Simplicity Will Rule Fourth Down

April 8th, 2024

New Bucs special teams chief Thomas McGaughey.

The Buccaneers’ new special teams coach was talking this week.

Thomas McGaughey was hired to replaced retired Keith Armstrong. Damn, Joe was happy when Armstrong hung up his coach’s whistle.

The Bucs needed new life in that coaching room, Joe believes, and McGaughey has a strong track record.

One thing Joe loves on McGaughey’s résumé? From 2018 through 2023, McGaughey’s special teams units ranked fifth in the NFL in fewest opponent yards per kick return (21.2) and ninth in fewest yards per punt returns (7.8). This is no coincidence in any shape or form.

McGaughey joined the Salty Dogs podcast this week and talked about how he super-simplifies everything to foster consistency. It’s necessary, he says, when you never know who will be assigned to special teams from one game to the next.

“It’s the old John Wooden, ‘Don’t mistake activity for achievement.’ And to me, repetition deepens the impression,” McGaughey said, referencing the late and legendary UCLA basketball coach.

“Keep it as simple as we can and just repeat the process over and over and over and over and over again. And just keep it simple,” McGaughey continued. “In our [special teams] phase, it’s always constant change. That’s the only thing that we have that’s consistent. So if I have these big elaborate schemes and it’s all of these intricate details, and it’s this check and that check and then somebody taps me on the shoulder and Todd [Bowles says], ‘Hey look, it’s Friday and I got to get this guy ready to play Sunday.’ Well, we only got a walk-through practice and we have six phases this guy might have to play. So we gotta get him ready.

“So if it’s all this elaborate detail in what you’re doing, you can’t make those types of adjustments. So what I try and do as a coordinator is get really good at the things that we do well, and just keep it simple so the guys can play fast and play physical.”

McGaughey went on to say Armstrong was a mentor of his, so he’s grateful to come to the Bucs knowing their special teams foundation is solid. (Joe’s research couldn’t find any time in which McGaughey and Armstrong were teammates).

McGaughey wants the Bucs’ special teams to “get more athletic,” and he scared Joe a bit while talking about how the new NFL kickoff play won’t really be mastered by anyone until the games start on the field.

That freaked Joe out for a moment. Joe can guarantee that at least a couple of NFL special teams coordinators will know exactly what to do and will be far ahead of their peers.

Joe suggests Team Glazer hire the smartest simulation programmers alive and AI consultants to get ahead of the curve when it comes to the new NFL kickoff play. No excuses.

27 Responses to “Simplicity Will Rule Fourth Down”

  1. Bucs Guy Says:

    I would be happy if the Bucs were at least average (16th) in special teams for 2024. They haven’t been that good for a while.

  2. JimBobBuc Says:

    I’m with you Joe. Bowles’ staff seem to always be behind the curve and catching up. The Bucs need to be all over the new kickoff rule, and need to take advantage of Camarda’s athleticism for some fake punts.

  3. WilieG Says:

    I want blocked punts!

  4. Cobraboy Says:

    I predict the new KO rule will look something like a traditional 3-down play, but with a lot of pulling/cross blocking.

    The secret to defending a KO will be ball placement, like goal line on the sideline.

  5. Rod Munch Says:

    I feed the text of the new rules into AI then told it to exploit it to give me a winning edge and this is what it suggests after thinking about it for 3 seconds… thus proving why everyone will be replaced by a robot in the new future.

    Analyzing the new NFL kickoff rules in detail, let’s pinpoint specific strategies that could create a distinct advantage:

    1. Exploiting the Landing Zone

    Strategic Kick Placement: Given that any kick landing short of the landing zone results in a penalty, place kicks to land just inside the landing zone but as close to the B20 yard line as possible. This limits the returner’s run-up, reducing the chance of a significant return. Kickers should practice kicks that have a steep descent, minimizing the return team’s ability to run up and catch the ball on the fly, which could disrupt their timing and positioning.

    2. Kickoff Team Alignment and Timing

    Rapid Acceleration After the Kick: Since the kicking team cannot move until the ball hits the ground or is touched, focusing on players who can accelerate quickly from a standstill could be beneficial. Positioning players who are sprinters or have exceptional first-step quickness at the edges could enable them to quickly close down space on the returner.

    Use of High Arc Kicks: By utilizing high arc kicks that take slightly longer to come down, the kicking team can maximize the time they have to cross the field post-kick, balancing the rule that they cannot move until the ball is touched. This would require a kicker with precise control over distance and hang time.

    3. Receiving Team Strategies

    Maximizing Setup Zone Use: Since at least nine players must be in the setup zone and cannot move until the kick has touched a player or the ground, training these players to quickly identify the ball’s trajectory and adjust their positioning accordingly can create effective blocking schemes or open return lanes.

    Dynamic Returner Positioning: Having returners who are skilled at quickly evaluating kick trajectory and adept at catching the ball on the run could exploit the requirement that kicks landing in the landing zone must be returned. Positioning one returner deeper and one closer, both capable of catching and running, could confuse the kickoff team and set up potential mismatches.

    4. Onside Kick Considerations

    Strategic Onside Kicks: With the option to declare an onside kick to the officials when trailing in the 4th quarter, practicing innovative onside kick techniques that can surpass the setup zone without being touched becomes critical. Designing unexpected kick trajectories that are hard to predict and catch by the receiving team could increase recovery chances.

    5. Penalty Exploitation

    Penalty Anticipation: Understanding how penalties affect the kick spot but not the alignment can be used to anticipate more favorable conditions for either safety kicks or regular kickoffs. Teams should develop strategies around when to aggressively go for a return based on the opposing team’s penalty tendencies.


    To truly exploit these rules, teams must innovate within the constraints provided, focusing on precision kicking, rapid acceleration from the kicking team, strategic use of the setup zone by the receiving team, creative onside kick strategies, and a deep understanding of how penalties interact with these new kickoff rules. Training specific scenarios under these rules could provide teams with a nuanced advantage that may not be immediately obvious to opponents or even fans.

  6. Fred McNeil Says:

    I’d sure like to see some better punt returns. I don’t have any Earthly idea how this new kickoff rule is going to work out. It sounds kinda screwy to me. We’ll see.

  7. Rod Munch Says:

    I told the AI that I already knew all that nonsense, to dig deeper… and it gave some additional suggestions….

    Opponent Signal Interception: While staying within the bounds of legality, develop advanced methods for intercepting and decoding the opposing team’s communication regarding kickoff return strategies. This could involve lip-reading, analyzing hand signals, or other methods to gain insights into the opponent’s planned response to your kickoffs, allowing for real-time tactical adjustments.

    “The Decoy Swarm”: Design an onside kick play where the ball is kicked directly into the ground, causing it to bounce high into the air – simulating the trajectory of a deep kick. Meanwhile, a group of specially trained players forms a “swarm” around the expected landing spot, obscuring the ball from the receiving team and creating confusion over who will attempt to secure the ball. This would require meticulous timing and practice to ensure that your team is not penalized for early movement or interference.

    Disinformation Campaign: Use media interviews, press releases, and social media to hint at or suggest new and innovative kickoff strategies or formations that you may or may not actually use. The goal is to force opponents to spend valuable practice time preparing for strategies you never intend to implement, diverting their focus from your real game plan.

    Decoy Speedsters: Employ one or two exceptionally fast players not to engage the returner directly but to run parallel paths that confuse blocking assignments and create hesitation among blockers in the setup zone. Their primary role is distraction, allowing your main wave of tacklers to penetrate with less resistance.

    The “Knuckleball” Kick: Much like a knuckleball in baseball, a kickoff that unpredictably wobbles and changes direction mid-air could significantly challenge the receiving team. This requires a kicker with a unique skill set to execute kicks that are hard to track and catch, especially under pressure. The aim is to create uncertainty and potentially force errors in the landing zone where the ball must be fielded or returned.


    Considering it’s a robot, and all it has in terms of current info is the text of the new play off the NFL website, it’s really remarkable how well the AI does here, and it does it all in a few seconds. This is why everyone will soon be unemployed.

  8. Todd Says:

    Rod, brilliant use of a large AI language model! Love the initiative. Smart.

  9. Boss Says:

    personally I would like to see us have to punt less and KO returns less.

    special teams should be experts by now and we have a GREAT kicker!

  10. sweti_yeti Says:

    His statement about mastering the new kickoff was realistic. Nobody is going to have it down in week 1, because they’ve never done it in live game action. Hopefully they can put up enough points in preseason so they have plenty of kickoff opportunities to practice it. Even so, nobody is going to have it down. It’s just not possible. In fact, if a coach doesn’t feel his team is up to covering it well, they may just continue asking their kicker to blast it through the end zone and get used to having opponents start from the 30. The smartest coaches will scheme it well and coach it well to be more prepared, but almost certainly will have to adjust their schemes as they see it play out in games.

  11. Rod Munch Says:

    Todd – I’m the hardest working poster on this site – really, of any site, ever. Not to brag, of course, I’m just the best. Ever. Wait until you read my next post, if it makes it through the filters…

  12. Rod Munch Says:

    Some AI created fanservice for everyone – covering the new kickoff rule and Todd’s love of running it up the middle…

    In the electrifying night, with the new kickoff rule sparking anticipation, Coach Todd Bowles’ gaze was intense, fixed on the field. His team executed the kickoff, the ball’s flight a perfect arc, landing provocatively in the zone. The opposition, constrained by rules, touched it—a mere prelude to what Todd yearned for.

    Then, the offense lined up, the air thick with expectation. Todd called it—the quintessential, assertive run up the middle. As the quarterback smoothly handed off the ball, it wasn’t just a play; it was a promise.

    The runner penetrated the defense with ease, slipping through the line like a secret whispered in the dark, a powerful surge that left the crowd gasping. Todd’s love for the game, embodied in this single, raw moment of pure, unadulterated power, was undeniable.

    In that instant, football wasn’t just a game. It was an intimate dance, Todd’s strategic mind playing to the rhythm of heartbeats, each yard gained a testament to the enduring allure of simplicity. The run up the middle—a bold, beautiful assertion that sometimes, the most direct path can also be the most thrilling.

  13. unbelievable Says:

    Or, you just hire an assistant coach from the XFL who has already been dealing with these kick offs… seems pretty easy.

  14. sweti_yeti Says:

    unbelievable Says:
    April 8th, 2024 at 6:19 pm

    Or, you just hire an assistant coach from the XFL who has already been dealing with these kick offs… seems pretty easy.

    Probably the best suggestion. I imagine most coaches will or already have sought out advice from coaches that have dealt with the new rules before.

  15. sweti_yeti Says:

    Rod Munch Says:
    April 8th, 2024 at 5:44 pm

    I feed the text of the new rules into AI then told it to exploit it to give me a winning edge and this is what it suggests after thinking about it for 3 seconds… thus proving why everyone will be replaced by a robot in the new future.

    One way to ensure you’re replaced by a robot is to participate in AI madness and encourage others to do so. You’re participating in your own obsolescence in using these ChatGPT and other tools.

  16. BigMacAttack Says:

    AI says: You always want to achieve maximum penetration when her defenses are down. Use caution trying to breach the rear door too rapidly because you could damage your shaft or blow the door apart.

  17. Dom Says:

    DeJean ran a 4.43 40 and got a 9.89/10 Relative Athletic Score at his pro day but I was told he isn’t athletic enough to play CB

  18. sweti_yeti Says:

    Dom Says:
    April 8th, 2024 at 7:04 pm

    DeJean ran a 4.43 40 and got a 9.89/10 Relative Athletic Score at his pro day but I was told he isn’t athletic enough to play CB

    There’s only one reason they say that, and ordinarily it wouldn’t be an unfair statement as the last white starting CB in the NFL was Jason Sehorn. But the numbers and tape don’t lie.

  19. Dave Pear Says:

    Jason should tell Todd to make this guy the defensive coordinator. That’s exactly what the defense needs instead of Todd’s Calculus 7 Laplace Transforms defense.

  20. Boss Says:

    This D does not have the front 4 to get it done. It relies on fancy schemes to find a hole.

  21. Dave Pear Says:

    Todd can’t coach simple. He’ll find a way to add several variants each with three scenarios depending on the look of the return team and the phases of the moons of Saturn.

  22. geno711 Says:

    I used AI to ask why Nuns always travel in pairs.

    It told me because each nun makes sure the other gets none.

  23. LouisFriend Says:

    Joe, Keith Armstrong and Thomas McGaughey both had NFL minority coaching fellowships together in 2006. So they’ve probably known each other a long time.

  24. Dave Pear Says:

    BTW – some funny shizzit on here. Thanks for the laughs Rod and Big Mac.

  25. Rod Munch Says:

    sweti_yeti – ah yes, the ‘ostriches’ method where you stick your head in the ground and hope whatever is happening will pass you by.

    It’s great advice for sure, but for me, personally, I welcome our new AI overlords and will willingly collaborate with them in hopes of being the last to be wiped out.

    Also, real point here … I’m not hippie or leftist … but what if AI and tech advances to the point that you don’t need humans to work, yet you have an increase in productivity? The goal of capitalism as always been to increase the standard of living for everyone – and what if we can do that while only needing people to work on a very limited or token basis with an increase of standard of living? I completely understand the idea of people needing something to do, but the adoption of technology in our past has just lead to an overall increase in quality of life for everyone. I don’t see why this would be any different.

  26. UKBuccaneer Says:

    AI will lead to socialism, Rod – because when everyone is unemployed, they’re gonna be reliant on universal income to live.

  27. Rod Munch Says:

    UKBuccaneer – Well it’s not that everyone would be unemployed, it would be that you won’t have a need to work – while also having very little or possibly even no poverty. The thing with socialism is that it just robs one class to give to another, and the system always fails because productivity falls as people don’t have an incentive to work hard.

    However I think this future we end up will have people living basically a middle class lifestyle by default, where you can pursue whatever you want – while those who are motivated to do so, can work and improve their lot in life. But most people will be very content to live a life where they are asked to do very little as machines, robots and AI tend to their every need.

    I don’t think we can directly compare whatever the future system will be to what we have now because we’ve never had unlimited labor before in the history of the world.

    I think the first big thing will be reductions in the work week, which we’re already seeing, going down to 4-day weeks, then instead of 8-hour days, it’s 6-hour days, etc.

    It will be a tough transition period, but that always happens when you have new breakthrough technology. However, in this case, I think the process is going to happen quite quickly once it starts.

    In any case, it will happen at some point in the not to distant future, so enjoy the ride, there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it.