To kick to him or not to kick to him. That is the question. Whether tis nobler in the mind to risk him breaking off a big return or just live with the field position.
Technically, Cordarrelle Patterson hasn’t broken for a kick return touchdown this season, but he still owns the mark for the most kickoff return touchdowns among active players and he leads the league in kick return average (29.0 ypr) among players with at least 12 returns.
Overall, Patterson has just 14 kick returns this season. Mainly because teams will go out of their way to kick it out of his way. In the past three games, he’s only had one kick return, with teams either opting to kick it out the back of the end zone or kicking short to the up man.
“When we get those short kicks and take them and put them on the 35, teams eventually get tired of giving us that extra 10 yards,” said Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio. “That’s the decision you have to make as a kickoff team – are you going to give him an opportunity to return it or not – and there are quite a few that are choosing not to.”
The Patriots, in the thin air in Mexico City, went with the touchback approach, sending six of their seven kickoffs out the back of the end zone. The other was to up man DeAndre Washington who returned it 16 yards to the 25.
You can’t really blame these teams for either choosing the 25-yard-line on a touchback – if their kicker has a strong enough leg to kick it out the back of the end zone – or taking the up man and a starting field position in the 30s. Previous to the last three games, Patterson’s returns went for 43, 35, and 26 yards and he always looks like he’s one missed tackle away from making them pay for putting the ball in his hands.
The Raiders have made sure he still gets his opportunities, however. The past two weeks especially, due to the absences of Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. In those games, Patterson has had catches of 59 and 54 yards. Most of those yards came after the catch. Opposing teams know if he can do it to their defense, he can do it to their special teams coverage units.
When the Raiders faced the Chiefs in week seven, they opted to send the ball out the back of the end zone on six of their seven kickoffs. I would expect that to be the order of the day once again.