Costly mis­takes adding up for spe­cial teams

Packer Plus - - News - TOM SIL­VER­STEIN

— If Green Bay Pack­ers coach Mike Mc­Carthy seems a lit­tle dis­tracted the next cou­ple of days it might be be­cause he can’t shake the feel­ing that some­thing is go­ing to go wrong in Seat­tle on Thurs­day. Most likely on spe­cial teams. The ghosts of dis­as­ters past dance all over Cen­tu­ryLink Field, the site of the Green Bay Pack­ers’ epic NFC Cham­pi­onship Game fail­ure on Jan. 18, 2015, and their next game.

In a 31-12 vic­tory over the Mi­ami Dol­phins on Sun­day, spe­cial teams could have been the rea­son the Pack­ers fell to 3-5-1, just like it could have been the rea­son they im­proved to 7-1-1 if things had gone a lit­tle dif­fer­ently against the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots, Los An­ge­les Rams and Detroit Lions.

Ev­ery­one in the Pack­ers or­ga­ni­za­tion who was present at Cen­tu­ryLink four years ago should be over the fake-field goal touch­down and Bran­don Bo­stick’s on­sides de­ba­cle that snatched away a Su­per Bowl op­por­tu­nity.

But as they head back to the scene of that dis­as­ter, all of them have ev­ery rea­son to won­der if they are set up for the same kind of dis­ap­point­ment based on the spe­cial teams events that have plagued the team this sea­son.

Take away a blocked punt, a fum­bled punt re­turn and a fail­ure to stop a fake punt and the Pack­ers had a pretty good spe­cial teams day. Their kick­off and punt cov­er­age was out­stand­ing, kicker Ma­son Crosby im­proved his con­sec­u­tive field goal streak to nine and they pulled off a fake punt of their own.

But once again they did not elim­i­nate costly spe­cial teams mis­takes, which seem to be a part of their per­son­al­ity. It is who they are no mat­ter who is run­ning the unit, and while they avoided a dis­as­ter against the Dol­phins, the per­for­mance seemed to be in line with much of what has oc­curred this sea­son.

“We played well, we had some good re­turns, the kick­off team played re­ally well, we had a suc­cess­ful fake,” said line- backer Kyler Fack­rell. “But (spe­cial teams coach Ron) Zook al­ways says, ‘You’re just re­mem­bered by your worst play, es­pe­cially on spe­cial teams.

“You just have one chance. It’s one play.”

If it were just one play or just this one game, Mc­Carthy might feel a whole heck of a lot bet­ter about his spe­cial teams go­ing into Seat­tle. But this has been a sea­son-long is­sue and the Pack­ers might very well be in con­trol of the NFC in­stead of 4-4-1 had it not been for spe­cial teams. In case you for­got:

Crosby missed four goals in a 31-23 de­feat to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field Oct. 7.

Kick­off re­turner Ty Mont­gomery ended any chance the Pack­ers had of a game-win­ning touch­down when he dis­obeyed or­ders and re­turned a kick­off that he fum­bled in a 29-27 loss to the Los An­ge­les Rams at the LA Coli­seum Oct. 28.

Rookie tight end Robert Tonyan roughed the punter af­ter a key de­fen­sive stop deep in­side New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots ter­ri­tory late in the third quar­ter with the game tied in a 31-17 de­feat at Gil­lette Sta­dium.

Those are three losses that had a chance to be vic­to­ries if the spe­cial teams unit could just find a way to stop shoot­ing it­self in its cleat.

“We have a lot of young guys,” said de­fen­sive back Tra­mon Wil­liams, who fum­bled af­ter get­ting sand­wiched at the end of a 20-yard punt re­turn. “It just takes reps and guys have to be smart. I think we’ll get there.”

One thing is clear, it’s not a case of poor tal­ent.

All you had to do was watch the kick­off cov­er­age unit to see how tough it is to block guys like Josh Jones, Oren Burks, James Craw­ford, Raven Greene and Tony Brown.

The av­er­age drive start for the Dol­phins on six kick­off re­turns was the 22yard line and the av­er­age re­turn was 19.4 yards.

Crosby placed the ball beau­ti­fully in the cor­ner of the end zone as part of the plan to cool off Mi­ami’s red-hot re­turn team. Ja­keem Grant came into the game av­er­ag­ing 32.3 yards per kick­off re­turn and 16.3 yards per punt re­turn.

“I think we took a big step to­day,” Crosby said.

Maybe, but you have to take the bad with the good and there was enough bad to def­i­nitely keep Zook up at night.

Mi­ami cut Green Bay’s lead to 7-3 af­ter Wil­liams’ fum­ble and then trail­ing 14-9 at half­time, blocked rookie JK Scott’s punt on the first se­ries of the third quar­ter, set­ting up the Dol­phins for an­other field goal.

“We’ll have to look at the film to see what hap­pened,” said Burks, who is on the punt cov­er­age unit. “I don’t think it was a men­tal er­ror. I think it was just a good rush. We’ll clean it up.”

Later in the quar­ter, with the Pack­ers up 28-12, the de­fense stopped the Dol­phins a yard short of the first down, forc­ing them to punt. The Pack­ers left the mid­dle open and up­back Leonte Car­roo took a di­rect snap and ran for a 14-yard gain.

Greene was lined up in the mid­dle and said he wasn’t ex­pect­ing a fake. There wasn’t much he could do about it since rules pro­hibit a rusher from lin­ing up over the cen­ter. Zook didn’t ap­pear to have per­son­nel in the game that could have dis­cour­aged the Dol­phins from pulling off the fake.

“I think guys were pretty locked in, pretty fo­cused,” Fack­rell said. “But we have to – es­pe­cially on the punt, it’s so cru­cial – clean that up.”

Mc­Carthy and Zook will have the op­tion of bring­ing back re­turner Trevor Davis off in­jured re­serve this week to pro­vide a boost to what has been an or­di­nary re­turn game. Both feel he can be one of the NFL’s top re­turn­ers, but he hasn’t played in a game since the ex­hi­bi­tion sea­son and he has only had three days of prac­tice to work him­self back in foot­ball shape.

The one thing the Pack­ers do know is that the Sea­hawks have been one of the bet­ter spe­cial teams units in the NFL un­der head coach Pete Car­roll and it’s very dif­fi­cult to get the best of them.

Given the Pack­ers’ his­tory in Seat­tle, they know what they’re up against. But given the strug­gles the of­fense has had this sea­son, the Pack­ers need to start win­ning an­other phase of the game and spe­cial teams is where they can make some big gains.

But as this sea­son has shown, they can’t help them­selves when it comes to mess­ing up.

ADAM WES­LEY/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK-WIS­CON­SIN

Leonte Car­roo cel­e­brates af­ter re­cov­er­ing a blocked punt that led to a field goal for the Dol­phins on Sun­day.

Pack­ers Tom Sil­ver­stein Milwaukee Jour­nal Sen­tinel USA TO­DAY NET­WORK – WIS.

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