GREEN BAY, Wis.– Momentum, whether it’s positive or negative, is hard to stop.
Such was the case last year for the Green Bay Packers’ special teams. The late-season addition of Tyler Ervin sent a charge throughout coordinator Shawn Mennenga’s crew. And such is the case this year, though the momentum is rolling the wrong direction.
Simply put, the Packers need to flip the script on special teams in a hurry.
Against Houston, it was a blocked punt. Against Jacksonville, it was a punt returned for a touchdown. Against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, it was returner Darrius Shepherd’s fumbled kickoff return. Shepherd’s gaffe led to a field goal that capped a 17-point run that turned a 28-14 lead into a 31-28 deficit.
“We just can’t turn the ball over on special teams,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers lamented following a 34-31 loss.
And they can’t keep giving away field position as if it’s candy on Halloween.
The Colts had zero fear of Shepherd and Green Bay’s kickoff-return unit, so they kept kicking it short of the goal line to force a return. He averaged 19.7 yards on seven kickoff returns. Aside from one strong runback to the 34, Green Bay’s average starting field position following a kickoff was the 21.7.
It certainly wasn’t all special teams, but the Colts enjoyed a 197-yard advantage in total field position.
“Unbelievable special teams,” Colts quarterback Philip Rivers said. “Special teams, we always talk about three phases. We won that phase big time. That can't be discounted.”
Punter JK Scott, who entered the week with the third-worst net punting average in the NFL, had another poor game. Scott was questionable for Sunday because of a personal matter and didn’t travel with the team on Saturday. But he was in uniform, anyway. Kicking inside Lucas Oil Stadium, Scott averaged just 39.0 yards per punt. For the season, opponents have a net punting average of 41.7 yards. In 10 games, Scott has beaten that mark only twice.
Ervin’s been a total nonfactor. He missed time earlier in the season with an injured thumb and was out on Sunday with injured ribs. When healthy, he did next to nothing with a 5.0-yard average on punt returns and 17.6 yards on kickoff returns. But at least he might not have coughed it up like Shepherd did in the fourth quarter.
Green Bay entered the week ranked 28th on punt returns, 32nd on kickoff returns, 31st on punt coverage and 17th on kickoff coverage. Kicker Mason Crosby’s accuracy has been the only saving grace.
“Obviously, we’ve had a couple things happen to us in the last couple weeks and it’s something you don’t want to have happen,” special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga said last week. “We’re going to use it as a learning experience and we do. I try to look at each game as, did we do enough in the phases to win the game, and we’ve won the field position battle all but a couple games here. That’s not a sexy thing to talk about. We definitely do need to stop the negative things from happening to us and try to create some positive plays.”