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Packers Need a Culture Change

After what was a cold, bitter loss at Lambeau last Saturday night, Aaron Rodgers quote about special teams spoke volumes about how the Packers viewed Special Teams.

“We would just like to play even … kinda have a wash in the special teams”

The leader of the Packers had resigned himself to the failure that was the 2021-22 Green Bay Packer Special Teams Unit. The Packers started the pre-season struggling to ensure 11 players were on the field for special team snaps and sadly had only ten players watch the 49er field goal go through the uprights as the final play of the Packer season.

When an NFL team of professional players and coaches spend an entire season repeating the same assignment errors and fundamental technique failures, and that same problem has extended over multiple years, you have a problem of culture. A culture problem cannot be changed over night with one coach being fired. The Packers have tried that, and failed. Miserably.

A culture change requires commitment from every member of the organization. The President to the GM, the scouting staff, to the head coach, to every player in the building. When LaFleur became the Head Coach, he pursued Darren Rizzi as a ST coordinator. The rumor was he was given a “low ball” money offer and he instead signed with the Saints. Looking at Saturday’s stunning loss one could argue that the failure to go all in on the best Special Teams coordinator cost the Packers a Super Bowl bid.

The Packers then hired Sean Mennenga in the position although he had no NFL coordinator experience in Special Teams. When it was obvious after two seasons that Mennenga’s best day at Lambeau was the day of his job interview, the Packers hired his assistant instead of searching for the most qualified candidate. To quote a business culture change expert:

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”

While the Packers did invest two draft picks on special teams, both their selected punter and long snapper were replaced by this year’s Coordinator Maurice Drayton. Whether the failures of these two players can be blamed on the scouts, the coaches who failed to train them properly, the players themselves, or a combination, a culture has been created that Special Teams are not as important as the offense or defense.

Green Bay Packers special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton is shown during the second quarter of their game Sunday, October 3, 2021 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17

A breakdown of the field goal block shows a basic technique failure by Packer blocker Tyler Lancaster. Lancaster lined up on the end of the right side before the 49er timeout. Then, Lancaster and Tyler Davis switched sides before the blocked kick. Reviewing tape of previous games, Lancaster has played the position all season but most of his snaps were from the right side, not the left. The 49ers did not do anything sophisticated. Lancaster just allowed the inside rusher through untouched and fully engaged the outside rusher. Lancaster made a fundamental error that should be the first rule of a field goal blocker, never let a defender cross your face.

On the blocked punt long snapper Steve Wirtel tried to block 6’4” 270 pound defensive end Jordon Willis. Wirtel weighs 228 pounds. Wirtel had no help and was literally pushed out of the way by a sprinting Willis who was barely even slowed by Wirtel’s failed attempt. Wirtel replaced Hunter Bradley mid-season even though he had no starting experience. Did that coaching decision cost the Packers a playoff win? The failures of the Special Teams unit cannot be levied just on Maurice Drayton. One could argue the Packer culture set him up for failure. The Packers placed the blame on Mennenga without addressing the entire Packer culture that contributes to failed special teams for close to a decade.

It is clear the Packers need a quality experienced Specialist to lead the Special Teams unit. Then each level of the organization must recognize their own contribution to the failure and make changes to their approach. Years ago Al Davis drafted a punter in the first round. NFL pundits mocked him. Ray Guy was a perennial All-Pro. It is no coincidence that he was a three time Super Bowl champion. Davis communicated to his entire team the importance of Special Teams by drafting Guy. Now, there are
many ways to communicate change. Davis’ message was extreme and should only be considered on a generational type player. The Packers need to find their own way to communicate change. The key will be not using yesterday’s logic. That thinking was a cultural failure.

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Paul Edwards

Paul Edwards is a lawyer, victim advocate, writer, and long term Packer fan and Packer history enthusiast.

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5 Comments

  1. PF4L January 28, 2022

    This subject of culture change is long, long overdue.
    .
    But this article is more about Special teams, than culture change.
    .
    When i think of culture change i immediately think of Ron Wolf.
    He wrote the book on NFL team culture change…literally.
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    Personally i think there should have been some culture change back in early 2015, maybe even sooner than that.
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    Yes, culture change is/has been needed. That starts only…with the removal of Mark Murphy.
    The reasons are numerous, and known to informed Packer fans.
    .
    V.O.R.
    .
    PF4L

  2. Mitch Anthony January 28, 2022

    Murphy gone. Couldn’t agree more. He can go run someone’s theme park somewhere.

  3. Killer January 28, 2022

    They did a survey/study of “Rudest States in America” and Wisconsin came in at #11 out of 50. 11th most rude. Here is the result quote:

    “According to this study, Wisconsinites have poor etiquette when it comes to both driving and interacting with customer service employees.

    They run stop signs 23% more frequently than average and are less likely to say “please” and “thank you” during phone conversations with businesses.

    Redditor shaggyscoob says, “When I am being tailgated, it is almost always a Wisconsin driver. When someone fails to stop at a stop sign, it is almost always a Wisconsin driver. They usually sneak through a stop with the car in front of them rather than wait their turn. Wisconsin drivers accelerate into stops and floor it when they go. They pass unsafely, they almost never signal a turn, they pop out in front of oncoming traffic as if they are afraid of having someone in front of them and they seem to always speed.””

    They should have also noted that this study did not take into account percentage of serial killers and, had it, Wisconsin would be the rudest state in America. However, to be fair, it should also have noted that Wisconsin can improve it’s rudeness rating a half dozen points overnight simply by having Aaron Rodgers leave.

  4. PF4L January 29, 2022

    Tommi….is that all you viking fans do is obsess over negative things in life?
    .
    Every G D day with you viking fans…….this sucks, that sucks, he sucks, that team sucks…your QB sucks…waa, waa, waa,waa,waa,waa…..every God damn day!!!
    .
    I mean holy shit….find something in life to smile about.

  5. PF4L January 29, 2022

    Culture Change?
    Lets revisit 2014-15
    Big Mike…w/ big plans….
    .
    “I will spend a lot of time with the special teams. Special teams needs to improve,” McCarthy said. “It’s an area definitely of concern in the past. We have to continue to develop our young players, get them ready to play and contribute as quickly as possible.

    “And we [also] need to get more out of our veterans. To me, that’s the hole in our special teams. The consistency and the standard of play in our veteran players is not where it needs to be. And that will be a direct focus of mine.”
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    “The Packers’ failure to stop Seattle’s fake field goal in the NFC Championship game has, to us, come to epitomize the failures of the Packers special teams. That play was primarily the fault of two veteran players (and the former coach for calling for a block).” – Monty M. Feb 13th 2015