The playoff percentage in Green Bay continues to rise after each week that passes. Following a huge Monday Night Football victory over the Los Angeles Rams, the Packers are continuing to make the case for a potential playoff berth. Monday’s win was arguably the most complete game of the season for the Packers in all three aspects of the game. Specifically on special teams, where Keisean Nixon’s ascent could be what fuels a late-season playoff push for the Packers.
Nixon was the star of the show on Monday. In one game alone, Nixon recorded a 19-yard punt return, a 47-yard kickoff return (nullified by a holding penalty), a 17-yard punt return, and a 52-yard kickoff return. These plays on special teams are literal game-changers that give short-field opportunities for the offense to capitalize on.
“That’s just huge,” running back Aaron Jones said. “You’re not having to fight going half of the field. For him to put us in a position – two first downs and you’re already in field goal position. That’s huge vs. going from the 25, two first downs, you’re not in field goal position yet. It’s huge what he’s been doing for us. I’m glad he’s back there returning.”
Nixon’s impressive game on Monday only seemed to beg for a reasonable question: Where has this guy been all year? The unfortunate answer, he’s been in Green Bay. Nixon was signed back in March following special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia from the Las Vegas Raiders. However, he was brought on as a coverage player on defense to add some depth in the secondary, not to return kicks.
That duty instead went to former Packers wide receiver Amari Rodgers. As the season progressed, it became clear that the Packers needed to make a change in the return game. Nixon first stepped into the kickoff return role in Week 6 against the New York Jets and the punt return role against the Dallas Cowboys.
Since then, Nixon hasn’t looked back. With an NFL-leading three kickoff returns of 50-plus yards and eight kickoff returns of 30-plus yards, Nixon has proved a lot of people right and wrong in Green Bay. That includes head coach Matt LaFleur who called Nixon a “difference-maker” and praised his toughness and mentality after the game on Monday.
“Probably going to get criticized for not playing him early, and that’s fair,” he said. “We should have had him in there earlier and we didn’t. I don’t think we knew what we had.”
It truly is a fair assessment on LaFleur’s part. No one quite knew what the Packers had in Nixon. He first started making his mark on defense following the injury to cornerback Eric Stokes. Now, as a returner, he’s become a considerable weapon for the Packers that veteran players in Green Bay haven’t seen in a long time.
“In all my 18 years, I’ve never once until tonight seen an opposing team’s kicker kick away from one of our returners, on purpose,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “That’s fun. That’s pretty incredible.”——————
Kole Noble is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in North Carolina and is a huge NFL Draft nut. You can follow him on twitter at @SlawSportsShow.