The injury to New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones undoubtedly was the theme of conversation Wednesday for Bill Belichick, but that didn’t prevent the always-engaging head coach from salivating a bit over Aaron Rodgers and hinting at another storyline perhaps nobody else in the league would have: the Green Bay Packers’ improvements on special teams.
The Packers, as football fans might recall, deployed one of the worst special teams units in the NFL during the 2021-22 season. It played a large role in Green Bay’s early playoff exit as the San Francisco 49ers blocked a field goal and blocked a punt for a touchdown in the Packers’ divisional-round defeat.
The organization has since attempted to solve those blunders with the addition of veteran special teams coach Richard Bisaccia, and the output through three games this season has not been lost on Belichick.
“You can see they’ve made some adjustments and improvements defensively and in the kicking game that showed up the early part of the season,” Belichick said in his opening statement, per the team. “They’re good. They’re good players. Well coached. All three units. Rich (Bisaccia) has done a good job for them.”
The Packers currently rank 14th in special teams DVOA, as compiled by Football Outsiders. It might prove an advantage for Green Bay entering Sunday’s contest as the Patriots currently rank 26th in special teams DVOA, even worse than New England’s brutal showing in the third phase during the 2021-22 campaign, as pointed out by NESN’s Dakota Randall.
“Yeah, well they lead the league in field position. Defensively they aren’t on the field more than any other team. I think that’s two things: One, not turning the ball over on offense and two, having good coverage in the kicking game,” Belichick said. “They’ve got three very explosive coverage players, and a good core, and good specialists, and a good returner, and a good coach. So they’ve put together a good core group. So they’re better probably than when we looked at them last year in the offseason. I think they’ve definitely upgraded that. They’ve played well. They can rush. They can return. They can cover. And they can protect. So that’s what hurt them last year in the playoffs, a field goal. Protection’s better. I know Rich (Bisaccia) is one of the top special team coaches in the league and has been. We saw him in Oakland whenever that was two years ago, three years ago. Whatever that was. Always had a ton of respect for Rich and the job he’s done. He’s very thorough. Aggressive. His units always play well.”
It seems it’s not a typical Packers team in more ways than one. The Rodgers-led offense hasn’t been overly impressive to start with Green Bay ranking 27th in points scored and in the bottom half of the league in both passing yards and attempts. The defense, however, has stymied opponents each of the past two weeks after a forgettable season opener against the Minnesota Vikings. It’s helped Green Bay rank sixth in both points and yards allowed.
It undoubtedly will present a tough challenge for the Patriots, especially given the likelihood Brian Hoyer is behind center with Mac Jones’ high ankle sprain likely keeping him out. Oddsmakers have taken notice of the injury to the Patriots starting quarterback with the Packers listed as 9.5-point home favorites ahead of the contest at Lambeau Field.