The Green Bay Packers couldn’t let us enjoy a full victory week, could they?
Just a few days after their thrilling overtime victory against the Dallas Cowboys, the Packers once again became an unremarkable team against the Tennessee Titans. All the classics were back — Joe Barry’s defense gave up approximately 9,000 yards to one of the league’s worst offenses, Green Bay’s offense sputtered out, and special teams were anything but special.
The Packers would need everything to go right to make a playoff run, including winning all of their remaining games, and that doesn’t seem likely. The 2022 Packers are simply not a very good football team. They don’t do much of anything well — but let’s find some silver linings.
After two meh-looking classes, the 2022 draft class looks promising, especially with my good pal Christian Watson‘s ascension. Beyond the rookies, cornerback Keisean Nixon has been one of the few bright spots. The Packers brought in Nixon thanks to his connection to Rich Bisaccia, but he’s been more than a low-risk veteran signing. Nixon has done everything asked of him. He’s been one of the few reliable special teams players, played well in spots on defense, and is now returning punts when no one else can do the job.
When Green Bay signed Nixon in the off-season, it seemed like a small move to give depth at cornerback and to pair Bisaccia with a reliable special teams player. The Packers had a need for both roles. Corner depth beyond the three starters was minimal, and anyone mildly capable of playing a role on special teams was a massive upgrade compared to the 2021 squad.
Nixon hadn’t played many snaps on defense with the Raiders, with his 155 snaps in 2020 being his career high. But he’d played over 50% of special teams snaps in each of his three seasons in Oakland or Las Vegas.
Nixon lived up to the hype quickly on special teams. He brought speed and energy as a gunner and provided much more chutzpah than we’re used to. While the special teams rebuild is still a work in progress at best, no one can deny the swagger and skill Nixon brings to the field.
He also contributed more than expected on defense, playing in 20% of snaps this season. With injuries in the secondary — and also the secondary being bad and needing a boost — Nixon earned a turn in the spotlight. He forced a fumble against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and broke up a pass against the Detroit Lions. He’s been one of the few reliable tacklers on defense, with nine solo tackles via PFF.
Nixon has looked comfortable in the slot when called upon. While he’s given up completions, he’s been good about limiting the big plays. Nixon gave up one big play to Treylon Burks on Thursday Night, but then again, everyone gave up big plays.
LaFleur praised Nixon’s efforts thus far. “I love his play style,” he said recently. “He plays fast, he plays physical, [and] he trusts what he sees. It’s just continuing to get more comfortable with that position and making the most of his opportunities. But I think so far, up to date, he’s done a pretty good job.”
Nixon has really stepped up in his role as a returner, though. Amari Rodgers‘ struggles are well documented at this point, and a change at returner was necessary. First, Nixon took over kick returns, which he had experience with in Vegas. He has accrued 343 yards on 16 returns, and Nixon should honestly have much more. He always seems to get yards called back, thanks to constant holding penalties by the rest of the group.
After Amari Rodgers’ last (and, ultimately, final) punt-return fumble, Bisaccia gave Nixon the duties — something he’d never done before. Nixon’s first return against the Cowboys was a bold one-handed grab of pure chaos. But, hey, he held on and moved forward! That’s a win in Green Bay.
Nixon earned the job against Tennessee on a short week. Despite the lack of experience, Nixon embraced the challenge, telling the media he’d play free and have fun with it.
“Just play like you in high school or outside in the street with kids,” Nixon said.
Nixon’s inexperienced, chaotic punt returns were much better than his predecessor’s. Nixon’s 24-yard punt return to set up a short field for Rodgers and the offense was the longest of the season. It was also longer than any of Amari Rodgers’ returns in the past season and a half.
It looks like the Packers might have their return guy, though it’s baffling it took this long to change things up.
Nixon is the type of acquisition Brian Gutekunst has done well with — an overlooked, low-cost veteran willing to do anything to help the team win. Just like De’Vondre Campbell and Rasul Douglas last year, Nixon is playing a bigger role than anyone outside the building expected. These are the types of signings the Packers must attempt more frequently.
Not a lot has been inspiring on this Packers team, and there are many questions for next season. But Nixon has been a bright spot on special teams and defense, and he’s been willing to try anything to help the team. While he’s only signed to a one-year deal, based on his success and the need for good players, Green Bay should consider bringing him back for 2023.