Packers Special Teams Have Been Anything But Special Lately

The Green Bay Packers are 9-3-0 and have a solid hold on first place in the NFC North division. But that doesn’t mean the team still doesn’t have areas that need improvement. One of those areas in recent games has been special teams.

The Packers have struggled on special teams in recent years, usually ranking near the bottom of the league overall in that category. This year has been no exception. The Packers are struggling in almost every area of special teams, especially in recent weeks.

While kicker Mason Crosby has been a perfect 14-for-14 on field goals, he has already missed three extra points this season including missing them on back-to-back games against the Bears and Eagles. It’s been a challenging season for Crosby who started training camp on the Covid-19 reserve list and has dealt with several nagging injuries that nearly kept him out of several games. For a few weeks, Crosby was unable to kickoff although he has since resumed those duties.

Meanwhile, punter J.K. Scott has had another slump in November and that has carried on into early December. Scott has shanked a few punts during that stretch, costing the Packers valuable field position. He has also had one punt blocked this season. The former Alabama star has also allowed a pair of punt returns for touchdowns in recent games and made embarrassing efforts at tackles on both of those scores.

Head coach Matt LaFleur wasn’t pleased with the punt coverage and said so after the win over the Eagles on Sunday. “We can’t have that happen,” LaFleur told reporters. “I don’t think that was J.K.’s best punt by any stretch. I know and he knows we have to be more consistent in that regard. And just, the coverage, we just can’t have that happen.”

LaFleur added, “We’ve just got to get better. We’ve got to make sure we’ve got the right people in there to go down and make a play because that can’t happen and you’re right, that can get you beat.”

The return game has also struggled. The Packers were on pace for a record poor punt return mark last season before the signing of Tyler Ervin for the final four games. In fact, the Packers had negative punt return yardage over the first 12 games in 2019.

This year, Ervin has struggled with injuries and is now on the IR. His numbers as a punt returner have been down when he’s been in the lineup. Last season, Ervin averaged 9.6-yards per punt return with Green Bay. This season, he is averaging just 4.0-yards per runback. On kick returns, Ervin averaged 26.7-yards per runback in 2019, this season, he’s averaged only 19.6.

When Ervin has been out of the lineup, the Packers have not had any alternatives that have struck fear in the hearts of opposing teams. Malik Taylor has averaged just 17.7-yards per kick return while the since departed Darrius Shepherd averaged 20.6-yards per return and had issues holding on to the football.

On punt returns, Shepherd averaged just 6.0-yards per runback while Josh Jackson has averaged just 6.5.

The overall numbers aren’t pretty. The Packers as a team are averaging 4.9-yards per punt return while their opponents are averaging 19.4-yards per runback. Meanwhile, on kick returns, Green Bay is averaging 18.8-yards per return while opponents are averaging 22.6.

The Packers will now turn to the recently signed Tavon Austin who is expected to make his Packers debut on Sunday against the Lions. Austin has played seven years in the NFL with the Rams and Cowboys and is considered a dangerous punt returner.

Austin ran back one punt return for a touchdown in each of his first three NFL seasons including a 98-yard jaunt in his rookie season against the Colts.

Packers special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga spoke about Austin in his press conference with reporters last week. “He’s an established returner that’s created big plays and had a lot of big things happen,” Mennenga said. “He’s definitely dangerous with the ball in his hands.”

Austin at least provides the Packers with hope that the return game can be revitalized until Ervin is healthy again or perhaps beyond that if Austin proves himself an upgrade at the position.

Mennenga perhaps said it best when he added, “It’s frustrating when you put the time and the effort in like we do. You always want good results. We want to help the team win and when you don’t do those things, it’s very frustrating.”

The Packers have four games left to get things straightened out before the playoffs begin. A big play on special teams either way could make the difference between an early playoff exit or a trip to the Super Bowl.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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Comments (31)

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Coldworld's picture

December 10, 2020 at 12:07 pm

If the blocking in returns is as poor as the coverage on our kicks, going to take something extraordinary to fix this group at this point.

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GilMartin's picture

December 10, 2020 at 12:38 pm

Let's hope it isn't beyond repair. The special teams has to at least do no harm. Thanks for the comment, Coldworld.

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Leatherhead's picture

December 10, 2020 at 05:08 pm

Given that you can’t block below the waist or in the back, it’s hard to throw a good block on returns. Another reason we should not return, IMO.

Fair catch punts. Guard against fake punts.
Don’t return kicks unless you have to, and get down to the ground before you fumble it.

No turnover, no penalty, give the ball to Rodgers &Co.

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GilMartin's picture

December 11, 2020 at 07:32 pm

As crazy as that may sound, it's not a bad strategy when you have an offense like the Packers do. Like doctors, the first thing special teams has to do on this team is do no harm. Thanks for the comment, Leatherhead.

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Michael Nault's picture

December 10, 2020 at 12:36 pm

Love the Tom Waites albums

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splitpea1's picture

December 10, 2020 at 12:40 pm

Need a whole new mentality on special teams and some better players to go along with it. But I'm not holding my breath. Not only has this unit been a problem recently, but largely so for a couple of decades. Remember some of the punters we've had? And a blocked kick is something you see once only in a blue moon ( though I do recall Datone Jones blocking an XP and a FGA). Coverage shouldn't be this much of a recurring problem, either.

So a lot needs to be fixed. My only comment is that if there's a will, there's a way. Just get it done, Coaching Staff and Front Office. Hopefully they've found a competent replacement for Ervin in Austin.

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jannes bjornson's picture

December 10, 2020 at 01:00 pm

That's about it.

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GilMartin's picture

December 11, 2020 at 07:34 pm

Agree that special teams have been an issue for far too long. This season there is even more turnover at the bottom of rosters because of Covid-19 and the expanded practice squad rules and IR rules. Still, we have to do better than this. Thanks for the comment, splitpea1.

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TheVOR's picture

December 10, 2020 at 01:02 pm

Mason Crosby has been a perfect 14-for-14 on field goals, he has already missed three extra points this season including missing them on back-to-back games against the Bears and Eagles.

For me, this has been troublesome. Crosby doesn't do these things, he seldom has missed extra points, it's freakish rare. To have had 3 already is just troublesome. I'm wondering how much the injury has set him back. I love this specialist, always have, I'm a huge fan of his, but a missed extra point in the wrong game, and it's lights out. Gotta get that fixed.

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Leatherhead's picture

December 10, 2020 at 05:36 pm

Considering how many extra points he’s had to attempt, followed by a kickoff......maybe his leg is overworked.

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jlc1's picture

December 11, 2020 at 08:01 am

That's the spirit Leatherhead!

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flackcatcher's picture

December 11, 2020 at 09:37 am

Extra points missed this year have been in the south endzone. Ever since the Packers enclosed Lambeau Field. The wind has really been funky on that side of the stadium.

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GilMartin's picture

December 11, 2020 at 07:36 pm

I think the injury may have something to do with it. I am also a long-time Crosby fan. I think he'll be good in the clutch when it matters. The Packers can't let special teams be their undoing this year. Thanks for the comment, TheVOR.

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Lphill's picture

December 10, 2020 at 01:06 pm

And with all these issues Hunter Bradley is the highest rated long snapper in the NFL.

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GilMartin's picture

December 11, 2020 at 07:42 pm

Well, there's a plus, at least. Thanks, Lphill.

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ricky's picture

December 10, 2020 at 01:58 pm

If Mennenga thinks he's frustrated at the play of the ST's, he hasn't spent much time with Packers fans. It's a combination of not having the horses and the coach being.... less than stellar.

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GilMartin's picture

December 11, 2020 at 07:43 pm

It's very frustrating because it's been a problem for so long. Thanks for the comment, ricky.

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canadapacker's picture

December 10, 2020 at 02:54 pm

A couple of things to note - Green got hurt playing special teams. You dont want your regular guys running down on punts and kickoffs with the exception of some back ups. Secondly you need to practice which we cannot do because both of Covid and the CBA limits that . Thirdly - I am glad to date that we are at least not taking too many penalties. I mean when you get the ball on the 25 but it is backed up to the 12 because of a penalty on a kickoff - or you fair catch a punt on the 10 and you take a half the distance penalty - those are drive killers before they start. Finally our decision making on the punts has been poor as well catch the ball if it is not going to make the endzone - last game we let it die at the 2 should have caught it at the 7. Smart punt returners know the angles of the kick and when to and when not to catch it. Finally - most special teamers are back ups - with the odd exception. Maybe we have not been stocking the team with guys who can do both.

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splitpea1's picture

December 10, 2020 at 03:10 pm

Agree with all of this. Greene is relatively small, and we ask him to do a lot...Minimizing the penalties, especially the dumb ones, is one of the few bright spots....Some of our other special teamers have also been lost to injury, and that doesn't help.

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canadapacker's picture

December 10, 2020 at 06:46 pm

Yes - Dillon is back at practice - Over his first seven games, Dillon rushed 23 times for 97 yards and caught one pass for 16 yards. He played 49 snaps on offense and 47 on special teams.

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GilMartin's picture

December 11, 2020 at 07:46 pm

the penalties on returns are down, which is a positive. Yes, the practice time is reduced and that hurts all aspects of the game including special teams. It is upsetting when key players get hurt on special teams and I am concerned about Greene's loss because he plays an important role in Pettine's defense. We'll see if we can improve things a bit down the stretch. Thanks for some good points, canadapacker.

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TarynsEyes's picture

December 10, 2020 at 03:01 pm

I guess it's safe to assume this speech didn't happen in GB.

https://screenrec.com/share/ExYtN24KgS

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Leatherhead's picture

December 10, 2020 at 05:39 pm

No, it’s make-believe.

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PatrickGB's picture

December 10, 2020 at 03:28 pm

We don’t have real gunners. No Janis, no Bush heck not even a Travis Jervey on the roster. The loss of Lovett is being felt.

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GilMartin's picture

December 11, 2020 at 07:47 pm

Definitely a missing element this year. I wonder if we can find one before the season is over. Thanks for the comment, PatrickGB.

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Leatherhead's picture

December 10, 2020 at 04:58 pm

The NFL has seen four punts returned for TDs , and two of them have been against the Packers. Almost unbelievably, we still won both games. We have had 14 punts returned....all the rest were touchbacks, out of bounds, or fair catch.

What were we trying to accomplish on those returned punts? Was it important enough to risk a TD? I mean, I’d rather kick it 30 yards, no return, than risk a TD. How many times does this need to happen?

Don’t let your special teams beat you. We don’t punt that much anyway, so punt it high and short or knock it out of bounds. Either way, no returns and no penalties. Put the starters on the field and get your bottom of the roster back on the sidelines.

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GilMartin's picture

December 11, 2020 at 07:50 pm

It makes sense, Leatherhead. Make sure the special teams do no harm. I hope we can reach that level. Thanks for the comment.

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Packers0808's picture

December 10, 2020 at 05:59 pm

Just punt it out of bounds, no run back, no threat of horrendous ST play or run back!

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GilMartin's picture

December 11, 2020 at 07:51 pm

Shorter punts that way, but it could work to prevent big plays. Thanks for the comment, Packers0808.

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Jackkalis's picture

December 11, 2020 at 01:40 am

Nice post

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GilMartin's picture

December 11, 2020 at 07:51 pm

Thanks, Jackkalis. Glad you enjoyed it.

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