Hyde, as Usual, Provides Return Spark

Micah Hyde delivered just what the Packers needed entering their final drive at Miami: great field position. Based on his history of success, Hyde should be the team's full-time returner.

“Huge.”

That was coach Mike McCarthy’s description of Micah Hyde’s punt return, which jump-started the Green Bay Packers’ game-winning drive on Sunday at Miami.

The Packers wouldn’t have rallied past the Dolphins without T.J. Lang’s heads-up fumble recovery or Aaron Rodgers’ incredible fourth-down pass to Jordy Nelson. And they might not have won without James Starks third-and-10 conversion, when he drug a linebacker for the final 4 yards to move the chains, and they might not have won without the fake-spike completion to Davante Adams.

And without Hyde, the Packers might have needed to go 80 or 85 yards for the final touchdown rather than 60. He probably ran 25 yards to field the kick at the 23-yard line near the left sideline. The Dolphins’ gunner overran the play, which allowed Hyde some running room. He dodged another would-be tackler at the 35 before getting tackled at the 40.

“Boy, he gave us good field position,” special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said on Monday. “They mis-hit the punt. Most punts have a tendency to roll. He caught it on the 23-yard line, and that could’ve started us backed up inside the 20 at least. For him to get the ball to the 40, I thought, was really a big play, especially with not having any timeouts left.”

Slocum went for the block against punter Brandon Fields. The combination of a good rush, which led to just a 40-yard punt, and the pressure, which forced the coverage team to block and, therefore, delayed their sprint downfield, gave Hyde ample running room.

“If you look at the play, there’s a lot of space,” Slocum said. “Their protectors have to protect first before they can cover. That’s kind of the idea behind it. If you don’t block the ball, then give your returner a chance to catch a poor punt and get some field position.”

Hyde’s return should have come as no surprise. What is surprising is why the Packers have even used Randall Cobb in that role, given the respective depth of their positions. As a rookie last season, Hyde replaced an injured Cobb and ranked fifth in the NFL with a 12.3-yard average on punt returns, including a 93-yard touchdown against Minnesota. In his first full game as the returner last year, he had an 18-yard return against Cleveland. That return, Slocum said, came on the same call he dialed up against the Dolphins.

In fact, with Hyde returning punts for most of last season, Green Bay led the NFL in opponent net punting average at 35.6.

This season, Cobb is averaging 8.0 yards on six returns with four touchbacks. Hyde is averaging 12.3 yards on four returns with no touchbacks. They enter the Week 7 schedule ranked fifth with an opponent net of 37.7 yards.

“I think he makes good decisions,” Slocum said of Hyde. “He’s very courageous. He’s a very good catcher of the ball. He responds well. He reacts to the kick and responds well.”

And that Hyde was on the field, not Cobb, in a situation when the Packers badly needed a big return to set up the offense with good field position against an outstanding Dolphins defense speaks volume in their comfort level with Hyde.

“Game’s on the line,” Slocum said. “That play is as important as T.J.’s fumble recovery, as Andrew’s catch, as Aaron’s throws, as the protection that series. I mean, the whole thing.”

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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