Special teams in the spotlight

The Packers and Cowboys feature two of the NFL's most complete special-team units.

Aaron Rodgers vs. Tony Romo. Donald Driver and Greg Jennings vs. Terrell Owens and Jason Witten.

Those will be the marquee names when the Cowboys and Packers square off on Sunday night at Lambeau Field.

But what about Will Blackmon against Adam Jones and Felix Jones?

With two high-octane offenses taking center stage and the skill-position stars getting their mugshots fitted for the "Sunday Night Football" Horse Trailer, the prime-time showdown could turn on special teams.

The Packers and Cowboys feature two of the NFL's most complete special-teams units.

"We get excited. It's going to be a fun game to play in," said Jason Hunter, one of the Packers' special-teams leaders. "They have exciting players and we have exciting players."

Both teams have kick return touchdowns. The Packers' Blackmon brought back a punt 74 yards in Week 1 against Minnesota. Cowboys rookie Felix Jones returned a kickoff 98 yards against Philadelphia last week. The other Jones, the infamous "Pacman," returned one punt for a touchdown in his rookie season and three more the next year before being suspended for all of 2007.

"Felix Jones, I've always thought, when him and Darren McFadden (teammates at Arkansas) were coming out, I thought Felix Jones was the better back," said Packers safety Charlie Peprah, a core member of the special teams. "He's already taken one back for a score, and Pacman's got the speed to do the same. We know they've got playmakers. We've got to put the clamps on them."

The numbers are impressive almost across the board.

Kickoff returns: Dallas ranks second (32.3-yard average); Green Bay ranks ninth (23.9).

Punt returns: Green Bay ranks fourth (16.4-yard average) behind Blackmon; Dallas ranks 28th (3.8) as opponents focus on shutting down Pacman Jones.

Kickoff coverage: Dallas ranks 15th (20.8-yard average); Green Bay ranks 16th (21.0).

Punting: Dallas ranks eighth (40.4-yard net average) with Mat McBriar; Green Bay ranks 13th (39.7) with Derrick Frost.

Then there's the kicking battle between the Packers' Mason Crosby and the Cowboys' Nick Folk. The rookies went kick for kick for the NFL scoring title for much of last season before Crosby captured the prize with 141 points and Folk placed fifth with 131.

Crosby has one big advantage in that he's tied for third in the league with five touchbacks in two games on kickoffs. With that kind of leg — plus a supporting cast of big, athletic and hungry reserves — Crosby can help neutralize the explosive Felix Jones.

"It might come down to special teams, so we've got to be on top of it," Crosby said.

Field position, as always, is a key, and it's a big reason why the Packers surprisingly signed Frost and released Jon Ryan. A 10-yard punt return means the offense needs one less first down to get into scoring position. A touchback on a kickoff or strong coverage means the offense might need to drive 50 yards just to get a decent look at a field goal.

"Special teams can always be the X-factor," Peprah said. "We've got to win the field-position battle. We've got to make the big plays."

Peprah will make his season debut on Sunday. He missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury, and it was a mild surprise when he made the final roster. The same can be said for defensive back Jarrett Bush, who struggled in coverage during the preseason. That they'll be suiting up in such a big game speaks to the importance the Packers place on special teams.

"I'm just ready to play football," Peprah said. "It's been too long."

Bill Huber is editor of Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com


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