Special Teams Show Signs of Life

How does Green Bay's special teams, which performed well last week against Dallas after a trying regular season, stack up against Seattle's? (Benny Sieu/USA TODAY)

In Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, points might be at a premium and possessions might be scarce due to the power of both running attacks.

That means special teams could be the tipping point for the Green Bay Packers in their game against the Seattle Seahawks.

“I think field position is going to play a big part in this ball game,” special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said on Thursday. “That all begins with special teams because of the exchange in the football. It will be very important. The team that has the advantage there will have a very good opportunity.”

According to Packer Report’s special teams formula, the Packers ranked 31st in the league and the Seahawks were 14th. That’s obviously a decided advantage for the speedy Seahawks, but their solid kickoff-return unit will be hurt by the loss of rookie receiver Paul Richardson, who averaged 23.5 yards per runback before sustaining a season-ending knee injury last week. Richardson replaced electric Percy Harvin after he was traded to the Jets.

“I’m glad he’s in New York,” Slocum said the day after Green Bay’s playoff win over Dallas.

The Packers have had a litany of problems on special teams, ranging from the seven blocked kicks to an impotent kickoff-return unit to the poorly timed slump from punter Tim Masthay.

Against the Cowboys’ special teams, which finished 10th in our rankings, the Packers performed better. With Randall Cobb and Micah Hyde returning kickoffs instead of DuJuan Harris, the Packers started drives at their 32- and 34-yard line. Cobb’s fumble, however, was a black eye. Neither of Masthay’s two punts flipped the field position but the coverage unit limited the returns to 3 and 4 yards. Datone Jones got a finger on Dan Bailey’s 50-yard field goal, which took potential points off the scoreboard for the Cowboys and allowed the Packers to kick a field goal on the final play of the first half.

What could be a trump card for the Packers is the clutch return ability of Hyde. He delivered touchdowns on punt returns against Philadelphia (No. 2 in our rankings) and Detroit (No. 9 in net punting). It would be perfect timing to do it again against former Packers punter Jon Ryan. Seattle ranked 24th in net punting and allowed 11.5 yards per return, including a 90-yard touchdown.

“Going into those big games, you understand that special teams is key,” Hyde said. “We talk about it a lot during our meetings. … We’re more aware that special teams is going to be a big aspect in the game.”

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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