Here’s a look at a key matchup heading into the Packers’ divisional playoff game against No. 1 seed Atlanta at the Georgia Dome Saturday evening:
Packers' special teams vs. Falcons' special teams
Green Bay’s special teams were far from special in the earlier game this season against the Falcons, which Atlanta won 20-17 on a 47-yard field goal from Matt Bryant with nine seconds remaining. Bryant’s game-winning three-pointer was set up by a 40-yard kickoff return by Pro Bowl special-teamer Eric Weems, with 15 more yards tacked on after a very ill-advised facemask penalty on Green Bay’s Matt Wilhelm. Weems averaged 31 yards on his three kickoff returns in that game.
Green Bay’s return game has also been far from special, with neither Tramon Williams on punt returns nor a combination of Packers (led by Sam Shields) on kickoff returns making much of an impact this season, although Williams had a huge 41-yard punt return that set up the first Packers score (a 23-yard Mason Crosby field goal) in Green Bay’s playoff-clinching 10-3 victory over the Bears.
Packers special-teams coach Shawn Slocum hinted late this week that Shields, Pat Lee and James Starks might all be called on to return kickoffs against the Falcons, who have one of the league’s better coverage units.
Packers P Tim Masthay has improved significantly after a shaky start this season and has been excellent for the most part down the stretch. Atlanta punter and kickoff specialist Michael Koenen has been adequate, with 23 touchbacks and 29 punts inside the 20. Bryant (28-of-31) has been a lot more accurate than Crosby (22-of-28) kicking field goals.