Clay Matthews, Jerel Worthy
Just a month into the season, the journey of the 2012 Green Bay Packers has been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs.
Most notably, they fell victim to the NFL's biggest story of the year at the hands of the replacement officials following the "Fail Mary" in Seattle. Despite the controversy, the Packers are an even 2-2 heading into October.
We take a look at both the good and the bad as we power rank every player on the roster based upon their play this season, an inexact science, to be sure, as the sample size is still small...
One year after accumulating only six sacks, Matthews already has seven through the first quarter of the 2012 season. There have been times where the Packers outside linebacker has been nearly unblockable after racking up 2.5 and 3.5 sacks against the 49ers and the Bears respectively.
Even in games that he hasn't had multiple sacks, Matthews still leaves his mark on the game by pressuring opposing quarterbacks, hustling to chase down running backs and providing solid coverage. Matthews plays a complete game and probably trails only J.J. Watt in Houston as the NFL's best defensive player four games into the season.
Rodgers isn't having the the same type of season he had a year ago when he was named the NFL's MVP, but he's still an incredibly important piece of the Packers puzzle. Where would the Packers be without him? Probably at a record less than 2-2.
The biggest difference from a year ago is the absence of big plays, as Rodgers has only connected on a handful of passes longer than 30 yards this season and none longer than 49. Still, his second-half play has been remarkable this season, and he helped lead the Packers to a fourth quarter come-from-behind victory Sunday against the Saints.
3. Tramon Williams
Everyone will point to Williams' two-interception game against the Bears in Week 2 as the high point of his season as he helped limit Brandon Marshall to just two receptions for 24 yards. But Williams' performance in Week 4 may have been just as impressive.
With three pass deflections against quarterback Drew Brees, Williams helped preserve the victory for the Packers, highlighted by his coverage of the much taller Jimmy Graham on the Packers' goal-line stand. One blown coverage against the Seahawks and some spotty play versus the 49ers prevents Williams from being ranked higher.
4. Josh Sitton
Even though there's been inconsistent play to both the right and the left of Sitton, he remains the rock of the Packers offensive line. Whether it's been keeping Aaron Rodgers upright or opening up holes for Cedric Benson, Sitton has been up to the task.
Sitton has been the most consistent offensive lineman for the Packers and has helped the interior of the line become nearly impenetrable.
5. Jerron McMillian
Ever since being inserted as the Packers nickel safety midway through Week 1, McMillian has been one of the best safeties in the NFL, at least according to ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required). Granted, he hasn't seen as much playing time as some others, but the rookie has certainly made the most of his playing time.
Opposing quarterbacks have only completed a single pass when throwing in McMillian's direction, and when combined with his Week 2 interception, the opposition's passer rating throwing at him is 0.0. Perhaps that's why the Packers attempted to make a bigger role for McMillian against the Saints when he replaced D.J. Smith in their dollar defensive package with seven defensive backs.
6. T.J. Lang
Lang has done everything in his power to justify his four-year contract extension worth just over $20 million signed in August. He's equally effective in both the pass and the run game, and he provides a distinctly more physical game than his predecessor in Green Bay, Daryn Colledge. Lang is playing football better than he did a year ago, and he was no slouch in 2011. If he continues to progress, he'll join the conversation of the best guards in the NFL.
7. Randall Cobb
No matter where he lines up, Cobb is a threat. Everyone knew he was a dangerous return man a year ago, and he's only added to his reputation with a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown in Week 1. The biggest development is how the Packers have used Cobb as a weapon in the offensive backfield. On only two carries, he's averaging 24 yards per rush. He's also added 18 receptions on the year. The Packers would benefit from making him an even bigger part of their offense.
8. Ryan Pickett
Pickett isn't a pass rusher, but the way he's been playing the run, he doesn't need to be. The past two weeks, Pickett has been on top of his game by making nine tackles against the Seahawks in Week 3 and helping to limit the Saints to only 45 rushing yards and 2.4 yards per carry in Week 4. Pickett's versatility to play both nose tackle and end has allowed the Packers defensive line to remain flexible.
9. Cedric Benson
Benson has been both a revelation and a bargain to the Packers in 2012. Not only has he been the Packers' best running back since Ahman Green, he's doing so at the NFL's veteran minimum salary.
Through four games, Benson has been the Packers' workhorse running back who's carried the ball 64 times for 228 yards. Certainly, the Packers would like his 3.6 yard-per-carry average to be higher, but it's doing the trick. He's also added 12 reception and hasn't lost a fumble so far.
10. Charles Woodson
The highlights have been his 1.5 sacks and his interception of Jay Cutler in Week 2, but more than anything, the smoothness of Woodson's transition to safety this season has allowed the Packers to be one of the top teams in the NFL in defending against the pass.
He's still the same old Woodson defending from the slot cornerback position by coming up and making tackles with fearless abandon.
11. James Jones
There were a few drops in the first two weeks of the season and a very public chewing out from Aaron Rodgers in Week 2 against Chicago, but in the past two weeks, James Jones might have been the best receiver on the Packers. He leads the Packers with three touchdowns on the season and has been the most physical receiver on the team, both in his blocking and getting off jams from opposing defenders.
12. Jordy Nelson
After scoring 15 touchdowns in 2011, Nelson finally broke his scoring drought by getting in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter on Sunday against the Saints. He also leads the team in receiving this season with 21 receptions for 260 yards, albeit his 12.4 yards per reception is quite a bit behind last year's average of 18.6.
13. B.J. Raji
There have been moments when Raji has been a dominant force in the middle for the Packers, but unfortunately, there haven't been enough of them. Through four games, Raji doesn't have a single sack or quarterback hit.
14. Sam Shields
Shields is much improved in 2012 compared to the season he had last year. He's playing infinitely more physical and barely gave up anything to the receivers he was covering in the first three weeks of the season. His one big mistake was giving up an 80-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Joseph Morgan on Sunday.
15. Jermichael Finley
There have been plenty of good plays from Finley: his touchdown in Week 1, his 31-yard third-down conversion in Week 3 and four-catch output in Week 4.
In between those plays, however, have been too many drops. According to ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required), Finley has four drops on the season with a drop rate of 17.39 percent, third-highest among all NFL tight ends.
16. D.J. Smith
Smith has been exposed at times in pass coverage, like in Week 2 against the Chicago Bears when guarding Matt Forte and again in Week 4 against Darren Sproles.
But there are times when Smith looks like an All-Pro, like he did in breaking up three passes from Drew Brees and when he sacked Russell Wilson on the first play from scrimmage in Week 3 against the Seahawks.
17. Marshall Newhouse
The season's high point came in Week 1 for Newhouse when he had a surprisingly good game while facing Aldon and Justin Smith of the 49ers. Newhouse has been streaky since then, but he contributed to the Packers' zero-sack effort against New Orleans in Week 4.
18. A.J. Hawk
For whatever reason, Hawk appears to be playing with more emotion and more fire than at any other point in his career. The Packers like to take him off the field in obvious passing situations, which is a good choice. But he's doing an admirable as a run stuffer. The impact plays are still missing, however.
19. Tim Masthay
Masthay is one of the best young punters in the NFL. He's tied for the league lead with 11 punts downed inside the 20 this season. His command of the directional punt is amazing as is his use of the Aussie-style punt and get-off time.
20. Jeff Saturday
Saturday might be a bit of a downgrade from the play of Scott Wells from the past couple seasons, but it's not a big drop off. At the minimum, Saturday provides a steady and consistent performer, someone you don't have to worry about. He's professional, prepared and can help direct the no-huddle offense. His one shining moment this season was when he recovered a Cedric Benson fumble inside the Packers' own five-yard line.
21. Greg Jennings
When he's healthy, he's one of the best receivers in the NFL. But Jennings has missed parts of three ball games this season when he had to leave games in Weeks 1 and 4 because of a pulled groin and then missed Week 2 completely. On the season Jennings has 12 catches for 78 yards and a touchdown.
22. Mason Crosby
Through the first four games Crosby is perfect on both field goals and extra points, including a make from 54 yards out in Week 2 against the Bears. He's also one of the top kickoff men in the NFL by averaging more than 67 yards per kickoff. It's hard to find any fault with Crosby thus far.
23. John Kuhn
Kuhn is as steady as they come. He acts as the Packers' third-down back when they need someone in for pass protection as the lone running back. And he continues to fill a short-yardage role for the Packers as well. But his moment in the sun was his run for a first down on a fake punt against the Saints.
24. Morgan Burnett
Burnett has made a couple nice stops on the season among his 29 tackles and a handful of pass break ups, but that's about as much as can be said about Burnett. So far, he has yet to live up to any billing as a playmaker in his third year in the NFL.
25. Bryan Bulaga
Bulaga may have turned a corner as he put together a nice performance in Week 4 against a weak Saints defense, but before that, he's been a disaster. The low point was when he gave up three sacks in Week 3 against the Seahawks as the entire Packers offense allowed eight first half sacks that game. He didn't look much better in Weeks 1 and 2 either, which comes as curious for a player thought to be entering the prime of his career.
26. C.J. Wilson
Wilson is reliable as a base end in the Packers' 3-4 defense, and he got a rare sack of Drew Brees in Week 4. The Packers could use some more big plays out of him.
27. Casey Hayward
For a rookie, Hayward has done a good job in the Packers dime defense and on special teams. He's made a couple nice pass breakups and has made a couple nice tackles. Now the Packers are waiting for him to take the next step.
28. Jerel Worthy
Worthy has gotten a lot of playing time in the Packers nickel defense as an interior pass rusher, but other than his sack of Jay Cutler against the Bears, he has yet to make much of an impact. He's still young, however, and the Packers are hoping the light bulb goes on.
29. Dezman Moses
Unfortunately his forced fumble and recovery of Darren Sproles on a kickoff in Week 4 wasn't able to be reviewed. Regardless, Moses has shown he's a force to be reckoned with as he's carved out a role on both special teams and defense.
30. Erik Walden
Since coming back from his Week 1 suspension, Walden has three quarterback hits and 0.5 sacks, which isn't bad, but the Packers wish there was a little more production.
31. Nick Perry
Perry broke the seal when he got his first career sack in Week 3 against the Seahawks, but he's made few other plays. He seems to hold up well against the run. His development is definitely worth watching going forward.
32. Donald Driver
Driver only plays a handful of snaps each game, but he made the most of them in Week 2 when he scored a touchdown against the Bears and proceeded to show off his Dancing with the Stars skills.
33. Tom Crabtree
Crabtree will go down in Packers history as the player who scored a touchdown on a fake field goal on fourth and 26. And his blocking skills have been put to good use on offense.
34. Brett Goode
Goode has been a key figure in both of the Packers' successful special teams trick plays this season. And most importantly, his snaps have been spot on.
35. Brad Jones
Jones is one of the Packers' most valuable special teams players as he plays on almost every unit.
36. Jarrett Bush
If his ranking was just based on special teams alone, Bush would probably be higher on the list. Unfortunately his performance on defense in Week 1 got him demoted.
37. Mike Daniels
Daniels sacked Jay Cutler in Week 2, but that's been about his only notable moment in a Packers uniform thus far.
38. Ryan Taylor
The Packers make use of Taylor for a couple plays each game on offense and as a blocker, but his biggest role is as a core player on special teams.
39. Rob Francois
Francois is another one of those core players on special teams, but he hasn't played on defense.
40. M.D. Jennings
He'll be remembered for his non-interception in Seattle, but it was Jennings' poor play in Week 1 that sent him to the bench. Since that time, he's been primarily a special teams player.
41. Brandon Saine
He hasn't gotten a single carry as a running back, but he has been used on coverage units on special teams.
42. D.J. Williams
Williams has two receptions on the year, but perhaps the most telling sign about him is that he was deactivated in Week 4 against the Saints.
43. Alex Green
He's still recovering from last year's ACL injury, but the Packers have given Green very little playing time other than two carries for two yards in 2012. And he doesn't play special teams.
44. Jamari Lattimore
When he's healthy, Lattimore can be an impact special teams player. Unfortunately for him, he's only played in two games this season.
45. Evan Dietrich-Smith
The only playing time he's seen is on the field goal and extra point units, but Dietrich-Smith did make a key block on the fake field goal for a touchdown in Week 2.
46. Don Barclay
Barclay plays on the field goal and kick return units, and like Dietrich-Smith, his one notable play was acting as the lead blocker for Tom Crabtree's touchdown on a fake field goal.
47. Phillip Merling
Merling has seen occasional playing time in the Packers' base defense, but was inactive in Week 4.
48. Terrell Manning
The only playing time Manning received was in Week 1 on special teams only.
49. Graham Harrell
On the only snap of Harrell's career, he fumbled as the Packers were in the red zone and looking to score against the Saints.
50. James Starks
Among the players who have yet to see any playing time this year, Starks has the most experience. But he's also been incredibly unreliable.
51. Davon House
At one point, it looked as if House might be a starter on the Packers defense. But a shoulder injury has prevented him from playing this season.
52. Jarrett Boykin
With the Packers as deep at receiver as they are, Boykin hasn't been active for a single game this season.
53. Sean Richardson
Not only has Richardson been inactive, but a hamstring injury has prevented him from even practicing at several points this season.