Shawn Slocum was enjoying a special teams coordinator’s rare moment in the spotlight on Friday, following a fake-field-goal play that was the turning point in the Packers’ 23-10 win over the Chicago Bears on Thursday.
“I hope this works,” were Slocum’s thoughts as Head Coach Mike McCarthy signed off on the play, which was attempted from the 27-yard line on fourth and 26. It was a touchdown-or-bust kind of play and reserve tight end Tom Crabtree scored after breaking into the clear a few yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
“It’s something we practice often. It just lined up for us last night,” Slocum said.
In studying video of the Bears’ field-goal-block team, Slocum saw an alignment he thought invited the shovel-pass play on which Crabtree scored.
“The Bears had an overload block to the other side of the field and we decided to run the ball to the short side of the field,” Slocum said.
The Packers held a 3-0 lead at the time, just inside the first-half two-minute warning. The risk was the potential for sacrificing a field goal and a 6-0 lead, and giving the Bears momentum and field position they could’ve used to tie the game or take the lead just before halftime. The reward was obvious but far-fetched, considering the distance the play had to travel to be successful.
Even on arguably the best day of his coaching life, Slocum had to share the spotlight on Friday with Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers, whose defense turned in its best performance in two years. It intercepted Jay Cutler four times, sacked him seven times and dominated the action.
“The encouraging thing is that at times last night you had five rookies out there in one of our packages. You’re going to see these guys improve as time goes on,” Capers said.
Five days earlier, Capers and his defense were licking their wounds after having been thrashed for 377 yards by the 49ers. Criticism was already beginning to mount for a unit that sunk to last in the league in 2011, but that trend was reversed on Thursday night.
Not only is the Packers defense certain to move up the yardage rankings, it’s already No. 1 in the league in sacks per pass play and likely to remain there. Clay Matthews’ 3.5 sacks on Thursday give him six for the season, which ties his production for all of last year.
“He’s winning his one-on-ones,” Capers said of Matthews.
“We were more consistent. We didn’t have the big errors we did on Sunday. We were able to make big plays and we didn’t give up big plays.”
Offensively, the Packers ran the ball with new-found effectiveness, and that gave quarterback Aaron Rodgers a balance between run and pass that helped him sell play action. In one particular instance, it should’ve resulted in a long pass completion to Jermichael Finley, but the pass was dropped.
“We ran the ball better. We still did some things that shot ourselves in the foot. We had some passes that could’ve been caught,” Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements said.
Clements referred to the failure to convert three third-and-one plays, one by pass attempt and two on the ground.
“Had we converted on those plays, we would’ve had nine more plays minimum. We’re not far off. We’re just not clicking the way we want to right now,” he said.
Everything else was clicking, especially the Packers’ fourth-and-26 fake-field-goal play.
Additional coverage - Sept. 14