Green Bay Packers' Top 5 Pleasant Surprises of 2012
However, there have been more than a few pleasant surprises for Green Bay, including some young players stepping up to the plate and performing well.
Here are the top five pleasant surprises for Green Bay.
5. Tom Crabtree Has Made Big Plays
A backup tight end is not the first place you look to find big play potential, and yet Tom Crabtree has had two already.
Crabtree was originally an unsigned free agent in 2009, until he was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs. He was later released and then signed by Green Bay near the end of the season. While he hasn't done a lot in the receiving department, he has stepped up when it mattered this season.
Crabtree's first touchdown was against Chicago in Week 2. The Packers were lined up to kick a field goal, when the snap holder Tim Masthay flipped the ball to Crabtree who broke away for a 27-yard touchdown.
The second score was last week against Houston. Crabtree scored on a play-action fake by Rodgers, running for 48 yards into the end zone for Rodgers' fifth touchdown of the game.
Crabtree is beginning to get more in the mix in Green Bay, and the fans are liking it.
4. The Pass Rush Is Back in Full Force
Green Bay was 27th in the league last year in total sacks with 29.0. At this point in the season, they have the league's best pass rush with 21.0 sacks.
Clay Matthews has reemerged from his dominance in 2010 with an impressive eight sacks at this point on the season. He has already surpassed last year's performance of six. It appears that Matthews' hamstring is finally healthy enough for him to be a dominant defender yet again.
Matthews' success might also be attributed to the play of other players on the defense. The defense as a whole has been able to get to the quarterback, forcing the offensive line to not put all of their focus on Clay.
In particular, the two rookies Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy have been providing pressure on quarterbacks, with two sacks each.
3. Casey Hayward's Stellar Performance
Casey Hayward is looking like the best rookie for Green Bay at this point. He leads the team, and all rookies, in interceptions this season with three.
Hayward, the second-round pick out of Vanderbilt, is doing a great job when he gets in the game. With the move of Charles Woodson to safety, younger players have been asked to step up and carry the load.
Hayward is stepping up when asked to, and is making the Packers' defense noteworthy once again. The arrival of other young rookies, including Perry, Worthy, and McMillian, has given this defense new life as well.
2. "Next Man Up" Philosophy Is Working
Green Bay knows a thing or two about injuries.
In 2010, the Packers had 16 players on injured reserve, including big time players like Ryan Grant and Nick Barnett. While struggling through these injuries, the Packers still managed to win the Super Bowl that year.
This season, the "next man up" philosophy has been working. Alex Green has been playing up to standards for Cedric Benson, who was placed on IR.
The wide receiving core has been playing above and beyond without starter Greg Jennings, who has missed the past few games with a lingering groin injury.
The absence of B.J. Raji was not a problem for Green Bay, who stopped run after run against Houston.
1. James Jones Is Having a Career Season
James Jones couldn't have dreamed for a better start to this season.
Jones has already tied his career-high for touchdowns in a season with seven. He had seven touchdowns all last season. Not only that, Jones has had two touchdowns in a game for three straight games.
Jones is clearly stepping up with the absence of Greg Jennings. Fellow receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are also making big plays, but Jones seems to be determined to catch every ball thrown to him, making one spectacular catch after another.
It's a long season, but Jones is looking like one of the top receivers in the league at this point.