Special teams improved, confident, having fun

The Packers are winning football games in similar fashion to the Glory Years II days of the mid-1990s. Green Bay has a solid offense and defense, and is getting timely contributions from much improved special teams units, says PackerReport.com's Todd Korth.

One of the big reasons why the Green Bay Packers have bolted to a 9-1 record this season is special teams. For the first time in a long time, they are special. General manager Ted Thompson made a concerted effort to improve the various units, which ranked last in the league in the past two seasons, and thus far it is paying off.

The Packers got a big boost early on in their 31-17 victory over the Carolina Panthers Sunday when Tramon Williams returned a pooch punt 94 yards for a touchdown. Koren Robinson also chipped in at the start of the second half by taking a kickoff 67 yards to Carolina's 30. That return set up a touchdown and a 28-3 lead, which all but sealed the game for the Packers.

Take away Mason Crosby's two missed field goal attempts from 49 yards out, and Green Bay's special teams had a pretty good day at the office. But it's been a pretty good season thus far for special teams and one of the big reasons for the team's success.

Entering Sunday's game, the Packers were ranked third in the league in opponent punt return average and third in opponent kickoff return average. They only improved that average on Sunday. Green Bay held Carolina's Ryne Robinson to just 17.8 yards on five returns, and the Panthers did not have any punt return yards on Jon Ryan's three punts.

"I think our special teams have been very solid and have won a number of match-ups for us this year," said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. "I thought earlier in the year the field position was definitely in our favor. We gave up the one big game against Chicago. We felt like special teams was an area where we needed to win in today's game and we felt like we accomplished that."

Koren Robinson has given the kickoff return team a boost, and averaged a sparkling 33.7 yards on three returns against the Panthers.

Though he struggled on Sunday, missing two of three field goal attempts, Crosby is 19 of 25 in his first NFL season. He also has used his strong leg to Green Bay's advantage with 11 touchbacks.

Ryan reduced the number of steps to his approach last offseason, and that has helped him vault to fifth in the NFL entering Sunday's game with a 39.4-yard net average.

With the success of special teams, the players have been able to have a little fun as well. The units are loose as a goose, and pushing the league's stringent rules against excessive celebration to the limit during timeouts before kickoffs, or kickoff returns.

"We definitely try to have fun," said Williams. "You gotta have fun. If you love what you do, why shouldn't it be fun if you love what you do?"

Williams says none of the dancing is planned, just spontaneous.

"Having fun. Getting your mind right," Williams said. "We don't want nobody to score on us, so we're getting our mind right to do our job."

McCarthy doesn't have a problem with the light dancing as long as his team isn't flagged by the officials.

"Absolutely, it's something that the officials warned us of excessive celebration so we had to tone it down a bit," McCarthy said. "Energy is so important, passion, confidence, we spent last year trying to build. I think this is a football team that shows it week-in and week-out, play-in and play-out. It's a big part of our success."

It's getting contagious for the Packers. Though the team is young overall, it is playing with a ton of confidence, especially on special teams, and that has been a big factor in many of the team's nine victories thus far.

Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at packrepted@aol.com.

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