Packers Playmakers Who Must Shine Against the Redskins
The Pack lost a very spirited and hard-fought game at Candlestick Park last Sunday against the Niners, and although some players stood out with nice performances, other key players did not play very well in the game.
I'm going to list a number of players who have to step up their game versus the Redskins if the Packers expect to win.
Left Guard Josh Sitton
Left guard Josh Sitton was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team last season, and is widely considered to be the best offensive linemen for the Packers. That's why it was somewhat shocking that Sitton played one of the worst games of his career last Sunday versus the likes of Justin Smith of the 49ers.
Don't get me wrong, Smith is one of the NFL's very best at his position, but Sitton was responsible for three killer penalties. No. 71 had two holding penalties and one illegal hands to the face penalty which directly led to two turnovers.
Sitton's illegal hands to the face penalty wiped out a 10-yard gain by running back Eddie Lacy. On the very next play, Lacy fumbled, giving the Niners the ball at the Green Bay 14-yard line. That led to a 10-yard touchdown pass from Colin Kaepernick to Anquan Boldin.
Two series later, a Sitton holding call wiped out a seven-yard gain by running back James Starks. The very next play quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw an interception, when defensive back Eric Reid caught a deflection which bounced off the hands of tight end Jermichael Finley.
It must also be noted that Sitton is playing a new position this year, after being a right guard his first five years in the NFL. Still, Sitton has to play up to his Pro Bowl-caliber ability. The Packers have enough issues on their offensive line without having to deal with subpar play by their best linemen.
Wide Receiver James Jones
Last year in two games versus the San Francisco 49ers, wide receiver James Jones totaled eight catches for 168 yards and two touchdowns. This past Sunday in the season-opening game against the Niners again, Jones had a donut game. Not one catch.
This on a day when quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 333 yards and threw three touchdown passes. The other two receivers who comprise the Big Three, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, both had big games.
Cobb had seven receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown, while Nelson also had seven catches for 130 yards and also had a touchdown.
But Jones had a goose egg, which only happened once in 2012. Jones also didn't get a lot of chances (two pass attempts) versus the 49ers.
That should change this Sunday at Lambeau Field. Jones is considered a big-game receiver, who has 34 career touchdown passes in his six-year career. No. 89 also had the most touchdown catches (14) in all of the NFL last year.
Rodgers sees more opportunities for Jones, as he spoke via Packers.com.
Got to find a way to get James more opportunities because he is a dynamic receiver for us. The way the coverages were, the way they were playing us, there were more opportunities for Jordy and Randall. I know James is going to be a big part of our offense. He was awesome (in reaction to not being targeted a lot). He's a guy who runs every route to win. I am just really proud of him as a teammate. He's unselfish. Obviously wants the ball. He's a receiver. He's a dynamic player. He knows what he can add to this team. Got to give him more opportunities.
I expect Jones to pick up his play this week versus the Redskins and to add to the big numbers being put up by both Cobb and Nelson.
Running Back Eddie Lacy
Although running back Eddie Lacy played much better in the second half of the game against the San Francisco 49ers as opposed to the first half, the rookie from Alabama has to take his performance up a notch this week.
Head coach Mike McCarthy talked about that via Packers.com as he addressed the performance of Lacy.
Eddie needs to detail his work. Whether it's runs, protections, our young guys were, it was the first game. And he was one of them. So, I don't to say he was nervous, but he just needs to clean things up. He's young, it's his first time really playing in the no-huddle type situation, going that fast. We have a lot on his plate, being a three-down player.
So much is expected of Lacy. No. 27 had 41 yards on 14 carries and had a rushing touchdown. Lacy also caught a pass and gained 31 yards on that play.
Lacy is learning on the job. He once again showed glimpses on Sunday about how much ability he has. Yes, Lacy had some assignment errors, as well as coughing up a fumble, but his performance late in the game was very revealing.
When Lacy was pounding the defensive front with sizable gains like he was at times versus the Niners, it opened up the passing game that much more for quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Expect to see a big game by Lacy on Sunday, against a Washington defense which allowed LeSean McCoy of the Eagles to rush for 184 yards on Monday night.
Kick Returner Jeremy Ross
Jeremy Ross did not have a very good game returning kicks for the Packers against the 49ers. Ross returned three kickoffs for 40 yards, which is a paltry 13.3 average. No. 10 also returned a punt for nine yards.
On one of his kickoff returns, Ross hesitated and decided to not heed the advice of John Kuhn about staying in the end zone for a touchback, but instead returned the ball out to only the eight-yard line.
The return game as a whole got the attention of head coach Mike McCarthy as he talked about that situation via Packers.com.
It wasn’t a great day for us in the kickoff return phase. Decision-making was part of it. I thought our kickoff return blocking unit did not do a very good job. We will do a better job of that this week.
Ross needs to step his performance in the return game up a level. The Packers had former return man Randall Cobb return a punt for 16 yards versus the Niners. That might become the norm is Ross doesn't get his act together. The same holds true in the kickoff return area, where poor decision-making and poor blocking led to less than mediocre day.
That all needs to change this week, if Ross expects to keep his job as the main kick returner for the Pack.
The Entire Secondary
When a secondary allows a quarterback to throw for 412 yards and three touchdowns in a game, the performance can't be considered very good.
Yes, the secondary of the Packers was missing two key players from their group. Safety Morgan Burnett and cornerback Casey Hayward both missed the 49ers game due to hamstring issues. Their absence allowed quarterback Colin Kaepernick to carve up the Packers in the passing game.
Kaepernick basically utilized just two receivers against Green Bay, as wide receiver Anquan Boldin had 13 catches for 208 yards and a touchdown, while tight end Vernon Davis had six receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns.
The play of both Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings at safety was definitely subpar, and if that doesn't improve quickly, expect to see more opportunity for hard-hitting Chris Banjo.
Also, slot-cornerback Micah Hyde looked like he was lost at times against the Niners, after having a very solid training camp manning the same position.
Burnett might be able to play against the Redskins, while Hayward is out until after the bye week which is Week 4. That means Hyde needs to start playing like he did this summer, when he seemed like a natural playing the corner-slot, with his solid instincts and his nose for the football.
Both Tramon Williams and Sam Shields had tough days at cornerback as well, and both definitely need to improve their play.