A Tale of Two Halves: the Green Bay Packers was on full display Sunday in Indianapolis. In the first half, the Packers stopped the run, recovered from costly turnovers, and dropped 28 points on one of the best defenses in the NFL. The second half was a total collapse in all three phases, and the team blew a 14 point halftime lead.
The first half proved the Packers can play ball with anyone, and there was much to be encouraged about. Every team in the NFC is flawed, and there are zero reasons to think the Packers can’t hang with the best of them. But there are troubling trends that need to, and can be, addressed.
While Mike Pettine’s defense has been, rightly criticized due to its soft coverage, odd play calls, and head-scratching personnel usage, special teams have taken a major step back and become a liability for this team.
The past two weeks in particular have been a disaster on special teams. Against Jacksonville, blown coverage and poor tackling led to a 91-yard punt return by Keelan Cole. Against Indianapolis, a Darrius Shepherd fumble cost the Packers a chance to get their offense back on the rails, and JK Scott’s poor punting provided the Colts with plenty of short fields.
It wasn’t long ago when the Packers bolstered their historically bad kick and punt return game by adding Tyler Ervin to the team. His absence due to injury has highlighted his importance to this team. For all his potential as a wide receiver, Darrius Shepherd cannot replace Ervin as a returner. Even beyond the turnovers. he, unfortunately, lacks the speed and instincts to excel at the position. Opposing kickers are taking advantage of him, forcing him to try to run and often getting stopped well behind the 25-yard line.
On the other side of kicks, JK Scott is a curious case. Early in the season, he’s a weapon, using his strong leg to pin opponents deep. As the season goes on, his kicks get shorter and shorter. In Indianapolis, this meant constant short fields for Indy. When coupled with the defense’s inability to stop the run game, the Colts had an easy time marching down the field. While Scott has received criticism for kicking poorly in bad weather, this game was indoors. We’ve seen what Scott can do at his best, and the annual drop off is concerning.
Tackling on this team is all-around poor, and special teams are no exception. Via PFF, the team has nine missed tackles on special teams.
While it didn’t change the outcome of the game, the Packers DID give up an onside kick recovery to the Houston Texans. While the Packers had a big enough lead to handle the Texans, giving one up in today’s NFL is concerning. The rate for successful onside kicks is extremely low, and fans won’t forget the heartbreak from the onside kick recovery in Seattle.
Mason Crosby is doing very well and exempt from all special teams’ criticism.
The math supports the eye-test, as PackersWire’s Zach Kruse has compiled all of the statistical data supporting just how ugly the Packers’ special teams are once again.
To start fixing these issues, the team needs to find a new recovery specialist and get to the bottom of Scott’s late-season blues. Special teams is a small, but important part of the NFL and can win or lose games. The team absolutely can, and should, polish this unit and put the “special” into special teams.Matt Hendershott is a Packers fan and Miller High Life enthusiast from Northwest Ohio. He has a Master of Arts in Media and Communication from Bowling Green State University. You can follow him on Twitter @MattHendershott.