RENTON, Wash. (AP) — For most of his career, Jon Ryan's task was to change field position with booming punts.
And then the Seattle Seahawks decided they wanted to change their punting approach. They wanted Ryan to pull back and use hang time and directional punting to take away the danger of giving up long returns.
"That's been my whole career is going after the ball and smashing it. So it's a little bit different," Ryan said. "For me, it's taking the driver out of my hands a little bit. It seems to be working, so I'm not going to complain."
The Seahawks have been exceptional with achieving their goal this season. Entering the season finale against St. Louis, the Seahawks have allowed only 25 punt return yards on 16 returns this season. They're on pace to set an NFL record for fewest return yards allowed in a 16-game season.
It's an obscure record but highlights the importance Seattle has put on its special teams.
"We're very confident that we can control that and do a great job there, but you have to have the consistency of the coverage," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "But Jon has really been the key factor and continuing to be so solid that we know where the ball is going and we've been able to control that factor."
Ryan has been among the most consistent punters in the league ever since coming to Seattle in 2008. He averaged more than 45 yards in four of his previous five seasons with the Seahawks. His net average of 40.8 yards last season was a franchise record.
But the plan changed for this season. Seattle didn't want the booming kicks anymore. It wanted control and direction, and an opportunity to limit the number of returns.
The results are two-fold. Ryan's average is down nearly four yards per punt and on the verge of a career-low. But through a combination of the increased hang time and solid cover downfield, the Seahawks have allowed only 16 returns all season. The 25 yards in returns Seattle has allowed include 10 yards to Carolina in the season opener, seven to St. Louis and six last week to Arizona.