Packers Should Explore Using Pat O'Donnell on Kickoffs

The Green Bay Packers should explore using punter Pat O'Donnell on kickoffs instead of Mason Crosby.

As I wrote recently, I don't believe that the Green Bay Packers have a true kicker competition this summer. 

You can read more here, but in short, this is Mason Crosby's job because there are a lot of risks that comes with relying on rookie kicker Gabe Brkic to make a 40-yarder at Lambeau Field in December. 

On top of that, while Crosby needs to be better than what he was in 2021, not all of those missed field goals fall on his shoulders either, with the blocking, snaps, and holds being very inconsistent--to put it nicely. It's also not unusual for the Packers to have a second kicker on the roster at this point in the season; in fact, it's quite normal. 

With that said, while I do expect Crosby to bounce back from a field goal perspective, one area of concern that I still have is on kickoffs. That's right, kickoffs.

At 37-years-old, Crosby doesn't have the same power that he once did, and on kickoffs is where that is the most evident. Among the many Packers' special teams issues last season was that they struggled on kick coverage. On average, opponents logged 25.9 yards per kick return--the second most in the NFL.

Week to week in 2021, we had hope that the kick coverage unit would improve -- which didn't happen -- but the easiest remedy is not giving the return man the opportunity to bring the kickoff back. However, that is where Crosby struggled.

According to PFF, 54.6 percent of Crosby's kick return attempts were brought out of the end zone--which was the fourth highest rate among all kickers last season. In addition to that, Crosby had just 43 touchbacks--this was the seventh-fewest in the NFL.

Hopefully, under new special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia, the kick coverage unit is improved and isn't as much of a liability, but I don't know that Crosby is going to be more effective when it comes to kicking the ball through the end zone. 

An alternative to Crosby that the Packers could explore is having punter Pat O'Donnell take the kickoff duties. Although punting has been his primary job, he does have 21 career kickoff attempts during his time with Chicago, including 15 during the 2019 season and 13 in total that resulted in touchbacks. 

A small sample size for sure and there are other factors in play other than just how far O'Donnell can kick it, but this an option to consider if opponents continue to take the ball out of the end zone.

Who knows if the Packers will explore utilizing O'Donnell on kickoffs this summer, but given what we saw last year and not knowing how much the kick coverage unit will actually improve, it's at least an idea worth exploring and a small move that could make an impact on special teams. 
 

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Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl. 
 

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Comments (27)

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stockholder's picture

July 04, 2022 at 11:10 am

I prefer Crosby.

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NitschkeFan's picture

July 04, 2022 at 11:19 am

I'm somewhat surprised that the past couple of seasons when the team had young guys punting that this was not tried.

I would assume the young guys had stronger legs than Crosby, but maybe I'm wrong or maybe technique is more important than leg strength?

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Coldworld's picture

July 04, 2022 at 12:28 pm

Not all punters kick consistently and not all special teams coaches are the same. Which one was the major factor factor other than Crosby in keeping Crosby on kick offs is hard to tell.

Crosby hadn’t been able to consistently kick off through the end zone for several years, particularly after mid season, but our ST leadership malaise goes back even further. This year I have confidence that RB will make decisions based upon the best use of what he has available based on preseason. If that leads to Crosby not kicking off at all or in certain situations, I will likely see that as a plus.

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jont's picture

July 04, 2022 at 12:43 pm

If he can reach the end zone consistently, he should kick off. Whoever can get the job done should play the position. Do you remember when the Vikes had DE Everson Griffen as a gunner on punts? He was out there because he was pretty good at it.

This example comes to mind because I've been watching the 2014 and 2015 seasons the past couple weeks, and another thing you'll see in those years is Crosby routinely sending it deep on kick offs. He has definitely lost some range, and the Pack needs to address it.

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Rarescope's picture

July 04, 2022 at 01:26 pm

Damn you watch entire seasons in a matter of weeks jont? Remind me to pay more attention to your historical trend analysis in the future. I’ve certainly enjoyed scrolling through the odd old game or two but I’m usually far too busy napping to be bothered with much more than that!

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jont's picture

July 05, 2022 at 01:17 pm

Youtube has loads of old games, and many are in that condensed format-- a full game in 40 minutes or so.

It also helps to be recently retired and in that 'really enjoying my couch' phase.

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Leatherhead's picture

July 04, 2022 at 12:49 pm

Our opponents average starting field position was the 27.2. This was ranked 9th best in the the league.

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Johnblood27's picture

July 04, 2022 at 12:58 pm

Leave it to you to let facts cloud a good argument...

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Rarescope's picture

July 04, 2022 at 01:27 pm

But but but the facts stated in the article made it sound like the sky was falling as far as our kickoff team goes.

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PhantomII's picture

July 04, 2022 at 06:24 pm

Every time our weak legged kicker does not kick it out of play because he no longer can "IS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR A BIG RETURN" or a player injured. The only reason not to send it out is if other teams we are playing have very poor ST like GB. Average what you want but what did big returns result in...POINTS, field position...Losses. Let's be real and only use losses and playoff gaffs, because these are what matter most at the time. If there is one thing that CAN GO WRONG IN GB.....IT WILL. Suffice to say I have seen enough to NEVER sugar coat GB's SPECIAL....SPECIAL TEAMS to implode at the worst possible time and nobody should support any of there stats from last season. Not having a kicker be able to kick it out of play "EVERY KICK" is a liability...Period.

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TarynsEyes's picture

July 04, 2022 at 01:59 pm

The league average was 28.

Were our opponents held to 27 because of our SPT play or the lack of opponents' SPT play?

Averaging makes things appear worse/ better, like the Packers SPT play, while everyone screams it needs a lot to be desired.

Yes, in a game of inches, 2 feet may seem like a mile, but averaging negates the inch and the mile.

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dobber's picture

July 04, 2022 at 02:03 pm

Does this include punt returns?

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Leatherhead's picture

July 04, 2022 at 02:45 pm

I think so dobber, but our punt coverage team gets crapped on too. Bottom line, but our defense isn’t being put in a poor position because of coverage units or short kicks.

The difference between the best and the worst is about the same as one successful offensive play. We’re obsessing over nothing.

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GregC's picture

July 04, 2022 at 04:47 pm

Thanks for that stat. I was wondering about it the whole time I was reading the article. I am so tired of people talking about average length of kickoff return when the only stat that matters is average starting field position. E.g., if Crosby kicks it three yards deep into the end zone and it's returned 26 yards, that means the opponents are starting on the 23 yard line, which is not as good as the field position they would get with a touchback. Opponents' field position on kickoffs is not a problem for the Packers, so Crosby should continue kicking off until further notice.

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PhantomII's picture

July 04, 2022 at 06:40 pm

You are the guy who says we should never kick a returnable punt and always kick it out of the end zone. No fumbles, No injuries.

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Leatherhead's picture

July 04, 2022 at 10:18 pm

Correct.

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Coldworld's picture

July 04, 2022 at 09:46 pm

I’m sorry, but that stat doesn’t square with any source I can find. In fact it just seems to be wrong. In fact:

“The Packers finished 32nd in average starting field position following a kickoff” and “26th in opponent starting field position after a kickoff” during the regular season.

In response to Dobber, we finished “20th in net punting average, 24th in opponent net punting average.”

These quotes are from Bill Huber referencing Rick Gosselin’s ranking data for the 2022 regular season. They also seem in line with every other source I’ve found. You can read Huber and access the rankings here: https://www.si.com/nfl/packers/.amp/news/packers-finish-in-familiar-spot...

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Leatherhead's picture

July 04, 2022 at 10:29 pm

Go to pro-football-reference and look it up . Our opponents average starting field position was the 27.2 yard line. That ranks as 9th best.

Our starting position following kickoffs was bad. How many fumbles did we have?

Only turnovers, injuries, penalties, and long returns matter. The rest is irrelevant.

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Coldworld's picture

July 04, 2022 at 10:50 pm

That doesn’t square. There is something significantly misleading omitted that is critical to any valid assessment of the kickoff prowess since we were 26th in starting position after a kickoff.

Given our only slightly less poor net punt yardage, being 9th best in starting position without a ton of 4 and outs (which there weren’t) seems does not make sense to me. In any case, the data seems clear that, purely from a kick off standpoint we yielded more yards to our opponents than the vast majority of the teams.

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HarryHodag's picture

July 04, 2022 at 03:39 pm

One thought: O'Donnell hurts his leg kicking off and is out. You have to pull a punter off the waiver wire who has no experience with the snapper and Crosby. Seems to me you're right back where you started.

Better if Crosby kicks. If he gets hurt they can pull a kicker off the wire and all the kicker has to do is....kick.

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PatrickGB's picture

July 05, 2022 at 12:12 pm

Exactly! Don’t mess with the punter. He is valuable as a punter and holder. Mason has a rhythm and technique and to mess with it in order to get more distance may have adverse effects. Also, keep in mind that it’s just not the distance in KO’s it’s the height and direction.

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Straya's picture

July 04, 2022 at 11:58 pm

Don't sleep on Brkic. The kid has one hell of a leg on him.

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Johnblood27's picture

July 05, 2022 at 04:52 pm

I bet he has TWO of them!

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mrtundra's picture

July 05, 2022 at 07:09 am

Crosby hasn't consistently kicked the ball through the end zone, for the past couple of seasons. Nothing like letting teams get big returns to put our team behind the eight ball, on defense. I'd see if O'Donnell can do kick offs, or maybe use Brkic there. It cannot hurt and may improve our ST's kicking unit, a bit.

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PatrickGB's picture

July 05, 2022 at 12:18 pm

There is an assumption that longer is better. What about hight and direction? To mess with an existing kicking technique may be inviting trouble. Who knows? Maybe it would backfire and hurt what he does on FG’s. If the team decides that it’s better to kick to the end zone then get another kicker just for that. But to do so means one less player on special teams. Maybe that player is needed or maybe his loss effectively messes up coverage.

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PewAuKeeFan's picture

July 05, 2022 at 08:38 pm

I agree Paul.

Crosby has not had many good kickoffs last year. In fact, he has been downright feeble several times. Several of his kicks have not even been able to breach the 10 and 15 yard lines.

Keep Crosby for the field goals. For kickoffs, put in someone who can send the ball through the end of the end zone. At least until Rick and the special teams show they can stop more than an old woman crossing the street.

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canadapacker's picture

July 06, 2022 at 06:59 pm

I totally agree and even said this last year - a punter who can also kick off is a bonus. Now Crosby suffered from poor special teams kick team coverage so teams were probably instructed by their special teams coaches to bring the ball out even if it is 5 yards deep. So if you have a guy who can get the ball to the end line or out -then that is a bonus. If our new special teams philosophy has fixed coverage - then it is a moot point. But Crosby kicked the ball out of bounds before the end zone several times and of course - we know that means at the 40. It is better to have him concentrate on field goals and extras.

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