How Did the Packers' Special Teams Fare In 2022?

There were some pull-your-hair-out moments from the unit this year, but they improved relative to the three prior seasons.  

For quite some time (s/o Ron Zook), the Green Bay Packers’ special teams unit has collectively forced us to pull out our hair, some more than others (read: I am bald). And since Matt LaFleur took the reins as the head coach, the unit has not exactly been “special,” anything but actually. 

The low point(s), no questions asked, came against the 49ers in last year’s divisional round: the Packers surrendered a blocked field goal at the end of the first half and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown that tied the game, and they only had 10 players on the field during Robbie Gould’s game-winning field goal. It should be no surprise, then, that Rick Gosselin, who has ranked all 32 special teams units each year based on various special teams categories for the past 40+ years, ranked the Packers as the worst in the NFL by a considerable margin for the 2021 season under the direction of Maurice Drayton. (The Packers had 482.5 points; the Los Angeles Chargers, ranked 31st, were at 444.) Football Outsiders agreed they were the worst-performing unit in the league, ranking them dead last in DVOA (-4.9%). The Packers also ranked last in punt coverage (12.8 yards allowed per punt return) and kickoff starting point (23.4-yard line). 

Even in the prior two years, while the Packers were not as anemic as they were in 2021, they were well below average, without a doubt, under Shawn Mennenga’s tutelage. They were situated at 26th and 29th in 2019 and 2020, respectively, in Gosselin’s rankings. Moreover, while Football Outsiders had the Packers at 18 in DVOA in 2019, the unit took a dip in 2020, finishing the season 25th. 

In 2019 specifically, while they ranked third in field goal percentage (95%) and fourth in penalties (13 penalties for 95 yards), the punt return unit ranked dead last. They also ranked 24th in net punting (39.91) and 21st in opponent net punting (41.94). Their kickoff return coverage unit allowed 24.21 yards per return, good for 22nd, while the team’s 20.84 yards gained per kickoff return ranked 25th. 

For 2020, similar to the previous season, Mason Crosby was of the straight-cash-homie variety (100% field goal percentage), and the unit committed very few penalties (6 penalties for 40 yards; 3rd). However, the Packers surrendered the most touchdowns via punt return. Plus, they had the lowest kickoff return average in the league (18.9) and allowed the most yards per punt return (17.1 per punt). In addition, they ranked 30th in net punting (37.04) and 26th in opponent net punting (42.02). 

LaFleur turned to the well-regarded Rich Bisaccia during the 2022 offseason after the aforementioned big-ole-yikes 2021 season, and the special teams saw improvement this season. Granted, the bar was incredibly low. The Packers enjoyed their highest DVOA ranking (17th) and highest Gosselin ranking (22nd) of LaFleur’s tenure in 2022. Yes, the unit committed 20 penalties (for 164 yards), which ranked 30th; surrendered four blocked punts, the most in the NFL and over double the league average; and had the second-worst net punting average (38.94). Yet, they improved in the areas of kickoff return coverage (26th in 2021 to 21st in 2022) and punt return coverage, going from worst to 21st. 

Best of all was the emergence of first-team All-Pro honoree Keisean Nixon, who helped the Packers rank 7th in opponent net punting (40.38) and 4th in average yards gained per kickoff return (25.64). Both of those rankings/figures obviously take into account Amari Rodgers’ putrid numbers as return man. As a quick aside, my biggest knock on Bisaccia (presuming this was his decision and his decision alone) was his insistence to stick with Rodgers, who had to fumble five times before Nixon was ultimately inserted into the lineup. 

Nixon, who spent last season with the Las Vegas Raiders and is an impending free agent, led the league in kickoff return yards with 1,009 yards and was second in average yards per kickoff return (28.83 yards). Had he qualified with the requisite number of returns, he also would have led in the league in average yards per punt return at 12.7 yards per return. To put it bluntly, Nixon was an electric factory this season, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers took notice. 

QB1 said in a press conference last month that Nixon has “been so important for us changing the kicking game. … I always tell Kei now when he’s about to go out there, ‘bring it out,’ just because he brings an extra type of juice to our football team. And you can win with guys like that. Guys that care about it, guys that are tough, and guys that make big-time plays.”

Altogether, hopefully Green Bay’s special teams can continue to make strides and the first step toward doing so would be to re-sign Nixon. What will it take to re-sign him? New York Jets return man Braxton Berrios' contract is a good comparison. After Berrios earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2021, he signed a 2-year, $12 million deal to stay in New York, with $7 million guaranteed ($5.465 million signing bonus + 2022 salary of $1.035 million + $500k of 2023 salary). 

Regardless, it is possible that LaFleur will need to find another new special teams coordinator because Bisaccia interviewed with the Colts for their head coaching position on Friday. No thank you on that news. Hard pass, actually.

Given how the special teams performed this season – mind you, it is all relative to what Packer fans have been used to – do you think that the unit was the best unit on the team?

__________________________

Rex is a lifelong Packers fan but was sick of the cold, so he moved to the heart of Cowboys country. Follow him on Twitter (@Sheild92) and Instagram (@rex.sheild). 

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Comments (16)

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Leatherhead's picture

January 23, 2023 at 12:04 pm

Yeah, they were a big improvement over all those years when we won 13 games and made the playoffs. I hope everybody enjoyed Nixon's returns, and remember them over the next decade while we get penalties, turnovers, and injuries on returns. It doesn't balance out.

It's not special teams, it's not the defense. It's an offense that sputtered all season, flamed out badly in the playoffs the previous season, and couldn't get it done in the playoffs in 2020, when we had the league's best offense. Fix the offense.

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PackyCheese500's picture

January 23, 2023 at 01:37 pm

You don’t think the problem is a defense that played soft zone 10 yards off for 3/4ths of the season (and allowed the Lions to convert the critical 4th down at the end of the game)? You think allowing 5 yards per carry on average is okay? You think that letting the Eagles set a franchise record by rushing for for 363 yards is fine?

Joe Barry and the defense are just as much to blame as the offense is. Both need fixing

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Leatherhead's picture

January 23, 2023 at 02:46 pm

I think the defense was average. When you hold a team to mid-20s in points, that's not terrible.

Allowing 5 yards per carry. I suppose it would be better if they got 7 yards per pass attempt. I mean, I think 5< 7 and I'd rather have teams run it on me for 5 yards than throw it on me for 7.

It was offensive crap jobs againt division opponents....once against the Vikings, twice against the Lions....that ruined our season. Just like the offensive crap job in the playoffs last year when the defense held the opponent to zero touchdowns.

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jannes bjornson's picture

January 23, 2023 at 03:22 pm

Hey Kids, you have the Green Light to return Punts, Kickoffs and INTs. Go for it !

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T7Steve's picture

January 23, 2023 at 12:36 pm

" – do you think that the unit was the best unit on the team?" Rex, does the equipment manager's team count?

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Coldworld's picture

January 23, 2023 at 12:37 pm

Overall, I thought they got better as time went on. Nixon obviously made a big difference, but generally, we became consistent in most aspects after a bit of a seesaw start in coverage and some punt blocking issues.

The question now is whether we can hang on to both Nixon and to Bissacia and his assistants or whether we will be back to square one.

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PackyCheese500's picture

January 23, 2023 at 01:40 pm

I want Bisaccia to get a shot at being a HC, hopefully to replace MLF in GB. I think his personality meshes really well with GB, and he has been an excellent coach throughout his career. The fact that he’s majored in STs, not offense or defense, shouldn’t dissuade teams from hiring him. He has the dedication, passion, and will criticize those who are deserving. There are still coaches with STs background that are successful in the NFL - look at John Harbaugh or Bill Belichick (I know Bill is mostly defense though)

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jannes bjornson's picture

January 23, 2023 at 03:25 pm

John Harbaugh....Bill Cowher ...

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BAMABADGER's picture

January 23, 2023 at 12:41 pm

How could you forget Mike Stock and Shawn Slocum, who started the ST downhill roller coaster ride with no bottom.

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jannes bjornson's picture

January 23, 2023 at 03:25 pm

"we like Our guys"

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Johnblood27's picture

January 23, 2023 at 09:41 pm

THAT hurts...

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Johnblood27's picture

January 23, 2023 at 09:42 pm

Let's just take a moment and remember Dick Jauron and have a bit of a smile...

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beautiful_mystery's picture

January 23, 2023 at 12:42 pm

The biggest compliment I can give regarding STs is I didn't leave the room to get a beer when I still had a bottle half full. I actually stayed to watch and dare I say, was a little giddy....

We better not lose that feisty, little Italian coach. I likey!

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SinceLombardi's picture

January 23, 2023 at 04:15 pm

The only unit that did not underachieve. So with that in mind I would say it was the best unit on the team.

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croatpackfan's picture

January 23, 2023 at 04:37 pm

When asking who was the one who supported Amari Rodgers as punt and kick returner, I want to notice that Amari Rodgers was Randall Cobb protege.

And we all knows who is the best friend of Randall Cobb on the team.

I would say that was MLF who are pushing that idea!

Rich Bisaccia inherited dismal unit and in 3 to 4 months he made from that unit the most consistent unit on the team. Also, considering Raiders results last season after he took over as interim coach shows that he knows how to prepare team to achieve as much as they can.

If ACR stays, I do not expect, even if he would be offered, Rich Bisaccia to accept to be Packers HC. If ACR will be traded or if he will retire, I would be really for Packers to replace MLF with Rich Bisaccia. Any coach who is the part of coaching staff knows about football (as game), but there is not much of them who are natural leader of the man. I have no doubts that Rich Bisaccia would recognize if there will be problems on any part or phase of the team and I have no doubt he would react promptly.

That kind of HC Packers need.

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brenner's picture

January 24, 2023 at 12:48 am

Bisaccia for asst HC (only cuz lafleurs not going anywhere), gotta go joe... Get Leonard in there asap please... While I'm asking... No more Hackett either..

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