Is Special Weems Wobbling On Special Teams?

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 13: Eric Weems #14 of the Atlanta Falcons is tackled by Scott Shanle #58 of the New Orleans Saints at the Georgia Dome on November 13, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

I've broken one of my cardinal rules here at The Falcoholic. It's a simple one, really. Guys who perform really well should be credited, while guys who mess up should be called out. I try not to ignore anyone.

Unfortunately, that's exactly what I've done with Eric Weems. In the nine recaps I've written this season, I think I've mentioned him three times. Given his performance thus far in 2011, Special Weems should be getting a lot more scrutiny.

Over the jump we go!

Let's start with the obvious: The new kickoff rules are killing Weems. Through nine games, he has 16 returns. That leaves him on pace to have about 28-30 returns for the year, after having 40 or more in 2009 and his 2010 Pro Bowl season. He has 10 fair catches on punts and has looked extremely tentative. Everything that follows from here should be viewed through the prism of his job getting much tougher

Swing a machete through those numbers and you come to more unpleasant stats. For example, Weems is averaging nearly five full yards less a kick return than a year ago (22.6, down from 27.5) and more than three yards a punt (9.5 from 12.8). According to Football Outsiders, the team's kick return is -1.4 DVOA, or Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, and its punt return is 1.1 percent. That means Atlanta's return game is, on balance, just about league average.

Then consider that Weems was the author of two bone-headed penalties against the Saints last week, has made questionable decisions on returns throughout the year and adds basically nothing as a receiver (4 receptions, 29 yards, 7.3 yards per reception) and you might come to the same unpleasant conclusion I have. Eric Weems is not helping this football team.

I write this not to start a witch hunt but to acknowledge the obvious. I've ragged on the Falcons all throughout the year for inconsistency, a lack of quality execution and dumb penalties, and at times I've probably jabbed an accusatory finger at people who don't deserve it. But Weems and the returns teams have flown under the radar because they're not in on every play and Weems just made the Pro Bowl a year ago. That has to stop.

It might be time to work Dominique Franks in, at least on punt returns, because he's barely playing on defense and he flashed some promise in pre-season. That will give the Falcons a better sense of whether Weems is the problem, or if it's the blocking and the new rules at work. Either way, he has got to stop drawing penalties.

Do you think special teams needs improvement? If so, what would you do to improve it?

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