Green Bay Packers: Grading the Units at the First-Quarter Mark
The Green Bay Packers have a 2-2 record after the first quarter of the 2012 NFL season. Yes, the Packers should absolutely be 3-1, but the replacement refs in the Week 3 game against Seattle made sure that didn't happen.
That incompetent officiating led the the end of the regular officials lockout with the NFL and the Packers didn't fare much better with Jeff Triplette's crew last Sunday against the Saints. But the Pack battled through that adversity and won.
Green Bay still has a lot of work to do, especially with three straight road games looming, but the offense looked much better against New Orleans, which is an excellent sign.
The defense was tested mightily against Drew Brees and company, and overall, it is certainly better than the 2011 Green Bay defense.
Special teams has been a big plus in 2012.
Here are the positional grades that I am giving for each unit based on the first quarter of the season.
Aaron Rodgers had his finest game of the season against the Saints, throwing for three touchdown passes and more than 300 yards passing. Rodgers looked a lot like 2011 when he was the NFL MVP.
Overall, Rodgers has thrown seven touchdown passes and three interceptions for 1.064 yards. His QB rating is 95.7. Those aren't bad, but Rodgers is 12th in the league in quarterback rating.
Rodgers can certainly play better. He has proven that over his career after posting a 103.5 QB rating over that time, which is the best ever mark in the NFL.
Rodgers has also been sacked 16 times, which leads the NFL. That has caused Rodgers to scramble for 51 rushing yards.
The good news is that Rodgers has not been sacked in six straight quarters now.
Backup quarterback Graham Harrell has only played one play, but it was a very inauspicious way for Harrell to get his first regular season snap. Harrell had to come in for one play after Rodgers had his eye poked and had to leave the game for treatment.
Harrell tripped over the foot of center Jeff Saturday, and he fumbled the ball handing off to running back Cedric Benson inside the Saints' 5-yard line. New Orleans recovered the ball and soon had scored its own TD.
Bottom line, the Packers are ranked 20th in total offense in the NFL and 15th in passing offense.
Cedric Benson seems to be getting better each game as he continues to learn the offense. Overall, Benson has rushed for 228 yards and has averaged 3.6 yards per carry. Benson has also caught 12 passes for 76 yards.
Benson is ranked 19th in the NFL in rushing and is on pace for more than 900 yards.
Still, Benson could do better. His longest run has been for only 11 yards, although he came very close to breaking a big run against the Saints.
Randall Cobb has also seen some time in the backfield. When he carries the ball, good things seem to happen. Cobb only has two carries, but has 48 yards rushing.
Fullback John Kuhn and running back Alex Green only have 10 yards rushing between them, but Kuhn got five of those yards on a gutsy fake punt at the Packers own 17-yard line.
Bottom line, the Packers are ranked 25th in rushing offense in the NFL.
Many people in NFL circles feel that the Green Bay Packers have the best set of wide receivers. So far, the wide receivers haven't played like that, although the group looked much better against the Saints.
Jordy Nelson leads the team in receptions with 21 catches for 260 yards and one touchdown. James Jones is having the best start of his career, as he has 16 receptions for 191 yards and three touchdowns.
Randall Cobb has also received a lot of playing time, and he has produced 18 catches for 162 yards.
Greg Jennings is considered to be the best receiver for the Packers, but he has been hampered by a groin injury and his stats reflect that. Jennings only has 12 catches for 78 yards and one touchdown.
Veteran Donald Driver has only gotten a few looks in the passing game and has two receptions for 29 yards and a touchdown.
The big problem with the wide receivers is the lack of a big play. The average yards per play by a receiver is only 9.9 yards. In 2011, that was 13.7 yards.
After some prodding by wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett, the receiver group played much more physical against the Saints and looked much better in the YAC (yards after catch) category.
Jermichael Finley has had a decent season in 2012, but his performance and production are only scratching the surface of the level he should be playing at. Finley has 19 receptions for 187 yards and one TD.
Finley still has too many drops and also has fumbled the ball once.
Back up tight ends Tom Crabtree and D.J. Williams have four catches combined with one touchdown, although it came on a fake field-goal attempt as Crabtree rambled 27 yards for the score.
Ryan Taylor does not have a catch yet, as he is mainly used in running situations.
The offensive line for the Packers looked much better against the Saints, as it did not allow a sack and Green Bay threw for more than 300 yards and rushed for more than 100 more.
Still, there is work to be done. The Packers have given up 16 sacks, which leads the NFL. The good news is they have not allowed a sack in six straight quarters now.
Most of the pass pressure has been coming for the outside, where left tackle Marshall Newhouse and right tackle Bryan Bulaga have had their issues.
The interior of the line has fared better as veteran center Jeff Saturday has played decently in his first season in Green Bay, as have left guard T.J. Lang and right guard Josh Sitton.
The run blocking needs to improve, too, but there is progress being made there as well.
The defensive line has played better than it did in 2011, both in run defense and applying pass pressure.
The Packers are ranked 18th in run defense, as it has given up an average of 113 yards a game. Defensive end Ryan Pickett leads with 17 total tackles.
The Packers are currently ranked sixth in pass defense, even after allowing Drew Brees to throw for more than 400 yards. The Packers are fourth in the NFL with 14 sacks, with three of them coming from the defensive line.
That is already half as many sacks as last season.
Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels and C.J. Wilson have one sack apiece.
B.J. Raji has had a quiet year thus far with only has seven total tackles.
The Packers will be getting back defensive end Mike Neal soon. Neal will get a one-week roster exemption to get in game shape and be put on the roster in Week 6. Neal is coming back after serving a four-game suspension to start the season. He played pretty well down the stretch in training camp and looked a lot like he did as a rookie, when he flashed some nice potential.
The linebacker unit is led by Clay Matthews, who is having another monster year with 19 total tackles, along with seven sacks—second in the NFL.
Rookie linebacker Nick Perry has one sack, and Erik Walden has 0.5 sacks.
Inside linebacker D.J. Smith also has a sack. Smith is also third on the team in total tackles with 27. Inside linebacker A.J. Hawk leads the team with 33 total tackles.
The unit needs to do a better job creating turnovers, either by forcing a fumble or by picking off a pass. The unit has done neither so far in 2012.
The defensive backfield of the Packers has played much better in 2012 compared to 2011 when Green Bay was dead last in the NFL in pass defense. The Packers are ranked sixth in pass defense, and there are a number of reasons why.
First, cornerback Tramon Williams is healthy again and playing at a Pro Bowl level. Williams has 18 total tackles and a team-leading two interceptions.
Charles Woodson seems to have made a seamless transition to strong safety in the base defense. He then goes back to his normal position in the slot during the nickel and dime coverage schemes. Woodson has 24 total tackles, which includes 1.5 sacks and one inteception.
Free safety Morgan Burnett has played very well so far in 2012. Burnett leads all the defensive backs in total tackles with 29. Burnett has definitely taken his physical style of play up a notch.
M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian have split time at strong safety in the nickel and dime looks, although Jennnings injured his shoulder against the Saints. McMillian was getting more playing time anyway and has looked pretty good for a rookie, as he has five total tackles and one pick.
The other cornerback position has mostly been manned by Sam Shields, who was having a pretty good year until the Saints game, where he was burned on a couple of occasions.
Rookie cornerback Casey Hayward has looked good so far when he gets some opportunities in the dime alignment. Hayward doesn't have a pick as of yet, but he has tackled solidly with 12 total tackles.
The Packers hope to have cornerback Davon House back in the lineup soon after he suffered a shoulder injury in the preseason. House had won the other cornerback job opposite Williams at the time of his injury.
Special teams coach Shawn Slocum has to be pleased about the performance of his special teams units.
Kicker Mason Crosby is a perfect 5-of-5 in field-goal attempts, which includes a 54-yard field goal at Lambeau Field—the longest ever by a Green Bay kicker. Crosby also has produced 10 touchbacks on his kickoffs.
Punter Tim Masthay is having a Pro Bowl season. Masthay is averaging 46.1 yards per punt and has a 42.1 net average. He also has had 11 punts inside the opponents 20-yard line.
Masthay was also a key ingredient in the special teams play of the year so far, throwing a shovel pass to tight end Tom Crabtree, which resulted in a 27-yard touchdown on a fake field-goal attempt on 4th-and-26 against Chicago.
The Packers used more trickery last week against the Saints as John Kuhn ran for five yards and a first down on a fake punt from the Packers own 17-yard line.
Randall Cobb is having another nice season returning kicks, as he has already scored a touchdown on a punt return, which happened in the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers.
Overall, Cobb has averaged 15.4 yards on punt returns and 25.6 yards on kickoff returns.
The coverage units of the Packers have also been solid.
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