The Packers have successfully run a fake field goal for a touchdown and a fake punt that led to a touchdown in the season's first four weeks, but even Special Teams Coordinator Shawn Slocum isn't surprised the bag of tricks is being emptied this early.
Slocum (pictured) sees the trickery as a function of the Packers offense not yet hitting its stride, and momentum grabbers like fakes can often jump-start things. After converting the fake punt with a 5-yard run from their 17 yard line on Sunday against the Saints, the Packers proceeded to drive the remaining 78 yards for a third touchdown in their first four possessions on the day.
"Last year we were just lighting the scoreboard up, and this year we've used it to infuse our team there in the first half, and it has turned out to work well," Slocum said. "The way the games have worked out to this point, those two plays have been necessary."
Both fakes were risky, but for different reasons. The fake field goal against the Bears came on fourth-and-26 from the 27-yard line, meaning it was essentially touchdown or bust. The fake punt came on fourth-and-inches, but failure meant handing the ball to the Saints in the red zone. Both worked in part because those elements of risk made them such surprise calls.
The fake punt succeeded because the Saints double-teamed both outside gunners on the Packers punt team, leaving only six players around the ball. Fullback John Kuhn, the up man in punt formation, took the snap and easily got the first down.
"Basically we've got eight guys there in the box (including Kuhn), and they've got six," Slocum said. "So in terms of just executing the play, it's a fairly high-percentage play."
Head Coach Mike McCarthy wasn't as high percentage with his replay challenges on Sunday, going zero-for-two.
Despite referee Jeff Triplette's explanation on tight end Jimmy Graham's third-quarter catch that Graham never lost control of the ball, McCarthy still believes it was a good challenge that should have gone his way.
He does regret, however, challenging an incompletion to Jordy Nelson in the second quarter that was not overturned. McCarthy said he made the decision on his own after seeing the first replay on the video board, but as soon as he saw a second replay he knew the call was going against him.
That's what made him hesitate to challenge the Graham catch later, because right or wrong it would be his last challenge, and he waited until the last possible moment to throw the red flag on Graham. The Packers were then out of challenges when Saints returner Darren Sproles fumbled a fourth-quarter kickoff but was incorrectly ruled down.
"I had talked about it at halftime that I only had one challenge left, and with their offense this thing could come down to the end of the game," McCarthy said in going over the Graham challenge, which came on the third snap of the second half. "To me, that was a big management decision that really could have hurt us, because we obviously needed it later on the Sproles fumble."
Both McCarthy and Slocum indicated they felt a challenge on the Sproles fumble would have given the Packers the ball, even though the officials had ruled Sproles down. A clear recovery of the fumble by the defense is needed to overturn a "down by contact" call, and linebacker Dezman Moses had emerged with the ball.
"If I had the challenge, I think the result would have been different," McCarthy said.
Injury update: McCarthy said receiver Greg Jennings' groin injury flared up on him and prevented him from running full stride, so he was removed from the game in the second quarter. Jennings missed one game when he originally injured it, but there's no indication yet how long he'll be out this time.
Safety M.D. Jennings' shoulder injury is not a major concern, McCarthy said, but Jennings would have to be tested before he's able to return to the practice field.
Defensive end Mike Neal is eligible to practice this week following his four-game suspension. The Packers have a one-week roster exemption for him, so he won't necessarily be activated for this week's game.
McCarthy said he has no doubts Neal has been working out and staying in shape, but he wants to see him go through a full week of practice before making any decisions.
"We need to see where he is," McCarthy said. "He hasn't been playing or practicing football for four weeks. We will take him through the full week." Additional coverage - Oct. 1