The Green Bay Packers special teams had been their biggest weakness for years coming into 2011. Special teams coach was lucky to survive years where special teams killed the team. Their kick coverage units gave up big returns at key times, Mason Crosby missed big kicks, they got nothing from the return game, and they had not found a good punter since the bad decision to not bring back Jon Ryan in 2008. That all changed in 2011 and the Packers finally became a solid special teams team.
The first thing that changed the special teams for the better was the drafting of Randall Cobb. The Packers finally got the elite returner that they had been lacking for so long. Cobb lead the NFC with a 27.7 kickoff return average and was 4th in the NFC with a 11.3 punt return average. Cobb wasted no time electrifying the special teams with an incredible 108 yard kick return touchdown on opening night vs. the Saints. Cobb's elusiveness and quickness should give the Packers an elite returner for many years to come.
Many people questioned the Packers when they gave Mason Crosby a 5 yr deal worth 14.75 million last offseason. The Packers gave it to him because of his big leg and potential, but he had never made above 80% of his kicks for a season and had missed some game winning kicks, although most were around 50 yards. Crosby changed all of that last year. Crosby was outstanding as he made 24 of his 28 kicks for an 85.7% and made a game winning kick in the Meadowlands against the Giants.
Tim Masthay has once again solidified the punting position for the Packers. The Packers have had a bunch of awful punters come through Green Bay since they let go of Jon Ryan. Masthay doesn't get the opportunity to punt as much as most guys, but he delivered when he did. Masthay had a 45.6 average on his punts, with a 38.6 net average, and he 23 punts downed inside the 20. Masthay's contributions in the 2010 NFC Championship game at Soldier Field should never be forgotten as he was one of the Packers' MVP's of that game.
The coverage teams were also improved as the Packers were in the middle of the pack in kickoff return average and only allowed 1 punt return for a touchdown and 0 kick returns for touchdowns. If the Packers can repeat their special teams performance from last year they should be very pleased.