Packers finish last in special-teams rankings

Weston Hodkiewicz
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The Green Bay Packers' special-teams unit bottomed out this season.

Green Bay Packers special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum.

The Packers finished last among 32 teams in the Dallas Morning News' annual special-teams rankings released last week. Their 450 points bested Carolina (445.5) by a few points for the dubious honor.

DMN columnist Rick Gosselin ranks every team in 22 different categories. One point is given for finishing in first in a category with 32 points assessed for finishing last. The Packers were last in two categories – punts inside the 20 (14) and blocked kicks (seven). Five NFL teams didn't allow one.

Along with Green Bay and Carolina, Tennessee (430), San Diego (433) and Washington (444) rounded out the bottom five. Philadelphia led the league with 201.5, followed by Buffalo (227.5), New England (233.5), Atlanta (239.5) and Baltimore (264).

It's another blow for Green Bay special-teams coach Shawn Slocum. The rankings are only based on regular-season performance, but the Packers had two significant misfires in last week's NFC championship game that contributed to their 28-22 overtime loss to Seattle.

That included punter Jon Ryan's touchdown pass off a fake field goal in the third quarter for the Seahawks' first score and Brandon Bostick's botched onside kick recovery that led to Seattle taking the lead with under 2 minutes remaining.

The Packers didn't look like the league's worst unit in the first half of the season, but things quickly went south after the bye week. They had five of their seven blocked kicks in the final eight regular season games. Punter Tim Masthay struggled with his confidence and the kickoff-return unit was non-existent.

The lone bright spots were kicker Mason Crosby, who made 34 of 40 field goals (including playoffs), and Micah Hyde leading all NFL punt returners with a 15.8-yard per return average and two touchdowns.

It's the second consecutive season the Packers' special-teams unit has taken a dive in the rankings. They finished 19th a year ago after posting their best marks under Slocum in 2012 (12th) and 2011 (13th). Green Bay was 31st and 29th during Slocum's first two seasons in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

The Packers tried to rebuild the unit last offseason by firing Slocum's assistant, Chad Morton, and replacing him with former Illinois and Florida coach Ron Zook. They also reassigned Jason Simmons to assist on the unit.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy has yet to indicate whether any changes will be made this offseason, but Green Bay made one early move on Monday in signing former Alabama punter Cody Mandell as possible offseason competition for Masthay. It's the first time the Packers have had two punters under contract since Masthay won the job in 2010 over Chris Bryan.

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Green Bay Packers special teams coach Shawn Slocum, center, organizes his kick-off team on the sidelines against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink FIeld.
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