The Coverage Units
- Out of Bounds (NYG 45)
- 6 yard return (NYG 39)
- Fair Catch (NYG 47)
- Out of Bounds (NYG 34); *GB Penalty* (NYG 49)
- 35 yard return (NYG 31)
- 42 yard return (NYG 41)
- Touchback *GB Pen (re-kick)*; 26 yard return (NYG 28)
- 37 yard return (NYG 37)
Schum set a low bar to overcome with his exploits on Sunday, but this area may have frustrated me even more.
Unlike with the punter, I have relatively moderate expectations for the coverage team; most weeks, they either reach or surpass it even despite Schum’s struggles to provide them much help with his leg. This week however, they simply did not play well.
We’ll start with the punts. There were four to potentially deal with, but two of those ended up going out of bounds, leaving just two times where the unit should have needed to do anything.
The first of those let the Giants’ returner almost bring it to the Giants’ 40 yard line; it was a short return, but not locking up a quick tackle gave away yardage that shouldn’t have been surrendered. The second was a fair catch, so they did their job there.
So that’s it, right? Nope. On one of those two punts that went out of bounds, the Packers were flagged for a 15-yard penalty. What happened?
Jeff Janis, acting as a gunner on the outside, was pushed out of bounds; in that situation, a player must immediately fight his way back into the field before trying to continue running down the field.
Janis made no attempt at that, running about 30 yards before even getting close to coming back onto the field, so he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Mistakes like that are easily avoidable on their own — just get back on the field! Even if the opponents sit there to box you out, it almost certainly ends up being a better outcome than the 15-yard penalty you will definitely receive for failing to try returning to the field in short order — but the error is made look even more foolish when there isn’t even an attempted return.
Obviously it would be difficult for Janis to have known the ball was headed out of bounds, but you have to realize that even if you expect it to be in the field of play and landing in a returner’s hands with him having room to run, you are doing nothing but exacerbating the problem by basically gifting 15 yards to the opponent regardless of the kick’s outcome.
Moving on to the kick coverage, which provided its own set of frustrations.
First off, there was only the one touchback among the 5 kickoffs so that didn’t help. The coverage guys had plenty of opportunities to stop the returner in his tracks pretty quickly regardless of that however, and failed to do so time and time again.
Three of the returns went for at least 35 yards, with the Giants’ Dwayne Harris and Bobby Rainey leaving a wake of missed and flailing tackles behind them.
Even the shortest of the returns came with an unsavory caveat. It went for only 26 yards, out to the Giants’ 28 yard line, but it wouldn’t have even happened at all if not for a miscue. That kick was actually a re-kick!
On the first attempt, Crosby had actually converted a touchback, but someone on the coverage team was a step ahead of him, causing the refs to throw a flag for offsides.
The re-kick was 5 yards further back, practically removing another touchback as an option altogether, and again we saw the coverage unit unable to make the initial stop, yet again compounding the issues already stacked up.
I should mention that few teams have the return game weaponry of the Giants (they rank #3 in kick return yardage, with Harris being one of the better return options in the league), but much of the damage he did was preventable if the Packers’ coverage team had finished off their initial tackle attempts.
Fortunately for Green Bay, the defense was playing on such a high level that practically none of these screw-ups managed to make a lasting impact, but that is playing with fire.
Had the Giants found any offensive rhythm, they had the passing game options to blow apart a injury-stricken secondary, and there will likely be plenty of weeks where other offenses manage to key in on those weaknesses with their own weapons (among opponents still to come: Dallas, Atlanta, Seattle, and a rematch with Minnesota).
Giving up yardage in the return game gives those dangerous attacks shorter fields, and then even if they manage a quick defensive stop we might then see Green Bay’s own offense now trapped deep in their own territory.
This was by far the worst performance of this season by this unit; based on how they played other weeks, I wouldn’t expect many games quite as bad as this.
They’ve proven a performance like this is within their repertoire now however, and that is worrisome going forward. Rather than a lack of skill, it showed a lack of focus and execution; issues such as this can pop up seemingly out of nowhere, and rarely do they happen just once.
There’s enough evidence to support the idea that Ron Zook and the Packers will iron out the mistakes (remember, this team was among the worst in the league on special teams a couple years ago; they now sit firmly in the middle) so I’m not going to worry too much off of one game, but my concern has been piqued.
Hopefully it will be laid back to rest over the next few weeks.