We know that the Green Bay Packers had awful special teams in 2020. They were completely terrible: 25th by DVOA and constantly embarrassed via poor blocking, fumbling, blocked kicks and punts, poor tackling, bad long naps, etc. Outside of Mason Crosby knocking through all 16 of his field goals, every special teams play was an adventure.
With all of that said, let’s take a moment to celebrate the Packers players who kick balls, because in their own ways, both were perfect for the team, and dare I say, in the case of JK Scott, a bit of 4-dimensional chess by Brian Gutekunst.
Was JK Scott terrible? Yes. Was his net average of 37.8 yards per punt the second-worst mark in football for an actual punter? You bet. So why am I happy about this?
Update 2 seasons later- great progress! pic.twitter.com/0d1RqxNTCb— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) January 4, 2021
Because punting is for losers and it’s better not to do it at all! And the Packers didn’t! At least not very much. When they did, it was terrible. Against Tampa Bay they punted 7 times, the most of any game this season. And they lost. Coincidence?
Now it must be said that most of those punts were “smart” punts, meaning it wasn’t 4th and short and the Packers were fairly deep in their own territory. Tampa played an excellent defensive game and conventional punting was necessary. JK even did a fairly nice job punting in that game, averaging 46 yards per punt. That’s exactly what you need out of him.
Against New Orleans he shanked his only punt for a net of 24 yards. The Packers went for it near midfield later in the game after that. In the second Minnesota game he shanked his one punt, and the Packers went for it on their next opportunity. And against Indianapolis he shanked his final punt and Green Bay went for their next 4th down. Shanks lead to smarts.
JK was bad, but sometimes the best way to avoid something bad is never to use it, and given that all punting is kind of bad, his service has been invaluable. My ideal punter is good enough for emergencies but bad enough that you never want to use him unless you have to. JK is about as close as we’re likely to get to this platonic ideal. I suspect Matt LaFleur is smart enough to know when to go for it on fourth down anyway, but why have added temptation?
Mason’s savvy 2020 season includes a perfect record on very few field goals (16-16), including four absolute bombs, and a few missed extra points. You may be wondering why the aforementioned bombs were good things? If punts are bad in that area of the field, surely field goals are too? Well, often that is the case, but with Mason, all of his deep attempts made sense.
57-yard Field Goal - Detroit, 3:35 Remaining - 4th and 14 after false start by Elgton Jenkins. Gave Green Bay a 10-point lead.
The common denominator of all of these is that they were kicked on 4th and 13 or greater. Your odds of converting in that situation are quite low. In this particular situation, not only was it 4th and very long, it also provided the team with a two-score lead with very little time remaining. There is perhaps no more valuable field goal outside of a game-winner.
53-yard Field Goal - San Francisco, 6:20 Remaining - 4th and 15. Gave Green Bay a 31-point lead.
This one was more about just pouring it on as Green Bay already had the game in hand, but it was 4th and very long, and the extra points were a nice capper on everything.
52-yard Field Goal - New Orleans, 7:36 1st quarter - 4th and 13 (following a 3rd and 22). Gave Green Bay a 3-0 lead.
This is the only one that did not take place in the fourth quarter. While this kick didn’t provide the Packers with a definitive lead, it did take place on 4th and long against a very good defense.
52-yard Field Goal - Carolina, 3:44 Remaining - 4th and 14. Gave Green Bay an 11-point lead.
Finally, Mason provided the Packers with yet another 2-score lead in the waning moments of the game by banging it through from 52, essentially cementing the game.
Mason has been incredibly clutch and used almost exactly correctly. Moreover, his extra point misses, while not great, do provide an extra bit of doubt in the mind of Matt LaFleur should the situation call for a 2-point conversion. It’s easy to take the 99% option, but it’s substantially harder to opt for the 93% option when a 2-point try might be the smart call.
Mason is clutch in all the right places, and he (with help from Scott and Hunter Bradley) provided just enough doubt about the less efficient parts of the game.