Green Bay special teams shine

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Tom Silverstein, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Monday, October 14, 2013

BALTIMORE—It was probably too much to ask for the Green Bay Packers to have a complete special teams performance against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.

After all, Ravens coach John Harbaugh used to coach special teams.

So while the Packers didn’t have a complete day, they did manage to have a breakthrough at least in a couple of areas.

The Packers blocked a punt for the first time since Week 8 of last season and found new life in their moribund punt return game. They got a strong performance from punter Tim Masthay and milked strong efforts from safety Chris Banjo and Brian Bostick with Jarrett Bush (hamstring) on the shelf.

“We had some good plays,” safety Jerron McMillian said. “They had some good plays, too.”

The play that could have had the most impact occurred with just over 9 minutes left in the first half. Lined up to defend a punt, the Packers brought heat up the middle against punter Sam Koch and overran the blocking unit.

Tight end Ryan Taylor lined up on the shoulder of one of the guards and shot through the line before anyone could block him. He got through so quickly he didn’t even have to dive to block the punt.

“You know, I don’t really know where it hit me,” Taylor said. “I just pushed past whoever was blocking me and I think I either got it with my forearm or it hit me in the head. It was a good confidence builder for us.”

The incomplete part about the play was that after the ball started bouncing toward the first down marker, fullback John Kuhn made the grievous mistake of trying to pick it up. It bounced off Kuhn’s arm, which made it a live ball, and Ravens safety James Ihedigbo recovered it at the Baltimore 41.

Because Kuhn had touched it, it is considered a change in possession. Had it bounced past the line of scrimmage and the Ravens recovered it without anyone touching it, they still would have had a first down.

“As soon as I got to the sideline, I thought to myself, that’s a bonehead play,” Kuhn said. “I was really upset with myself. It was so bang-bang. I saw the ball come down around the line of scrimmage and I wasn’t sure if it was going past or not as I was sprinting toward the ball.

“I thought in my head, just get the ball and be sure of it. It took a bad bounce on me at the end.”

Instead of having the ball around the Baltimore 40 in a 3-0 game, the Packers were back on defense. Luckily for Kuhn, the Ravens were stuffed on third and fourth downs after driving all the way to the 1-yard line.

Taylor tried to look at it in a positive light.

“We’ll take a blocked punt, but it’s more about putting pressure on the punter,” Taylor said. “Now Cleveland’s punter has to think about it next week. I feel it was a good day for our overall special teams.”

The emergence of Micah Hyde on punt returns was another check in the plus column.

Through four games, the Packers’ longest punt return had been 16 yards and the combination of Randall Cobb and Jeremy Ross was averaging 8.6 yards per return. Hyde took all but one return with Cobb forced to leave with a knee injury and finished with five returns for 68 yards (13.6).

After unimpressive returns of 2 and 7 yards, Hyde set up the Packers at their 49 with a 23-yard return with 1 minute 27 seconds left in the half. It set up a field goal attempt that kicker Mason Crosby missed from 44 yards.

On Baltimore’s first punt of the second half, Hyde returned 20 yards to the Baltimore 34. However, quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw an interception in the end zone that ended the drive.

Hyde’s impressive day would have meant even more if the Packers had not played so poorly in coverage. Without Bush in the lineup, they allowed Ravens kick returner Jacoby Jones to average 25.5 yards per return and gave up a 38-yard punt return to Tandon Doss.

The long punt return took some yards away from Masthay’s solid net average of 41.8 yards on six punts. He averaged 54.8 overall but had two touchbacks.

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