When this season is all said and done, perhaps the big takeaway from the Week 14 contest between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers will be that Green Bay won going away to improve to 10-3 on the season.
But the ominous footnote for the game is that it’s become more than apparent than ever that Maurice Drayton should not be running Green Bay’s special teams. After Sunday’s win, head coach Matt LaFleur again went to bat for the special teams coordinator in what is becoming an absolute disaster for the Packers.
Trying to decide where to start in capturing the utter incompetence of the Packers’ special teams unit is about as easy as getting either of the Cuomo brothers to admit they did anything wrong. Let’s go chronologically.
This needs to be prefaced by noting the following: Mason Crosby has missed a league-high nine field goals this year. The coverage units for the Packers in both the punt return and kick return have been subpar, and that feels like a compliment. The punt return unit has multiple muffs resulting in turnovers or near turnovers. The kick return group has been invisible and, on the rare occasion they’ve been seen, its been a dumpster fire. The lone bright spot has been Corey Bojorquez bombing one punt after another.
On to Sunday night.
Green Bay went three-and-out in the first quarter on their opening drive. Bojorquez nuked a 57-yard punt that was rendered ineffective after Jakeem Grant pieced together a 34-yard return to the Chicago 44-yard line. The Bears would end that drive with a field goal.
Later on, after a Rasul Douglas pick-six put the Packers up 14-10, Crosby thought it would be neat to send a kickoff out of bounds. Chicago set up 1st and 10 at their own 40. They would go on to score a touchdown a few plays later.
As if those two sequences weren’t bad enough, it got objectively worse. Following another stalled Green Bay drive and another good punt from Bojorquez, Grant decided to field it inside his own five-yard line. He would weave around and run a tightrope the near sideline as he went a mind-boggling 97 yards for a touchdown. It was the first punt return for a touchdown all season in the NFL. And of course it happened to Drayton’s special teams unit.
Crosby’s out-of-bounds kickoff was sandwiched between Chicago kick returns of 40 and 42 yards, respectively. Both set up the Bears with tremendous starting field position.
If you thought that was it, I’ve got news for you, sunshine: This was just the kick coverage and punt coverage teams. We haven’t even talked about the return units yet. They can be best summed up in pretty swift fashion.
Malik Taylor beelined toward the sideline on one kickoff and muffed another as he was going out of bounds. The kickoff itself would’ve, without a doubt, gone out of bounds. Instead, Green Bay had it 1st and 10 at their own 5-yard line.
Later, on in a punt return, Amari Rodgers lost one that hit him directly in the face. Chicago recovered, but it was wiped away via a highly questionable penalty call against the Bears.
Just for good measure, the Bears recovered an onside kick at the end of the game when it seemed mostly out of reach.
Afterwards, when asked if a change could be coming with the special teams staff, LaFleur said, “absolutely not.”
Normally, it would be admirable to see LaFleur go to bat for one of his coaches. In this case, it’s just naive and reckless.
This is a team that has as good a shot as anyone to win the Super Bowl. They will not get away with the mistakes they have made all season long against most teams come playoff time. The number of flubs they had Sunday night can be overcome against the Bears. Good luck if Green Bay did the same against the Arizona Cardinals or Tampa Bay Buccaneers. LaFleur is defending the indefensible while many wonder what big special teams gaffe in the postseason will cost Green Bay their shot at the title.
It’s spiraled so out of control that all three players who took to the podium after the game were asked about the special teams. Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, and Preston Smith are not involved with that unit, yet they were all pressed for their two cents. That’s how bad it is.
“We need to clean some things up for sure.… When you’re playing great teams and the kind of football we’re going to be playing here over the next month, we need to be a lot more sound in that phase of the game.” – Aaron Rodgers
“You just gotta focus on what you can control. I don’t play special teams so I don’t know what goes on out there or what happened. I know we’ve got to tighten up, special teams has to tighten up. We gotta focus on what we can control on defense no matter where they place the ball.… Special teams, they had a rough game tonight, but I know they’ll bounce back.” – Preston Smith
The alarms should be sounding on the special teams after those comments alone. Keep in mind that Davante Adams was asked about the idea of him returning punts in his postgame.
“Would I want to? No. Could I? I believe I could do that…. I haven’t caught a punt since my rookie year…hopefully we can lock it in on special teams and guys can step up and do what they have to do and handle it.” – Davante Adams
Firing Maurice Drayton might not cure things at the moment, but it literally cannot get any worse. The nightmare scenario of a playoff blunder caused by this unit looms, and LaFleur’s share of the blame only grows as he sticks by Drayton after another embarrassing performance.