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Special Teams Units See Dramatic Rise In Annual Rankings

The reasons for the Packers’ rise to NFC runner-up in 2007 certainly include improved special teams play. In his annual rankings of special teams that were released this past weekend, Dallas Morning News NFL columnist Rick Gosselin ranked the Packers tied for seventh in the league this past season.


The reasons for the Green Bay Packers' rise from an 8-8 team that just missed the playoffs in 2006 to a 13-3 one that just missed a trip to the Super Bowl in 2007 are numerous.

The return of quarterback Brett Favre to his MVP level of a decade ago, the emergence of Ryan Grant as a true feature back, and the steady play of a defense settling into its second year under coordinator Bob Sanders' scheme are just a few.

But don't forget about the improved special teams play. Two fumble recoveries in Week 1 against Philadelphia, one for a touchdown and another to set up the game-winning field goal, jump-started the 2007 season. And the special teams' impact continued throughout the season with Tramon Williams' long punt return for a score against Carolina, and Will Blackmon's two special teams TDs against Oakland.

In his annual rankings of special teams play that were released this past weekend, Dallas Morning News NFL columnist Rick Gosselin ranked the Packers tied for seventh in the league this past season.

That's significant not only because of where the Packers ended up, but where they came from.

The Packers had ranked dead last in Gosselin's rankings each of the past two years, when the team had a total of just eight wins prior to the final month of the 2006 season.

The Packers' jump was the best in the league, along with the Houston Texans'. Green Bay moved up 25 spots from 32nd last year to seventh this year, while Houston went from 29th to fourth.

Gosselin compiles his rankings with an objective points system, with points awarded based on where teams ranked in each of 22 statistical kicking-game categories for the past season. Teams are given one point for ranking first, 32 for ranking last in any given category.

All the points are tabulated, and the teams are then given an overall ranking based on the lowest point total first to the highest point total last.

The Chicago Bears finished first with 236.5 points, edging the San Diego Chargers at 242 points. It marked the second straight year the Packers' NFC North arch-rival has taken the top spot.

This year, the Packers finished with 318 points, tied for seventh with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That means the Packers' average ranking in each of the 22 categories was 14.45. In contrast, last year the Packers finished last in Gosselin's rankings with a point total of 493.5, or an average ranking of 22.43 in each category.

That's an average improvement of eight spots in every category across the board.

This year, the Packers ranked in the Top 10 in 11 of the 22 special teams categories compared to just three last year.

In 2007, the Packers finished tied for first in extra-point percentage (100 percent), tied for second in field goals made (31) and takeaways (four), tied for fourth in points scored (24) and points allowed (six), fifth in punt coverage (6.2 yards per return) and opponents' net punting (33.8 yards), seventh in punt returns (10.3 yards per return) and kickoff coverage (20.9 yards per return), eighth in opponents' gross punting (42.5), and tied for ninth in giveaways (one).

{sportsad300}As Gosselin points out (you can read his analysis by clicking here), the Bears' top ranking was influenced greatly by return man extraordinaire Devin Hester, whose presence has an impact on six categories (kickoff and punt returns, kickoff starting point, scoring, and opponents' gross punting and net punting).

For the Packers, the contributions came from all across the special teams units. Eight players reached double figures in special teams tackles, led by second-year pro Jason Hunter with 25, the highest single-season total by a Packers player in 22 years. The team's current director of college scouting, John Dorsey, had 30 special teams tackles back in 1985, five shy of his team record set the year before.

Following Hunter were Tracy White with 16 special teams tackles (despite missing three games), Desmond Bishop, Korey Hall and Frank Walker with 12 apiece, and Jarrett Bush, John Kuhn and Charlie Peprah with 11 each. Peprah also had two of the three forced fumbles on special teams, while White had two of the four recoveries.

Three different players scored on special teams, with Will Blackmon getting two touchdowns and White and Tramon Williams one apiece, while kicker Mason Crosby and Jon Ryan both posted solid seasons.

Crosby made 31-of-39 field goals, including 19-of-20 from less than 40 yards, while Ryan averaged 44.4 yards on 60 punts, putting 18 inside the 20 (30 percent).

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