It was a good year for the Buffalo Bills' special teams in 2011. The Bills ranked 11th overall on special teams, according to the annual Dallas Morning News survey, which is considered the standard for bomb-squad units in the NFL. Given the fact the Bills put 17 players on injured reserve during the season, it's a particularly impressive ranking.
Highlighting the Bills' special teams efforts for the season was the kickoff coverage unit, which ranked No. 1 in the league, holding opponents to an average of 20.4 yards per return. The Bills scored once on returns, thanks to Leodis McKelvin's 80-yard punt return for a touchdown in the win against Denver. Buffalo had no giveaways on punt or kickoff returns. Coach Bruce DeHaven's units also had only 11 penalties on kicking plays, tied for the fourth fewest in the league. The ranking takes into account 22 categories of special teams production. Buffalo has ranked No. 1 in the league four times since the survey began in 1990. DeHaven's units were No. 1 in 1996. Former Bills aide Bobby April's units were No. 1 in 2004, 2005 and 2008.
The Bills ranked fourth in punt return average and 23rd in kickoff return average. Buffalo got to return only 37 kickoffs, tied for sixth fewest in the league. Punter Brian Moorman ranked fourth in gross average. The Bills were 22nd in net punting average. The Bills allowed one blocked punt, at Miami. The Bills blocked three kicks themselves, two field goals and an extra point. The Bills probably would have been in the top 10 in the ranking if place-kicker Rian Lindell hadn't gone down for the year with a shoulder injury while making a tackle on a kickoff in the eighth game of the year. Replacement Dave Rayner was 10 of 15 on field-goal tries (66.7 percent), and the Bills ranked only 31st on field-goal accuracy percentage.
The San Francisco 49ers won the season title for special teams. Niners special teams coach Brad Seely has had the top ranked unit with three different teams, including Cleveland in 2009 and Indianapolis in 1992. The Niners were No. 1 in kickoff returns, net punting and field goals made. Ironically, the Niners' season ended in the NFC title game on two muffed returns. Miami was second, Chicago third, Tennessee fourth and New England fifth. The bottom three were Carolina (32), Detroit (31) and Kansas City (30).