The Green Bay Packers’ special teams took a step backward in 2016.
According to the Dallas Morning News‘ special teams rankings, the Packers’ unit fell all the way to 29th last season. That came just a year after Green Bay placed 17th in the same set of rankings.
While unofficial, Rick Gosselin’s rankings generally receive praise, as special teams often lack concrete statistics to evaluate. He looks at 22 different categories, then judges teams accordingly.
The 2016 season marked the second for special teams coordinator Ron Zook. Zook took over for Shawn Slocum after the Packers’ abysmal 2014 special teams performance. While Zook elevated the unit to 17th in his first year, the team quickly regressed this past season. Only the Jets, Cardinals, and Chargers finished worse than Green Bay.
The position confirms suspicion, but does not necessarily come as a surprise. Mason Crosby continued to play like a top-tier kicker, but beyond that issues abounded. The punting game struggled early in the year. The Packers lacked a dynamic return man. Both kickoff and punt coverage needed work.
In short, there’s room for improvement.
According to Gosselin, the Packers’ biggest issues were kickoff coverage and opponent kickoff starting point. Green Bay finished dead last in both of those categories. They gave up 26.3 yards per kickoff return. Opponents’ drives started, on average, at the 26.6 yard line.
Trevor Davis could improve the return game in 2017. The receiver flashed potential in a limited role last season. Elsewhere, the Packers will try to improve with players currently on the roster.
Punter Jacob Schum got off to a slow start, but became more effective as the year progressed. He could develop into a strong punter for Green Bay. Coverage will need to improve, especially if the Packers part ways with gunner Jeff Janis, who still has not developed into an offensive weapon.
Special teams often go overlooked, but it is an aspect of the game that can easily impact the outcome. The Packers would be wise to explore ways to improve that unit before 2017 begins.