GREEN BAY, Wis. – “It’s fixed.”
That’s what Green Bay Packers special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton proclaimed about his dicey field-goal protection unit on Thursday. That unit almost allowed the game-winning kick at San Francisco to be blocked two weeks ago and did have one blocked at the end of the first half last week against Pittsburgh, only to be let off the hook by a questionable offside penalty.
Drayton wouldn’t say what was wrong, nor would he detail the solution – no need to offer any help to Sunday’s opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals – but the first-year coordinator is confident that the problem now has a solution.
“We do realize we’ve had some things going on,” he said. “Obviously, I’ll take full responsibility for that. Should have made some in-game adjustments and we did not do it fast enough. But isn’t it awesome when things can occur and guys are able to see it and it actually didn't hurt you? It was a teachable moment, a learnable moment for everyone on that unit, so it was kind of an ‘ah’ moment, where the guys were like, ‘Wow. This is what coach was talking about.’ And it’s fixed.”
Only time will tell if the problems are truly fixed. As former special teams coordinator Ron Zook liked to say, any time there’s a weakness put on tape, it’s sure to be tested for at least the next few weeks.
That’s Drayton’s expectation, too.
“Oh, they’re going to test our temperature to make sure it is fixed,” he said.
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Two things were in play beyond the blocking. First, punter Corey Bojorquez, as the unit’s holder and signal-caller, needs to vary his cadence. Second, Hunter Bradley must snap the ball faster. The Fox TV replays of the block against Pittsburgh showed Bradley raising the ball and then snapping it.
Combined, the predictability of the cadence and the “hitch” in the snap, as Drayton called it, gave Minkah Fitzpatrick a split-second jump on the ball. Fitzpatrick was bursting through the line before any of Green Bay’s blockers moved.
From snap to kick, the ball should be on its way in 1.25 to 1.28 seconds, Drayton said last week and reiterated on Thursday. So long as that happens, the defenders on the edge shouldn’t be able to get to the ball.
“The beauty of it is, from Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, we were able to show the progression and show them how, ‘Hey, this is what people saw on film leading up to it. This is how they set us up for that,’” Drayton said. “It really was eye opening for our guys and we’ll be fine. The block came from the D-gap. It did not come off the edge. The operation was fine. I’m going to stand by what I said. Fact check me on it. If that operation is at 1.25 to 1.28 (seconds), you have a nice bow (in the protection) and they will not be able to get to it off the edge.”
Despite the near-disasters, kicker Mason Crosby will enter Sunday’s game with a streak of 24 consecutive field goals, the longest in franchise history.
Will the block and almost-block play mental games, like an NBA player wary of Giannis Antetokounmpo racing over to block a shot?
“Not Mason Crosby,” Drayton said.