Rasul Douglas, other vets might be Packers' only hope to fix special teams

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Here’s something that seems almost unfathomable to anyone who watched the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night: There are two teams worse at special teams than they are.

According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Packers’ special teams rank 30th in the NFL. The New York Jets and Los Angeles Chargers are somehow worse.

It’s a good thing for coach Matt LaFleur and his team that they were playing a team like the Chicago Bears (4-9).

“Chicago has had an up-and-down season, obviously they wouldn’t be considered a great team at this point,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “But when you’re playing great teams and the kind of football we’re going to be playing here over the next month, we need to be a lot more sound in that phase of the game.”

Of the Packers’ 36 special teams plays in Sunday's game, nine qualified as abysmal:

  • Jakeem Grant’s 97-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter.

  • Grant’s 34-yard punt return in the first quarter, which to that point had been the Bears’ longest of the season.

  • Kickoff returns of 40 and 42 yards allowed.

  • Kickoff returner Malik Taylor’s first-quarter muff out of bounds, which had he let it go would’ve given the Packers possession at the 40 instead of the 5.

  • A Mason Crosby second-quarter kickoff that went out of bounds, allowing the Bears to start at the 40.

  • Corey Bojorquez’s 22-yard punt in the fourth quarter.

  • Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s inability to secure the Bears’ onside kick in the fourth quarter after they had cut the lead to 15.

  • Punt returner Amari Rodgers’ muff off his helmet that the Bears recovered, only to have it wiped out by a Chicago penalty.

If having 25% of your special teams plays essentially fail sounds like a formula that would get a special teams coordinator fired, think again. Maurice Drayton, in his first year in that role, isn’t going anywhere at this point.

“Absolutely not,” LaFleur said immediately after the game. “We’ve got to continue to work, we’ve got to look at the tape, we’ve got to get things corrected. I’ll be the first to tell you that, yeah, are there some things that we have to clean up as coaches? No doubt about it. But we’ve got to execute better as well.”

There’s reason to think Drayton won’t be out after one season, either. LaFleur fired special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga in January after a two-year stint. The more head coaches fire coordinators and assistant coaches, the more leery good candidates become about taking jobs in those places.

The Packers lost three special teams players to injuries against the Bears: Receivers Equanimeous St. Brown (concussion) and Taylor (abdomen), plus tight end Dominique Dafney (ankle) all failed to finish the game.

The fix, at least for now, might be to use certain position starters more on special teams. It was cornerback Rasul Douglas, who played 59 of 62 snaps on defense, who helped cause the Bears penalty that wiped out their recovery on Amari Rodgers’ muffed punt. Douglas forced Bears gunner Kindle Vildor to run out of bounds illegally.

"Watch Rasul Douglas and how he baited the gunner to run directly out of bounds without touching him," LaFleur said. "That was just a very savvy play by such a pro [who is] paying attention to detail and that is taking the coaching and knowing that that guy had a tendency of doing that."

That was one of only three special teams plays Douglas got on Sunday after playing 50 such plays in the previous four games combined.

“We’re getting to that point where it’s all hands on deck,” LaFleur said Monday. “We’re going to have to ask guys to maybe do a little bit more. I think Rasul’s such a great example because you saw the contributions he made defensively, and then he had a critical play on that special teams.”

And that sounded fine with Douglas.

“It’s just this week happened to be where I wasn’t on as much special teams as I’m usually on,” Douglas said. “I usually play all the special teams. I think coach will do a good job this week of putting guys in the right position on special teams to make plays.”

Receiver Allen Lazard might be another. Remember when he volunteered in the middle of the Week 3 game against the 49ers to help cover kicks?

“Allen is a very, very, very good special-teamer,” Drayton said earlier this season.

Lazard, who hasn’t played on special teams in any of his past four games and now is in a more prominent role on offense following the loss of receiver Randall Cobb (core muscle surgery), might raise his hand again.

“Like I said before, many times, I want to do whatever it takes to win,” Lazard said. “At the same time, we’ve got to be smart with everything. Randall went down, so I probably played a little bit more snaps, as well. But I think it’s nothing that those guys can’t fix. Those guys, they’re very much capable.”