Green Bay Packers Week 4 Position Grades vs. New Orleans Saints

MJ Kasprzak@BayAreaCheezhedSenior Writer IIOctober 3, 2012

Green Bay Packers Week 4 Position Grades vs. New Orleans Saints

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    If the referee lockout ends and the regular officials return, the Green Bay Packers should have no problem winning in the NFL.

    What? Those were the regular officials? Does being a Packer warrant waging an uphill battle?

    Michael Wilbon of ESPN's PTI—a lifelong Chicago Bears fan—suggested the franchise suffers for lack of a single voice to get in the NFL's collective ear because it is a community-owned team.

    As a shareholder, I am perfectly willing to be that voice. Of course, even though I cannot profit a single penny from my stock (its value does not increase even for inflation), I cannot speak the truth about the refereeing without being hit with a fine worth more than anything I own.

    Hopefully, this is a one-week anti-Packer glitch. If that's the case, then it will have worked like high-altitude training, conditioning the Pack to win in the high-pressure environment of the NFL playoffs.

    In case you are new to this world and did not hear that the Seattle Seahawks benefited from what the league acknowledged was an incorrect personal-foul penalty on the first play of their drive, negating an interception. They also had a pass interference that was overlooked that led to their game-winning score.

    What the league will not admit is the refs also flagged the Packers for a pass interference on another pass that should have been called on the offense. But that tells only half the story.

    The touchdown that never should have been was actually an interception, as called by the overruled official. It is not a "simultaneous catch" when one guy gets it first and pins the ball against his chest, while the second player is reaching around the first player to get his hands on the ball.

    Common sense. If ever there was a time to send out a memo that referees needed to be sure a team does not get jobbed, it was last week. Green Bay was even hosting the New Orleans Saints, who had four players that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell tried hitting with stiff suspensions this season.

    Yet the visitors got all the calls. Their first touchdown came thanks to another uncalled offensive pass interference, a clearly incomplete pass even survived a challenge and a fumble was incorrectly ruled down by contact.

    And those were just the most grievous ones. If Green Bay had lost this game, the officials might not have made it out of town alive.

    Give Green Bay credit for rising to the occasion. Here is a look at how much each unit contributed:

    MJ Kasprzak is a stockholder of the Green Bay Packers and the original Bleacher Report community leader for the Pack and San Jose Sharks. You can see more of MJ's work as San Jose Sharks and SF Christian Examiner.

Quarterbacks: B+

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    What? How can Aaron Rodgers not get an "A" for that performance?

    Because it is a grade for Sunday's performance at the quarterback position of the Green Bay Packers.

    In other words, it includes Graham Harrell's ineptitude in the simple task of handing the ball off. The announcers kept saying he was tripped, but all I can confirm on video is that Harrell's left foot struck his right foot. LG T.J. Lang's feet definitely did not come into contact with his quarterback's steps, but it is possible that another lineman caused Harrell's feet to collide.

    Still, you have to be able to hand the ball off. If you do fall, you need to keep the ball when it is first-and-goal. This begs the questions...

    1. Why are the Packers the only team to carry only two active quarterbacks?
    2. How can anyone think Graham Harrell, with two good preseason games in his career, is a worthy No. 2?
    3. With veterans out there who know the offense and who are actually capable of handing a ball off without tripping over their own two feet and are willing to play for the veteran minimum, why is no one even being invited for a look? (Donovan McNabb is still a massive upgrade)

    In all, this gave the two quarterbacks two turnovers to go with four scores. While Rodgers was hurt by bad play from his receivers in previous games, they deserve a lot of the credit for his 31-for-41 (.756 completion percentage) and his 319 yards passing (7.8 average per attempt). Less impressive were his two scrambles for nine yards.

    His missed throws did come after being poked in the eye, but mitigating factors are not measured in objective grading because not all can be known. The single mother working her way through college takes the same test as the rich kid with all the tutors; so do the guy playing hurt and the guy apparently healthy.

    Rodgers passer rating was 119.9, but his total quarterback rating was in the mid-80s—barely in the top fifth of that rating as an A- is barely within the top of five potential grades; Harrell's blunder drops it to a B+.

Running Back: B-

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    The Green Bay Packers handed the ball off 18 times, all to Cedric Benson. (John Kuhn's five-yard first down carry came on special teams.)

    The former No. 4 overall pick in the draft was not great, but he was quite reliable—he amassed 84 yards without a single 10-yard carry by gaining at least two yards on each attempt.

    Benson also caught four passes for 22 yards, giving him 106 yards on 22 touches—a respectable 4.8-yard average. His play after the opener against a very stout San Francisco 49ers defense allows coaches to let Alex Green heal before pressing him into duty.

    Finally, on the rare occasions backs were needed to screen Aaron Rodgers from pressure, they did what was needed. One could hardly credit this unit with the victory, but their solid support sure made it easier for the entire team.

Receivers: A+

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    The receivers were open all day and caught 27 passes for 297 yards, an 11-yard average.

    Greg Jennings had just one catch for nine yards before being benched to rest his groin, but that reception was a touchdown. Donald Driver continues to be the invisible man with just one three-yard catch. Yet the rest of the unit picked up the slack.

    Jordy Nelson looked like the go-to receiver the team needs until Jennings is healthy, with eight catches for 93 yards (11.6 average) and a score. Randall Cobb showed he is ready for a featured role with seven catches for 66 yards (9.4), and Tom Crabtree added a catch for 16.

    In fact, the only flaw in this unit's game was something the broadcast booth termed a drop for Jermichael Finley. In reality, it was a very tough pass to catch because the defender got his hand in to disrupt it, and the tight end caught four other passes for 54 yards, a 13.5-yard average.

    Meanwhile, James Jones made a tougher catch than Finley's drop would have been to seal the game. I am among his harshest critics, but to look through a defender and catch the ball on the other side of his body despite being interfered with is extremely impressive. Two other catches among his five grabs were touchdowns, making his 56 yards more valuable than that number might otherwise indicate.

Offensive Line: A+

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    Two weeks ago, Aaron Rodgers had a statistically unimpressive game against the Chicago Bears. Sunday, he was back to his MVP form of 2011.

    Yet the quarterback position got the same grade both times. How is that possible?

    Because in that game, it was all on Rodgers. In this game, his job was made as easy as one can expect in an NFL game.

    The receivers were open and he had time to find them because of incredible blocking. He only had to scramble twice and was never sacked, plus the line did it with minimal penalties.

    The line also made Cedric Benson's job so much easier. When only one carry went for fewer than three yards—and that was a two-yard run early in the first quarter—that is evidence of the amount of push these five men got on each running play.

Defensive Line: A

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    The defensive line only combined for two solo tackles and five assists. Only C.J. Wilson and Jerel Worthy had both a tackle and an assist. B.J. Raji had just one assist and Ryan Pickett two.

    Of course, defensive linemen in a 3-4 do not rack up stats. They are there to control the line of scrimmage and let the linebackers make plays.

    Thus, a better measure of their success is evaluating the opposing running attack. The New Orleans Saints kept trying to run (19 attempts), but managed just 45 yards on the ground—a 2.4-yard average.

    The Green Bay Packers had decent pressure on Drew Brees throughout the day, and the line deserves some credit for that. Wilson even got a sack.

Linebackers: D

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    Clay Matthews and D.J. Smith each had four tackles and two assists, plus The Bloodline added his seventh sack of the season.

    The rest of the Packers linebackers managed just two tackles and six assists.

    A.J. Hawk gets a partial pass for low production (one tackle, two assists) because the New Orleans Saints spread-the-field approach took him off the field a lot. Nick Perry duplicated Hawk's numbers; he, too, is not an every-down player. Erik Walden is still struggling with consistent production and had only two assists.

    But the real measure of this team against an offense that dropped back to pass 56 times is the receiving production of the opposing backs and to a lesser extent the tight ends. While the Saints have a dangerous pass-catching back and one of the league's premier tight ends, the Packers must be judged on the job they did, not who they play.

    Jimmy Graham had seven catches for 76 yards (10.9) and Darren Sproles had five for 44 yards (8.8) and a score. That is a whopping 12 catches, 120 yards and a touchdown from two players.

    However, the only other tight end catch went to David Thomas for six yards, and the rest of the Saints backs had four catches for 10 yards.

Secondary: D

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    Morgan Burnett was victimized by a pass interference on the touchdown he gave up. You cannot hold a player responsible when the player he is defending gets to pull him down to make the catch.

    Just about everything else is on the Green Bay Packers. Drew Brees completed 18 passes for a whopping 310 yards to wide receivers, so even without that one play he had 426 yards and completed 64 percent of his passes at over eight yards per attempt.

    The one place the secondary did well was tackling. Burnett was in on an incredible 14 tackles (six solo) and Charles Woodson another 11 (eight solo). Tramon Williams even had five tackles and three assists, while Casey Hayward (3/3), Sam Shields (4/0), M.D. Jennings (2/0) and Jerron McMillian (0/2) were also active.

    Of course, the tackles were also a product of 35 pass attempts.

Special Teams: B-

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    Randall Cobb had no punt returns but averaged a solid 29 yards on his three kick returns.

    The Green Bay Packers kick coverage held the dangerous Darren Sproles to one punt return for four yards and three kick returns for a 30-yard average.

    That slight advantage for the New Orleans Saints was certainly offset by Garrett Hartley's missed field goal that came thanks to the extra five yards the visitors lost when the teams traded penalties.

    Mason Crosby did not attempt a field goal, made all four of his extra points and placed four of five kicks in the end zone with two touchbacks—an average game.

    Tim Masthay had a 47-yard punt and placed a 35-yarder inside the 20. His 39-yard net average is good enough anytime, let alone with one punt pinning a dangerous team deep.

    Still, the team's most consistent unit would have graded a C were it not for John Kuhn successfully converting a fake punt, the second for Green Bay this year. It not only was the catalyst for the score that gave Green Bay a 14-point lead, but had it failed the Saints would have taken over in the Packers red zone.