Is this the Year the Packers REALLY Address Special Teams?
In 2006, Mike McCarthy came to the Green Bay Packers and brought with him veteran coach Mike Stock to coach special teams. McCarthy was familiar with Stock, as they were on the same staff in Kansas City in the late 90s. They hired Shaw Slocum as Stock’s assistant and his first NFL job after 12 years coaching special teams and linebackers at the college level.
Stock stayed with the Packers through the 2008 season, suddenly deciding to retire a few days after the season and only 10 days after Mason Crosby’s 38 yard game winning field goal attempt versus the Chicago Bears was blocked. The Packers would later lose that game in overtime.
In what would be the first of many coaching changes Mike McCarthy would make that offseason, many have speculated that Stock was given the option to retire rather than be dismissed. Whatever really happened with Stock, McCarthy decided to give the Special Teams Coordinator job to Shawn Slocum.
That’s when things really started to fall apart.
As many of you probably know, Rich Gosselin of the Dallas Morning news publishes the gold standard of NFL special teams rankings. He looks at 22 different kicking game categories and compliles the individual rankings into an overall ranking. Let’s see how the Packers have done since 2006:
2006 32 Stock/Slocum
2007 8 Stock/Slocum
2008 26 Stock/Slocum
2009 31 Slocum
2010 29 Slocum
Pretty impressive, huh?
To Mike McCarthy’s credit, he was not at all happy with the Packers regressing from the now apparent aberration of a good year in 2007 to their bottom 20th percentile finish in 2008. It was time to move the old guard out and start fresh. Unfortunately, he gave the job to Shawn Slocum.
Much was made of this change and there was a noted emphasis on special teams improvement. As I wrote in this article at the time (Packers eying a special 2009 season), the Packers draft and player moves that season all were made with an eye on special teams play. The plan was to stock the roster with new ST players and let the new coach show them the way to better play.
Well, it didn’t work. Adding insult to injury, not only did the Packers finish next to last in the league in special teams play, they LED the league in special team penalties. With 30. A rather amazing number.
Off with his head! Of course, McCarthy was going to do no such thing. Instead, he worked with Slocum to develop some new drills and lead a “back to basics” program stressing fundamentals and cutting down on the penalties. McCarthy also added another 5 minutes every practice devoted to special teams.
The Packers did fix the penalty problem. But even with the addition of a much improved punting game thanks to Tim Masthay, they only improved two spots in the rankings from the previous year. As things turned out, all of the talk about improved special teams play was just that, talk.
Now I can hear many of you saying, “So What? They still won the Super Bowl!” Well, that’s certainly true, but the minute you start accepting the status quo because you’ve tasted success, is the minute you set yourself up for future failures.
McCarthy is a hard working coach. I’ve never begrudged him that. But he has, in my opinion, been a little too accepting of poor special teams play. The Packers’ ST rankings during his tenure just scream that. Five years and it’s no better. He made the needed moves to fix the defense. He’s fine-tuned the offense to it’s strengths, but when it comes to special teams, he hasn’t done all that he can.
It’s time Mike. This is the year. Bring the special teams up to the same level as the rest of the team. Then perhaps the Packers will become a truly dominant team in 2011.
And I bet you all thought I had nothing to get on McCarthy’s case about…——————
Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.