Not so special kickoff coverage

After a strong start, Packers' unit has slipped in rankings in recent weeks

Dave Rayner is keeping good company with rookie linebacker A.J. Hawk in one regard this season. Actually, the fact that Rayner, the team's kicker, has as many special teams tackles (four) as Hawk, who leads the defense with 113 tackles, spells bad news.

"Yeah, it's not good when I make three tackles," said Rayner, who had the dubious hat trick Monday night at Seattle.

An outbreak of breakdowns by teammates on the kickoff-coverage unit forced Rayner to reluctantly sacrifice his 6-foot-2, 210-pound body to prevent the Seahawks' Nate Burleson from padding his substantial return average of 25.8 yards.

"I'd be OK going the whole year not having to make a tackle," Rayner said. "But, I'm the 11th guy, and obviously, saving some touchdowns is what we needed."

Through no fault of the strong-legged Rayner, who has 10 touchbacks, the Packers have been gluttons in recent weeks for giving their opponents a short field with which to work. They had the league's top-rated coverage unit after seven games in late October, allowing an average of 19.3 yards per return. Four games later, the average has swollen to 21.9 yards, and Green Bay has plummeted to 14th in the rankings.

On Sunday, the Jets come calling at Lambeau Field with the league's most prolific kickoff returner in Justin Miller, who averages 28.9 yards and has provided instant offense with two touchdowns.

When comes to lane integrity, coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged that some of his players on the coverage team aren't giving an honest effort. Getting caught out of position has sprung the likes of Buffalo's Terrence McGee (33.3-yard average), Minnesota's Bethel Johnson (24.8) and Seattle's Burleson for big gains in recent weeks.

McCarthy refused to blame the lapses on an instability of personnel brought on by injuries.

"It would be convenient for me to say we had some new guys playing, but I'm not going there. This is who we are; this is our football team," McCarthy said. "I'm excited about what we have, and we're very positive with our approach. We're not asking them to do anything they haven't done since the first day of training camp.

"Frankly, our consistency in fundamentals is our problem right now. We need to do a better job of it, and we need to do it for four quarters. We just haven't done that, particularly the last (few) weeks."


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