The 2014 Green Bay Packers were good at many, many things. They ran the ball effectively, played perhaps better-than-expected defense, and, like any Aaron Rodgers-led team, put up lots of points including a stretch of box scores that read like a pinball machine. But one of the things the Packers were not good at, was special teams. In fact, they were quite bad. Like, really bad.
So bad that the Packers finished dead last in the Dallas Morning News' annual special teams report.
A tradition since 1990, sportswriter Rick Gosselin ranks teams using 22 different categories, assigning a composite score to each team based on his analysis, with higher numbers representing a worse score. The Packers score was 450, but Gosselin could have just as easily used this photo of a passed out fan in a stadium bathroom as visual representation of the Packers special teams performance. This is a sad unit.
Of course, this isn't exactly breaking news. The Packers' special teams, aside from Mason Crosby's consistency and Micah Hyde's occasional brilliance, have been bad all year. Capping the season off was the debacle in Seattle this past Sunday, the perfect cherry on top of a crap sundae that included allowing an NFL-worst 7(!) blocked kicks and a 75-yard touchdown versus Buffalo that helped cost the team home-field advantage in the playoffs.
But while the Packers special teams woes are nothing new, Gosselin's rankings do magnify the startling contrast between what is, for the most part, a well-constructed team on offense and defense, and then the special teams. This is an offense that can look both deadly and beautiful on the field, a perfectly orchestrated symphony of efficiency. Then special teams comes out two minutes later banging the lids of trash cans together.
So the question is - where do the Packers go from here? If it weren't for two soul-crushing special teams blunders just five days ago, the answer would be the Super Bowl. Admittedly, that's a fresh wound doing the talking, but the Packers special teams struggles date back before even this year. They finished 19th last year and while they were respectable the previous two (12th in 2012 and 13th in 2011) they preceded that with finishes of 31st and 29th the years before that. Gross.
The easy answer would be to fire Shawn Slocum. But that's not exactly an easy decision.
The Packers value consistency and stability and if improving your team was as simple as changing coaches, the Redskins and Browns would be in the Super Bowl every year. Still, Mike McCarthy has routinely preached accountability and at some point, that philosophy is going to have to be put into practice. Slocum may very well be only a small part of the problem. But as last Sunday proved, small problems can make huge differences.