Packers' special teams hit their stride against Eagles
GREEN BAY - Special-teams play in exhibition games can be a disaster and for one team at Lambeau Field, Thursday night it bordered on it.
To the surprise of many who are accustomed to seeing them flail about in all facets of that aspect of the game, it wasn’t the Green Bay Packers.
In a 24-9 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Packers got a 68-yard punt return touchdown from Trevor Davis, four punts inside the 20-yard line and a 43.5 net average from punter Justin Vogel and 3 returns yards allowed total from the coverage units.
“There’s always stuff you can get better at and we’ll go back and see if there are things we could have done better,” said linebacker Jordan Tripp. “But we were happy with some of the things we did. It was a good start.”
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Davis was the star with punt returns of 68 and 26 yards (47.0 average), but his returns were the result of pretty good teamwork, something the Packers haven’t been known for over the Mike McCarthy era.
Instead of seeing the game turn against them on special teams, it turned in favor of them with Davis’ second-quarter return.
The Packers were trailing, 6-0, and playing sloppily both on offense and defense when the Eagles punted with 12 minutes, 7 seconds left in the second quarter. Davis grabbed Donnie Jones’ 50-yard punt at the Green Bay 32, sidestepped one of the Eagles’ gunners and followed blocks across the field and down the right sideline on his way to the end zone.
“Everyone was getting hyped on the sideline,” Davis said of his return. “It put us up 7-6 and it definitely helped the team and gave us a little bit of momentum.”
The whole thing might not have happened had cornerback Josh Hawkins not used on-field communication to let Davis know where the coverage pressure was coming from. Davis was hell bent on not calling for a fair catch and when he heard Hawkins yell out to him, he knew exactly how close the coverage was.
Hawkins, whose job it is to hold up one of the gunners on the coverage team, tells Davis he should never feel like he has to fair catch the ball. Not in complete control of his man, Hawkins yelled out instructions to Davis to help him get free.
“I was telling him to go left,” Hawkins said. “’Go left, go left,’ so I can run into the guy and make a block for him. He made a good little move. I mostly tell him, ‘Don’t worry about fair catching it, I’ve got you.’
“That was special for us, special for him. He has a great future doing that.”
Davis was the Packers’ punt returner at mid-season last year, but a couple of muffs caused the coaches to lose some confidence in him and he wasn’t used the rest of the year. During the offseason, he worked on catching punts and even sent special teams coach Ron Zook a tape of him doing it, hoping Zook would give him another chance.
Now, it’s going to be hard for anyone to take the job away from him.
On the other side of the ball, Vogel shook off a poor first punt of 33 yards and proceeded to pin the Eagles at their 10-, 7-, 9- and 15-yard lines on his next four punts. Then, on his last one, he drove the ball 56 yards, causing returner Greg Ward to try to field it while backtracking.
Ward muffed the punt and the Packers nearly recovered. The Eagles wound up starting at their own 14-yard line.
“He’s got a good leg,” Tripp said of Vogel. “It’s exciting have someone who can place the ball the way he can. That helps out the coverage units a lot. It’s definitely nice to have someone as talented as him.”
It was a nice start for the units, especially in light of the kicking disaster in last Saturday’s night practice at Lambeau Field. Kicker Mason Crosby hit just 5 of 11 field goal attempts to end the night on a bummer.
Crosby hit a 39-yard field goal and three extra points, although there’s still a long way to go with getting him, Vogel (the holder) and long snapper Derek Hart working as a smooth operation. There’s also three more exhibition games for the special teams to tackle.
“The goal is to continue to progress, every single day,” Tripp said. “Special teams is such a vital part of the game, whatever role you have, being able to do it and have an impact in whatever you’re doing is important.”