Making the Special Teams Special: Part 1 Arrow Pointing UP

imgresAt the end of last season, there was a lot of talk of how the Packers special teams let us down. There was then a lot of action on the part of the Packers staff in letting Shawn Slocum go, making sure the head coach was in on the special teams meetings, and drafting versatile players who are likely to contribute to that group. With OTA’s happening now and Training Camp on the way, it is time to take a closer look at the Packers’ special teams and identify the good, the bad, and the ugly. Today we are going to start with a look at two games that give us insight into whether the Packers special teams kick return unit was trending up or down when last year came to such an abrupt and ignominious end. I think you will be surprised. 

What I compared was the Packers starting field position in the first week (against Seattle) to the Packers starting field position in the NFC Championship (also against Seattle) and tried to discern if the Packers were on an upward trend or a downward trend. Both of these games were against the Seahawks and both were played away from Lambeau Field. The benchmark for this comparison is the 20 yard line, the reason for this is that it takes touch-backs out of the scenario. So anything on the positive side of the 20 yard line is counted as a positive and anything less than the 20 yard line is considered a negative. The average field position is calculated accordingly.

When the Packers marched out onto the field against the Seahawks in week one of the 2014 season, aimages lot of us in Packernation…well, we expected better. Of course it was the first game of the season but with the way McCarthy had spoken about the progress of the team, Packernation expected a better showing. The Packers starting field position in week one, if the 20 yard line is the zero point, was a plus 2.1 yards. That means that the Packers started on average at the 22.1 yard line. But that includes the first quarter touchdown series that started on the Seattle 34 (net 46 yards past the 20). Without that return, the Packers starting field position would have been…drumroll please…roughly the 17 yard line…for the whole game. This…is a starting field position nightmare.

So the Packer starting field position was atrocious in the first meeting against the Seahawks. What we are trying to determine is if the arrow is pointing up for these guys. The perfect comparison came in the Packers’ last game of the season against the Seahawks…and in Seattle. Did the Packers starting field position improve?

Well, where in the first meeting the Packers started just two yards past the 20 on average, in the Championship game the Packers offense started…on average…over 16 yards past the 20 yard line. This included only two starts behind the 20 yard line and 3 at the 20. But a solid improvement meant that the Packers would have every opportunity to win the NFC Championship. We didn’t get the job done but the starting field position offered by the special teams was certainly not the problem. The real problem in that game was not the special teams (who, admittedly, blew it at the end) but the inability of the Packers to convert in the red zone.

So, if the Packers start where they left off. they will already be on an upward trend. Eliminating Ty Montgomerymistakes is the easy part. The Packers eliminated the player who made the mistake. But the low-lying fruit of the special teams may have been picked at the end of last season…at least in terms of starting field position. If that is the case, the Packers will be fine tuning and improving their special teams with some of the versatile, driven players that they picked up in the 2014 draft. One wildcard will be the absence of Jarrett Bush. But we will see.

Can the special teams be “special” in 2015? I think they can. But we will continue to look into the reasons they let us down in 2014 and the ways that they can bounce back in 2015 in this continuing series.

Go Pack!

Making the Special Teams Special: Part 1 Arrow Pointing UP
Tagged on:                                                                         

2 thoughts on “Making the Special Teams Special: Part 1 Arrow Pointing UP

  • June 4, 2015 at 10:33 pm

    Keep the posts a coming

  • June 5, 2015 at 10:58 am

    I rewatched the NFC Championship game a couple days ago. It was just as painful this time. Plenty of blame to go around in this one. Even with the 16-0 and 19-7 leads, it was a perfect storm that our coaches and players handed to Seattle. That loss was due to failures in all 3 aspects of the game.

    ST was a big part of our success in this game. Crosby was 5/5 and kept putting the ball deep on kick offs. We covered kicks and punts very well for the most part. Brad Jones (of all people) caused a fumble during a kick return. Our own kick and punt returns were solid for the most part.

    But ST was also a big part of why we lost. We failed to cover on the fake FG when only a TD hurt us. HHCD failed to knock down an easy 2 pt conversion pass (that’s 2 Hail Marys answered for Wilson in our last 3 games). We failed to recover the onside kick. Masthay punted line drives all game long, and finally cost him late in the game. Bostick made 2 mistakes, not letting Jordy make a play on the ball, and failing to catch it. But Slocum and the rest of his ST made a few mistakes that were just as bad. And it could have been worse, as Hyde muffed an easy fair catch that he was lucky to recover.

    It wasn’t just the red zone, our offense was far from spectacular. Rodgers was not sharp. It happens. But 19 total points with 5 take aways is pathetic. Hard to imagine any NFL team not putting up more points vs Seattle with that many take aways.

    I agree that the red zone was a problem though, and it was in several other games too, including NE and Detroit at home, Detroit, Buffalo, and Miami on the road. Seems like we’re the only team in the NFL who doesn’t successfully run a play action pass to a TE or RB in goal line situations against a stacked box. If Kuhn can’t run it in, we can’t run it in. I understand Rodgers was hurting, but give him a chance to make a play with his head. I want the ball in my best player’s hands in critical situations, and that’s Rodgers for us.

    McCarthy’s overly conservative and predictable play calling didn’t help. There’s no better example than what happened after Seattle took the lead. Rodgers quickly and easily drove down the field. We had all 3 TOs, over a minute left, and 30 yards for the winning TD. Sherman hadn’t been challenged since hurting his elbow, to see if he could still cover and tackle. But McCarthy chose to run out the clock and put the tie on Crosby’s leg. I’ll never understand that logic. He put that pressure on Crosby, and our line had given up way too many blocked kicks already. Not to mention that it gave the home team a chance to win it in OT. All without taking a shot with the best QB in the NFL.

    Our D played the game of their lives for the vast majority of the game. But they, and Capers, made huge mistakes too, and every possible mistake in the last 7 mins. HHCD drops the easiest INT of the game, would have been his 3rd and had a clear shot to the end zone. Burnett gives up at least 10 yards on an INT return, possibly much more, when a FG puts this game out of reach. Capers called man to man coverage with no safety over the top 3 times (once when Lynch almost scored at the end of regulation, and twice in a row in OT), all 3 resulted in huge plays for Seattle – including the game winning TD.

    Hopefully play calling on both sides of the ball, red zone execution, and ST are vastly improved this year. Remains to be seen how good this year’s team is, and if we can avoid season changing injuries. But I still believe that we had the best team in the NFL last year, which made losing in the way that we did, hurt that much more. :(


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *