With the end of the first half of the season approaching, Green Bay Packers special teams coordinator Ron Zook sees an obvious need for improvement.
It’s one thing that the Packers did well on special teams last year. In 2015, the Packers allowed a league-best 4.2 yards per punt return. While they were near the bottom with their 26.7 yards allowed per kickoff return, that was skewed by one long return vs. Detroit. This year, the Packers are allowing 10.7 yards per punt return and 25.8 yards per kickoff return. Those figures rank 22nd and 29th, respectively — the big reason why the Packers rank 18th in our midseason special teams rankings.
“We’re not covering kicks the way I want to cover kicks or the way I think we need to cover kicks,” Zook said on Thursday. “There’s more than one reason for that. In any football season with injuries and so forth, guys get moving around, you’re trying to keep them fresh if they’re playing offense or defense, so there may be some things that you really worked hard on in the preseason you’re not able to do because of injuries and things of that nature. But that’s the game. That’s part of it. We’re always going to be a group that’s in progress. We’re young, usually, and guys are learning and learning to play the game. It’s fun to watch guys, particularly the rookies, as things happen to them and they, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s what you’re talking about.’ It is a much faster game. As I’ve said many times, you can’t buy experience. You’ve got to go play.”
Packer Report tracks five key special-teams statistics: Starting field position following a kickoff and kickoff return, net punting for and against, and field-goal accuracy. A No. 1 ranking means one point, a No. 2 ranking means two points and so on. The first four categories are about field position. After all, a 40-yard punt with no return is better than a 50-yard punt but allowing a 15-yard return, and a touchback on a kickoff return is better than getting a 30-yard return from a kick 7 yards into the end zone.
The Packers’ ranking is boosted by kicker Mason Crosby, who ranks sixth in accuracy. What’s also been important is the Packers haven’t been greedy on kickoff returns. They rank ninth in starting field position following a return because they’ve accepted touchbacks on 73.7 percent of kickoffs — the fourth-highest rate in the league. They’ve returned only three of 31 end-zone kickoffs. The new touchback starting point is the 25-yard line this year, and Green Bay has taken advantage as one of only 10 teams with an average starting point of beyond the 25 (25.2).
“If you look statistically, that’s the way to go,” Zook said.
Green Bay ranked 14th at the bye and 16th last season.
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