One would be hard-pressed to find a Green Bay Packers assistant coach more criticized during the 2018 season than special teams coordinator Ron Zook.
The seasoned assistant oversaw a unit that ranked 28th in the league overall and in the bottom third of the league in kicking accuracy, net punt average, return averages, and return averages allowed. On top of those rankings, the Packers’ special teamers were a highly penalized group and one prone to turning the ball over.
While it was only one week, the early results against the Chicago Bears should have Packers fans hopeful for the squad’s special teams units in their efforts to take a step forward in 2019 under new special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga.
From a pure kicking perspective, Mason Crosby made his only extra point and field goal attempt (39 yards) of the night after battling Sam Ficken throughout the preseason. But the true story of the evening was punter JK Scott, who was called on early and often with a struggling offense. While the Packers’ defense grabbed the league’s attention, Scott may have been the unsung MVP of the evening in pinning the Bears’ offense back. Five of Scott’s punts landed inside the Chicago 20-yard line to help the Packers control the battle of field position.
Scott also averaged 47.6 yards on his nine punts, while blasting a 63-yarder with 4.6 seconds of hang time with under two minutes to go when Green Bay needed it most. In fact, Scott had a 53-yard punt with 4.8 seconds of hang time earlier in the game. That kind of lift on the ball helped limit return yardage for a dangerous Tarik Cohen all game long, as the game-changer was held to just a nine-yard average on four returns. Between Scott and Crosby, who booted a pair of touchbacks, the Packers also limited the damage from Cordarrelle Patterson in the kick return game.
While Trevor Davis did not have much opportunity to return punts himself against the Bears and never had a returnable kickoff, the team’s frequency of penalties was noticeably minimized. Tony Brown was the only Packer to pick up a special teams penalty on the evening, committing two: voluntarily stepping out of bounds during a Green Bay punt in the first quarter and delivering an illegal blindside block on a punt return during the fourth quarter. These miscues are easily correctable and were far more tolerable than the back-breaking holding and block in the back penalties many fans have grown accustomed to.
Yes, one game is far too early to declare the Packers’ special teams fixed after a miserable campaign a year ago. But if Mennenga’s crew can turn in another performance like it did last Thursday, the Packers’ special teams will be a strong suit. They effectively flipped the field on punts. They converted drives into points when given the opportunity. And, perhaps most importantly, they did not beat themselves.