James Starks runs for a second half touchdown against the Washington Redskins last season. Brian Jopek photograph

Early Season Grades for the Green Bay Packers Offense

James Starks (left) will start for the Green Bay Packers this coming Sunday.

The Packers offense has been hot, cold and inconsistent in the first three games of the season.
Brian Jopek photograph

The first three weeks of the season are in the books and the Green Bay Packers have the week off. With the team on their bye, this is a good time to take a long look at how each position is fairing so far this season.

Granted, it’s still early and plenty of things can change when the Packers return from their break, so take the small sample size of football we’ve seen so far from this team with a grain of salt. Here are our early season grades for the Packers offense.

OFFENSE

Quarterback: A-

Aaron Rodgers. Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports photograph

Aaron Rodgers is off to another good season. He’s currently second in the league in passing yards with 1,057 yards, tied second in passing touchdowns with eight, and fourth in passer rating at 105.1.

Impressively, Rodgers has posted these numbers with inconsistent pass protection in the first three weeks. Out of the six starting quarterbacks with over a 100 passer rating this season, Rodgers has been sacked the most with ten.

Ten sacks in three games is not good, but it’s nothing new for Rodgers. He’s making things happen despite getting pressured. Rodgers’ only blemish in these first three weeks is the three interceptions. However, two of the three can be credited to mistakes made by the receivers (Finley and Jones), but the third one was thrown late in the game against Cincinnati and was a bad throw during at a crucial point in the game.

The Cincinnati game is why Rodgers doesn’t get a perfect “A”. He just seemed off on Sunday and didn’t perform quite to his usual high standards.

Take this with a grain of salt, but based on the first three weeks of the season, here are Rodgers’ projected 2013 stats: 5,637 yards, 43 TDs, 16 INTs, and 105.1 passer rating.

Running Back: B 

Eddie Lacy is hit by NaVorro Bowman. Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports photograph

The Packers running backs struggled in the season opener. Lacy only managed 41 yards on 14 carries for a 2.9-yard rushing average. But they were facing a stout San Francisco front seven, and it was the Packers first game with their new offensive line. Unfortunately for Eddie Lacy, he hasn’t had a chance to redeem himself from the season opener. He hasn’t played since his first run in week two when he was knocked out of the game with a concussion. The Packers still really don’t know what they have in Lacy at this point.

Both James Starks and Johnathan Franklin have been pleasant surprises in Lacy’s absence. Starks’ 132-yard game against Washington broke the Packers 44-game streak without a 100-yard rusher. Starks was off to another good start against Cincinnati rushing for 55 yards before leaving the game with a knee injury.

Franklin started at running back in the second half, and in his first NFL action, he looked impressive. He posted 103 yards on 13 carries. 51 of those yards coming on an impressive run midway through the third quarter that set up a 7-yard James Jones touchdown.

Johnathan Franklin. Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports photograph

Franklin demonstrated his elusiveness and quick feet as he ran behind the offensive line and made smart cuts. His 7.9-yard rushing average really tells you how efficient he was against Cincinnati. Unfortunately, the late game fumble overshadowed his impressive day. The Packers will be looking forward to getting Lacy back after the bye week. It’s undetermined at this point how long Starks will miss with the knee injury, but Green Bay has to feel good about what they have in Franklin.

When healthy, Lacy will still be the guy in the Packers’ backfield, but Franklin should serve as a good change-of-pace back.

Here are three backs’ rushing averages so far this season: Lacy (3.4), Starks (5.5), Franklin (7.9).

Wide Receiver: B+

Randall Cobb. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

Randall Cobb. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

In the first two weeks of the season, the Green Bay wide receivers have been spectacular. Both Randall Cobb (108) and Jordy Nelson (130) went over the century mark in the season opener against San Francisco. Then Cobb (128) and James Jones (178) each posted 100-yard games the following week against Washington. After two weeks, the Packers receivers looked like one of the best groups in the league.

James Jones. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

However, the Green Bay receivers did take a step back against Cincinnati. With Jermichael Finley out of the game, the Bengals defensive backs were able to play press man on the Packers receivers. Cobb, Nelson, and Jones each struggled to get separation against Leon Hall, Terrence Newman, and Adam Jones. Cobb only managed five catches for 54 yards and Jones only had 4 catches for 34 yards.

Despite their struggles in Cincinnati, the Packers receivers remain a real strength on the team. Nelson makes some real tough catches near the sidelines. Cobb knows how to work the middle of the field, and Jones knows how to out muscle smaller defensive backs.

My only concern with this group is how they look beyond the top three wideouts. What happens if either Nelson, Cobb, or Jones have to miss some time this season because of an injury. Will their offense be less dynamic?

Jordy Nelson (87) catches a touchdown pass in front of Bacarri Rambo. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

Jarrett Boykin hasn’t shown much this season. The Packers released Jeremy Ross, so currently they only have four active receivers on their roster. My guess is they’ll either sign another receiver or activate either Charles Johnson or Myles White from the practice squad in the next week or two.

Here are the receivers projected 2013 stats based on the first three weeks. Again, I realize things may change so take this with a grain of salt, but for the fun of it these are the stats the receivers are on pace for this season: Cobb – 112 catches for 1,547 yds and 11 TDs; Nelson – 96 catches for 1,541 yds and 16 TDs; Jones – 80 catches for 1,131 yds and 5 TDs.

Tight End: B-

Jermichael Finley is already off to a better start this season than he was last year despite missing most of the third game against Cincinnati. In the first two weeks, he caught 11 balls for 121 yards and two touchdowns. Finley only had two touchdowns all of last year.

Jermichael Finley catches a pass in front of K.J. Wright. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

It’s nice to see the Packers offense utilize Finley a bit more in the red zone. They definitely missed his presence in red zone situations in the week three loss. It will be interesting to see if Finley will be ready to play against Detroit coming off the bye week after suffering a concussion against the Bengals.

Andrew Quarless and Ryan Taylor both struggled to fill Finley’s shoes in the passing game on Sunday. Rodgers is clearly not as comfortable throwing to Quarless and Taylor as he is with Finley.

On the bright side, Quarless has proved to be an effective run blocker this season and served well as the Packers emergency full back against Cincinnati with John Kuhn. Quarless threw the lead block on Starks 32-yard touchdown run in week two.

Overall, the tight end group has blocked better in the running game this season. The Packers just need another receiving option to emerge at the position.

2013 project stats for the tight ends: Finley – 59 catches for 645 yds and 11 TDs; Quarless – 21 catches for 149 yds; Taylor – 11 catches for 59 yds.

Offensive Line: C+

Aug 9, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers offensive tackle David Bakhtiari (69) blocks during the game against the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 9, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers offensive tackle David Bakhtiari (69) blocks during the game against the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The offensive line hasn’t been as bad as I was expecting going into the season.  The young tackles, David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay, have had their share of struggles in the first three games, but they have also held up well at times against some pretty good pass rushers.

Week three was clearly the line’s worst game this season. They gave up four sacks and way too many pressures. Cincinnati defensive ends Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap got the best of the Packers’ tackles on a number of occasions.

Evan Dietrich-Smith has also struggled in pass protection when opposing defensive linemen run stunt moves. He gave up a sack in week two against Ryan Kerrigan and again in week three against Johnson when he failed to pick up the stunt rush.

Evan Dietrich-Smith. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

However, Dietrich-Smith has been a huge improvement in the run game and is great at getting to the second level of the defense and clearing a path for the back to run.

Overall, the offensive line is doing a much better job run blocking this season. The Packers currently rank 10th in the league in rushing with an average of 128 yards per game. Both Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang have showed they can maul in the ground game, and the Packers young tackles are tough as well in finishing their blocks.

Lang has really been impressive so far this season. Right guard seems to be a perfect fit for him. He completely shut out one of the best defensive tackles in the game in Geno Atkins on Sunday. Atkins didn’t even register a tackle, let alone a single pressure.

So far in three games, it’s been a mix bag for the offensive line. They’ve allowed 10 sacks already. This is well on pace to matching the 51 sacks they allowed last season. However, I do have more confidence in this group than in last year’s line, and I think they’ll get it figured out as the season progresses.

In general, the Packers have the third-ranked offense in the league and have shown in the first three weeks they are once again a powerful force for defenses to reckon with. Green Bay appears to have found their run game. This will only help their offense be more effective going forward.

We’ll take a look at the Packers defense tomorrow and the Packers special teams on Sunday.

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Tags: 2013 Season Aaron Rodgers Green Bay Packers Jermichael Finley Randall Cobb Team Grades

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