INDIANAPOLIS – At the start of the week, Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur acknowledged the special teams unit of the Indianapolis Colts as one of the premier groups in the league. And heading into the game Sunday, LaFleur and special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga had an idea the Colts were going to stress the Packers’ third phase — and they did throughout a 34-31 overtime loss at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Colts special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone’s game plan centered on making Darrius Shepherd return kicks as punter and kickoff specialist Rigoberto Sanchez consistently lofted kickoffs high and to the goal line, forcing the Packers’ second-year man and the blocking unit to earn the right to start a drive at the 25.
Mennenga said a goal for the Packers is to always win the starting field-position battle, but in making Shepherd return each kick, the Colts gained precious yardage Sunday.
There was only one touchback, which the Packers received by virtue of a replay as Shepherd let the ball go and it checked up on the goal line and back into the field of play.
“You could see it,” LaFleur said of the kickoff plan. “They were definitely kicking that sucker high and making us return it.”
The Packers couldn’t take advantage, however.
Shepherd had one nice return, a long of 30 yards, at the end of the first quarter but he averaged only 19.7 per return and had a…