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Punter Colton Schmidt coming up clutch for field position-minded Bills

Colton Schmidt has been punting for the Buffalo Bills for four years, but it's safe to say the Bakersfield, Calif., native still isn't an expert on snow.

"The last time it snowed in my hometown was 1998," Schmidt said.

His lack of experience wasn't obvious in frosty conditions against the Indianapolis Colts two weeks ago, especially when it came to his punt in the end zone late in the first half. Most of the snow on the field was patted down with players walking on it, but he didn't have that luxury where he was kicking from.

He fought through the resistance of a few inches of snow to boot a 40-yard punt that was not returned. A friend texted Schmidt a photo of the kick after the game. You can't see his planting foot since it's buried in white.

He punted six times in the game, kicking for an average of 38 yards and pinning Indianapolis inside their own 20-yard line twice. It's one of the multiple occasions this season the field position-minded Bills have relied on their punter.

"When we've had to put the ball with great location, when we've had to get hang time, when we've had to deal with elements, none of that stuff has fazed him," special teams coordinator Danny Crossman said. "He's executed at a level that we're looking for."

Schmidt and Crossman both say punter statistics can be deceiving, but Schmidt's traditional numbers are an improvement from last season. He's averaging 44.4 yards per punt, a two-yard increase. His net average is 40.8, also a two-yard gain. He's notched 26 punts inside the 20-yard line — tied for 11th in the league — already surpassing his totals in 2015 and 2016.

The Bills have their own way of measuring special teams, too, displayed on a chart hanging on the locker room wall. Schmidt often ranks among the best.

The Bills' punting metrics eliminate the circumstances that can skew the numbers. For example, if the Bills punt from the 35-yard line, a punt downed at the 1-yard line would be excellent. Yet, it would still hurt Schmidt's average distance.

"It's based on production of what we're asking them to do, whether the hang time, location, distance," Crossman said. "Each ball is a different ball in and of itself."

When it comes to Schmidt's improvement from last season, the Bills' calculations match the traditional numbers.

"He's been much more consistent," Crossman said. "He's really been grading similar throughout the course of the year as opposed to the ups and downs that we had a year ago."

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Schmidt was in need of a bounce-back season after finishing 29th in net average (38.1 yards) and 26th in punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line (20) in 2016. His future with the Bills seemed up in the air after the team opted to not give him a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent, but he re-signed on a two-year deal a day later.

Returning to the Bills was Schmidt's plan after talking to coach Sean McDermott on the phone.

"I really liked what I could see him bringing the Bills," Schmidt said. "After being here a few years, I knew that's what we need to go in the right direction."

He's made the move worth it for Buffalo, coming up big for the Bills in key situations. McDermott was criticized for punting in overtime against Indianapolis, but Schmidt did his job. He pinned the Colts at the 10, the defense got the ball back and the Bills went on to win the game.

Against Kansas City, Schmidt limited the explosive Tyreek Hill by directing his kicks to the sidelines. Schmidt punted seven times against the Chiefs, pinning Kansas City inside its 20 four times. Hill fielded two punts — one for a 5-yard return and the other for minus-5.

Last week, he had three punts inside the 20 against Miami, including one downed by Lafayette Pitts and Andre Holmes at the 1-yard line. He had another kick downed at the 1-yard line against Oakland when the game was tied at 7-7.

"As a team, how are we trying to win games?" Crossman said. "It changes week to week, but bottom line is the field position game and how we're helping ourselves in that part of the game is critical."

With the Bills ranking 29th in total offensive yards this season, consistently pinning the opposing offense back can be the difference between winning and losing games.

"It's a huge impact on the game, even though it's so subtle," Schmidt said.

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