Packers surging special teams unit must limit Vikings KR Kene Nwangwu

The Green Bay Packers special teams unit went through some ups and downs through the early to middle portions of the season, but this is a group that, across the board, has been trending upward as of late. The kick coverage unit, however, is very much going to be tested by the Minnesota Vikings and Kene Nwangwu.

Nwangwu has been one of the more dynamic kick returners in the NFL this season. His 30 attempts are tied for the most with Keisean Nixon, and he trails only Nixon in total return yards. Nwangwu is also ninth in average, and he’s one of just two players with a kick return touchdown in 2022.

“He’s got great size and he’s got great speed and obviously he’s put on tape he has the ability to finish,” said special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia via Packers.com. “I think that (TD vs. New England)’s his third one in the National Football League, if I’m not mistaken. So, he’s hard to tackle, he’s a slippery player. We only had to cover him really one time the last time we played ’em up there, at their facility. So it will be a good challenge in this weather, he’s certainly going to get some returns against us. So hopefully, we’ll tackle.”

As Bisaccia mentions, because of Green Bay’s inability to put points on the board in Week 1, Nwangwu had just one return attempt against the Packers earlier in the season and totaled 25 yards.

Nwangwu is likely going to get several return opportunities against the Packers. While Mason Crosby remains steady as a field goal kicker, where his age continues to show is on kickoffs. With Crosby rarely getting the ball to the end zone, the 50 return attempts that opponents have against Green Bay is the most in football by seven, and Crosby’s return rate of 80.6%, according to PFF, is the second most in the NFL.

However, even with the kick return unit continuously having to make plays, they’ve held up well, allowing just 22.3 yards per return with opposing offenses’ average starting field position beginning at the 26-yard line–not bad, considering the Packers have had very few touchbacks. Since Week 12, Green Bay has been giving up only 20.6 yards per kick return, which is the eighth-best rate in the NFL during that span.

Both new faces, including Dallin Leavitt and Eric Wilson, along with the development of the young players, some of which include Isaiah McDuffie, Tariq Carpenter, and Tyler Davis, have helped turn this unit around.

With the emergence of Nixon, Packers fans have seen firsthand how a dynamic return man can alter a game by giving the offense a shorter field to work with. In what is likely to be a close game – since those are the only types of games that both of these teams play – Nwangwu breaking a big return and giving an already dynamic Vikings’ offense a short field to work with could be the difference between a win and a loss.

Green Bay may also not have the opportunity to go blow-for-blow with Minnesota on kick returns with Nixon’s status for Sunday’s game up in the air at this time.

Overall, this is a Vikings’ special teams unit that ranks 31st by DVOA and 26th by PFF’s grading system, perhaps actually giving the Packers the upper hand in this matchup, although containing Nwangwu and Nixon’s availability will go a long way in determining that.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire