Well, it seems as if I’m in a mood since the last two articles exposed my rants on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Well, it’s time for the trifecta! In this article, I lay out 3 rants I have from this past season concerning the special teams play of the Green Bay Packers. Let’s dive right in, shall we?
#1 Rant: Trevor Davis’ decision-making must improve. It’s not hard to understand why Mike McCarthy wants Trevor deep on both kickoff as well as punt return. First things first. He has shown the ability to have secure hands so it’s rare that he’ll muff the ball. Is that enough? Is that where we’ve come since the mid 90’s and Desmond Howard? For those of you that remember, Howard was able to spring board the Packers by often giving them a short field or even putting points on the board. What does Trevor Davis give us? It seems to me like he gives us drives that start inside the 5 yard line because he forgets where he is on the field. The standard rule of thumb is that punt returners do not field any ball once it goes inside the 5 and some will even say 10 yard line. The good returners will throw up their arm in a fair catch signal and run forward, taking the attention of the punt coverage unit. Many times, the football rolls harmlessly inside the end zone and the offense takes the field at the 20 yard line. I long for Trevor Davis to make this adjustment and help the offense with his decision-making. I don’t know why but these mishaps often come at the most inopportune time when we need to put points on the board and we’re looking at 85-90+ yards in front of us.
In addition to putting the offense in tough field position, it’s become apparent that there simply aren’t enough big plays made in the return game. I realize that big returns are a collective effort of 11 guys doing their job, but the fall guy, fairly or unfairly, generally is the return man. Davis needs to make quick decisions and hit the hole at top speed. From a layperson’s point of view, it just seems like he is thinking too much and not reacting. Trevor Davis has all the physical tools to be one of the NFL’s most dangerous special team players but the decision-making must improve for him to realize his full potential.
#2 Rant: Justin Vogel needs to take a giant leap from year 1 to year 2. Yes, I said it. Justin Vogel needs to make huge strides in year 2 in order for him to be removed from my special teams rants. I’m sure he’s crushed that he landed on this list. I’m also sure that many Packers fans were pleased with Vogel as a rookie and, for the most part, I was too. There definitely is room for improvement though. According to ESPN, the Packers ranked 22nd in punting throughout the regular season. In addition, Vogel put 19 punts inside the 20 yard line making him tied for dead last in the league. Although he averaged just over 44 yards per punt, which is acceptable, it seemed as though his average really tanked as the year wore on. Surely, fatigue and the changing of the weather had a direct impact on that. With the defense in its current state, it becomes even more imperative that a punter can consistently pin teams and flip the field. In order for the Packers to make a big turnaround in 2018, look for Vogel to step up and do his part.
#3 Rant: Injuries pile up for this team. Green Bay, for one reason or another, has been bit by the injury bug year after year. Whether that’s a training issue or simply a bad luck issue, it would be difficult to pinpoint. The reality though is that injuries have a significant impact on the special teams units for the Packers. As players are being pulled onto the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, the next man up philosophy filters to the special teams as well. Special teams, almost as much or more than the offense and defense, needs cohesion to function at a high level. When different guys are being thrown into the fire, that cohesion becomes at risk. The Packers need to take a serious look at how they train so they can keep injuries at a minimum so the special teams can function and be one of the reasons they win games like it used to be in the distant past.
Conclusion: The Packers need an uptick in their special teams to take their game to the next level. Whether that’s decision making by the return man, directional punting or injuries, the time is now to make special teams “special” again. Although gone are the days of Desmond Howard taking it to the house in the big moments leading to SB XXXI, we need similar contributions from this unit to win at the end of the season. Special teams are sometimes overlooked but they can pay huge dividends or be extremely detrimental to the ultimate success of any football team. Coach Zook has his hands full. We can only hope he’s up to the challenge.
Do you agree with these rants? Did I miss anything you’d like to add? Let me know. Speak up and let your voice be heard and, as always, GO PACK GO!Robert Martin bleeds green and gold despite living in North Dakota, where many cheer for the purple. He is currently a writer for PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter @robertmartinPHD.