On Sunday Night Football, the Green Bay Packers overcame a sluggish first quarter to beat the Chicago Bears 45-30. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers started out the game slow but then turned it on. Rodgers finished the game going 29 of 37 for 341 yards with four touchdown passes and zero interceptions. Star wide receiver Davante Adams, who missed practice time leading up to the game because of a sore hamstring, finished the game with 10 receptions for 121 yards with two touchdown receptions. On defense, the Packers had some struggles. However, they overcame them to do enough to help contribute to a Packers victory. Offensively and defensively, the Packers did what was needed to beat a less talented team. But the same cannot be said for the third facet of the Packers. The Green Bay Packers special teams once again failed to do what is necessary for a championship-caliber team.
Once Again, Green Bay Packers Special Teams Flops
Poor performances from the Green Bay Packers special teams is not anything new. But on Sunday, against the Bears, the much-criticized unit played at an all-time low. The only two positives that came from that unit were the punting of Corey Bojorquez and that kicker Mason Crosby did not actually miss a field goal or extra point. However, Crosby did contribute to the struggles in other ways. If the Green Bay Packers special teams were looking to hit rock bottom, the goal was achieved on Sunday night.
Packers Return Game Downright Embarrassing
Throughout Packers history, they have been blessed with some very explosive punt and kickoff returners. In 1997, kickoff and punt returner Desmond Howard was a major contributor in helping the Packers win a Super Bowl. After Howard, the Packers were blessed to have players like Allen Rossum, Roell Preston, and Randall Cobb as their primary returners. But those players and the excitement they brought on returns are just a distant memory.
Amari Rodgers, a third-round pick in the most recent NFL draft, was supposed to be that player. But the rookie has struggled and at times has looked utterly lost returning punts and kickoffs. Sunday against the Bears was not any different. In the second half, Rodgers allowed a punt to literally bounce off his chest. Luckily for Rodgers and the Packers, the Bears were called for a penalty which nullified the play. While the play did not count, it is just another example of how the Green Bay Packers are failing at the return game.
The punt return was not the only area of returns that made mistakes on Sunday. Early in the first half, Malik Taylor decided to try to field a kickoff headed for out of bounds. Instead of fielding it cleanly, Taylor fumbled the ball out of bounds at the five-yard line, which forced the Packers offense to start a drive with poor field position. Taylor was injured in the game which forced Rodgers to end the game as the kickoff returner.
At this point in the season, the chance of the Packers return game generating any type of positive results is long gone. The Packers can only hope their return game just won’t make mistakes.
Packers Coverage Units Gashed
How bad were the Packers kickoff and punt coverage units on Sunday night? By half time, the Bears special teams had generated 213 yards. For most NFL special teams, that type of yardage for a complete game would be a major win. But to do it by half time, it is unheard of.
Leading up to the Bears game, the only part of the Green Bay Packers special teams that had performed adequately was the coverage teams. But on Sunday, that all changed.
Bears kickoff returner Khalil Herbert returned five kicks for 128 yards with a 25.6 yards per kickoff return average. On all five of those kickoffs, Crosby failed to reach the endzone. If that was the strategy, it was a bad one. Herbert took advantage of the short kicks and put the Bears offense in good field position. He was also helped out by the lack of coverage by the Green Bay Packers special teams.
Punt return coverage was just as bad if not worse. Bears punt returner Jakeem Grant returned three punts for 131 yards and had a 43.7 yard per return average. Included in those numbers was a 97 yard return that Grant took for a touchdown. The touchdown is the first punt returned for a touchdown this season by any team.
Lack of Playmakers on Green Bay Packers Special Teams
Kickoff and punt return are not the only areas lacking playmakers for the Green Bay Packers special teams. Players that were expected to be the core of the Packers coverage team units are failing to step up as well.
Ty Summers made the Packers roster for his supposed prowess on special teams. But his special teams play has been downright bad. For a player who is being relied on to be a core player on coverage units, Summers isn’t showing that he is capable of being that. His number was not called once on Sunday night against the Bears.
Summers was not the only core special teams player that failed to show up on Sunday. Players like Oren Burks, Henry Black, and Shermar Jean-Charles also performed poorly for the Green Bay Packers special teams. Along with Summers, Jean-Charles and Burks are primarily special teamers. If they are not producing, and not being a part of the defense, why are they active for game day?
Taylor was another player who made the roster for his supposed special teams ability. While Taylor did leave the game due to an injury, he has not performed well on special team throughout the season. In fact, fellow wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown has outperformed Taylor on special teams this season. St. Brown hadn’t played special teams since his freshman season at Notre Dame. But he has outplayed Taylor by a large margin.
Rookie inside linebacker Isaiah McDuffie was a healthy scatch for Sunday’s game. You have to wonder if the Packers would be better off with McDuffie over Summers. Summers has shown he is incapable of playing linebacker when called upon. So why not go with the rookie McDuffie who has more special teams potential.
A Green Bay Packers Special Teams Coordinator Over His Head
Since Matt LaFleur has not made many mistakes since taking over as the Packers head coach. His promotion of Maurice Drayton as the Green Bay Packers special teams coordinator may turn out be his biggest mistake.
The hiring of Drayton was a curious one. Not only had he not been an NFL special teams coordinator before, but he has also been a big part of the Green Bay Packer special teams failures. Drayton served as the primary assistant to former Packers special teams coordinators Ron Zook and Shawn Menenga. Both Zook and Menenga were fired for leading failed units.
When hired, Drayton was supposed to bring new ideas to the Packers special teams. But if that is the case, why did he not do that when he worked under both Zook and Mennenga? From how the Packers special teams have performed so far this season, it appears that Drayton is not bringing anything new to the lowly unit. In fact, with Drayton in charge, the Packers special teams have sunk even lower.
LaFleur has come out and said that he will not move on from Drayton. It is admirable, but what other choice does he have? Firing Drayton would only put him in the same situation he is already in, that being having an inexperienced special teams coordinator leading a poor unit. LaFleur made this bed and now he has to sleep in it. It will be up to him to get Drayton to adjust. If not, the Packers special teams might cost them a victory and with the playoffs right around the corner; LaFleur cannot afford that.