This week against the Arizona Cardinals, the Green Bay Packers will face a strong defense while being short-handed on offense due to injuries. The Green Bay defense, too, is suffering from a lot of injuries. The Packers offense has sputtered at times this season, even when fully-stocked, so points could be hard to come by on Sunday.
One area in which the Packers could “steal” points would be on special teams. The Green Bay special teams unit has been fantastic this season, pulling out all sorts of tricks to catch the opponents off-guard. Teams are starting to recognize the Packers’ fondness for using trick plays and will adjust accordingly, but the team has been excellent at being patient – waiting for the right look from the opponent before pulling out these special plays.
This hasn’t always been the case. Last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, for example, the Packers faked a field goal attempt on 4th-and-6 from the Jaguars’ 37, only to have punter Tim Masthay woefully underthrow tight-end D.J. Williams for an incompletion and a turnover on downs. Masthay took the blame, attributing the failure to his misreading the defensive coverage that Jacksonville was showing. Coach Mike McCarthy was none too pleased with the outcome and wryly announced that the Packers would not be attempting that play again: “You can tell all the opponents we will not be running that play again,” he said after the game.
Aside from that oopsie, the success of the Packers special teams have covered for the sporadic offense. Last week was not all bad even. Davon House blocked a Jacksonville punt which Dezman Moses recovered in the endzone for a touchdown, putting some much-needed points on the board for the Pack. It’s even more impressive considering the Packers only had 10 players on the field for the block!
In Week 7, the Packers used a surprise onside kick to steal a possession from the St. Louis Rams. The Rams were taking a control-the-clock approach in order to keep Aaron Rodgers off the field and the shrewd onside kick call put a serious wrench in that plan. Mason Crosby seems to have an uncanny ability to kick the perfect onside kick. His always go the required 10 yards and seem to land perfectly in a teammate’s hands. In the last three seasons, the Packers have recovered 75% of Crosby’s onside kicks. (Okay, okay, they’ve only attempted four, but still.) The Packers have used the onside kick in surprise situations very effectively, often early in the game or while they hold a lead.
Against the New Orleans Saints in Week 4, Green Bay faked a punt on a 4th-and-1 from their own 17. Fullback John Kuhn took a direct snap to run for the first down on a drive that would lead to a touchdown. Of all the kind of crazy calls the Packers have had this season, this one was the craziest! They were on their own 17-yard line! A turnover would have been disastrous. If you give Drew Brees the ball on the 17-yard line with a full set of downs, that’s pretty much an automatic seven points. But, like most of the other trick plays this season, the risk paid off.
The Packers also managed a touchdown from a fake field goal in Week 2 against the Chicago Bears. The Packers were facing a 4th-and-26 from the Chicago 27. Punter/holder Masthay took the snap and simply flicked the ball to an in-motion Tom Crabtree who ran into the endzone untouched. The whole play happened so fast, they had to show the replay several times just for anyone to be able to see Masthay’s pass. This one was especially fun because it was against the Bears.
The Packers do have to be careful as opponents come more prepared for their special team shenanigans, but special teams have given the team a huge boost in several key moments of the season. This is a huge deal for a unit that just a couple of years ago was beyond terrible. Packer fans were calling for special teams’ coach Shawn Slocum’s job, and it became a weekly occurrence to watch opponents gain huge returns and touchdowns against the Packers awful special teams coverage. Slocum deserves praise for tightening up the unit on coverage and penalties. The addition of Randall Cobb as a returner has allowed for the Packers to make positive gains in the field position battle, as well. Until the Packers get back to health, they will continue to lean on special teams to provide the momentum changers that have been a big part of the team’s success thus far in the season.