RENTON, Wash. -- About a month or so ago, the members of the Seattle Seahawks' punt coverage team began to realize that what is one of the oldest and most obscure of NFL records could soon be theirs.
As the Seahawks prepare to play the New York Giants on Sunday, they have allowed just 15 yards on punt returns all season.
The NFL record for fewest yards allowed on punt returns in a season is 22, set by the last of Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers teams in 1967. That, though, came in a 14-game season. The record for a 16-game season is 30 by the Buffalo Bills in 1982, a squad coached by Chuck Knox the year before he came to Seattle.
Either mark is fine with the Seahawks.
"If we can break a record, that's definitely something we can take pride in," said special-teams captain Heath Farwell. "That's something we have been eyeballing for a while."
The last time the Seahawks allowed a punt-return yard was Oct. 28, when they held St. Louis' Tavon Austin, one of the more dangerous returners in the NFL, to 7 yards on three returns.
"That's when we started talking about it a little bit," said punter Jon Ryan.
Two years ago, Seattle had one of its worst seasons covering punts, allowing 541 yards, third-most in team history.
Ryan was the punter then, too, a year when he set a club record with an average of 46.6 yards. This year, he's averaging 42.6 yards. But less has turned out to be more.
"When I was younger, I gave up a lot of return yards because I was known as a big-leg guy that liked to get it out there but didn't always have the greatest hang time," Ryan said. "So a lot of those punts were coming back 10-15 yards every time. Those add up."
This year, Ryan more often uses "an Aussie kick," a style used in Australian Rules Football. Essentially, the ball is kicked on the nose instead of in the middle, creating an end-over-end punt rather than a spiral.
"By doing that I can control the ball and where I place it and the distance a little bit easier than the traditional spiral punt," Ryan said. That makes punts harder to return and easier for those covering to get in position to make tackles.
Ryan has used it for years when he wanted the ball downed inside the 10 or 20. "We're doing it a lot more in the open field," he said.
Another big factor is punt-team coverage, particularly primary gunners Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane, who line up outside and race downfield.
"It's just unbelievable how fast they are getting down there and forcing fair catches," said Farwell.
In fact, 22 of Ryan's 52 punts have been fair caught, the second-highest percent in the NFL (Denver has 23 fair catches on 52 punts. Only 13 of Ryan's punts have been returned, also No. 2 in the league. The longest return against Seattle this season is 10 by Carolina's Ted Ginn Jr. in the season opener.
Seattle, meanwhile, has gained 461 yards on its own punt returns, which ranks third in the NFL. The differential of 446 is the widest in the league.
The punt team hasn't been perfect. Ryan had a kick blocked last week when the team blew a simple a blocking assignment.
"When you can't get much of a return, the alternative is to rush us and hurry (Ryan)," Farwell said.
With three regular-season games left, though, history remains in their sights.
(c)2013 The Seattle Times
Visit The Seattle Times at www.seattletimes.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services