Each winter, Acme Packing Company breaks down the Green Bay Packers’ roster from the previous year by position to examine the team’s performance and needs in the offseason. We continue with a look at Special Teams.
Thank goodness for Mason Crosby. Shawn Mennenga should be saying this every day, because Crosby is about the only thing keeping the Green Bay Packers’ special teamers’ grade out of “F” territory, and “F” coaches don’t get to come back. Mennenga was saved by Crosby and also by Tyler Ervin, who single-handedly fixed the complete disaster on punt returns. Mennenga’s unit was supremely undisciplined, and just as we shouldn’t credit Mike Pettine for improvements provided by Amos and the Smiths, we shouldn’t credit Mennenga because Gutey got him a new toy.
The Packers seemingly never have good special teams, and the Packers are still the Packers.
Primary Specialists: Mason Crosby, JK Scott, Hunter Bradley, Tyler Ervin
Crosby is ahead of his time. With kickoffs playing a smaller and smaller role every season, his fairly large deficiencies in the kickoff game decrease in importance as time goes on. That’s good, because Crosby was an extremely valuable field goal kicker last season, hitting over 91% of his kicks, including an impressive eight of ten from 40 yards or further. Mason was even pretty respectable on the kickoffs, hitting a touchback on 62% of attempts, and he mixed but a single extra point.
Mason kicks on lousy turf in poor weather, and he’s almost always above 80% in doing so. There are better kickers, but when you have a decent one, it’s best to hold on, lest you wind up with Eddie Piniero.
JK Scott, on the other hand, was a roller-coaster ride from start to finish. He was very impressive in the first half of the season, averaging 48 yards per punt, but as the weather cooled into November he lost nearly 10 yards off of that average, and December and January were not much better.
Scott has the leg talent to be an elite punter, but he’s wildly inconsistent, and when forced into directional punting too frequently, he seems to lose some of his technique on subsequent long punts. He also had far too many outright shanks down the stretch, including an absolutely disastrous 23-yarder against San Francisco in the playoffs. Scott is at his best when he can let it rip, and I can’t help wondering if he’s been coached too much into being a poor finesse punter. He’s not a free agent until after 2021, but it will be interesting to find out what the team thinks of him.
We should quickly touch on Tyler Ervin, who brought much needed-speed and tenacity, as well as basic competence to the return game. Before Brian Gutekunst snagged Ervin out of Jacksonville for the last month of the regular season, the team was on a record pace for punt-returning futility, and spent the vast majority of the season with total punt return yardage below zero. Ervin turned that around with 106 punt return yards and 160 kick return yards, instantly turning a huge weakness into a strength. He even chipped in as a gadget player on offense. The Packers should retain him if possible.
Overall grade: C
While Crosby and Ervin stood out, this is still a team that committed several offsides penalties on their own kickoffs. They were one of the poorest coverage units in the game and couldn’t return a punt to save their lives. They were seemingly incapable of blocking unless it was of the illegal, in the back variety, and they couldn’t hold on to the ball. Shawn Mennenga did a terrible job instilling discipline or any sort of coherent plan, and his conservative punt return strategy cost them hundreds of easy yards. Retaining him would be a huge mistake.