Notebook: Special-Teams Units Face Another Challenge

The Packers dedicated a lot of practice time and drill work to special teams throughout training camp, and the commitment certainly showed up against the Eagles and formidable return man DeSean Jackson in Week 1. But the opponent isn’t getting any easier in Week 2 with Buffalo, and the chore for the Packers now is to show they can perform at that level on special teams consistently.

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"Our challenge is that we play solid special teams week to week," coordinator Shawn Slocum said. "We can't get on a roller coaster and be up and down. We've got a good football team, and we need to be productive on special teams each week."

The Bills feature dynamic return men in veteran Roscoe Parrish on punts and rookie C.J. Spiller on kickoffs, a duo that gives new Buffalo head coach Chan Gailey something to build on immediately in the special teams phase.

Parrish led the league in punt return average two straight years, averaging 15.3 yards per return in 2007 and 16.3 in 2008. He also returned a punt for a touchdown three straight years, from 2006-08.

Spiller, meanwhile, is a first-round draft pick (No. 9 overall) from Clemson who tied the NCAA record with eight kickoff returns for touchdowns in his college career.

"We've got a chance to be pretty good," Gailey said.

Last week the Packers limited Jackson, the league's top punt returner in '09, to just 14 yards on two returns, with two fair catches. They also limited Ellis Hobbs to a 23.3-yard average on four kickoff returns.

A repeat performance against Parrish and Spiller would go a long way toward winning the field-position battle, as would another productive game from Green Bay kick returner Jordy Nelson, who had two returns out near midfield in Philadelphia.

Nelson's 51-yard return was the longest in the NFC and third-longest in the league in Week 1. The 40-yarder he added later made Nelson one of only two kick returners last week, along with Jacksonville's Tiquan Underwood, to post two returns of 40-plus.

There's already a buzz that the early success is a sign the Packers might break their 10-year drought on kickoff returns – the team hasn't run one back for a TD since Allen Rossum in 2000 – but as Slocum has said before, it's not as much about busting the big one as it is consistently giving the offense an advantageous starting point.

"Our philosophy with our offense, our scoring probability increases greatly once we get the ball outside the 30-yard line," Slocum said. "That's what our goal is. If we keep doing that, the big plays will come."

For the second straight week, the Packers also will face one of the league's top punters. The high, booming punts from Philadelphia's Sav Rocca forced Green Bay returner Tramon Williams to call a fair catch four out of five times, and he managed one return for 10 yards. Rocca finished the game with a gaudy average of 49.6 gross yards and an even more impressive 47.6 net.

This week it will be Buffalo's Brian Moorman, a two-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro who has posted a net average of 39 yards or better four times in the last five years. That's a remarkable run of production and consistency, especially considering the number of cold-weather games the Bills play at home and in the northeast corridor.

"We're facing really good special-teams units based on statistical history over the last several years, and Buffalo is another one of those teams," Slocum said. "I fully expect they'll have their guns blazing."

So the Packers clearly have their work cut out for them once again. In addition, kicker Mason Crosby and punter Tim Masthay each had a hiccup that must be corrected.

Crosby, who drilled field goals of 49 and a franchise-record 56 yards, had one of his five kickoffs go out of bounds, giving the Eagles the ball at the 40. Masthay, after three solid punts that averaged 43.0 gross and 41.7 net, mistakenly hit a low 37-yard punt down the middle of the field with four minutes left and the Packers leading by seven. But the coverage team bailed him out and corralled Jackson after just a 10-yard return.

It's mistakes like those that could prove more costly if they happen again, though, and the special-teams units as a whole know they weren't flawless. They were solid, and the Packers will take that, but most important now is proving that Week 1 was a starting point, not a peak.

"It wasn't like we went out and played amazing on special teams," fullback and special-teams regular Korey Hall said. "That's the way we play. That's the way we're going to play -- that's the mindset.

"We're going to go out and do what we did last week. We're going to do that 16 weeks in a row. That's kind of the mindset we have going in."

Stable secondary
Another position group where the Bills excel is in the secondary, which makes the matchup with Green Bay's three- and four-receiver sets intriguing.

Looking at Buffalo's nickel group (top three corners and two safeties), the Bills possess two former Pro Bowl selections in veteran cornerback Terrence McGee (2005) and second-year safety Jairus Byrd (2009), two former first-round draft picks in third-year corner Leodis McKelvin (11th overall, 2008) and fifth-year safety Donte Whitner (8th overall, 2006), and a former second-round draft pick in corner Drayton Florence, who previously started for San Diego and Jacksonville before joining Buffalo last season.

"They definitely have a good secondary," Packers receiver Greg Jennings said. "I was watching film on them (Tuesday) night, and they have depth. They definitely have depth in the sub package."

The biggest playmaker of the bunch is Byrd, who tied for the league lead as a rookie last year with nine interceptions. A second-round draft pick who actually started his prep career near Green Bay at Pulaski High School (his father Gill once worked for the Packers as director of player programs), Byrd played a limited amount last week due to a groin injury but is not on Buffalo's injury report this week.

In addition, McGee has recorded at least three interceptions four times in his career, and Whitner had a 76-yard interception return for a touchdown last season.

Despite a 15-10 loss last week, Buffalo's secondary helped to hold Miami quarterback Chad Henne to just 182 yards passing with no touchdowns and a 75.9 rating. Henne averaged just under 9 yards per completion and his long in 34 pass attempts was only 21 yards.

"We have to win the one-on-one matchup," Jennings said. "Of course, they're thinking the same thing, but we try to put more stress on the defense than they put on us."

No longer the youngestThe NFL released their opening-weekend roster averages on Thursday, and the Packers checked in with the fifth-youngest roster in the NFL, ending a streak of four consecutive years with the youngest opening-day roster.

The Packers had a roster average of 25.92 years, which put them behind Carolina (25.15), Tampa Bay and Jacksonville (both 25.58), and Miami (25.77)

Last year, the Packers held the top spot with an average age of 25.70, and in 2008 Green Bay was tied with Kansas City for the youngest roster with an average age of 25.57. The Packers held the youngest mark on their own in 2007 (25.72) and in 2006 (25.57).

All in the family
Linebacker Clay Matthews' big hit that ultimately knocked Philadelphia quarterback Kevin Kolb out of last Sunday's game caused some collateral damage – to the fantasy team of Matthews' father, Clay Jr.

Matthews found out after Green Bay's win in a phone conversation with his brother that their dad had Kolb as his starting quarterback in the family's fantasy league. Kolb posted just 24 passing yards and then didn't play in the second half due to a concussion sustained when Matthews chased him from behind and sacked him. Michael Vick replaced Kolb and played the second half, leading the Eagles to 17 points in their attempted comeback.

So what's the ol' man going to do for a fantasy quarterback now?

"I have no idea," Matthews said. "He'd better get on the waiver wire and pick up Vick or something."

Lots of eyes on football
According to the NFL, the Packers-Eagles game last Sunday was the most-watched Week 1 Sunday game on record, with 28 million viewers, surpassing the previous high set last year of 25.1 million viewers for Redskins-Giants.

As a whole, Kickoff Weekend 2010 was the most-watched opening weekend of football since 1987 (when Nielsen average viewer records were first tracked) with an average of 19.5 million viewers for games Thursday through Monday night.

Injury/participation update
The only change to the Packers' injury report on Thursday was that defensive end Mike Neal (side) was upgraded from did not participate to a limited participant. He was not in pads for the part of practice open to reporters, however, and the evaluation of his potential playing status this week is ongoing.

"We'll see how he feels in the morning," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "Hopefully he can go through a full practice tomorrow."

McCarthy also said Matthews (hamstring), who is still listed as limited, practiced more on Thursday than he did on Wednesday. Also remaining limited were tackle Chad Clifton (knee), defensive end Cullen Jenkins (hand) and cornerback Brandon Underwood (shoulder).

Continuing to sit out were linebacker Desmond Bishop (hamstring) and cornerback Charles Woodson (toe). Safety Derrick Martin (ankle) was a full participant for the second straight day.

The Bills made only one change to their injury report as well, as center Geoff Hangartner (ankle) was upgraded from did not participate to a full participant. Safety Cary Harris (hamstring) and linebacker Paul Posluszny (knee) both remained out, while linebackers Antonio Coleman (hamstring) and Reggie Torbor (chest) fully participated for the second straight day.

Additional coverage – Sept. 16 

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