Shawn Slocum's special teams squads improved slightly over their performance in 2009 - mostly because they had nowhere to go but up after a dismal showing last season.
Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News ranked the Packers 29th out of 32 teams in his annual review of Special Teams units. Interestingly enough, the last NFL champion, the New Orleans Saints, had the exact same rating when they won the Super Bowl.
So does that speak to how unimportant special teams really are, despite the clichéd saying that all three phases of the game are important? Doubtful. More probably, the Saints and Packers were good enough in most every other area of the game to overcome the mediocre play of their special teams.
From Bob McGinn:
Certainly the Packers were better disciplined and organized than they had been in coach Shawn Slocum's first season as coordinator in '09. They trimmed their horrendous penalty total of 32 in 17 games to 22 in 20 games, which was their best penalty rate since '06. Slocum's yearlong battle to curb holding penalties succeeded (three this season compared with 14 in '09). The Packers found a capable punter in Tim Masthay, who had three phenomenal games. Despite not having a legitimate return man, the Packers did tie for 10th in average starting position (27.6). On the other hand, they ranked 31st in opponents' starting position (29.8). Thanks largely to two fumbles by Jordy Nelson in one game (home against Detroit), the units had their poorest turnover differential (minus-1) since '06. Tramon Williams, who didn't lose any of his five fumbles, swung the Week 16 struggle against Chicago toward the Packers with a 41-yard punt return. The best core player was enthusiastic, tough Jarrett Bush.
I know fans want Slocum gone. It's hard not to when you see things like an offensive lineman returning a kickoff down to the five yard line. But the unit does seem to have improved from 2009 to 2010. Should McCarthy give Slocum another year to see if he can continue the improvement?
Or should McCarthy start over? I know continuity is of greater importance to any football team than most fans realize but it should be noted that the Patriots, number one in Gosselin's rankings, were under the tutelgae of new coordinator Scott O’Brien. Now, O'Brien had coached special teams before - he was actually Belichick's special teams coordinator back in Cleveland. But it was his first year with this team.
Maybe that's what the Packers need to do - inject some new life into the unit by bringing in new ideas and new schemes. That said, the improvement noted by McGinn above could very well signal that things are headed in the right direction.
Teams don't stand still, as we all know. They are either getting better or getting worse. If McCarthy chooses to keep Slocum another year, which are the Packers doing?
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