Special Teams Had It Covered

From Brett Swain's big play, to coverage on the Bears' returners, to Jordy Nelson's production on kickoff returns, it was a strong debut by the Packers on Sunday night.

Last year, Danieal Manning led the NFL with a 29.7-yard average on kickoff returns.

In 2006 and 2007, Devin Hester ranked second in the NFL in punt returns.

On Sunday night, the Bears' dangerous return aces were kept under wraps. Throw in Jordy Nelson's productive night as a kickoff returner and Brett Swain's heads-up play on a fake punt, and the Packers' special teams were a positive factor in Green Bay's season-opening victory.

"I think when we win, it's a good game," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. "That's what I think."

Manning posted an impressive 26.7-yard average on three kickoff returns, but with Mason Crosby's kickoffs reaching 2 yards deep in the end zone, 5 yards deep in the end zone and the 1-yard line, the Bears' average possession after those returns started at the 24-yard line.

Packers punter Jeremy Kapinos kicked the ball six times but Hester only got to return two of them, posting a 7.5-yard average.

"Those guys are so explosive, and at any time, they can take it to the end zone," Slocum said. "I was pleased with the fact that we kept them corralled throughout the night."

One of the big plays of the game came in the fourth quarter. With the Bears nursing a 12-10 lead and facing a fourth-and-11 from their 26-yard line, Chicago surprised everyone by running a fake punt. Surprised everyone, that is, except the Packers. Swain, who usually is one of the jammers lined up over the gunners on a punt, lined up a few yards over the center and was in position to tackle Garrett Wolfe after a short gain.

"At that time, we were down and they were backed up and had fourth-and-long," Slocum said. "I didn't want to do something where we weren't capable of tackling a fake. I was pleased that we got it tackled. Brett made a great play."

On Monday, Bears long snapper Patrick Mannelly revealed it was he — not Bears coach Lovie Smith — who called for the fake. Mannelly made the decision when he saw the Packers had 12 men on the field, but with his head down to snap the ball, he didn't notice that the Packers' Clay Matthews III had easily made it to the sideline.

After the game, Swain said that with him lining up by the center instead of as a jammer, it might have made the Bears think the Packers were going to try to block the punt rather than set up a return.

"I think they kind of took the bait a little bit," Swain said. "My job on that is to check the fake. They decided to run a fake, and the hole opened up pretty big so I was able to get a good angle on the runner and was able to make the play."

While the Bears' defense stiffened, the resulting field goal gave Green Bay a 13-12 lead. Swain's tackle was a huge play, considering the Bears had seized control of the game.

"I kind of got up and kind of looked at the first-down marker just to make sure that he didn't sneak another yard in there to get it," said Swain, a former high school defensive back who filled in on defense against Tennessee in the preseason. "Then I got up and kind of realized how big it was. I got pretty excited and saw the sideline jumping up and down. That was kind of cool."

There were other bright spots, too, by a special teams unit that was among the league's worst last season. Among players with more than one kickoff return in Week 1, Nelson — who was replacing an injured Will Blackmon — ranks fourth in the league with a 31.0-yard average. The Packers finished last in the NFL in kickoff returns last year; after one week this year, then rank third.

Kapinos averaged a solid 44.7 yards per punt. He would have had a sensational night had a fourth-quarter punt that was downed at the Bears' 6 not been nullified by a holding penalty on Matthews. On the re-do, Kapinos hit his only clunker of the night, a 28-yarder that was downed at the 27.

Crosby made up for a missed 49-yard field goal by connecting from 52 and 39 yards.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine 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 Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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