The Packers' special teams ranked next-to-last in last year's Dallas Morning News rankings, in which NFL writer Rick Gosselin ranks all teams based on 22 categories in the kicking game.
Last year, the Packers finished last in the NFL in penalties (28) and inside-the-20 punts (15) and were one of only 10 teams that failed to score a touchdown. They also finished in the bottom quarter of the league in punt coverage (24th), field goal percentage (25th), opponent net punting (28th), opponent starting point after kickoffs (31st) and net punting (31st).
Nonetheless, to say there's been a dramatic improvement would be inaccurate. In the five core categories — kickoff returns, punt returns, net punting, opponent kickoff returns and field-goal accuracy — the Packers don't rank in the top half of the league in any of them.
At least the penalties are better. They've been flagged just eight times. At that pace, they'd finish with exactly half of last year's total. And punter Tim Masthay has allowed a grand total of 4 return yards on 10 punts the last two weeks.
By the numbers
Kickoff returns: 28th (20.7-yard average). Punt returns: 22nd (8.0). Net punting: 25th (36.3). Opponent kickoff returns: 20th (24.0 average). Field goal percentage: 31st (72.2 percent).
Bye week itinerary
Because of injuries, it's been a revolving door in the bottom half of the roster, which means a revolving door as special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum tries to put together his coverage and return units every week. New linebackers Erik Walden, Diyral Briggs and Matt Wilhelm are considered good special teams players, so hopefully they help. Re-signing Spencer Havner (20 tackles last year) should help, too. The schedule doesn't get any easier, so it's vital that they find some continuity.
"I think overall, we're really starting to punt the ball well and we've limited our opponents to very little punt return yardage over the last three weeks," Slocum said. "I think we need to be more consistent with our kickoff coverage. We've had a number of tackles inside the 20 and done a solid job there but this is a unique play. It's changing all the time. We're on a record pace league-wise in terms of production there on touchdowns. It's because of the change in the play, there's no wedge and you have a lot more space to defend and it's a challenge. That's an area where I want us to improve as we move forward."
Jarrett Bush: Most fans despise Bush, but that's for his play on defense. He's at his best on special teams. Against Dallas, he was a star with a forced fumble on a second-quarter kickoff that was returned by Nick Collins for a touchdown. He also made a great fumble recovery on a punt against Dallas. He was sensational in hemming in DeSean Jackson on punts in the opener.
Korey Hall: Hall, the starting fullback, leads the Packers in special teams tackles with 12.
Need more from
Mason Crosby: This year's 16th-ranked kicker — the epitome of average — is making 80 percent of his field goals. Crosby's never done that in his career. Crosby, who made 79.5 percent as a rookie in 2007 and 79.4 percent in 2008, slumped to 75.0 percent last year. This year, he's 13-of-18 — just 72.2 percent. That's good for 31st in the league. Only 13 field goals have been blocked league-wide; Crosby has had two blocked, though neither were his fault. Moreover, Crosby averaged 14.3 touchbacks in his first three seasons but has just one this year.
Slocum is positively giddy about rookie Sam Shields returning kickoffs. "I think the impact returner can really affect the game. Look at the guys that have done it across the league. It's had a big impact. Chicago, with the guys they've had; Detroit has really had some impact there; obviously, Minnesota has; so, it's nice to see Sam jump out there. If I were getting ready to play us, I'd be worried to death about him."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.