14

November

Packers Midseason Grades: Special Teams

Tim Masthay

Packers P Tim Masthay has been excellent in special team.

Special teams wraps up our midseason Packers grades report.

I feel like parent-teacher conferences are now over and it’s time for the student (the Packers) to try and find a way to get an ‘A’ on the final report card while the parents (Packers fans) keep nagging the kids to get their homework done and turn off the video games.

If you missed it, here are our grades for the offense and defense.

Kickoffs: A-
When the Packers are kicking off, it’s usually a good time to grab a snack or refill your beverage.

Out of Mason Crosby’s 47 kickoffs, 26 have went for touchbacks, ranking the Packers 10th in touchback percentage. When opponents do return it, they don’t go far, averaging only 24.4 yards with a long of 38.

This unit also forced a fumble that should’ve ended the game against New Orleans, but the refs botched the call.

It appeared that Crosby had at least one angle kickoff against the Cardinals where he tried to use the sideline to pin the returner inside his own 20. It worked and I wonder if we might see more of that down the stretch. You can afford to take some risks like that when you’re coverage has been excellent.

There’s always the chance that Mike McCarthy could call for an onside kick like he did against St. Louis. Crosby is excellent at onside kicks and the Packers recovered his only onside attempt.

On second thought, maybe you shouldn’t leave the couch when the Packers are kicking.

Punts: A-
We’ve see too much of him this season, but it’s nice to know that when Tim Masthay trots on the field, the odds are good that the other team will be stuck with less-than-desireable field position.

Out of 44 Masthay punts, 19 have been fair caught, which is tied for the league lead. When opponents do get a chance to return one, they don’t go far. The Packers only allow 6.3 yards per return, sixth best in the NFL.

Masthay (or, ”Ging,” as Aaron Rodgers calls him), averages 44.5 yards per punt and has dropped 24 punts inside the 20.

Masthay and the punting unit turned things around late in 2010 and were a major reason why the Packers beat the Bears in the NFC championship. They haven’t slowed down since.

Field Goals: D-
Several Packers likely used the bye week to heal various muscle pulls and other bumps and bruises. Hopefully Mason Crosby used it to heal his shattered confidence.

Crosby is just 10 of 15 on field goals (66.7 percent), the lowest percental in all of football. He’s missed five of his last 10 kicks, including two misses from 50-plus against Indianapolis, one of which would have sent the game into overtime.

Other bad misses include shanking a 32-yarder and a 44-yarder against Jacksonville and Arizona, respectively.

Crosby is just 1 of 4 from beyond 50 yards this season, and 13 of 28 in his career.

The Packers defense has improved. The offense looks better after a slow start. Now it’s time for Crosby to shake whatever was wrong with him and show improvement down the stretch.

Kick/Punt Returns: B+
If I told you that Randall Cobb was about average as a kick returner, would you believe me?

Well, his numbers rank him 16th in both total kick return yards and average kick return yards. About league average.

Cobb doesn’t look average when you watch him take a kick and dart through a hole. You get the feeling that this is the one, this is the kick where Cobb goes all the way. Packers fans aren’t used to that feeling. Before Cobb, we crossed our fingers and hoped that whomever returned the kick didn’t fumble or start running the wrong way.

Cobb’s numbers on punt returns put him among the best in the league. He’s in the top 10 for both total yards and average. No longer do the Packers have to be happy with a fair catch on punts. Now there is legitimate hope for a touchdown.

The return units have been excellent this season, thanks in large part to Cobb.

Trick Plays: B
This would have been the only perfect score on the report card if not for a terrible Tim Masthay pass on a fake punt against Jacksonville.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Hindsight is 20-20 on these types of plays. But taking your MVP quarterback off the field so your punter can launch a 25-yard pass makes no sense.

Otherwise, Tom Crabtree’s fake field catch and run against the Bears, John Kuhn’s fake punt run for a first down against the Saints, and the onside kick against St. Louis have worked to perfection.

Unlike the Masthay prayer, there was an element of surprise to these plays, or an obvious opportunity to exploit an unprepared opponent.

Finally, it wasn’t a trick play, but I had to mention Davon House’s punt block against the Jaguars somewhere. A lot is going right for the Packers on special teams. Now to get Crosby right…

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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9 Responses to “Packers Midseason Grades: Special Teams”

  1. Turophile says:

    I really, really hope Crosby gets his head together. He has a strong leg and his onside kicks are a thing of beauty that I have never seen done better.

    I am wondering about Cobb being average on kick returns. It is possible that a kicker might go more for hang time with Cobb in the backfield, giving Cobb less room to manoeuvre. If that was the case though, why the difference fielding punts ? No-one rushing you on kickoffs perhaps, or maybe it is nothing more than a too small sample size that will look different by the end of the season.

    Interesting to see a trick play grading. Many teams would simply score ‘incomplete’ here as they haven’t tried anything unusual.

    I have enjoyed the trick stuff a lot, which is why I don’t stress out over one that doesn’t work. That will happen sometimes and McCarthy only uses one when the defense gives him what he wants, or the team need a lift somehow.

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    • Chad Toporski Chad Toporski says:

      The last time I checked, I believe Cobb was in the lead for the most fair catches on punt returns. Given his ability to make explosive returns, we could be seeing a mediocre average as the case of being a “boom or bust” player.

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      • Rob says:

        Is it possible Cobb’s “average” punt return stats is a product of shorter punts by opponents to limit his opportunities?

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    • Adam Czech says:

      I’m going to go w/ small sample size. I normally wouldn’t do a trick play grading, but the Packers have had four of them this season so I figured, why not?

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      • Dan "FireMMNow" Blakley FireMMNow says:

        yeah, i thought that was funny. the grade for trick plays over the last 20 years would have been NA.

        for me the biggest thing that has helped special teams this year is the lack of penalties. a holding penalty on a kick return is a killer. when you start a drive inside the 15, the odds of scoring a TD go down almost geometrically. i cannot remember the actual stat, but it is crazy the difference that 10 yards makes in that situation.

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  2. Chad Lundberg says:

    Correction please Adam –

    “He’s missed of his last 10 kicks…”

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  3. Lucas says:

    Any particular reason for the minus in Punts? Thanks (or no thanks?) to the offense, Masthay is leading the league in punts inside the 20, which skews his gross and net averages. Performing near the top of the league in punts inside the 20, fair catches, average return yards, touchbacks, etc., he should make the free trip to Hawaii Bowl (Pro-Bowl). He has one blocked punt, but this is not his fault.

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    • Adam Czech says:

      1. I’m a hard grader.
      2. I include everything involved w/ punting, not just the punter. So the block nicked them a bit. I should have mentioned that in the post.

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