Packers 2013 primer: Special teams
Welcome to part three of our offseason series. We're looking ahead to the upcoming season (which is fast approaching) by previewing a number of areas including special teams. This is an area that was filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
Perhaps most discussed last season was the down year by kicker Mason Crosby. In 2011 Crosby converted nearly 86% of his field goal attempts but that number dropped drastically to a career-low 63.6% in 2012. Part of the issue was that Crosby was forced to kick from longer distances. Crosby made just two kicks in nine attempts from beyond 50 yards. There's no question Crosby has the strength but his accuracy was way off. In the two previous seasons Crosby attempted just seven field goals combined from 50+ yards, so certainly there's an argument that he simply isn't effective enough on the really long kicks. However, Crosby also missed twice from inside 40 yards and by the middle of the season every attempt was an emotional roller coaster. To his credit, he was perfect in the final four games but his performance overall was shaky enough that the Packers added kicker Giorgio Tavecchio to compete with Crosby. It would likely take a disastrous preseason for the Packers to make the switch but after 2012 Crosby's job is no longer guaranteed.
Once again Randall Cobb served as the team's primary return man in 2012 however Cobb may become a victim of his own success. While his role offensively expands, his role as return specialist may contract. If Cobb becomes a primary force on offense the Packers may not feel comfortable with Cobb also returning kicks. However, the Packers may not be able to move Cobb off special teams if a suitable replacement cannot be found. The likely candidate to replace him is Jeremy Ross. But the lasting image of Ross is the muffed punt against San Francisco in last season's playoff contest that changed the course of the game in favor of the 49ers. So the question with Ross is can he put that behind him and become a reliable returner. Late in the season with Cobb hurt Ross did filled in well but can he do it on a consistent basis?
Punter Tim Masthay's numbers may not appear impressive on the surface. His average of 43.5 yards per punt puts his towards the bottom of the league. However, Masthay's real value is pinning teams deep. He placed 30 punts inside the opponent's 20 yard line with only five resulting in touchbacks. While Crosby faces competition at kicker, Masthay is the only punter heading into camp and his spot on the roster is rock-solid.