After a stretch of underwhelming performances from the 49ers special teams, they generated some game-changing turnovers in Sunday’s 26-23 overtime win against the Bengals. Cincinnati committed the game’s only two turnovers, both fumbles, while attempting to return punts from Niners’ punter Mitch Wishnowsky.
49ers special teams coordinator Richard Hightower discussed why he believes Wishnowsky is particularly adept at inducing muffed returns in his weekly media availability.
“He’s uber talented, he’s super talented. And you guys have seen the progression in his career going into the third year. But he can hang the ball, he’s got so many different tricks in his bags, so many different clubs in his bag that his balls just fall different ways, depending on which balls he wants to kick and when he wants to use those. And we obviously talk about that stuff collectively, and he’s done a nice job with that over the years he’s been here.”
Hightower pointed out that Wishnowsky has had 16 punts muffed or bobbled in his three-year career, with five coming this year and creating three turnovers. Wishnowsky’s unique athletic background, as a longtime Australian rules football player, has given him plenty of practice with different types of kicks. Hightower explained that Wishnowsky and the coaching staff discuss various ways to attack returners each week.
“Yeah, wind is always a factor when you talk about those things, but there are also tendencies of the returner as well. Those things you talk about as well depending on, not saying that was the case with that kid last week. He’s a good player. I’m not saying anything against that guy. But, those are the things you study in general. Every week, what balls does he struggle to catch? What balls does he not like? Which direction does he not like going? Does he struggle with a right to left wind? Does he struggle with a left to right wind? Does he struggle with a banana ball? Does he struggle with, you know, just different types of kicks and see if you can find a way to help your football team. And I’m glad the punt team was able to do that last week and help the football team.”
While he did not say which punt was which, Hightower acknowledged the two muffed punts by Bengals safety Darius Phillips were on two different styles of punts.
Now, heading into this week’s game against the Falcons, Hightower and Wishnowsky will hope to continue challenging opposing returners.