Not so special

Kickoff return coverage has been soft; gets big test on Sunday

The Packers have one of the top coverage units on kickoffs, but their efforts in the past few games have raised a red flag.

Special teams coordinator Mike Stock acknowledged Thursday that the unit hasn't been as foolproof as its No. 5 league ranking (average of 20.1 yards allowed) would suggest.

"We've been not doing what we should be doing. Not everybody, just a handful. But, all it takes is two or three guys every time, and then they find that seam and we're vulnerable," Stock said.

Even with Dave Rayner blasting 10 kickoffs for touchbacks, the Packers haven't always kept the opponent pinned deep in its own territory.

The breakdowns started four weeks ago when Miami's Wes Welker had a 33-yard return, leading to a field goal in a 34-24 Green Bay win. The following week, Arizona's J.J. Arrington had a 29-yard return, fueling a touchdown drive in a 31-14 Packers victory.

Then, Buffalo's Terrence McGee returned the game-opening kickoff 61 yards, and the Bills cashed in with a field goal en route to a 24-10 win.

Last Sunday at Minnesota, the Packers caught a break when Bethel Johnson ran back the kickoff to start the second half 102 yards for a touchdown. The points were taken off the board because Artose Pinner was penalized for an illegal block above the waist against rookie Jarrett Bush. Stock said the Packers still missed two tackles on the play in a game they won 23-17.

Now, the Packers have to contend Sunday with New England's powerful rookie, Laurence Maroney, who ranks second in the league with an average of 29.7 yards per return.

Stock said the coverage team has to shore up its basic principles of shedding blocks and making tackles downfield. Otherwise, it could be another head-scratching day.

"What we have to do is keep them off-balance. So, we'll have some things that we'll do that hopefully will keep 'em off-balance," Stock said. "Beyond that, we've got to make sure that we don't stick on blockers like Velcro and go down and make the tackle."

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