Special teams plunge to 26th

Annual Dallas Morning News rankings reveal how badly the unit slipped under Mike Stock in 2008.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy didn't need to look at the Dallas Morning News' special teams rankings in deciding to renovate his kicking units. Rick Gosselin's annual breakdown of NFL special teams, however, confirmed McCarthy's belief that new thinking was required.

The Packers finished 26th under now-retired special teams coordinator Mike Stock, based on their ranking in 22 special teams areas compiled by Gosselin and revealed on Sunday. In kickoff returns, for instance, the Tennessee Titans earned one point for their league-leading average of 25.4 yards per return while the Packers earned 32 points for their league-worst average of 20.1 yards per runback.

The Buffalo Bills led the way for the third time in five years with 254 points, followed by Tennessee (268.5), Cleveland (269) and the Giants (269.5). The Packers scored 430 points, which was the worst among NFC North teams. Chicago ranked eighth (288.5), Detroit 19th (381.5) and Minnesota 25th (422).

With 430 points, that means the Packers' average ranking per special teams category was 19.5.

Special teams aren't a barometer of winning and losing. While the top seeds in each conference, the Titans and Giants, ranked in the top four, Pittsburgh ranked 20th and Arizona 28th. The top 13 positions were filled with six playoff teams.

But, generally speaking, teams that are young and are free of a lot of blockbuster contracts should be better on special teams because they have, in theory, better and hungrier players in the bottom half of the roster. That was evident in 2007, when Mike Stock's units ranked seventh in the NFL. But with mostly the same crew returning, the Packers struggled returning kickoffs, covering kickoffs, punting, kicking field goals, creating big plays and allowing blocked kicks. They also committed a league-high 24 penalties.

New special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum inherits Will Blackmon, one of the finest punt returners in the league, and kicker Mason Crosby, a talented prospect whose 79 percent accuracy on field goals lags well behind the league average of about 87 percent.

Click here for Gosselin's breakdown.

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Lambeau Level forum.

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