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Tim Masthay: The Packers' secret weapon

Green Bay's Tim Masthay placed four of his five punts inside the 20-yard line last week against the New York Giants. On Sunday, the former Kentucky standout will face the Oakland Raiders and their perennial Pro Bowl punter Shane Lechler.
Green Bay's Tim Masthay placed four of his five punts inside the 20-yard line last week against the New York Giants. On Sunday, the former Kentucky standout will face the Oakland Raiders and their perennial Pro Bowl punter Shane Lechler. AP

GREEN BAY, Wis. — As many weapons as the Green Bay Packers have on offense, they have another in the rare occasion their high-powered scoring machine sputters: punter Tim Masthay.

Though quarterback Aaron Rodgers has the Packers averaging an NFL-best 35.0 points and ranked fourth in total offense at 405.3 yards, the Packers know they can count on their second-year punter to flip the field or pin opponents deep when necessary — especially as the Wisconsin weather turns wintry.

"Tim's a big-time weapon," Packers Coach Mike McCarthy said Thursday. "Field position is so important. Especially as we enter into winter football, it will be an even bigger emphasis. He's been doing a great job putting that ball inside the 10-yard line."

Only two punters in the league have fewer kicks than Masthay, who enters Sunday's game against Oakland averaging 45.0 gross yards and 36.9 net yards on 41 punts. Masthay has punted more than four times in a game only four times this season for the 12-0 Packers.

While Masthay's numbers don't jump off the NFL stat page — he ranks tied for No. 18 in gross punting average and No. 29 in net average among punters with at least 20 kicks — he showed exactly how valuable he is with his performance last Sunday against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.

The league named Masthay the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week after he placed four of his five punts inside the 20-yard line, had a net average of 44.2 yards and allowed zero return yards while averaging 4.51 seconds of hang time on his five punts in the Packers' 38-35 victory.

Masthay's punts included a 49-yard boot in the third quarter that was downed by Jarrett Bush at the Giants' 1. The only punt that wasn't downed inside the 20 was a 55-yarder from his own 20. Masthay's punts gave the Giants starting field position at their own 14, 14, 25, 1 and 13.

It marked the second straight week in which Mast-hay punted five times and landed four inside the opponent's 20. After his net average took a beating early in the season because of a 72-yard return for a touchdown by New Orleans' Darren Sproles in the opener, Masthay's net average over the past six games is 43.6 yards on 20 punts. San Francisco's Andy Lee leads the NFL in net punting with a 43.3-yard average on 58 punts.

"I wasn't pleased with how I hit the ball the first two weeks of this season, but since then it's been good and we've been playing well as a punt unit for quite a stretch now," Masthay said. "I just think it's been a combination. The snapping and protection's been good, like always. The gunners have been playing great. And I've been hitting the ball well. When you put all those things together, it makes for a productive punt unit, and we've been doing that for a while now."

On Sunday, Masthay will share the field with Oakland's Shane Lechler, widely considered the best punter in the game and one of the best in NFL history. An eight-time All-Pro pick and six-time Pro Bowl selection, Lechler enters the game leading the NFL in gross average (50.8 yards) and tied for seventh in net average (40.4) this season. He is also the NFL's all-time leader in career punting average.

According to Packers special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum, young punters such as Masthay come into the league fully capable of booting the ball high and far, but it takes them time to hone their craft and understand when different types of punts are needed.

"When you're a punter in the NFL, it's not all about pounding every kick. It's about kicking the proper ball for the field conditions, the opponent, the wind, where you are on the field. All those things have to be learned," Slocum said.

That's when Masthay is at his best.

While Slocum acknowledged that the team had concerns about Masthay kicking in cold weather after playing in the Southeastern Conference, those worries evaporated quickly last season. Now, with all four of their remaining games to be played in cold weather — three at home, with their only road game at Kansas City Dec. 18 — Masthay should be in his element.

"The cold's always difficult, and when the wind picks up, that makes it tough, too. But the goal is to continue to be productive," Mast-hay said.

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