Returner, Injuries Impact Special Teams

After two strong seasons, the Packers' efficiency suffered due to the impact of injuries and the lack of a true return threat. At least the Packers rallied late behind Micah Hyde and Mason Crosby.

There's an adage that goes something like this: Poop flows downstream.

And so it was for the Green Bay Packers' special teams this season.

After two seasons of Randall Cobb returning kicks, the Packers pulled Cobb off of returns because of his value on offense. Jeremy Ross, who muffed a punt in last year's playoff game at San Francisco, was released after botching a kickoff in Week 3 at Cincinnati. With no true returner on the roster, the Packers suffered.

Because of another season of injuries hitting in waves, the Packers lacked continuity with their return and coverage units.

Added together, the Packers suffered the consequences of having bad special teams for most of the season.

Heading into the Week 12 game against Minnesota, Green Bay's special teams ranked 29th, according to Packer Report's five-category rankings. Those units improved down the stretch, however, and Green Bay rallied to finish 19th.

This is Packer Report's first year doing special-teams rankings. Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin does a more extensive breakdown every year. The Packers finished 12th last year — they would have finished 10th had Mason Crosby even ranked 29th in the league in field goals. Had Crosby finished 13th last year, as he did this year, Green Bay would have surged to No. 8. Green Bay tied for 13th in 2011 after finishing 29th in 2010, 31st in 2009 and 26th in 2008.

In 2013, Green Bay finished 18th in starting field position following a kickoff return. The Packers were 31st in that category heading into Week 12. With Micah Hyde ranking fifth in the league in punt returns, the Packers finished seventh in returns and, most importantly, No. 1 in opponent net punting average.

"I thought Micah did an excellent job," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said on Wednesday. "He's an excellent ball-handler. He catches the ball well and makes good decisions and did a nice job on punt returners. There toward the end of the year — he hadn't gotten kickoff returns since he was in high school — you could see him starting to get a good feel for it and had some production."

Coverage was the Packers' problem throughout the season.

Green Bay ranked 32nd in field position following an opponent kickoff return, with easily the league's worst unit. Opponents' average starting point was the 25.6-yard line; Minnesota ranked 31st at the 24.4 and the league average was the 22.1. Green Bay's punt team ranked 21st in net average, even though Tim Masthay broke the franchise record for the fourth consecutive year with a net of 38.95 yards.

Injuries played a large role in the poor production. Ross, Jerron McMillian, Chris Banjo, Davon House, Robert Francois, Andy Mulumba and Jarrett Boykin were players who played at least one-third of the special-teams snaps in Week 1 against San Francisco who did not do so in the playoff rematch. Ross and McMillian were released, Francois was on injured reserve and House and Mulumba were thrust into bigger roles on defense so had their special-teams time reduced. In the playoff game, Jake Stoneburner, Sean Richardson, Kahlil Bell and Victor Aiyewa were special-teams stalwarts who were not even on the Week 1 roster.

"Realistically, it's a challenge when you change personnel," Slocum said. "Ideally you would have the same guys on the right side of the punt team and the left side of the punt team working with one another, working on their releases, working on coverage and where the other guy's going ot be, but it's not reality. Very few teams have that luxury. I think it's important that you accept the challenge and you deal with it and you become productive and you create production regardless of what your personnel circumstances are because in the end it's all about winning. You can make excuses, but it doesn't matter, because our goal is to win. That's the way I look at it. Whoever's playing has to do the job. It's well defined: Get it done."

Crosby was a major bright spot. After beating out two challengers, he was a career-best 89.2 percent, on 33-of-37 accuracy. In the greatest kicking season in NFL history, that ranked 13th in the league.

"He's not a guy that's going to be real vocal about things but I saw him, as a competitor, I saw the smoke come out of his ears a couple times," Slocum said. "I thought that was a good thing. We had a plan. It really started at the end of last season. He finished up strong and he really followed through with good production this year."

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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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