Green Bay Packers

Green Bay's Special Teams Are Becoming A Massive Problem

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan (USA TODAY Sports)

The quarterbacks dominated the headlines leading up to the Green Bay Packers’ game against the Kansas City Chiefs. It was a tumultuous week between Aaron Rodgers missing the game due to testing positive for COVID-19 and his polarizing follow-up comments in the wake of Jordan Love‘s first career start.

Matt LaFleur’s squad lost a game where Love played about as well as former MVP Patrick Mahomes, which is to say, neither played well. The defense was outstanding sans their best players. On a play-to-play basis, Green Bay played the better game. So what happened? Following the quarterback drama, the Packers’ biggest woes came not from their signal caller but their special teams unit — a tale as old as time.

I wrote that the Packers’ special teams unit looked to be in good hands in the preseason. However, it’s been the same show for nine weeks. The unit played a significant part in losing an extremely winnable game, and it’s fair to wonder if special teams will cost Green Bay again in the future.

On Sunday alone, special teams blunders cost the Packers nine points in a game they lost by six.

Mason Crosby, who has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt in his Packer career (including a walk-off game-winner against the 49ers), missed two of his field-goal attempts. In a week where the team changed long snappers, there was a lack of cohesion. The laces were misplaced by Corey Bojorquez on both of Crosby’s attempts. The second of these kicks was blocked, but it was set up for failure long before that.

Protection on field goal attempts, especially on the right side, has been a disaster. It’s fair to wonder if part of Crosby’s woes against the Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City are based on a lack of confidence in his protection. Regardless, Mr. Automatic has been less automatic than in previous years. Six points down the drain.

Crosby’s history gives him the benefit of the doubt, but the rest of the unit can’t say the same.

The 2019 Packers had a returner problem, almost historically so, until they brought in Tyler Ervin, who immediately became a difference-maker. Ervin seemed likely to play a more significant role on offense until he landed on IR last year. The team brought in Tavon Austin to be the gadget guy and returner, but it didn’t work out. The Packers had two promising rookies to return this season: Kylin Hill handled kicks while third-round receiver Amari Rodgers has the punts.

Hill was adroit in the role until landing on IR after a rough hit against the Arizona Cardinals. Yet Amari Rodgers, whose best pro comparison is Randall Cobb, hasn’t played well. He’s looked unsure on returns, and his hands are unreliable. He muffed a punt Sunday, which then touched Malik Taylor and allowed the Chiefs to recover the ball in a favorable spot. Kansas City got a field goal, and special teams cost the Packers three points the other way.

Green Bay’s offense didn’t play well, but they also had massive stretches of the field to cover, thanks to being pinned on almost every drive.

This game wasn’t an anomaly. It’s a trend week after week, and it’s fair to ask whether the unit is any better than last season.

One tangible improvement the team can make is a change on returns. With Hill out and Amari Rodgers struggling, the Packers have other options. Cobb handled the duties in his first stint in Green Bay and could take over. Ervin is currently available and could bring a little extra spark on offense as well.

Unfortunately, a change seems unlikely. In his Monday press conference, Matt LaFleur said that he wanted to make the change, but ST coordinator Mo Drayton wanted to stick with the young returner. Rodgers then had a nice 15-yard return.

But while you’d like to stick with your young player, and while benching him would affect his confidence, Rodgers hasn’t been good in the role.

The Packers also need to figure out better protection for Crosby on kicks.

Drayton’s personality and style make you want to root for the guy. He’s no-nonsense and hasn’t been afraid to make tough personnel decisions. Green Bay wasn’t afraid to move on from their punter and long snapper, both draft picks, when it was clear they weren’t improving. But so far, special teams hasn’t shown any improvement. It’s fair to wonder if that will happen at this point. Drayton was part of the previous coaching staff, and it’s unfortunately showing.

It’s too early to talk about a change at coordinator yet, and it wouldn’t help right now if they did. But Drayton’s seat must be heated.

Fortunately, the Green Bay Packers have a defense. After a slow start, they’ve become one of the stingiest units in the game. The offense is getting healthy and, with Aaron Rodgers, can hang with anyone. Two of the three phases look to be in great shape.

But special teams will win and lose you games. We saw it Sunday against a beatable opponent. We’ve seen a plethora of games won and lost on last-second field goals across the league. In a top-heavy NFC, Green Bay has to find a way to improve before it costs them more games.

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