The following was written by Packers fan and associate of mine, Eric S., also known as Cheezhead. He was kind enough to type up a position-by-position analysis of the Packers so far this season for me for the bye week. I am extremely grateful to him for this. Your thoughts?
Going into this season, the Green Bay Packers had a huge question mark at quarterback. Brett Favre was dealt to the New York Jets and all the team had to fill in for him at starting quarterback was two rookie quarterbacks and one unproven, rarely played quarterback. Well, that unproven, rarely played quarterback is now starting every game and has proven himself. Aaron Rodgers showed everyone what he is capable of, and silenced most of his critics. He has passed for 1,668 yards so far, at 145-221 (65.6%), which is solid for somebody that people were doubting from the beginning. Throw in 12 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and a rating of 98.8 and you have a quarterback that is probably Top 10 in the NFL so far. Yes, Top 10. He ranks 10th in the NFL in completion percentage, 13th in yards, 7th in touchdowns, 10th in fewest interceptions, 16th in first downs (he has 74), and 7th in passer rating. This is all through 7 games; some quarterbacks ahead of him didn’t have a bye week yet. It is hard to believe he had doubters in Week 1 after looking at those stats.
Rodgers also seems to be able to stay healthy and play hurt. The only thing that happened to him so far was a sprained shoulder at the end of a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Even with the injury, he still passed efficiently in the next games he played in (including a 300-yard game the week after spraining the shoulder). The hit gave 7th-round pick Matt Flynn some playing time, but his line of 2-5 for 6 yards doesn’t really say too much.
Grade: It doesn’t seem like this position has the biggest question mark anymore. Rodgers seems to be a great fit at quarterback, and though it doesn’t seem like he (or anyone) could possibly top what Favre has done for Green Bay, his play puts him in the top quarterbacks in the NFL today. Given everything that he has done so far, the Packers’ quarterback slot gets an A.
Last year the biggest hole on the Packers early on was at running back, but that hole was quickly sealed with the emergence Ryan Grant. He had a breakout second-half of the season, which is when he played the most. With big expectations for Grant going into this season, he has been a bit of a dissapointment. Grant has put up 464 yards (17th in the NFL) on 137 carries (7th), good for only a mediocre average of 3.4 yards a carry. He has only scored one touchdown and has lost three fumbles.
Even though he isn’t running like LaDainian Tomlinson or Adrian Peterson, he isn’t a huge problem. The Packers are still winning because of their passing games. But opposing defenses know that if that drop the secondary back, they could give up big yardage on the ground because Grant can break out a big run at any moment. So the other team is still watching him, which could be a reason of his underachieving stats; last year defenses weren’t too used to him and didn’t look at him as a threat at first and almost let him run at will. Brandon Jackson has been a good 2nd-string back, though, getting 104 yards and one touchdown from 20 carries. If Grant gets hurt or isn’t putting up at all, he should be an apt replacement in the backfield.
Grade: With all of that being said, Grant has to pick it up. Right now the Packers are above .500, but they are in a close division race. If Rodgers has a bad game, the team could suffer without Grant picking up the slack. As of right now, I give the team’s running unit a B minus.
The receiving corps has never been much of a problem for the Packers in the last 15 years. It didn’t matter if it was Bill Schroeder, Antonio Freeman, Terry Glenn, Javon Walker, or Donald Driver catching the ball–if Favre was throwing, big things would usually happen. So does that mean with Favre’s departure, the receiving game for Green Bay would be sub-par? Absolutely not. Rodgers has been throwing right on target and the wide outs are boosting the offense every game.
Rodgers’ favorite target this season is last year’s surprise player, Greg Jennings. Jennings leads the team in every catching category. Throughout the whole NFL, he is 2nd in receiving yards (685), 16th in receptions (37), 4th in yards per catch out of receivers with 20 catches or more (18.5), 4th in yards per game (97.9), and 12th in touchdowns (4th). Though those are some impressive stats, he isn’t the only guy out there putting up big numbers in green and gold. Driver has caught 29 passes for 330 yards (a 11.4 average), and 2 touchdowns. Donald Lee has 19 grabs for 141 yards (7.4 avg) and two touchdowns, The running back Jackson caught 18 for 106 yards (5.9 avg), and Jordy Nelson had 16 catches for 177 yards (11.1 avg) and a score. These guys are the bulk of the passing game, and they have been getting points on the scoreboard week in and week out. With an on-and-off running game, it’s nice to know that the receivers are always ready to play ball.
Grade: Like I already said, the running game for Green Bay has yet to establish itself as a major threat for every game. That puts a lot of the weight on Rodgers and his targets when it comes to offensive production. So far, that hasn’t been a problem. Jennings, Driver, and Lee have been doing great, and Jackson and Nelson come in and get yards when they need to. I like how this group of guys look right now, and that’s why I’m giving them an A.
The offensive line isn’t as verteran-led as it has been. Players have left, and younger guys are the ones doing the dirty work in the trenches. Their average age is 28, and the oldest lineman is Chad Clifton, at age 32. The lack of long-time NFL experience is showing a bit, too. In some games the defense looks like it’s having an easy time penetrating and getting around ends, pressuring the quarterback or stuffing runs. Penalties like false starts and ineligible man downfield that are easily avoided have been committed by some of these young guys, too. Yes, the front line has been making big plays and blocks, too, but they seem on-and-off when it comes to creating holes and giving Rodgers time in the pocket.
For a team that is pass-oriented, the offensive line should step up a bit. They have given up 13 sacks, which isn’t bad, but could be better seeing it ranks 13th-worst in the league. Once the sacks start to disappear and Rodgers gets more time in the pocket before letting the ball go, the offense will start moving even better, getting more yards and possibly even more points on the board.
Grade: There will be some growing pains with these guys that are under or just over the age of 30. Penalities are inevitable and blocks will be missed, but that doesn’t mean nothing can be improved. The Packers offensive line just needs to focus on getting both hands on a guy and keeping him away from the passer or ball carrier. The more that happens, the better the offense will look. I think a B minus seems like a good grade for the O-Line.
This very young group lead by the dominant Aaron Kampman hasn’t been dissapointing so far this season. Out of all defensive linemen, Kampman and Johnny Jolly were in the Top 50 in tackles before Week 8 with 25 and 22, respectively. Ryan Pickett has chipped in with 18 tackles, while Michael Montgomery and Cullen Jenkins rounds out the linemen in double-figure tackles with 15 and 10. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila is seeing less playing time then he used to get, but he still has been able to help out with 9 tackles.
Kampman just isn’t good at tackling a ball carrier, though–he can bring down the quarterback a lot, too. He has tallied 6 sacks, 7th in the NFL. Jenkins, on injured reserve with a pectoral injury, had 2.5 sacks, making him a half of a sack short of cracking the Top 50. I like how these guys are playing. They can get through the line and bring down the quarterback. In Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings, Peterson was held in check a lot, mostly because of penetration.
Grade: Like the O-Line the defensive linemen are young and can still improve. Kampman just has to keep doing what he’s doing while Jolly and Pickett can put up a bit more numbers to make this front line really scary. Defense wins championships, and it all starts on the line, so everyone in this group needs to show up for every game. Right now they’re at a B with me.
The linebacker position seems to get better and better every year in Green Bay. Nick Barnett has been and still is a solid player. A.J. Hawk is still improving, and that’s scary seeing where he is already. Brady Poppinga has been doing well, too. Barnett is just outside of the NFL’s Top 50 in tackles for linebackers with 38, while Hawk (33) and Poppinga (25) trail him with nice numbers. Hawk has also racked up two sacks, good for the Top 25 for linebackers.
To me, the linebacking corps just needs to keep trucking along, just keep doing what they’re doing. A few more sacks, tackles, fumbles, or picks here or there would help (it always does), but they are fine where they’re at. Barnett is a great run-stopper, and Hawk can play it both ways. Poppinga is the weak-link of the group, as Ted Thompson brought in Brandon Chillar from the St. Louis Rams in the offseason, but if he steps it up, these linebackers should be golden.
Grade: Everything’s going great here. Poppinga can pick it up and there still is room for improvement. But there’s always room for improvement at every position on every team, and with that being said I give the linebackers an B plus.
It is very hard to find the best part of the Packers defense. When you read about the line, you think they’re the biggest part. When you read about the linebackers, you think that they have to bring the biggest punch to the opposing offenses. But the most important part of Green Bay’s great defense probably is the secondary. They can do everything. Nick Collins is in the Top 50 for tackles out of all defensive backs with 33. Charles Woodson‘s sack is one behind the league leaders’ for d-backs. Collins and Woodson both lead the NFL with interceptions (they have four each), and Tramon Williams (3) and Atari Bigby (1) are in the Top 50 in picks for all defensive backs.
Injuries have been depleting the secondary week in and week out (Al Harris, one of the league’s most physical corners was out with a spleen injury and Bigby missed time early on), but no matter who has been out, the subs have stepped up and played well. Every opponent’s quarterback has to watch out for this group; interceptions seem to be inevitable, and they can swat balls down and plug up running lanes quickly, too.
Grade: I would hate to be a team heading into a game against the Packers, especially if they have an inconsistent passing game. This secondary unit is physical, smart, fast, and can get takeaways to turn the momentum of a game around in the blink of an eye. For all of that, I’m going to give them an A.
Ever since Ryan Longwell left for the comfort of the Metrodome, a solid, consistent kicker has been hard to find for Green Bay. Last year, though, they may have found that guy. Mason Crosby tore the league apart with his foot as a rookie last year, going 31-39 with a game-winner in his career debut and a long of 53 yards. This year his kicking is decent, going 11-14 (his field goal percentage is 27th), with a long of 51 yards (12th best in the NFL). This early on a few misses will make your league-ranking drop, so it seems worse than what it actually is, but Crosby can still improve. If he misses 3 or less attempts for the rest of the season, he’ll be set. Right now he’s fine, but as always, there’s room for improvement.
As for punters, this position has been shaky for a while. This year 27-year-old Derrick Frost is taking the long snaps, and he’s been so-so. Frost is only in the Top 20 for total punts (20th, with 28) and longest punt (10th, 65 yards). Only four of his punts were pinned down inside the 20 yard line, giving opponents good field position more than a lot of the other guys. This position can use a lot of improvement.
Grade: The kicking game is almost set; Crosby is still developing. But once he is locked in, he should be good to go. The punting game needs a lot of improvement, though. Unless Frost surprises everyone, I think Green Bay should look for a new punter pretty soon. He could eventually give a team great field position at the worst time possible. I give the kicking a C plus.
THE TEAM’S OVERALL GRADE
Right now the Pack is tied for first in the NFC North with the Chicago Bears at 4-3. Though they aren’t going to put a spectactular year up like last year’s 13-3 team, the first Green Bay team without Favre in 16 years has a great shot at making the playoffs again. The Chicago Bears will be a big task. Last year they dropped both games to them. Though it didn’t affect their place in the division, it did help the Dallas Cowboys get home field advantage in the playoffs. This year, though, the two Chicago games could end up deciding the NFC North champion. A wild card spot isn’t a promise, either, so this team has to show up for every game.
There are some tough matchups left on the schedule, too. The Tennessee Titans are up next, and there are still the Bears, Vikings, Carolina Panthers, and Jacksonville Jaguars waiting, too. If everything goes right, I’m predicting a 9-win season in the least. A 9-7 record wouldn’t guarentee a division title or wildcard spot, though, so the Packers have to be at their best in those tough games. A win over the Titans, giving them their first loss of the year, would be a huge boost for the team, possibly giving them momentum that they’ll need. All in all, it depends on how well the team plays every week (as always). As of right now, I’m giving the Green Bay Packers a B plus.
Hopefully it will be an A plus at the end of the year.
Topics: A.J. Hawk, Aaron Kampman, Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson, Al Harris, Antonio Freeman, Atari Bigby, Brady Poppinga, Brandon Chillar, Brandon Jackson. Bill Schroeder, Brett Favre, Carolina Panthers, Charles Woodson, Chicago Bears, Cullen Jenkins, Dallas Cowboys, Derrick Frost, Donald Driver, Donald Lee, Greg Jennings, Jacksonville Jaguars, Javon Walker, Johnny Jolly, Jordy Nelson. Chad Clifton, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, LaDainian Tomlinson, Mason Crosby, Matt Flynn, Michael Montgomery, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets, Nick Barnett, Nick Collins, Ryan Grant, Ryan Longwell, Ryan Pickett, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Ted Thompson, Tennessee Titans, Terry Glenn, Tramon Williams