeded 3.5 factors, which was greater than the Seahawks’ offense in two of the video games, and greater than the protection in all however one in every of them. Even when the remainder of the Seahawks have been unable so as to add a lot to the group’s efficiency, Dickson introduced a vital, under-appreciated edge which may show to be the distinction between successful and dropping. As a substitute of merely following the efficiency of the group, or having no impact, as a rule, the efficiency of the group was ceaselessly formed by Dickson.
Dickson wasn’t named as an All-Professional, and didn’t even make the Professional Bowl. But, the worth he added to the Seahawks within the 2020 season is troublesome to seize by any award. As a substitute, his significance to the group could be quantified by an understanding of his contributions in tight victories, and his uncanny means to elevate the group’s effectivity even when little else past punting appears to be working correctly.