Kickoff Changes Will Benefit Packers, Crosby

With kickoffs moved up to the 35-yard line, Mason Crosby has extremely lofty goals for this season. If his performance matches his expectations, the Packers' defense will be the big winner.

Bombs away.

That's Mason Crosby's mentality on kickoffs now that the ball will be kicked at the 35-yard line rather than the 30.

Crosby had a career-low four touchbacks last season, a byproduct of coordinator Shawn Slocum's effort to hide a leaky coverage unit that was hammered by injuries. With a revolving door of personnel, the unit was short on continuity but long on blown assignments and missed tackles. The results of Slocum playing prevent defense were nothing to get excited about. While the Packers ranked 12th in kickoff coverage, Crosby ranked 28th in kickoff distance, with his average kick being fielded at the 8.4-yard line.

All told, the Packers ranked near the bottom of the league with opponents taking the ball at about the 29-yard line. The difference between the 29 and a touchback is 9 yards — basically, that means the opposing offense will need one additional first down to get into scoring range.

Touchbacks could be plentiful, based on Crosby's history.

In his first three seasons, Crosby was among the league leaders in touchbacks. He ranked eighth in the NFL with 14 in 2009, sixth with 17 in 2008 and sixth with 14 as a rookie in 2007.

"In college, I was like 65 percent, 70 percent touchbacks," Crosby said, thinking back to his career at Colorado. "That was from the 35. My goal this year is to be at least half touchbacks. Fifty percent touchbacks is tough to do when you're kicking in December in Green Bay. My goal is to get as many as possible and hit it as deep as we can. The field might shift 5 yards into the end zone. We might have guys bringing it out — if you don't hit a great hanger, they might bring it out 5, 6 yards deep and try to make something happen because they want to."

The rule change figures to have an enormous impact across the league, and especially Green Bay. According to Slocum, the average kickoff across the league last season went to the half-yard line. Add the extra 5 yards, and those same kickoffs would go 4 and 5 yards deep in the end zone. Or, with the kickoff unit having to travel a shorter distance, teams might take advantage of strong coverage units and have their kicker go for hang time and place the ball inside the 5 in attempt to pin the opponent deep in its territory.

"I think that's going to change the game," Slocum said. "You see a lot of kicks to the goal line and a lot of kicks 2 and 3 yards deep in the end zone, so now those kicks will be 7 or 8 yards deep. That's going to influence the game. If you want to start bringing a bunch of kicks out from 7 or 8 yards deep, you've got a chance to not make it to the 20-yard line. It's going to change the game."

Crosby said he was allowed to kick it deep about half as often as in previous seasons. He said the collection of pop-ups, squibs and hooks didn't allow him to get into a groove for the times when he was asked to kick it deep. So, part of his focus during training has been kicking it deep to take advantage of the rule change.

"For me, my mind-set is go after it and try to get as many touchbacks as possible (and) give our kickoff coverage a breather," he said. "That's my goal, especially in the first part of the season. If the conditions are right, we're going to try to kick it deep. Once the weather changes and the wind's in your face, we're going to try to get touchbacks but sometimes you can't do that. I think we have a good start to a plan to cover well this year. I'm going to take a lot of responsibility. We need to be better on kickoff coverage and put our defense in good position to stop them and keep them back. If we can do that and not allow any big returns, then our offense will have great field position."


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.


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