Return Game Primed To Bust Loose

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Based on what he's seen of Charles Woodson thus far on punt returns, Head Coach Mike McCarthy believes the opportunity may be there to bust a big one soon.

"We need to get him loose on a punt return," McCarthy said. "Because he's making two, three, four guys miss on each opportunity and it's not coming out the back end."

That chance to break through could come as soon as this week.

The Arizona Cardinals have struggled considerably with their punt coverage. In the season's first seven games, they have allowed four punt returns of 35 yards or longer, including an 83-yarder for a touchdown. Their coverage team is allowing an average of 15.7 yards per return, which ranks 15th in the NFC and 30th in the league.

While numbers like that may make Woodson's eyes light up, he also takes a realistic view of it. The big return isn't going to come just because of the opponent the Packers are playing, but only if the entire punt return unit is doing its job.

"There's always a possibility (of a big return) but it's just up to us," Woodson said. "They may have been struggling but if we don't go out there and take advantage of it, it don't really mean a whole lot.

"If they are struggling in that aspect of the game, we have to make them continue to struggle and go out there and do the things we're supposed to do to make that phase of the game work."

Woodson's numbers are middle-of-the-road thus far. He's averaged 8.8 yards on 16 returns, good for ninth in the NFC, with a long return of 28 in the season opener against Chicago.

He feels he's been close to busting one a couple of times. He noted the first punt return of the game against Philadelphia, which went for 11 yards, was a block or two away from creating a seam. Last week in Miami, a similar return netted 9 yards but looked like it might go for more when Woodson, as usual, made the first tackler or two miss.

"There's been some unblocked guys there in the second wave," Woodson said. "We just have to put it all together, where everybody for that play does exactly what they're supposed to do, if we do that, we're gone."

Special teams coach Mike Stock agreed the unit may be close, but holding blocks on punt returns is one of the tougher skills on special teams because the blocks have to be held for so long. From the time the ball is snapped to the time the returner has made his first couple of moves can encompass several seconds, allowing coverage players ample time to slip free and get in position for a tackle.

"Close is no cigar," Stock said. "Yeah, we're close, but the big thing is we must sustain the effort for the entire duration. There's always a guy here or a guy there who doesn't finish the play off, and a one-hitter doesn't make it for the duration of the play."

The kickoff return unit is looking to do the same thing, and it may start to develop some continuity now that running back Vernand Morency appears to be settling into the role.

A speedy runner with a good burst, Morency took all the kickoff returns in a game for the first time this season at Miami, and of the six players who have returned a kickoff for the Packers this season, his 24.5-yard average is tops.

"What I like about him is first of all he does secure the ball, he catches the ball in a good manner moving forward," Stock said. "And he takes the ball north and south. There's no dancing, no wasted motion, it's 'Go.'

"He's a guy that goes with a suddenness to his intentions, like getting shot out of a cannon. You can see that when he runs."

Morency's best return thus far was a 30-yarder on the opening kickoff against the Dolphins, when he started 2 yards deep in the end zone and got to the 28. For him and that unit, this week may present a prime opportunity as well.

Arizona has been a little better at kickoff coverage than punt coverage, ranking 12th in the NFC and 20th in the league for allowing an average return of 23.2 yards. But in the last three weeks, the Cardinals have surrendered two returns of 30-plus yards, including a 50-yarder to Kansas City in Week 5.

"I always feel like we're really close," Morency said. "I thought we were pretty close last week, and we're getting better every day. Eventually we'll pop one.

"The guys out there bust their rear end every week, and eventually it's going to pay off. Hard work always pays off."

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