Danny Crossman has laid down the law to members of the Buffalo Bills’ special teams units.
“That stuff’s done,” the Bills’ special teams coach said of the flurry of penalties called on his group the past two weeks. “There will be no repeat offenders. Two weeks it happened, I don’t like it, it drives me crazy.
“We’re not going to tolerate it, it’s not going to happen again. And if it is you again, we’re going to find somebody that’s not going to do that stuff.”
Six of the 14 penalties the Bills had in last Sunday’s 40-32 loss against the New England Patriots were on special teams. They wiped out strong kickoff and punt returns, and generally cost the Bills valuable field position on which the Patriots capitalized in building a 24-point lead Buffalo was never able to overcome.
That ugly stat, along with additional yellow flags thrown in the direction of Crossman’s crew in the Sept. 13 victory against Indianapolis, set a clear agenda when the Bills’ special-teamers gathered for meetings at the beginning of the week to prepare for Sunday’s game at Miami.
“We addressed it, kind of took all the emotion out of it,” receiver/special-teams ace Chris Hogan said. “We can’t hurt ourselves like that. We have some guys that can really be game-changers – Percy” Harvin "and" Marcus “Thigpen – especially when you see these kickers kicking the ball out of the end zone and five-second hang times” on punts. “When we get the opportunities, we want to take advantage of them. I think we’ll get some this week, maybe more in punt return, and we’ve got to take advantage and not hurt ourselves.”
Said running back Boobie Dixon, a special-teams standout, “First of all, we want to be the best special teams in the league. And to do that, we’ve got to do away with the penalties. We want to be aggressive, we want to be physical, but we’ve also got to be smart. Danny told us he wants us to be who we are, but he wants us to be smart more than anything.”
Crossman is realistic about the way games are officiated in the NFL. Flags will fly and special-teams play is under closer scrutiny than ever from officials.
His preference is no penalties, but his focus is on the ones that are avoidable.
“You’re going to have the penalties throughout the process of the play,” Crossman said. “You can play perfect technique and do everything right and, based on the vantage point of the guy making the call, sometimes you’re not going to get the call. So we live with those. As a coach I can correct that stuff.
“What we can’t live with and what is completely unacceptable are the pre-snaps: the false starts, the off-sides, the illegal procedures. And then, most importantly, the post-snaps: the personal fouls, which we’ve had three of them now. We had one in the first game and two in the second game. That’s the stuff that absolutely kills you and we can’t have.”
Coach Rex Ryan and numerous Bills players cited too much emotion as a reason for the barrage of penalties and the team’s overall mistake-filled performance last week. Emotion has a large role in special-teams play. Crossman understands that. In fact, as with any special-teams coach, he encourages it, because asking players to run full speed into a collision demands a certain level of over zealousness.
But there are times when it’s appropriate and times when it isn’t.
“As a coach, the key is, ‘What is that window? When does the window open and when does the window close?’” Crossman said. “The window opens when the ball is snapped, not before. That’s when you get the false starts, the illegal procedure, off-side. When the window’s closed, control that stuff. During the course of the play, we want that emotional play, but when the whistle blows, that window’s closed again.
“Stop the garbage. Can’t have it.”