5 Adjustments the Packers Must Make During Bye Week
The Green Bay Packers have a 6-3 record at their bye week, but it could have been even better. There was the replacement refs' incompetence that cost the Packers a win in Seattle in Week 3, and then the Packers had a second-half meltdown in Indianapolis, as the team lost an 18-point lead in another tough defeat.
So, the Packers probably should be 8-1, but it is what it is, and they have to deal with the reality of their record.
In some ways, the Packers should feel fortunate to be 6-3, however. The vaunted Green Bay offense is only ranked 18th in the NFL right now in total offense, although quarterback Aaron Rodgers is putting up MVP-type numbers again.
Bottom line: The Packers will have to deal with a number of issues as they get ready for the rest of their season after the bye week.
Here are five of them.
Overcoming the Injury Situation
In many ways, the injury situation on the 2012 team is eerily similar to the 2010 Green Bay team that wound up winning the Super Bowl. The Packers had to put 15 players on injured reserve that season, but still ended up winning Super Bowl XLV.
The Packers have only placed five players so far on injured reserve this season (Desmond Bishop, Johnny Jones, Nick Perry, Brandon Saine and D.J. Smith), plus placed another (Cedric Benson), on the injured reserve; designated for return list.
But the team has also had a number of nagging injuries to key players that have cost some of them significant playing time.
The offense ended up putting out a lineup versus the Cardinals in Week 9 that was missing five starters from the squad. Those players were active when Green Bay took on the San Francisco 49ers on opening weekend.
The defense didn't fare much better against Arizona—they were missing five starters at the end of the game as well.
The Packers have employed a next man up mentality so far in 2012, and the team has been able to overcome the injuries it has suffered so far.
Here is a quick snapshot of the players affected by injuries:
Wide Receiver Greg Jennings had abdominal surgery last week. He's expected back in a few weeks.
Wide Receiver Jordy Nelson suffered a hamstring injury a couple of weeks back, and then rolled an ankle against Arizona. He's expected to be back for the game against Detroit on November 18th.
Fullback John Kuhn missed the game against Arizona due to a hamstring injury. He's expected back for the Detroit game.
Right Offensive Tackle Bryan Bulaga suffered a hip injury against the Cardinals. The extent of the injury has yet to be determined.
Defensive End Jerel Worthy missed the Arizona game due to a concussion. He's expected back for the game against Detroit.
Safety Charles Woodson broke his collarbone again (also broken in Super Bowl XLV) versus the St. Louis Rams. He's expected to be sidelined for several weeks, but he is expected back for the last couple of games of the season.
Outside Linebacker Clay Matthews suffered a hamstring injury against the Cardinals and may miss a couple of games.
Cornerback Sam Shields suffered a knee/shin injury in the Houston game and has been out of the line up ever since. He's expected to be back shortly.
The Packers have also brought back two players from the PUP list (physically unable to perform) when they recently activated outside linebacker Frank Zombo and tight end Andrew Quarless.
Offensive tackle Derek Sherrod has been given a three-week window to see if he is able to come off the PUP list as well.
Bottom line: The Packers have to keep being productive on the field, no matter which player is out there. So far, the depth accumulated by Ted Thompson has been a real plus to the team in 2012.
Keeping the Young Players Focused
So far in 2012, the first and second-year players of the Packers have made quite a positive impact for the Packers. That must continue.
Offensively, second-year wide receiver Randall Cobb has had a breakout season. He leads the team in receptions with 45, plus has six touchdown receptions.
Cobb also is excelling on special teams, as he has a punt return for a touchdown (11.1 average) and also has a 27.8 kickoff return average.
Second-year running back Alex Green has started four straight games now after Cedric Benson went down with a foot injury, and has had his moments. The biggest thing Green has done is NOT fumbling the football.
So far, Green has 248 yards rushing (3.5 average). He has also caught 11 passes.
Defensively, a number of younger players have played key roles in helping it become the 12th ranked defense in the NFL right now.
On the defensive line, rookie defensive ends Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels have two sacks apiece.
Rookie outside linebacker Nick Perry had two sacks before he went on injured reserve (wrist), while second-year inside linebacker D.J. Smith also had two sacks before he too, went on injured reserve (knee).
Undrafted rookie outside linebacker Dezman Moses has one sack and is expected to fill in for Matthews, while he is out with the hamstring injury.
The secondary has had a few young players make big plays for the Packers. Rookie cornerback Casey Hayward has four interceptions and has played both cornerback in the base defense and also the slot position (Charles Woodson's role) in the nickel and dime schemes.
Rookie safety Jerron McMillian has really started to come on, as he has split time with second-year safety M.D. Jennings.
Undrafted rookie safety Sean Richardson has played well on special teams, while rookie linebacker Terrell Manning has also made contributions.
Staying Consistent with the Run Game
The Packers struggled in the running game right at the onset of the season, when Cedric Benson only had 18 yards rushing against the 49ers on opening weekend. But Benson got better over the next three games, including two games where he gained over 80 yards.
Then Benson injured his foot against the Colts. He was replaced by Alex Green, who until last week, struggled for the most part in being productive. The key stat for Green is that he has NOT fumbled the football in almost 100 touches (98).
Green only has a 3.5 yards per carry average and only has 248 yards rushing, but the threat of the run has kept defenses on their toes. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has thrown 15 touchdown passes versus just one pick in the four games Green has started at running back.
Green looked much better against the Cardinals last week; he gained 53 yards in just 11 carries.
The running game was also helped by James Starks last week against Arizona. Starks had 61 yards in 17 carries.
The Packers would love to see Starks return to the form he showed in the 2010 postseason, when he had 315 yards rushing, which led all NFL backs.
Starks was supposed to be the No.1 back for the Packers this year, but a turf toe injury he suffered in the first preseason game sidelined him for several weeks.
That injury caused the Packers to sign Benson as a free agent.
The Packers will continue to utilize Green and Starks in the running game until Benson comes back, which could be the December 9th game against the Lions at Lambeau Field.
No matter who is playing running back, the Packers need to keep running the rock and keeping some balance offensively.
We know that balance helps the effectiveness of Rodgers, as he has proven over the last four games, and also his production in the 2010 postseason (nine touchdown passes vs. two interceptions), when the Packers won it all.
Another Big Road Trip
Before the last two games against Jacksonville and Arizona at home at Lambeau Field, the Packers played three consecutive road games at Indianapolis, Houston and St. Louis.
The Packers won two out of those three games, and should have won all three.
The Packers face a similar task—they will go to Detroit to play the Lions the first week after their bye, and then travel to New Jersey to take on the Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
The Packers have played well in Detroit in recent years, winning five out of the last six games played there.
Plus, the Packers played the Giants in Jersey last season, and won a thrilling 38-35 contest. Kicker Mason Crosby kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired.
The Packers have always been a good road team under head coach Mike McCarthy in the regular season (30-22), and that has to continue as they re-start their season after the bye week.
Getting Something out of Jermichael Finley
The Packers are currently ranked 12th in passing in the NFL right now, led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers has thrown 25 touchdown passes versus just five picks for 2,383 yards.
The wide receivers of the Packers have really produced too, led by Randall Cobb (45 catches and six touchdowns), Jordy Nelson (40 catches and five touchdowns), and James Jones (40 catches and eight touchdowns).
When Greg Jennings comes back from his abdominal injury, it is expected that he will also be very productive, just as he has proven throughout his career.
But the big elephant in the room in the Green Bay passing game has been the ineffectiveness of tight end Jermichael Finley.
Right now, Finley only has 29 receptions for 271 yards and one touchdown. That is well below the expectations the team had for Finley going into the 2012 season.
Granted, Finley suffered a shoulder injury in the Indianapolis game, and has played every game since then. But he is not the weapon he could be in the passing game.
In fact, right now, the biggest threat for the Packers at tight end now is Tom Crabtree, who only has six catches, but has turned three of them into scores (one was on a fake field goal).
Finley has shown flashes in the past that he can be a dominant tight end. However, he has also shown a lack of focus with numerous drops already this season, plus he coughed up the football once with a fumble.
Last season, Finley had 55 receptions and eight touchdowns. The Packers would love production like that out of him right now.
Finley really showed the world what he is capable of when he had six catches for 159 yards in the 2009 Wild Card playoff game against the Cardinals.
The Packers need to get Finley more productive in the offense. It will help the matchups for the other receivers in the Green Bay offense, plus will give Rodgers one more option to look to as he scans the defense.