Special teams have been a problem for the Green Bay Packers for many years. In 2021, the Packers had one of the worst special teams units in the NFL and during the offseason, they brought in Rich Bisaccia to be the team’s new special teams coordinator. Bisaccia had a good reputation around the league after nearly two decades of coaching special teams.
The unit got off to a slow start but now, late in the 2022 campaign, Packers special teams are making strong contributions to the team’s success rather than being an obstacle the team needs to overcome.
The improvement has been seen throughout the special teams units. Here is a look at how the Packers special teams have improved this season:
K Mason Crosby
Crosby struggled last year and had his worst season since 2012 when he missed nine field goals and two extra points. Part of the problem was caused by his holder and long snapper and poor blocking on field goals and extra points. Those issues have improved this season as Pat O’Donnell and Jack Coco have been more consistent than their predecessors.
This year, Crosby has been much more accurate despite undergoing a procedure to “clean up” his knee that caused him to miss training camp and the preseason.
This year, Crosby has returned to form making 20-of-23 field goals for an 87 percent success rate. That is above his career average of 81.4. Crosby has also come through in the clutch when called upon this season including making the overtime game winner in the Packers win over Dallas.
Crosby’s kickoffs are still a bit inconsistent, but that is not a shock for a 38-year-old kicker. Crosby has enjoyed a bounce back season and remains a reliable contributor.
“He’s a great leader for us,” Bisaccia said of Crosby. “He’s been through a lot of football. I think he’s done a great job of echoing what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to build our culture a little bit within the special teams units, so I’m excited about my time with Mase.”
RS Keisean Nixon
Nixon took over as the Packers return specialist at midseason and has given the team a boost on both kick and punt returns. For the first time in more than a decade, the Packers have a weapon as a return specialist that strikes fear in opponents.
Nixon had only one kick return in the team’s first seven games but now leads the entire NFL with nine kick returns of 30 or more yards and four returns of 50 or more yards.
Against the Dolphins, he ran a kick back 93 yards which gave the Packers a big jolt of momentum before they got the ball for the first time and already trailed 3-0.
Nixon is averaging 27.5-yards per kick return and 15.3-yards per punt return. For the first time in recent memory, an opponent kicked off short to avoid the Packers kick returner. The short kick gave the Packers excellent field position even though Josiah Deguara didn’t return the kick for any yards.
The former South Carolina star is fearless, fast and determined. He had minimal NFL experience as a return specialist but has stepped into the role and is playing well.
Unfortunately, Nixon suffered a groin injury against the Dolphins and didn’t finish the game. The Packers really need to get Nixon back for the next two games to help spark the offense and give the team another big play weapon.
P Pat O’Donnell
O’Donnell has given the Packers consistency as a punter and a holder. Bisaccia specifically brought O’Donnell in because of his consistency and the move has paid off. He proved to be a better holder for Crosby and the results speak for themselves.
Meanwhile, O’Donnell is averaging 44.8-yards per punt which is a great number for someone punting in the cold weather of Green Bay. More importantly, O’Donnell has placed 23 punts inside the opponent’s 20 while having only one touchback all season. Nearly 47 percent of O’Donnell’s punts this season have been placed inside the 20.
The Packers coverage teams have been better in recent weeks. This season, opponents are averaging 10.0-yards per runback and kick returners gain 22.7-yards per return against the Packers.
Most of the bigger gains came earlier in the season as the units have gotten better as the season progressed.
By comparison, last season, opponents averaged 12.8-yards per punt return and 25.7-yards per kick return. That’s an improvement of nearly eight percent on punt returns and nine percent on kick returns. By no means are Packers coverage units elite, but they have made noticeable improvement since last year and as the season has progressed.
Bisaccia’s coaching and the addition of players like Dallin Leavitt, Rudy Ford, Nixon and Tariq Carpenter have helped in these areas.
Overall, the Packers special teams unit has improved this season. They aren’t costing the team games like they did previously and now they’re starting to make vital contributions to wins.
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