With just over five minutes to go in the first quarter last Sunday, Mike McCarthy called yet another special teams trick play. So far this season, the Packers have used a fake field goal and a fake punt; on Sunday they pulled out the surprise onside kick.
It’s risky. You lose the ball, and the other team has great field position and momentum. Few teams run the play. Yet the Packers are quietly becoming the surprise onside kicking team of the NFL. Over the past three seasons, the Packers have run one surprise onside kick a season, and they have converted all of them.
In his first two seasons with the Packers, Mason Crosby kicked 5 onside kicks, and the Packers recovered none of them. And in the regular season in 2009, Crosby wasn’t much better, converting on one of three. Then came the post season.
In a shootout with the Cardinals, the Packers found themselves down by two touchdowns half way through the third quarter. Realizing the Packers defense was failing to stop the then high powered Cardinals offense and Kurt Warner, Mike McCarthy called the surprise onside kick. The Packers recovered, and went on to score a touchdown on that drive.
Since that onside kick, Mason Crosby has converted three out of four attempts. The three converted kicks were all surprises, and the one that failed was kicked out of bounds in a last ditch attempt to win in Kansas City last season.
In 2010, the Packers opened the game versus the Patriots with an onside kick. In 2011, the Packers surprised the Denver Broncos with an onside kick at the end of the first quarter. Both times the Packers recovered and went on to score on the drive, a field goal and touch down respectively.
The Packers have used the surprise onside kick to bury weaker opponents, to shock better teams, and to make up for deficiencies on their own team. There’s a theory that teams that resort to trick plays to win games are weaker teams, teams that can’t win by simply playing the game.
In instances like the Cardinals and Patriots games, the Packers clearly used the surprise onside kick as a trick to get a leg up. And while the Packers lost both of those games, the decision to run the surprise onside kick helped motivate the Packers and kept the games close. But versus the Broncos and the most recent example, last Sunday versus the Rams, the Packers used it as simply another weapon in their arsenal.
Whatever the reasoning, it is clear that the surprise onside kick is something that the Packers excel at, and be it a trick play or not, they have found a way to utilize it in a variety of game situations.
Will the Packers run the surprise onside kick again this season? Probably not. But just like with the Packers running game. Sometimes it’s just the threat that it might happen that keeps the opponent guessing, and helps the Packers win.
Mike McCarthy and Shawn Slocum have made a statement with the Packers Special Teams trick plays. Opponents should take no Packers play lightly, be it the opening kickoff or a field goal on a fourth and 26 play, because if they do, the Packers will make them pay.
Jayme Joers is a writer at CheeseheadTV’s Eat More Cheese and co-host of CheeseheadRadio. She also contributes to Pocketdoppler.com. You can contact her via twitter at @jaymelee1 or email at Jaymelee1@gmail.com.