While the Green Bay Packers are 11-3 on the season, their success has not come without its fair share of stress. There have been slow offensive starts to games, complete defensive breakdowns in the early goings (which the Packers have rectified), and whatever the special teams have been doing.
My column last week looked at Amari Rodgers and how his complete lack of impact is a gigantic stain on what is an already blotched special teams outfit. Green Bay has spent a large part of the season trying to deduce what exactly is wrong with this unit. They simply cannot execute the most simple tasks. Players are muffing punts, committing penalties, and return yardage is lackluster. It is not hard to imagine a world where the special teams unit costs the Packers a playoff victory, à la Brandon Bostick’s infamous fumbled onside kick return.
Yes, things have been bad. At least it’s been acknowledged by head coach Matt LaFleur. Before this week’s victory over the Baltimore Ravens, LaFleur talked about how the team will have “all hands on deck” as it attempts to suss out its problems. In this press conference, LaFleur cited how Green Bay may look to integrate more of its offensive and defensive players that are usually in the regular scrimmage rotation.
In theory, this should have worked out. It would certainly come at the expense of the impending fatigue of valuable skill-position players, but somebody had to step up to help the special teams. Green Bay had shown no signs of moving on from special teams coordinator Mo Drayton, so the next logical variable was to change out some of the players.
On Sunday against Baltimore, it did not work out.
When the Packers got the ball for the first time on offense, they started on their own seven-yard line, went three-and-out, and looked to Corey Bojorquez to use his gigantic leg to give the Ravens bad field position. Instead, Isaac Yiadom smashed into the punt returner for an easy 15-yard penalty. Baltimore started their drive on Green Bay’s 47-yard line, and eight plays later, they had their first score of the game.
The penalty that Yiadom committed is one that even a first-grader would know not to do. He ran into that punt returner like Adam Sandler ran into those dudes that dissed his momma in The Waterboy. Regardless of how late the returner called for the fair catch, it was an inexcusable error for a professional football player. Strike one for Yiadom’s hands on deck.
The next gaffe came on a kickoff early in the third quarter when Justin Tucker pooched his kick to the 12-yard line, and the Packers fumbled again. Green Bay would recover, but it is a slap in the face for the opposing teams to know they can kick it short and expect you to (literally) fumble the bag. It was another embarrassing play by a unit that left Packers fans scratching the skin off of their noggins.
Soon after, in the fourth quarter, Aaron Jones was standing in the end zone to return a kickoff. I would have typed that in all caps on Twitter. AARON JONES? The injury-prone RB that Green Bay just paid an exorbitant amount of money to this offseason is returning kickoffs? Having “all hands on deck” is good and all, but it seems bewildering to put Jones in that position to help out on what is certifiably the most dangerous kind of play in the game. If having all hands on deck means jeopardizing the health of your star players, that is not the answer. Hell, the Packers may as well have Aaron Rodgers out there waving for the fair catch on punts.
Having all hands on deck didn’t work for Green Bay last week. Brian Gutekunst and the Packers are running out of options to fix a unit whose mere presence on the field is more detrimental than if 11 body pillows replaced them.
The Packer Way of doing things would suggest that the team will not make an in-season change to the coaching staff. Green Bay rarely gives up on players, let alone members of the coaching staff. Philosophically, the draft-and-develop approach applies to every member of the organization from top to bottom. This also applies to Drayton.
However, at this point, what other options do they have? When every player cycled in to help on special teams isn’t up to the task, how is that not an indictment of the coaching staff? These players are overwhelmed. The Packers do not have an NFL-caliber special teams unit.
Ultimately, Gutekunst and the Packers are in the business of putting a respectable product on the field for the fans to watch. There is an exemplary assembly of talent, but the special teams unit is actively doing its best to prevent them from winning easily. The coaches need to be held accountable just as much as the players. With this season-long string of poor performances, Drayton’s name should certainly be on the chopping block.
It is against the philosophical wishes of the team to let Drayton go, but something needs to give. All hands on deck didn’t work, and it is now putting the health of other valuable players at risk. The time is now to get this unit together. If they don’t, Green Bay’s season may end like it has the last two years.