While the difference in the victories against the Detroit Lions (26-0) in week six and the Cleveland Browns (31-3) Sunday was just two points, the blowouts were about as different as they could be and showed what exactly the Packers have in store for the rest of the season.
Say what you will about the Browns easily being one of the worst teams in the league and that it is hard to gauge just how good the Packers really are based on two straight victories against teams with a combined record of 2-11, but Sunday’s contest wasn’t even close. After Phil Dawson connected on a field goal to give the Browns a 3-0 lead, the Packers reeled off 31 straight points to coast for the win.
Don’t let anyone fool you: the Browns are bad. They are very bad. But it wasn’t as if the Packers struggled to find rhythm on offense and were making mistakes on defense like they did against the Lions. They found a bad team at the wrong time and absolutely destroyed them in all aspects of the game, something great teams do.
Defensively, the Packers did what they had to do, forcing two turnovers and holding the Browns to just 139 yards on offense. What helps is that they did most of their damage out of normal sets, making sure not give much away for next week’s matchup against Minnesota.
Call it a tune-up, but the Packers have used the last two weeks to become more comfortable within their defense and players like A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett are finally starting to get things down. Aaron Kampman has been able to rush the passer more and has three sacks in the last four weeks, and Charles Woodson reminded the NFL why no one should throw his way as he picked off a pass and forced a Josh Cribbs fumble.
The Lions rank 22nd in total offense and the Browns 31st, but the Packers did what they were supposed to do and then some. While some may say their stats are inflated from the last two weeks, the fact of the matter is their defense ranks third in total defense and is giving up just 16 points per game, good for fifth in all of football.
The big play threats are still there and are coming at the expense of trying to force turnovers, but that is something the Packers are hoping will cancel out by season’s end. Their 13 takeaways rank third in the league and their turnover difference of +8 is second in the league.
Leading the way in that department has been the play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has feasted on lesser opponents and seen his quarterback rating soar. Rodgers has eight touchdowns in his last three games and has had a passer rating over 110 in each of his last four contests. For the season, only Peyton Manning has a higher passer rating (114.5) than Rodgers (110.8).
His two interceptions have kept Packers’ drives alive and are a big part of the reason why the Packers rank fifth in the league in total offense and points per game.
The offensive line finally put together a rock solid outing, regardless of who it was against, in not allowing a sack and rushing for over 200 yards against the Browns. T.J. Lang made his first start at left tackle and was solid all day in his potential warm-up for Jared Allen next week. The right side of the line created holes all day and helped Ryan Grant to his best outing of 2009.
All in all, the last three weeks have been exactly what the Packers needed. Defensive adjustments were clearly made during the bye week as the Packers not only beat up bad offenses, but completely shut them down. Regardless of how bad the Lions and Browns may be, the Packers’ defense could not have played any better.
Offensively, the Packers continue to get better every week, improving their total yards in each of the team’s first six games. They have also gone over the 400-yard mark on offense in each of the past four games. Question marks arose in the first two weeks about Rodgers’ consistency, the dropped passes, and the offensive line, but that has not been the problem as of late. If Rodgers’ can get time, the Packers’ offense is a top ten unit.
With just 16 games on the schedule, no team ever looks past games, but the Packers’ might have peeked at their match up next weekend against the Vikings. The past two weeks have allowed the Packers to try out new things during blowouts and also disguise others. Coming off a bye week and two blowouts is surely different than the Vikings, who have yet to play their bye and have battled to the extremes against two AFC powerhouses in the Ravens and Steelers the last two weeks.
The Vikings might not be tired but they will not be as well rested as the Packers. While it’s too hard to judge whether or not the Packers’ wins over the Lions and Browns just met expectations or were a start of something new, it’s no secret the Packers have momentum coming into next week. Not only are they playing great football, but the NFC North is on the line and the winner of the game will have that title all to themselves.