Sep 20, 2015; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby (2) shakes the hand of wide receiver Randall Cobb (18) as he is announced as the leading scorer in franchise history during the second half at Lambeau Field. Packers won 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports
Two weeks into the season, two tallies in the win column for the Green Bay Packers.
We may remember most the contributions of Aaron Rodgers, or the defense stepping up to stop Marshawn Lynch, but the special teams unit should not be overlooked.
In many ways, the value provided to the team through this area ends up being a huge indirect factor as to why a team is able to win; this past Sunday was no different.
Let’s first look at the Packers’ return game.
On his first kick return attempt, Ty Montgomery collected the kickoff 3 yards into the end-zone, but only managed to bring the ball back to the Green Bay 16.
Sep 13, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Ty Montgomery (88) before the game at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Despite a handful of punts and kickoffs, Seattle did an excellent job at preventing Green Bay’s returners from ever even having a chance at trying to make a return. There were four touchbacks and four fair catches.
Only one time was there any opportunity to even think of trying a return (that singular Montgomery one), and that was probably one best left to being another touchback when it was all said and done. I can’t blame Montgomery from trying to make something happen though; seeing only the one real chance to get his hands on the ball surely made him feel like he HAD to try and do something with it. Seeing as it only cost four yards, I’d say it was worth the possible payoff that would have come had he been able to break it for a big gain.
The coverage units for Green Bay got a good deal more work than that, and tended to do decently on them.
In total, there were 7 kickoffs and 3 punts made by Green Bay, most of which ended up weighing in Green Bay’s favor.
The kickoffs were especially good to the Packers. Of those 7 kickoffs, three were touchbacks; that immediately cut out about half of the possible return attempts that Seattle’s explosive returner Tyler Lockett could have tried to turn into big plays.
Sep 20, 2015; Green Bay, WI, USA; Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett (16) is tackled by Green Bay Packers free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (21) during the second half at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports
On the four actual kick returns, we saw Seattle bring the ball out 26, 19, 11, and 23 yards. That sounds bad at first, but more goes into that story.
Three of those started in the end zone, so the totals aren’t as large as it appears; the 26-yarder went to the 20, the 19-yarder to the 13, and the 23-yarder to the 18.
The only one that didn’t (11-yarder) went to the 35, but that was a half-ending squib specifically kicked so as to force the Seahawks to run out the final seconds of the second quarter.
Even better: the best of the three true return attempts (20 yard line) was brought back 10 yards on a penalty. That means the best showing on kick returns by Seattle was really the one that got them to just their 18 yard line; you’ll notice that isn’t even enough to have them at where they would have been if Lockett just sat in the end zone.
The punt return aspect was Ok overall, but had some issues.
The first punt was returned for 22 yards to the Seattle 35. That’s bad enough, but a five yard penalty was also added onto the end of it, so Seattle got themselves good field position. They didn’t manage to capitalize, but it was not what we were hoping to see there.
Fortunately, it was the only return allowed by the punt coverage. The second punt was out of bounds, and the third was right along the sideline which also allowed no return.
Aug 29, 2015; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers punter Tim Masthay (8) during warmups prior to the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lambeau Field. Philadelphia won 39-26. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
So outside of the one punt return, Lockett was effectively held in check and not allowed to even really have a decent chance to try blowing apart the coverage units. I would still prefer that the coverage team manage to allow no decent returns, but understanding the likelihood of that happening (i.e., not likely) I’ll take it.
This leads me to the punter, Tim Masthay.
As usual, Masthay had few opportunities to punt. Also, as usual, he had some room to improve.
On his three punts, Masthay averaged 46.3 yards; not terrible, but not exactly top-of-the-line either.
On the good end, only one of his kicks even had a shot at being brought back at all; as stated before, his second went out of bounds and his third basically did so as well.
On the bad end, his first punt wasn’t given a good enough combination of distance and hang-time to prevent the eventual 22-yard return up to the 35 yard line (40 after the aforementioned five-yard penalty). Also, while his third punt had great sideline placement, it was barely past midfield, so Seattle ended up with starting position at their 46 yard line.
After doing a decent job against Chicago, I’d call this a step down. Granted, it isn’t a huge step down, plus his good placement on the final two attempts allowed no opportunity for a return. He still has to cut away opportunities like that first punt, however; all it takes is one miscue like that for a talented guy like Lockett to potentially make something happen.
We end on a high note: Mason Crosby.
With kickers being further maligned as a whole (in perception and reality) by the new PAT rule changes, it is more imperative than ever to have a guy that can be trusted to produce; with Crosby, that wasn’t even close to being an issue.
He boomed in three touchbacks on kickoffs, while also putting every other one, sans the squib, into the end zone, effectively limiting any potential chance Lockett may have had at providing a game-changing return.
More importantly, he converted every scoring opportunity he lined up for.
Sep 20, 2015; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby (2) after his 4th field goal of the night against the Seattle Seahawks during the second half at Lambeau Field. Packers won 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports
Crosby hit all four of his field goal attempts; from 54, 18, 44. and 21 yards. He also hit his only PAT attempt, something that isn’t as automatic now and is getting plenty of air-time because of kickers already accounting for more misses on them than all of last season. While that is obviously an overblown story-line (of course guys are going to miss more often from 33 yards than they would from 18 yards!), it is still definitely important for guys to make their kicks.
As a bonus for his performance, Crosby actually became the all-time leading scorer in Packers history, surpassing Ryan Longwell. A nice side-note for a successful evening.
While not everything was perfect from the unit on the night, there was plenty to like about the output by this special teams unit Sunday.
Ron Zook does have some stuff to improve with his guys – mostly in terms of the punting game – but if Green Bay can emulate a good portion of this performance going forward, maybe we won’t need to worry about special teams anywhere near as much as we thought.