As if kicker Mason Crosby's struggles putting the ball through the uprights are not enough of a concern, Crosby has been adjusting the past two weeks to having punter Jeremy Kapinos hold for his kicks.
Kapinos saw his first game action this season as a holder in the Packers' 37-36 loss at Pittsburgh on Sunday. Though just one game, the results of the personnel change were close to disastrous.
Not only did Crosby miss a chip-shot field goal — a 34-yard attempt in the second quarter — in a tight game, he nearly missed two extra points. On the first, Kapinos mishandled a good snap, with Crosby making the kick just inside the left upright.
"It was just jitters," said Kapinos.
After that, Kapinos handled the snaps cleanly, but imagine what a slumping Crosby must have felt after that first extra point.
Head coach Mike McCarthy, Crosby and Kapinos have said this week that the move to Kapinos is solely to give Crosby more work in practice, since Flynn has to spend most of practice with the offense.
"It was a change that was made more mentally for Mason, the punter, and everybody knows how the operation works," McCarthy said. "The punter and the kicker, they spend all their time together. There's more opportunities for them to work on it based on Matt Flynn's other responsibilities in practice. This is really not an indictment on Matt Flynn or his holding ability. This is something that from a confidence standpoint we felt would help our operation. The ability to spend more time, like Mason and Jeremy do. That's a big reason we made the switch."
Crosby has had plenty of work over the past three seasons. It started during summer 2007, when he beat out incumbent Dave Rayner in what amount to a kick-fest of a training camp. Rayner said after he got cut that he thought both kickers were overworked. Call it sour grapes on Rayner's part, but there was a point to be made – they had plenty of practice.
Crosby continued to carry a heavy workload his rookie season. He was the Packers' best scoring option early that season, and by the end of the year was tied with the Titans' Rob Bironas in attempts (39).
In 2008, Crosby was tied for ninth in attempts (34), and this season, he is tied with the Eagles' David Akers for first (33). In training camp, he was the only kicker on the roster, meaning he took every repetition.
While extra work sounds good, considering what Crosby has been through the past three years, it seems unlikely to pull him out of his "slump." He is a veteran kicker. He knows what to do. Changing holders will not provide any benefit. On the contrary, it might hurt him and the team, if anything.
Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell, the best kicker in Packers history, always talked candidly in Green Bay about how important the chemistry was between the snapper, holder and kicker. While some thought he was splitting hairs, making a science out of a simple equation, his annual results over nine years were tough to argue with.
Crosby has missed kicks in the last four games and has made only 5-of-12 from 40 yards or longer, so there is a problem, but it might be temporary. Longwell had similar struggles in 2001 with the Packers (his fifth season in the NFL), but the Packers' coaching staff never changed holders to correct any issues. Longwell continued to work through it with holder Doug Pederson, whom he had established a rapport with in previous years.
Crosby, likewise, has worked with Flynn as his holder for two years. Until Sunday, Flynn held for every Crosby kick for 17 consecutive games. In training camp, the second-year quarterback even "won" the holding duties, considering Kapinos got reps as well as wide receiver Ruvell Martin and punter Durant Brooks, who were later released.
Flynn never had any issues holding, which should at least raise some eyebrows as to why such a change is taking place at this point in the season.
Last Sunday, the 14th game of the season, marked Kapinos' first time holding in a regular season game. He never handled holding duties at Penn State and only worked on it sparingly while with the New York Jets for the final five games in 2007. He got some reps this past training camp and from time-to-time has worked with long snapper Brett Goode in practice.
But making the transition to game day with just two regular season games left, and potentially the playoffs, will put increased pressure on Kapinos. The stakes will be higher, and Crosby will have to adapt quickly to new subtleties.
Imagine what it would be like for the Packers to lose a playoff game on a mishandled snap or poor hold, let alone a Crosby miss when everything else is right. McCarthy and his staff have at least brought that risk, unnecessarily, into the equation.
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org