Often-overlooked special teams could be Super Bowl decider

NEW ORLEANS — To the casual observer, the sight of David Akers, Andy Lee, Justin Tucker or Sam Koch waltzing down Bourbon Street this week probably wouldn’t cause too much of a commotion.

The quartet of specialists is more likely to be confused as accountants or attorneys than high-level athletes. But the kickers and punters for the 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, respectively, could have as much impact on the outcome of Super Bowl XLVII as Ray Lewis, Frank Gore or either Harbaugh brother.

“Special teams is a true third of the game,” the rookie Tucker said. “Even though there may be fewer special teams plays compared to offense and defense, those plays have some serious implications on the outcome of the game.”

Between kickers and punters, it’s obviously easier to directly measure the impact of the kickers since a number of their plays result in points. And right now, Akers and Tucker are headed in opposite directions.

Tucker has been stellar in his first season out of Texas, connecting on 30 of 33 field-goal attempts during the regular season and booting another two through the uprights in the postseason, including the game-winner against the Denver Broncos in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs.

Akers, on the other hand, has been plagued by inconsistency all season, particularly down the stretch. The veteran missed 13 of his 42 field-goal attempts during the regular season and bonked a try off the upright in the NFC Championship Game win against the Atlanta Falcons. It has created some doubt and Akers is well aware the pressure is on him to perform Sunday.

“You’re brought in at one time and hopefully are going to do good when you go on the field, because it’s pretty obvious when you don’t,” he said. “So there’s no gray area.”

The impact Lee and Koch could have this week is certainly less apparent, but could be equally as important.
Koch, who averaged 47.1 yards per punt this season, understands that while he wants to do well at his job, too much of it isn’t necessarily a good thing.

“I like to punt as much as I can, but if I’m punting, it’s usually not a good thing for our offense,” he said. In a close game, which many expect this Super Bowl matchup to be, field position is paramount. And since he’s been in San Francisco, Lee has been one of the best in the NFL at giving the Niners a leg up, if you will, in that area. Lee was a shade better than Koch this season at 48.1 yards per boot and finished third in the NFL in punts downed inside the 20-yard line.

The importance of his role to San Francisco isn’t lost on the nine-year veteran.

“I think now it’s getting more prevalent and people are starting to understand the field position game and how much it means,” Lee said.


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