Coming into the season, the Packers’ offensive line was hardly thought to be a liability but was still not a strong point on the team. Six weeks in, the unit is as big a liability as one will find in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers has put up outstanding stats considering he has been sacked a league-high 25 times. The current NFL record for times sacked in a season is David Carr, with 72. Rodgers is on pace to be sacked 80 times, which would set a new record.
Injuries to Chad Clifton, Jason Spitz, and Daryn Colledge—combined with Rodgers holding on to the ball too long sometimes—might be excuses, but the Packers also rank 25th in rushing. Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson are not going to make anyone forget about Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, but every rushing attack starts with the offensive line.
2. Clay Matthews is a future Pro Bowler at outside linebacker
A risky prediction? You bet. But one I will stick to until I see him in the actual game. Five games into his short NFL career, Matthews has already taken over a starting role, racked up 12 tackles, been credited with three sacks, had three more tackles for loss, stripped Adrian Peterson and run it back for a touchdown, and defended three passes. Dom Capers and Kevin Greene have a long history with the 3-4 defense and must have seen something in Matthews to make Ted Thompson trade up for him.
It sounds cliche, but he’s just a genuine football player out on the field. His strength combined with his fluidity is perfect for the 3-4 defense and he is making the most of his time on the field. With the starting job now in hand, he should be on the field a whole lot more and continue to improve his skill set. It seems as though the sky’s the limit for the USC grad.
3. Donald Driver can play into his 40s if he chooses to
Take Donald Driver’s name and number off his jersey and then show film to someone and ask them what they think of that certain player. Assuming Driver didn’t do a first-down shimmy after a big catch to give his identity away, that certain someone would probably guess the player was a young and energetic rookie.
At 34, Driver seems to have more energy than he ever has and is showing no signs of slowing down. He is in excellent physical condition, is loving the game, and has a quarterback suited perfectly to his skill set. This season, he leads the Packers in receptions, yards, and touchdown catches. He also set the Packers’ record for receptions last week in Detroit. With Greg Jennings constantly seeing double coverage, Driver has made the most of his opportunity to beat his man one-one-one.
4. Al Harris has lost a step and it might be time to give Tramon Williams a look
Maybe the second part of my thought is more of the reason I think Williams should get more looks a starter, but Harris does not look like the same cornerback. For starters, his reaction time has decreased and it seems as though receivers are getting a clean break on routes a step or two before Harris realizes it. One has to wonder whether the penalties on Harris for illegal use of the hands has tamed him a bit.
His 23 tackles—which rank fifth on the team—are a tad bit misleading because none of those are for losses, meaning Harris more times than not gave up a reception to make that tackle. It’s not an easy task when Charles Woodson is on the other side of the defense and your safety help has been banged up all year, but Harris just has not looked the same. Even his interception against the Lions was off blown coverage, and the ball was tipped by the Detroit receiver.
5. Even with Matthews’ great play thus far, Brandon Chillar is the Packers’ best linebacker
The interior of the Packers’ linebacking corps has struggled this season in comparison to their defensive line or outside linebackers, but Brandon Chillar has been a breath of fresh air and a versatile part of the defense. He has seen time at inside linebacker but also has played strong safety in the Packers’ “Big Okie” five-linebacker defense, and has done a nice job.
His sack on Jay Cutler was arguably the play of the year for the Packers thus far and he currently ranks second on the team in tackles. With A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett struggling, Chillar’s play has been a nice surprise and he seems to be fitting in very nicely in the 3-4 defense. Most of his tackles are within three or four yards of the line of scrimmage while other inside LBs are making tackles down field.
6. If the Packers cannot cut down on penalties, they can kiss the playoffs goodbye
The Packers are not a good enough team right now to be able to make up for their penalties. Their offensive line is shaky, meaning deep passes are at a minimum, their defense is playing good but not great , and overall they’re having trouble making up for their mistakes.
Last season, the Packers ranked second in penalties and first in yards. Six weeks in, the Packers are fifth in penalties and fourth in yards. It’s extremely frustrating as a fan to see yellow flags out on the field on seemingly every drive. Mike McCarthy claims it’s just part of the game, but penalties say a lot about a team’s structure and discipline.
It’s not McCarthy’s fault because he isn’t the one jumping the snap on false starts or holding on defense, but maybe it’s time for him to get on his players a little more disciplined. In a division or wild-card race that could come down to the wire, penalties can change the complexion of a game.
The next few weeks will be telling because, against lesser competition they should not have to be committing silly penalties.