By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The 2021 New England Patriots coaching staff is fully intent on teaching everybody just about everything there is to know about special teams.
Last week, Bill Belichick offered an extensive — and we mean extensive — history lesson on the long snapper position.
This week, it was special teams coordinator Cam Achord going deep on all of the factors involved in kicking field goals — from all of the atmospheric conditions, to the importance of the holder, and all of the different factors involved in that oft-overlooked job.
The first question asked of Achord related to kicker Nick Folk explaining after Sunday’s win that the wind during that game was unlike the norm for MetLife Stadium, which was Folk’s home stadium from 2010-16. Achord was asked how the kicking unit — players and coaches — figure that out in-game and make adjustments.
Here’s Achord’s full answer:
Yeah, the first thing is you obviously just try to feel the field-level wind while you’re standing out there to get a good idea — like is it at our back, is it coming from the front? And each stadium is different and every day is different. And sometimes it’s a swirling wind, where it’s coming in one side and it’s hitting off the other side and it’s coming back to you. So, what you have to do is once you kind of feel it in pregame, is then you come back out and you let the guys hit, and you watch the other guys kick as well for the other team to kind of see, because they play there a lot more. So it’s like, all right, where are they hitting the ball, where are they looking at to project the ball? So it’s like all right they have a little bit better feel because they play more games at home.
And so that’s something you look at, but at the end of the day you’re trying to watch your guys kick the ball. And it’s like all right, I’m aiming here, you’re talking to him, ‘Where you aiming at?’ And it’s like, ‘All right, I’m aiming right inside the right upright but the ball is landing right outside of it.’ So you never want to aim to miss on a field goal, but there’s times that you’re squeezing an upright. So if you’re here [creates uprights with fingers], you may be aiming right on the R2 or the R1, depending on the wind. And there’s other times, if the wind’s hanging it up, you might say, ‘Hey we gotta get to the 35 to kick it one way. And then if you have the wind with your back you can like, ‘Hey, we can take it from the 42.’
So there’s a lot of in-game adjustments that we talk about through the game, because the wind dies down normally throughout the games. It’s usually harder in the mornings and early on. So it may be one distance or one projection to start the game, and then if you notice, always, the specialists always come out for both teams before the [second] half. Well, that’s the reason they’re coming out there. They’re trying to project the wind, has it died down, is it different? And I rely a lot on — whether it’s Jake [Bailey], whether it’s Nick — a lot of communicating to me after halftime going, ‘Hey, it’s died down a little bit, I can get it from here,’ or, ‘Hey I can hit this pitch from this distance’ if it’s Jake. So you rely on a lot of them at halftime, because you’re not out there seeing it. You’re making adjustments in the locker room, and when you come out you’re talking to them like, ‘Hey, how’s it feel to feel? Does it feel the same? Has it changed? Has the direction switched?
Then as you’re going through it, if the wind starts to change, there may be a point where the ball hits a wall at, call it, the 30-yard line. And there’s other times, once you get it through — so now you’re having to hit like a wind-beater kick — so you’ve got to hit the ball a little bit different so it cuts the wind. And when you’re able to cut the wind, now the ball can travel.
And that just goes with veterans getting better and learning the different pitches they have to hit, because you don’t want to hit that ball straight up. Because any time you hit it up, it’s going to get up in the Gulf stream, and it’s going to come back down right to you.
So it’s definitely, we’re blessed to actually have a lot of wind here, so we get to deal with it a lot at practice. But there’s definitely a lot that goes into it. People are just like, ‘Ah, kick the ball.’ And it’s like, ‘Well, there’s a lot more to it.’
You know, when you’re talking about the weather and you’re like, all right, well now it’s at my face. So I can hit this. Or is it at my back? Sometimes it’s your back left or back right — there’s a different kick as well. Not just at your back; it makes a difference if it’s coming from your right or is it coming from your left as well.
That is … a whole lot!
Achord, who’s in his fourth season on the Patriots’ staff, said he learned a lot about wind and weather while growing up in Mississippi as the son of an electrical engineer. Achord said his father had to travel to deal with power outages related to hurricanes, thus giving him some insight on weather that is clearly serving him well now.
A little bit later, Achord was asked about a comment from Folk. The veteran kicker said that there are some different holds that he prefers in different situations. That comment begged the question: There are different holds?!
With a smile, Achord happily answered that question, using a remote control to replicate a football while demonstrating the different holds.
Yeah, it all depends on the kicker himself and how he makes contact with the ball, which is why kicking is so unique. Every kicker is different. There’s not one or two kickers that are the same. So, there are some kickers that like the ball straight up and down — no matter what, put it straight up and down and put the laces out. Well there’s other kickers that, let’s just say here’s the ball, ‘Hey, the wind’s kind of in my face from this direction,’ so he wants a little bit more tilt to him, so he can wrap the ball a little bit and it can drift. And then if the wind is really gusting, he may go a full lean here.
So there’s really, most kickers, you know, probably two to three leans, is what you’re talking about. And then there’s other kickers that want to hit the bottom part and want to see the bottom part of the ball a lot of times, so there’s a lot of forward lean. So if you’re watching certain guys, you may start seeing the ball lean forward heavy, it’s so they can see more of the football, and it’s more of a plane for them to hit. Whereas others more lean two or straight up and down, based off the wind in their face into the direction, so it’s able to help.
And we talked about cutting that wind, able to make the ball travel with that direction.
That’s the thing. Not only with the holds and the operation and new operations is, you gotta get each kicker and the hold and the down, and now the holder has to know and identify that. And it’s not the same every time, and it may change in-game, based off the weather as well.
A hold on a field goal or PAT is something most football viewers have seen a million times before. But after that description, fans must wonder if they’ve ever really seen it at all.
While the advanced-level detail on the finer points of kicking were interesting, Achord’s session with the media couldn’t end without the coach being asked about Belichick’s long snapper history lesson from Friday.
“I think that’s really amazing,” Achord said. “Any time you can talk about the history of the game, and I think you have to know the history of the game and how it evolves, because it does evolve. And as long as the game is evolving, then the positions are evolving, which means the coaching has to evolve. So any time you’re blessed to hear somebody talk about the history of the game that’s experienced the history, you have to listen, you got to take note, you’ve got to make sure you’re understanding and you’re comprehending, because a lot of times, stuff goes back to the history. And I try to do as much as I can of knowing the history of the game and where we started and how it’s gotten to where we are, because there’s stuff that shows back up, that you’re like, ‘Oh that happened five years ago, that happened 10 years ago.’ So you have to know a lot about the history. And then just being able to be blessed to work for Coach and the history and the knowledge he has, it’s an awesome thing. Because you’re able to go in there and ask him questions, and he’s able to relay it, and it’s like a Rolodex, bringing up guys that I’m like, ‘All right, well I need to go see who this is and research him.’ So it’s really a blessing to be in that position.”