Packers' assistant on special teams woes: 'Mason Crosby deserves better'

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GREEN BAY – There are several reasons why Green Bay Packers special teams coach Maurice Drayton must fix the broken-down kicking operation, not the least of which is he might not have a job if it continues all season.

But Drayton identified a less self-serving reason for it.

“Mason Crosby deserves better,” said Drayton, referring to the Packers’ veteran kicker and all-time leading scorer. “Well, I owe him. We owe him and we're going to make it happen.”

Crosby has missed more field goals (six) in nine games this season then he missed in his previous 39 games dating to the 2018 season and on most of them, there was something wrong with the hold or snap. All the misses have occurred over the last five games, rendering him 7 of 13 during that span.

The other times, the misses didn't lead to a loss, but in a 13-7 loss to Kansas City on Sunday, they did. He missed wide left from 40 yards and had a kick from 37 yards blocked and in both cases the ball was not in the proper position when he kicked it.

“You're looking for your long snapper to snap the ball with accuracy, location, so that's going to take velocity, the same revolutions to get to the holder in the same catch point (every time),” Drayton said. “Then it’s the holder’s job to put that ball down on a spot roughly the size of a dime, and maybe with very little movement, and then lean the ball in a manner that your kicker needs it.”

Crosby had gotten into a groove with long snapper Hunter Bradley and holder JK Scott last year, hitting all 16 field goals and 59 of 63 extra points, but the Packers cut Scott, their punter, and replaced him with Corey Bojorquez.

Though Bojorquez is new to the operation, the most obvious reason for the breakdowns this season has been poor long snapping.

The Packers cut Bradley after several of his snaps were off, including at least two against Cincinnati in Week 5, when Crosby missed three of seven field goals and an extra point. He wound up hitting a game-winning 49-yarder in overtime, but he had a kick blocked against Washington two weeks later and punched in a 21-yarder against Arizona after Bojorquez rescued a high snap the week after that.

The following Tuesday the Packers cut Bradley and signed Steve Wirtel off their practice squad.

Then came the debacle in Kansas City, where Crosby wound up kicking placements where the laces were pointed to the side instead of forward.

Packers kicker Mason Crosby reacts after missing a field goal during the first quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs .

Drayton said Bojorquez didn’t feel he had time to spin the ball into place because it would have messed up Crosby’s timing and so Crosby hit balls that were not properly set.

"A lot of it is natural ability,” Drayton said. “But there are some things that we can do to manipulate that.”

As for the blocking unit, which was as much at fault for the blocked kick in the Kansas City game, Drayton said there will be changes.

“At the end of the day, it falls on me,” he said. “I have to come up with new innovative ways to make this rhythm happen now because we don't have that luxury (of waiting). And I promise you that is what we're working on. You know, that's priority No. 1 in the special teams to get that operation down pat. And then priority No. 2 or 1A and 1B is to get that protection shored up.”

Drayton said he would stick with rookie Amari Rodgers on punt returns because he doesn’t want to give up on someone who his kind of ability.

Bakhtiari not quite all the way back

One day after the Packers officially moved offensive lineman David Bakhtiari back onto the active roster, coach Matt LaFleur said the plan to reinsert the All-Pro tackle into the starting lineup is still fluid.

“The one thing that ... we’ve got to get through the week of practice," LaFleur said. "You’ve got to string back-to-back days, you got to get into football shape, get multiple reps, try to simulate the drive the best you can and then see how he responds. And when he’s ready to go, he’ll be in the line-up.”

Bakhtiari was activated off of the reserve/physically unable to perform list Wednesday, the final day of the window should Bakhtiari hope to play this season. He has been at practice the last two weeks, working through drills as a full participant during the open media viewing periods.

With Bakhtiari back on the active roster, he is eligible to play Sunday versus the Seattle Seahawks. If he’s back in the trenches, the staff will be playing some musical chairs with the linemen, namely Elgton Jenkins. The left guard had moved over to start at left tackle while Bakhtiari recovered from his ACL tear.

While the staff monitors Bakhtiari’s progress and a decision looms, Jenkins could be preparing for a multitude of playing options Sunday.

“All of these are challenges that we have to think about and work through each and every week,” LaFleur said. “Especially when you have a guy that you don’t, you’re not quite sure if he’s gonna play or not, that’s one of the challenges that you have to take on and roll with each and every week.”

Cornerback Eric Stokes, who suffered a knee injury during warm-ups ahead of Sunday’s game against the Chiefs, was a more involved participant in practice Thursday. After being limited to the stretch portion Wednesday, Stokes was seen during Thursday’s open position running drills with his fellow defensive backs. He showed little to no mobility issues. The Packers officially listed Stokes as a “limited participant” on Thursday’s injury report.

The other limited participants on Thursday’s injury report were Bakhtiari, defensive lineman Kenny Clark (back), defensive lineman Kingsley Keke (concussion) and wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (ankle).

Defensive lineman Dean Lowry (hamstring) was listed as a full participant, while tackle Dennis Kelly (back) was promoted to full participant. Tight end Marcedes Lewis was given a veteran off day.

Defending against Russell Wilson

It’s only been two years since the Packers have tried to defend Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, and considering the display Wilson put on in that 2019 NFC divisional playoff game, it hasn’t been nearly long enough. 

Wilson almost willed a lesser Seahawks team back from a 21-3 halftime deficit that day. If not for a clutch, third-down sack from Preston Smith late in the fourth quarter, it might have been a different outcome. The play is memorable for its significance, but also because of its difficulty. 

The Packers know Wilson, who is expected to return Sunday after missing the past three games because of a finger injury, is one of the NFL’s toughest quarterbacks to rush. 

“Russ,” safety Darnell Savage said, “he’s just Russ. He’s different. He can extend plays for a long time. He’s really slippery. He’s hard to sack. That’s been kind of the theme his whole career.” 

Savage said a defender can “never relax” when Wilson is on the field. While a typical play might last seven to eight seconds, Wilson can extend significant longer. 

“With him,” Savage said, “it could be 15, 20 (seconds).” 

Asked how to contend with Wilson’s scrambling, defensive coordinator Joe Barry described the need to execute a controlled rush. A quarterback typically has six rush lanes to escape the pocket on any play, three on each side of the center. Even if a defense brings an extra rusher, that typically leaves an extra rush lane. Barry said Wilson is a “master” at picking the correct lane to escape. 

Other than the ultra-athletic Lamar Jackson, Packers outside linebackers coach Mike Smith said Wilson is the NFL’s most dangerous quarterback when it comes to extending plays. 

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“He’s not an overly fast guy,” Smith said, “but he’s super athletic. He’s bigger than what you think, lower body, so he’s always ducking down, spinning, giving you the pump fake. He’s a weapon back there, and you’ve always got to be aware when you’ve got guys like that when they’re rushing. 

“We’ve got to do our best to keep him in there, and it will change the way that you rush a little bit. Because you’ve got to be cautious on where he’s at, but also you can’t rush scared. That’s my biggest thing. You go into a game and you rush scared, and you’re just sitting there peeking at the line of scrimmage, looking, you’re making it easy for him.” 

Krys Barnes makes 'dream' hit

On third down inside the two-minute warning of the first half against Kansas City, Packers inside linebacker Krys Barnes had the type of hit he’d dreamed about as a kid. 

Barnes tracked Chiefs running back Darrel Williams out of the backfield as he ran a route. When Patrick Mahomes threw to Williams at the 5-yard line, the tailback was turned to the goal line. Barnes lurked at the goal line, determined to prevent Williams from scoring. 

Barnes and Williams collided at the 1-yard line, a picturesque hit that knocked the running back out of bounds short of the pylon.  

“If you’re a hitter,” Barnes said, “you want that type of hit. I feel like I still probably have some more in me that I can dish out to people, but that’s a play you dream of as a kid, making that play in the NFL, live television, goal-line stand. I mean, there’s not really a better feeling. 

“At the end of the day you get excited seeing your boys get excited for you. That’s what I get excited for, and being able to feed off that energy.” 

Barnes had maybe his best game of the season Sunday, finishing with a season-high nine tackles. His hit on Williams was still fondly remembered Thursday.  

“It’s crazy,” Savage said, “because you rarely see plays like that anymore. Most of the time when a guy gets that close, normally they score. Normally they fall forward and score. That was a heck of a play. That’s something that you can’t necessarily teach. What we want to focus on is just playing harder, and you watch that, that’s a guy playing harder.” 

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