Sep 25, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Trevor Davis (11) during warmups prior to the game against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field. Green Bay won 34-27. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
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In their Week 6 contest against the Dallas Cowboys, the Green Bay Packers were expected by many to come out and assert their standing as one of the better teams in the NFC and the NFL in general.
Unfortunately, that is not what happened.
Despite the presence of Aaron Rodgers and an array of weapons around him, the offense continued to lack any sort of cohesive effort on the ground or through the air.
Meanwhile, the defense came in with a ton of hype surrounding their ability to potentially slow down the Dallas run game, only to give up more on the ground in this one matchup than they did in their previous four outings.
But how did the third aspect of this group — the special teams unit — fare in this mostly disappointing game?
Sep 20, 2015; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby (2) shakes the hand of wide receiver Randall Cobb (18) as he is announced as the leading scorer in franchise history during the second half at Lambeau Field. Packers won 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports
DAL 3; 21 yard return (DAL 24)
*Onside Kick* DAL Recovery (DAL 38)
Extra points: 1/1
Field goals: 3/3 (37, 43, 34)
This section doesn’t ever end up needing to be long; I could simply say Crosby was great, and that would effectively sum up what happened in the kicking game.
However, that would undersell how good this guy continues to be — and with how bad the other usual stalwarts of the team are currently faring, we could all probably use as much positivity as we can find.
In terms of his kicking, Crosby actually was relatively underwhelming last week, with multiple kickoffs giving the Giants’ solid return game a chance to bring the ball out (which he took advantage of).
This week, we saw a better showing. 3 of his 5 kicks were touchbacks, with only one regular kick eventually being returned — and that one came up short of the touchback spot.
The only area he may want back is his onside kick, which was recovered pretty easily by the Cowboys’ Jason Witten, but even that one can’t really be faulted too much when you consider both the success rate of this type of play (through six weeks, only two of 20 onside kicks have been recovered by the kicking team) and the play of the Packers’ offense all afternoon (awful, so you’d be hard-pressed to expect them to score even if they got it).
The failures of the offense did leave Crosby with a few field goal tries at least (he made all three attempts) and a late extra point, and he likely would have added at least one more field goal try to his record had either the defense made a stop on third down with Dallas pinned inside their 10 or the offense had worked the clock a little better going into the half.
With Rodgers struggling and the defense losing their run-stopping mystique, Crosby stands as currently the most consistently reliable player for the team.
Oct 9, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers punter Jacob Schum (10) during the game against the New York Giants at Lambeau Field. Green Bay won 23-16. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
47 yards (DAL 2); Downed
On a week with seemingly everything going wrong for Green Bay, you would be remiss if people expected one of the major areas of concern to yet again be Schum.
To everyone’s surprise, he wasn’t; in fact, he may have been one of the biggest positive surprises for the game.
Now, it may have helped that he only had one play to consider, but with how he was playing so far this year I will gladly take it.
On that play, Schum got to focus mainly on the thing he was seemingly brought in for: ball placement. Far too often this year, his attempts have ended up being ones which require more power than placement, and that has been proven to this point to not be where his abilities are best suited to thrive. Giving him a kick which reduces the necessity for pure distance simplifies his task, and he showed he can deliver in the right situation.
This kick pinned the Cowboys within their own 5 yard line, placing them in what is a difficult situation. From where they were (and accounting for the fact that Green Bay had all three of their timeouts still), Dallas couldn’t just sit back and waste time. They needed to get a first down, or risk giving the Packers a quick opportunity to score.
The Cowboys defied the odds by not only getting themselves out of that situation, but going all the way downfield to score a touchdown, but Schum did everything he possibly could to set up the defense (and, indirectly, his offense) with the perfect sort of situation to turn the tide of the game.
Consider this: had the defense made a stop on third down, Green Bay could get the ball back around midfield (seeing as Dallas’ punter averaged about 40 yards per kick this game and would be punting from his own endzone, this seems likely). They would have about 40 seconds to work with at this point and would be well within range to have a great chance at a score. Subsequently, the Packers were set to receive the 2nd half kickoff and could possibly score again.
If you think about it, the least likely option happened here. If the other units held up their ends of the bargain, any of these outcomes were possibly what Dallas would see as they get the ball back in the 2nd half: 12-10, 16-10, or even 20-10. Instead, the defense let up on three straight plays before the half, the offense couldn’t come through, and Dallas was up 17-6 when they got the ball in the 3rd quarter. We can’t blame Schum for any of that.
Hopefully, we’ll see more of this version of him going forward.
Oct 16, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Trevor Davis (11) return a punt during the second quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY Sports
The return units
Fair Catch (GB 14)
25 yard return (GB 46)
24 yard return (GB 25)
40 yard return (GB 40)
Most weeks, we don’t see much from these guys; maybe a middling return here and there, but mostly a bundle of fair catches and touchbacks. With the way the rules have changed for kickoffs, this can amount to a good day on its own as long as there are no penalties.
This week we saw none of those penalties (something that popped up a couple times in this year), but also ended up with some actual nice returns.
On kickoffs, Ty Montgomery didn’t get many chances on the seven possible opportunities, but he did run two of the shorter ones up. The first got him back to the touchback spot on a kick which didn’t reach the end zone, so that itself is an unheralded play. The second was much more obviously notable, however.
With Green Bay down by 14 and time running out, they needed a spark if the flailing offense were to have any sliver of a chance at a comeback; Montgomery tried to provide it. He broke through the coverage to get the ball from at the endzone line all the way out to the Green Bay 40. The offense would ultimately fail (with Montgomery ending up as the culprit, fumbling away the ball near midfield), but his return at least set them up in position to have a legit shot at making something happen.
In terms of punts, there were only two to work with, but Trevor Davis made his opportunities count. The first was a fair catch, but the second saw him take the ball up the field for 25 yards, putting the Packers near midfield towards the end of the first half. The offense (again) went on to falter, but this good return indirectly helped to put his punter in position for his kick which pinned Dallas deep in their territory.
While we didn’t see the offense take advantage of the field position gifts provided by their returners, it is a good sign going forward that these units have the ability to give their offensive counterparts optimal field position. If that group can get their act together, returns like this could go from mere footnotes to being the turning point of a game.
Nov 30, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers long snapper Brett Goode (61) during the game against the New England Patriots at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
The coverage units
Downed (DAL 2)
21 yard return (DAL 24)
*Onside Kick* DAL Recovery (DAL 38)
Had the Giants found a way to beat Green Bay in Week 5, one of the areas I would have been looking to for showering blame would be this coverage unit. They allowed multiple long returns, missed tackles and accrued foolish penalties at seemingly every opportunity, and had the defense not been on their game all night we may be currently looking at a 2-3 record and even more questions and vitriol surrounding this team.
They made a major recovery in this game.
Crosby helped them out in the kicking department, leaving just one regular kick available for a possible return. On that particular kick we saw Lucky Whitehead come out to return a shorter kick, but the coverage was on him quickly to keep him from getting beyond the touchback line. They couldn’t recover the onside kick attempt late in the game, but I stated how rare those recoveries are and the unlikelihood of it making a difference anyway.
The shining moment for this unit was on punt coverage. Schum got great placement on his lone kick, but it was not a completely sure thing that the ball would stay out of the end zone on its own.
The coverage unit got down there with it, stayed disciplined (part of which was a player who ended up in the endzone but stayed away from the ball to prevent an inadvertent touchback), and eventually got the ball downed at the Dallas 2. As stated with Schum, this play could have changed the complexion of the game.
With the offense continuing to struggle and the defense showing it can be trampled in the wrong matchup, this team needs as many areas as possible performing well to make up for those issues. It didn’t make enough of a difference this week, but more efforts like this — with some more help from the other units — could be the difference between a few wins and losses in the coming weeks.