Packers Losing Field Position During Kickoffs

Whether it's kickoff return or kickoff coverage, the Packers are digging themselves a field position hole. Special teams coordinator Shaun Slocum weighs in on his units entering a key game against Detroit.

The Green Bay Packers' last-ranked kickoff-return unit is the circle-it-in-red problem highlighting a larger issue.

The kickoff-coverage and kickoff-return units are giving away field position like Ben Stein used to give away money.

The Packers' average starting point following a kickoff return is the 19.1-yard line. That ranks 31st in the league, ahead of only Detroit — Sunday's opponent — which provides an average starting point of the 18.7-yard line, according to league data.

When the Packers kick off, the opponents' average starting point is the 23.2-yard line. That's 28th in the league.

Add those two together, and the Packers are giving away 4.1 yards of field position on every exchange of kickoffs. That's the worst in the league. Detroit and Tennessee are tied for 29th at minus-2.5 and Philadelphia is 31st at minus-3.8.

The glaring shortcoming has been on kickoff returns. The Packers are averaging a putrid 12.1 yards per return. That's last in the league by a wide margin — the Jets are 31st with 16.9 yards per return.

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"I don't like that at all," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. "We've got to do something about that."

Jeremy Ross, the primary kickoff and punt returner, was released after the Week 3 game at Cincinnati in which he muffed a kickoff that gave the Bengals a gift touchdown. Ross, however, wasn't the only problem. It's not as if his blockers had opened any alleys.

"I think it could've been better at times, and we haven't had a whole lot of opportunity," Slocum said of the blocking. "We're just now getting into our fourth game. That's something I thought we've had a good week of practice so far with it."

Slocum's right in that there haven't been a lot of opportunities. Seven kickoff returns isn't a big sample size. Still, the Packers have only one return of 20-plus yards (21 yards). Only Buffalo with zero had fewer to start this week's games.

Without Ross, the Packers have kept the return jobs under wraps. Randall Cobb, who averaged 27.7 yards in 2011 and 25.4 yards in 2012, and rookie Johnathan Franklin, whose only runback of the preseason went for just 14 yards, would seem like the likely candidates at giving that last-ranked kickoff return a boost. It would go against conventional thinking to use Cobb, given his enormous role on offense, but the Packers haven't used conventional thinking on special teams. Not only did they use Cobb for most of last season, but they've used Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams on punt returns. Jordy Nelson was the primary kickoff returner in 2009 and 2010.

"I can understand that view, but I would think you'd understand my view on it, and philosophically you have to make a decision what direction you want to go with those decisions," Slocum said. "Going back to when we first got here as a staff, Charles Woodson was our punt returner. The punt return play, I think, has a little less risk for the big hit for a returner than the kickoff return play. It's something that we weigh in terms of how our whole game plan going into a ball game is and how we're going to apply it, and we make those decisions based on that detail."

The kickoff team hasn't been a strength, either, due to Tim Masthay's inconsistency in his first season handling the kickoff duties. When he's connected, the ball has soared out of the end zone — even well out of the end zone. On the other hand, he's tied for 25th with a touchback rate of 50.0 percent. Because he's hit some low, line drives, opponents are averaging 25.6 yards per return. That's 24th in the league.

"We haven't given up any big plays," Slocum said. "We've covered the ones that we've mishit pretty well. But yeah I'd like to see him be more consistent, and I think he's really improved over the last couple of weeks with that."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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