As easy as it is to point out what's gone wrong on special teams this year, you also can't dismiss what the Green Bay Packers have accomplished on punt returns.
The Packers finished the season the way they started with defensive back Micah Hyde and receiver Randall Cobb splitting reps down the middle. What resulted was 11.5 yards per return, the highest average Green Bay has received on punt returns in almost 20 years.
Hyde is the more north-south runner of the two. Although he's not a burner, his 15.8 yards per return led all NFL returners with more than 14 attempts. He also had two punts returned for touchdowns, including a 55-yard effort in the regular-season finale against Detroit.
The Packers tried to take Cobb off special teams last year, but have used him on punt returns all season. He averaged a modest 8.0 yards on 14 punts, but can still be a game-changer. Their contrasting styles make the pair a force.
"Both of them are very comfortable catching the ball" special-teams coach Shawn Slocum said. "And I have to look forward to what we're going to get in to when the weather changes around here. In terms of fielding the ball. That's something that plays a part in it.
"Both of them have scored TDs doing it. We have two guys with the ability to have two guys to make plays."
The Packers even lined Hyde and Cobb back on the same punt in last week's 26-21 win over Dallas in the divisional round of the playoffs to create some unpredictability and the threat of a reversal.
The last time the Packers finished the regular season with an average higher than this past season was in 1996 when Desmond Howard averaged 15.1 yards per return, a precursor to what he would accomplish in Super Bowl XXXI.
The Packers' protection units have struggled and the kickoff return game has been non-existent for most of the season, but they seem to have the right formula on punt returns. They're hopeful it could make a difference as soon as Sunday's NFC championship game against Seattle.
"I think Coach (Slocum) understands that Randall does a good job of catching the ball and making people miss, and setting up walls, and stuff like that," Hyde said. "My style is a little different. I may catch the ball and try to get up field and get as many yards as possible right off jump. Coach does a good job of in the game of using and utilizing both of us. It's kind of on him and who he wants to use."
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