When your team wins by 19 points over an opponent with a better record, the topic of firing a coach is not usually part of the usual Monday morning quarterbacking.
In the case of the Green Bay Packers, today is one of the exceptions. While the team did win 31-12 over the Miami Dolphins to keep their playoff hopes alive, there was one phase of the team that was all out of sorts once again and this time it was not the offense.
Special teams mistakes kept the game much closer than it should have been and given the track record of the unit in 2018, it’s time for special teams coordinator Ron Zook to go.
Zook arrived in 2014, replacing the much maligned Shawn Slocum. The unit finished 22nd that year in defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) according to Football Outsiders but it was a mishap by the kickoff team on an onside kick that cost the Packers a Super Bowl trip. Brandon Bostick made a gaffe that should never have been made and that’s on the coach as well as the player.
From 2015 through last season, the Packers finished 17th, 21st and 14th respectively. The rise last season was in part thanks to Trevor Davis’ emergence as a returner including his 65-yard return that set up the game-winning touchdown against the Cleveland Browns.
Then 2018 started, with Davis on injured reserve, and the wheels came off.
It’s not exactly a hidden secret that the Packers’ special teams has been atrocious all season. The statistics are clear on that Green Bay is currently ranked 25th in special teams DVOA (entering Sunday’s game against the Dolphins). They have been in the bottom quarter of the league all season.
Recent memory will point people towards Ty Montgomery’s fumble that cost the Packers a possible win over the then-undefeated Rams and yesterday’s blocked punt against the Dolphins, but the unit has been sloppy all season. It seems like every game there is a penalty on special teams that backs the offense up even more, which isn’t good for an offense that has had problems itself.
People think special teams are inconsequential for the most part unless you have an electrifying returner, but they can act like an albatross if their performance is poor. The Packers have lost over 120 yards on 12 special teams penalties, according to NFLPenalties.com (five of which occurred against the Lions). The team as a whole has committed 64 penalties which cost them 585 yards. Special teams makes up 18.75% and 20.5% of those numbers respectively.
This of course is just the statistical part of the equation. Once you start to look at the videotape, things become even more clear. They have no effective returner until Davis is back and even he had issues last season taking the ball out of the end zone much like what happened with Montgomery (except Davis’ choice wasn’t mutinous like Montgomery’). Then when they get a decent return, they still turn the ball over as was evident by Tramon Williams’ fumble early in yesterday’s game.
When the team drafted JK Scott, he was supposed to be a weapon, which is really the only reason you’d draft a punter in the fifth round. He has had his moments, but he’s also been wildly inconsistent as is proven by his 26th ranking in the league in total yards and 17th in average and 16th in net. Sure, he’s a rookie but for someone with a leg like that there has to be some accountability with the coaches as well.
The bottom line is that the evidence is pretty damning for Zook. Under his guidance, the Packers have only been in the top half of the league once and the performance this year has been downright awful. One could even make the case that Zook should have been fired after the debacle in Detroit.
Special teams is where young players drafted in later rounds can make their impact and earn more opportunities. They have to show they are fundamentally sound as well as athletic enough to make it in the NFL. Terrell Davis earned his spot with the Denver Broncos by making some big special team tackles as a rookie and now he’s a Super Bowl MVP enshrined in Canton.
For as much preaching as head coach Mike McCarthy does about fundamentals, they’re lacking on special teams. Montgomery’s open rebellion plus the penalty issues show a unit that is undisciplined and incoherent.
For those levels of malfeasance, the coach must pay the price
Green Bay has been Zookered and they need to course correct now before the special teams cost them a game that could torpedo a chance to make the playoffs.