Packers' Kickoff Return Runs Into Roadblock

Other than Cobb's touchdown against the Saints, the Packers have gotten little from that unit. In fact, they'd be better off just taking touchbacks. Touchbacks might not be an issue against 37-year-old Longwell, whose declining leg set up Hester's touchdown last week.

The Green Bay Packers have been scoring points almost at will through the first six weeks, leading the league with an average of 32.8 points per game.

Having to cover more field to get in range for some of its scoring opportunities hasn't fazed the Packers' potent offense, but special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum isn't happy about a rash of tough starting points.

Rookie receiver Randall Cobb handles the returns on kickoffs and punts. Yet, he hasn't made much of an impact in the dual role since he ran back a kickoff a league-record-tying 108 yards for a touchdown in the season-opening win over the New Orleans Saints.

Take away that huge return, and Cobb's season average of 32.5 yards plummets to 24.1 for his nine other kickoff returns. He is averaging a minuscule 5.5 yards on punt returns.

Slocum hasn't lost faith in the dynamic second-round draft pick out of Kentucky.

"I think Randall is explosive," Slocum said. "I think he does a good job of catching the ball. I think he's got good running instinct. He's very good (going) north-and-south. ... He's got a chance to be really good."

Slocum, however, doesn't like the results from Green Bay's kickoff-return unit in recent weeks.

The average starting spot for the Packers offense after a runback by Cobb, excluding the touchdown return, is just short of Green Bay's 20-yard line (19.7).

All but one of Cobb's kickoff returns this season have come out of the end zone, and the four he had in the Packers' last two games only reached their 14, 16, 18 and 13 yard lines — short of the 20 where the possession starts on a touchback.

"We should get the ball at the 20-yard line with (the new rule change on kickoffs), at minimum," Slocum said. "We bring that ball out, it's got to get outside the 20. And, getting tackled inside the 20 is unacceptable, and it doesn't make sense. We've got to put our guys (the offense) out there at the 20-yard line, at minimum."

On Sunday, Cobb will be running at a Vikings coverage unit that allowed a touchdown to Chicago's incomparable Devin Hester last week. Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell ranks 24th in the NFL with an average kickoff distance of 65.1 yards — or about the goal line. Of his 30 kickoffs, only seven have gone for touchbacks. By contrast, the Packers' Mason Crosby has 20 touchbacks on 40 kickoffs.

On Thursday, Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said he was "kicking himself" for his decision to kick the ball to Hester. With the wind at Longwell's back, Priefer expected Longwell to put the ball in the end zone. Instead, Hester fielded the ball at the 2.

Slocum set a policy at the start of the season for Cobb or any other returner to take a knee for a touchback if the kickoff was more than 5 yards deep into the end zone, but an aggressive Cobb has broken that rule three times. He took a fourth one out from 9 yards deep in the end zone against Denver, but that was on Slocum's orders because every Broncos kickoff had been a touchback through the first three games, so Slocum wanted to test the coverage unit. Cobb started his touchdown run 8 yards deep.

"I think we're getting more fine-tuned in exactly what we want to do based on the rule change," Slocum said. "We need to block better in our kickoff return game. Prior to two weeks ago, we were the only team I believe that hadn't been tackled inside the 20, and now we've got consecutive games getting tackled inside the 20. We're going to change that. We need to do a better job blocking."


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