One area that has been a problem all year for the Green Bay Packers is special teams. The Packers have received next-to-nothing from their return units all season, and their coverage units leave plenty to be desired. Only kicker Mason Crosby has salvaged this unit, which according to multiple methods of measuring overall success ranks among the NFL’s worst.
However, for the second straight postseason game, the Packers are facing a team with special teams units that are just as bad as their own. Green Bay’s Divisional round opponents, the Los Angeles Rams, joined the Packers among the NFL’s worst special teams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are right in the mix as well.
Here are the rankings for each team in a number of different metrics:
Special Teams Rankings
|Regular season DVOA||25||26||30|
|Regular season Gosselin Ranking||29||22||30|
|Weighted DVOA after DIvisional Round||27||28||25|
DVOA is Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average. Weighted DVOA applies more weighting to recent performance. Gosselin rankings are the composite rankings published by Rick Gosselin of Sports Illustrated, available here.
Interestingly, both the Rams and Buccaneers have received negative value according to DVOA from every one of their special teams units: place-kicking, punt coverage and return teams, and kickoff coverage and return teams. The Packers, meanwhile, are vastly above average on place-kicks, ranking fifth-best in the NFL thanks largely to Mason Crosby’s 16-of-16 field goal kicking season. They falter in every other unit, but are at their worst on punt coverage, where they rank 29th out of 32 teams.
In this respect, at least, the Buccaneers and Rams are more or less mediocre to poor all over rather than being exceptionally terrible in one specific area. Last week’s Packers-Rams game was a forgettable one from the special teams for both teams aside from one major gaffe, which actually came from the one truly good unit fielded by either team.
That mistake came in the second quarter of last week’s 32-18 Packers victory, one that should have seen the green and gold put up 34 points. Instead, a bad snap by Hunter Bradley on the extra point after the team’s second touchdown led to holder JK Scott being unable to spot the ball in a timely fashion. Scott doubled down on the mistake, shoveling a pass to kicker Mason Crosby, who took an awkward hit, adding injury to insult.
The loss of that PAT later led to the Packers attempting a two-point conversion to go up by three possessions when they scored a touchdown after halftime, an attempt that they failed.
This coming Sunday, the Packers cannot afford to leave points on the field. They will likely have little to do in terms of returning kickoffs — Buccaneers punter Bradley Pinion has sent 85 of his 100 kickoffs for touchbacks — so the Packers must avoid any major coverage gaffes. Thankfully, the Bucs returners have not taken advantage of much running room, totaling just six yards per return on punts and under 22 yards per return on kickoffs.
Thus, instead of one special teams unit making a game-breaking play in the positive direction, both teams will likely focus on avoiding any disastrous mistakes in that phase of the game, instead preferring to let their offenses and defenses dictate the result. Expect a lot of fair catches and touchbacks in this game both ways.