Packers special teams unit dealing with penalties and miscues

Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur talks with umpire Fred Bryan (11) during the fourth quarter of their game Thursday, September 28, 2023 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. The Detroit Lions beat the Green Bay Packers 34-20.
Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur talks with umpire Fred Bryan (11) during the fourth quarter of their game Thursday, September 28, 2023 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. The Detroit Lions beat the Green Bay Packers 34-20. /

It’s not only the Green Bay Packers’ offensive and defensive units that have been up and down this season but there have been plenty of special teams struggles as well.

Green Bay has been called for 10 penalties on special teams in only four games, which includes four in Thursday night’s game against Detroit, more than 26 other teams have had the entire season. As you can imagine, the Packers’ 10 penalties on special teams are the most in football. Pittsburgh, with six, has the second-most. Green Bay’s 96 penalty yards are also the most as well by a pretty wide margin.

"“We had a false start,” said Matt LaFleur on Friday. “The leaping penalty, and we had two holdings on kickoffs. One was, quite frankly, Kei’s got to follow where the return is designed to go. It’s no different than on offense when a back maybe bounces a play that shouldn’t go outside, and he bounces it outside, it puts someone in a bad position. That’s what happened on one of those.“And the other one, Josiah’s (Deguara) gotta have better fundamentals. Better technique and keep his cool. I get it, it’s a pretty emotional game, and sometimes somebody will do something a little out of character.”"

Unfortunately, the issues on special teams don’t stop there. Jayden Reed muffed a punt against the Lions. Green Bay allowed a punt return versus New Orleans, and on the opening drive of the Atlanta game, a delay of game on the field goal operation took the Packers out of field goal range, resulting in a punt.

Green Bay’s starting field position off of kick returns has also not been all that good. Either Kiesean Nixon needs to stop bringing the ball out, or the blocking has to vastly improve. For an offense that is already struggling to move the ball consistently, regularly beginning inside their own 20-yard line or even their own 15 is not helping things. By PFF’s grading system, the Packers currently have the league’s 27th-ranked special teams unit.

"“It’s definitely an area of concern for us,” said LaFleur. “It’s hard to set yourself up with good field position. I mean we’re having enough struggles offensively, the last thing we want to do is start backed up on like the 10 yard line. It’s well noted and been addressed, now we got to go out there an execute.”"

Green Bay finished the 2022 season ranked 22nd in Rich Gosselin’s annual special teams rankings. Sure, they were still in the bottom half of the league, but that was a far cry from where they had been in previous years, ranking last on several occasions, and they were also a group heading in the right direction under Rich Bisaccia.

Although the overall roster experienced quite a bit of turnover this offseason, the Packers returned their top eight players from 2022 in terms of special teams snaps. That, and the previous season’s second-half performance, coupled with Bisaccia having another full offseason to work with this group, it’s safe to say that the Packers have not lived up to expectations in this phase of the game.

With all of that said, it’s not as if there have been one or two plays we can point to and say that’s why Green Bay lost. But with the offense going to continue to experience high highs and low lows – it’s just what the Packers signed up for this season with such a young group – and the defense having its own issues, specifically against the run, the special teams unit has the ability to provide some stability.

Continuing to take advantage of field goal and extra point opportunities while winning the field position battle and not continuing to hurt themselves in that regard are two relatively simple ways the special teams unit can help the other sides of the ball out.

Two bright spots for this unit have been rookies Anders Carlson and Daniel Whelan. Carlson is perfect on field goal and extra point attempts, while Whelan has flashed his power, able to flip the field on several occasions, and pin opponents inside the 20-yard line.

My guess is that we will get to the end of the season and look back on the early play from the special teams unit as a bump in the road rather than what ended up being an overwhelming trend. However, for the time being, that doesn’t change the erratic play we’ve seen from the group thus far that has contributed to the overall inconsistency that this Packers team is fighting through.