Green Bay Packers: Midseason Report Card for Each Positional Unit
It’s hard to believe, but the Green Bay Packers are now halfway through their 2012 season.
The first eight games have been a roller coaster ride, to say the least, but Green Bay stands at a solid 5-3 despite multiple heartbreaking losses.
I never like to rush to judgment on how well a player or players have performed, but halfway through a season is a sufficient sample size to begin grading everyone’s performance thus far.
Here are my grades for each positional group from the first half of the year.
Considering Aaron Rodgers has thrown all but two of Green Bay’s passes this year, I think it’s safe to base this grade entirely on his performance.
Rodgers is on pace to finish the year with 4,330 passing yards, 42 touchdowns, and a 107.9 passer rating. Many teams would dream of owning a quarterback with those kinds of numbers.
But given his incredible dominance last year, I have to bump Rodgers down from an A to an A-. He’s performing just a tad under what he’s capable of.
If it was just the last few games, he easily would have an A. However, his first couple games were rough, which in return, hurts his grade.
Running Backs: C-
After Week 1, it looked like the Cedric Benson experiment was going to be a disaster. Slowly but surely, Benson began to work his way into the offense and became more and more impressive each week.
But once he went down with that foot injury, it would be an understatement to say the running game has been unimpressive.
Alex Green had one long run against the Indianapolis Colts and an alright performance at Houston, but has struggled mightily besides that. He’s even tripped up and fell down before reaching the line of scrimmage twice.
Green appears to be regressing each game, and Starks seems incapable of staying healthy.
The Packers either need to make a trade or wait for Benson to return if they want any semblance of a running game.
Wide Receivers/tight Ends: A
The Packers live by the next-man-up philosophy, and no one has lived up to it more than the wide receiving corps.
Despite Greg Jennings only playing in three games and not being 100 percent in any of them, the receivers haven’t missed a beat.
James Jones showed why Ted Thompson never traded him during the offseason despite having a surplus at the position, and Randall Cobb continues to blossom as a go-to receiver.
The Packers look like they have three legitimate No. 1 receivers and one about a year or two away from being one.
The tight ends haven’t made much noise this year, but the receivers more than make up for it.
Offensive Line: D
I thought before this season started, this was going to be a pretty solid line. Boy was I wrong.
Bryan Bulaga has regressed, and veteran newbie Jeff Saturday has been awful. Josh Sitton is the only one that has lived up to expectations.
Rodgers has been sacked 28 times this year (which leads the NFL), and thus is on pace to go down a career-high 56 times. The last time he was sacked 50 times in a season, the Packers used their first round pick in consecutive drafts to take an offensive tackle.
The offensive line has been even worse in creating running lanes. According to ProFootballFocus (subscription required), Green Bay is rated 29th in run blocking.
Although the running backs have been disappointing, the majority of Green Bay’s running woes are caused by the line.
Defensive Line: B
B.J. Raji, the 2011 Pro Bowler, has been a little bit of a disappointment this year. Besides missing two games, he doesn’t appear to be the same force he used to be.
The real run stuffer on this team has turned out to be Ryan Pickett. He’s having one of the best years of his career.
Besides them, C.J. Wilson is having a surprisingly good year, Mike Neal has been a nice addition after his four-game suspension and Jerel Worthy continually gets great jumps on the snaps to help collapse the pocket early.
Pass-rush wise, it’s once again Clay Matthews trying to do everything himself. Nick Perry and Dezman Moses both have potential, but they’re still raw rookies.
The inside linebackers aren’t supplying very much pass rush at all, but they’ve been terrific in run support.
A.J. Hawk seems to have taken last year’s mounting criticism to heart, as he’s having his best season in a while. D.J. Smith was a nice back up to injured Desmond Bishop, but Brad Jones has played even better through his two starts thus far.
And Matthews may be just as good at run support as he is at rushing the quarterback.
As soon as the Packers get that complement outside linebacker for Matthews, they’ll be set at the linebacker position for a long time.
This unit ranks 19th in passing yards allowed per game, but like last year, most of that is due to opposing offenses trying to keep up with the high-powered Green Bay offense—only four defenses have been thrown on more than the Packers’.
Tramon Williams is resembling his 2010 version a lot more than his 2011 one, Charles Woodson was probably meant to play safety his entire career, Sam Shields is starting to live up to the potential he showed late in the 2010 season and rookie phenoms Casey Hayward and Jerron McMillian have been absolutely terrific in their young careers.
This certainly isn’t the secondary of 2011.
I’m not exactly sure what’s going wrong with Mason Crosby, but he needs to fix it soon.
He had a career year in 2011, but he’s following it up with an all-time low. His 69.2 percent success rate is by far the worst of his career. Even more troubling, he’s only made one of his four attempts from 50 yards or more.
That’s very troubling for a guy who has one of the strongest legs in the league.
It’s obvious Mike McCarthy is already losing confidence in him. In the third quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars, McCarthy decided to go for a fake pooch punt instead of attempt a field goal that would have been about a 54-yard try.
Crosby’s got to win back the confidence of his coach, but more importantly, he needs to win back his confidence in himself.
If you look at just the raw stats, Tim Masthay appears to be a pretty average punter. He’s ranked 20th in gross yards per punt and 10th in net yards per punt.
But if you dig into the stats a little more, you’ll see just how great of a job Masthay does.
First of all, he leads the NFL in downing balls inside the 20-yard line with 21. That’s extremely important in pinning opponents deep into their own territory.
Another important factor in punting is sending the kicks high to force fair catches and preventing any chance of momentum-swinging returns. Masthay does that too.
He leads the league in fair catches, and his percentage of punts that are fair caught of 47.4 is by far the best in the NFL. The next closest is Nick Harris at 41.7 percent.
He’s also allowed only 10 returns, which is the second least by anyone with at least 30 punts on the season.
It’s not just about distance with punters. It’s much more about accuracy.
It would be a shame if Masthay didn’t make the Pro Bowl this year.
Rest of Special Teams: A-
Shawn Slocum has done a terrific job with the special teams unit.
What used to be a constant weakness for Green Bay in the mid-2000s is now turning into a solid asset.
On top of their great coverage on punts and kickoffs, the unit has successfully converted a fake field goal, fake punt and surprise onside kick.
Some of that is due to the great play calling of McCarthy, but these guys still executed it.
Special teams play is typically a great way to gage how good a team will be in the future, since the units are filled with rookies and second-year players waiting for their turns to start.
With their special teams this year, the Packers should be excited what the future has in store.