One overlooked aspect of the 2013 Green Bay Packers was how poor the special teams were. Other than Mason Crosby converting 89.2 percent of his field goals–which still didn’t put him in the top 10 in the NFL in accuracy–the Packers were brutal on special teams last year.
Special teams may not be worried about at this time of year, but it is always a key decider of NFL games. Field goals are converted at such a high rate these days that missing any is killer. The return game is so important because obviously the better field position you have the better chance you have of scoring. Field position and turnovers are often the most important factors in the NFL.
Green Bay’s return game suffered last season with the injury to Randall Cobb and release of Jeremy Ross. Micah Hyde took over the primary return duties for Cobb and was just nothing special. He did a good job of protecting the ball and had a nice 12.3 yard average on punt returns, but was unspectacular on kickoff returns.
The Packers ranked 30th in the NFL in kickoff return average last season, as they averaged 20.3 yards per return. According to Football Outsiders, the Packers average starting field position was the 22.64 yard line following a kickoff, which ranked 11th in the NFL.
It is pretty shocking that they ranked that high with those return numbers. Using the eye test it certainly seemed like the Packers never got a return out past their 20 and that the blocking was usually bad. Perhaps it is a sign that moving the kickoff to the 35-yard line has taken a lot of big returns out of the game in the NFL.
Meanwhile, the Packers were not only bad at returning kicks, but they were equally as bad at defending them. Green Bay allowed an average of 25.9 yard per return, which was the 4th most in the NFL. Also, the average starting field position for opponents following a kickoff against the Packers was the 24.73 yard line. This was good for one spot from dead last in the NFL.
This was a deadly combination for the Packers last season. The special teams did an offense without Aaron Rodgers for a chunk of the season and a sub par defense no favors. Injuries again were part of the problem with Hyde not being a good enough athlete for kick returns and injuries forcing personnel changes on the coverage units. However, this is not the first time this has been an issue in Green Bay.
Tim Masthay is considered to be a good punter by most Packers fans, but his numbers were not up to par last season either. Masthay got 22 punts inside the 20, which was 26th in the NFL. Also, his 39 yards net punting average was only 21st in the NFL.
It seems as though the Packers will give rookie wide receiver Jared Abbrederis a chance to prove that he ran take over the return duties. With Randall Cobb’s injury history–and the Packers not being as deep as normal at WR–they may not have him doing any returns. However, no matter what special teams is an area that the Packers must get better at in 2014.——————