Frustration mounts after seventh block allowed
With every block, the frustration builds for the Green Bay Packers' protection units on special teams.
The Packers had their third field goal of the season blocked at the start of the fourth quarter of Sunday's 30-20 win over Detroit when Lions safety Isa Abdul-Quddus penetrated through the left side to stop a Mason Crosby 52-yard attempt.
It's the seventh time the Packers have had a field goal, point-after attempt or punt blocked this season. They only had five combined previous incidents since Shawn Slocum was promoted to special-teams coordinator in 2009.
The Packers avoided further damage when Lions running back Joique Bell fumbled the ball on the first play after the recovery, but that was of little consolation to Slocum. When asked how high his frustration level, he didn't waste a moment.
"Extremely high," Slocum said. "We need to do a better job – personnel needs to do a better job and accountability factor. They need to do a better job in protection."
In this particular instance, Abdul-Quddus and Rashean Mathis rushed from the left side of the formation. Mathis sprinted wide of left wing Andrew Quarless, while Abdul-Quddus dodged between Quarless and reserve lineman JC Tretter to bat down the kick.
The Packers recently reinserted starting right guard T.J. Lang to help the protection team, but the problems continue to linger. Defensive linemen Josh Boyd and Mike Pennel have been used in the unit since starting left guard Josh Sitton (toe) was pulled off special teams after injuring his toe against New Orleans on Oct. 26.
Slocum said everything is on the table entering the playoffs, but added didn't have a problem with Crosby's kick.
"Our left wing needs to do a better job there. It's disappointing," Slocum said. "We've spent a lot of time, because we've had some problems this season in our placement protection. We've devoted the necessary time in practice.
"That was a critical play in the game and our accountability needs to pick up there."
Special teams have struggled this season after being commended as the most consistent phase of the team in recent years. The one bright spot Sunday was Micah Hyde's 55-yard punt return for a touchdown, which saw the second-year defensive back tie Desmond Howard and Will Blackmon for the franchise record of three.
The kickoff return team hasn't fared as well, finishing the regular season 31st in average (19.1 per return). The Packers even deactivated their primary returner, DuJuan Harris, to open up a roster spot for third-string quarterback Scott Tolzien because of Aaron Rodgers' calf injury.
The Packers also had a breakdown on an onside punt attempt following a safety late in the fourth quarter. A few receivers, including Randall Cobb, signaled fair catch but were unable to field the ball. It allowed the Lions to regain possession at their own 47-yard line with 1:45 remaining and trailing 30-20.
Slocum's biggest concern was the botched field goal, though. It came a critical point in the game with the Packers only leading by one score 21-14 with 13:36 left in the fourth quarter. Green Bay understands the cyclical nature of its misfortunes. The more gaffes the units put on film, the more opposing teams are going to challenge them.
After clinching a bye week with the No. 2 seed in the NFC, the players and coaching staff have two weeks to find a fix.
"I'm certain that everyone involved with the field goal protection is frustrated at what's transpired," said punter Tim Masthay, who serves as the holder on field-goal units. "Frustration is probably the most definite emotion of our field-goal unit right now. We have to figure out a way to protect the kicks better and me, Mason and Brett have to do our jobs well. That's pretty much it. We have two weeks to try and get things ironed out. Hopefully we'll do that."