Moving

Packers shifting on from particular groups coordinator Maurice Drayton

Green Bay’s disastrous special teams performance in 2021 has resulted in a staff departure.

Special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton will not return to the Packers in 2022, NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported.

The Packers announced Drayton’s departure on Saturday.

Green Bay’s special teams struggled throughout 2021, but its worst showing directly contributed to the Packers’ upset loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional Round.

First, Green Bay had a chance to push its early lead to 10-0 just before the half, but failed to adequately protect on Mason Crosby’s 39-yard field goal attempt. San Francisco safety Jimmie Ward shot through a gap near the edge to get in front of Crosby’s kick, blocking it to keep the game at 7-0.

Later, in the game’s final minutes, special teams problems dealt a crushing blow to the Packers. Clinging to a 10-3 lead late in the fourth quarter of a snow-dusted game at Lambeau Field, Green Bay lined up to punt from deep in its own territory. San Francisco’s Jordan Willis overwhelmed long snapper Steven Wirtel, breaking through to get a piece of Corey Bojorquez’s punt and sent it sailing straight up into the air. Safety Talanoa Hufanga recovered the live ball and returned it for a touchdown, tying the game on Robbie Gould’s extra point.

A few minutes later, Gould kicked the game-winning field goal to send the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game and complete another postseason disappointment for the top-seeded Packers.

The loss was even tougher to bear for Packers coach Matt LaFleur, who watched his field goal block unit send just 10 men out for the game-deciding kick. He was forced to answer for it afterwards, taking responsibility for the lack of a full 11 players out on the field.

Now, LaFleur is making a change within his staff.

The move isn’t shocking when reflecting on Green Bay’s special teams struggles in 2021, but is a bit of a surprise considering LaFleur didn’t pin the blame on Drayton following the loss. LaFleur admitted coaches erred in counting players before the field goal, but wondered whether personnel choices were the problem. The coach said he’d explore using starters on special teams, something the 49ers did in the Divisional Round game, but didn’t commit to it.

“That’s going to be something that I want to do, some studies around the league and see how many teams operate that way,” LaFleur said two days after the loss, via PackersNews.com. “Again, does it have some inherent risks? Absolutely.”

Such risks became evident when running back AJ Dillon was forced out due to a fractured rib suffered while playing on a kickoff return. But special teams ended up being the difference, the crucial but often overlooked third phase of the game that the 49ers earned a victory.

LaFleur will likely continue exploring changes to his squad’s special teams in a process that will now include hiring a new coordinator.

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