For the first time all season, Packers rookies finally showed the promise that everyone had been anticipating since draft day.
B.J. Raji displayed the speed and power that warranted the number nine overall pick. He was clearly too much for the Ravens' offensive line when they chose to block him one-on-one, and when he penetrated into the backfield he was able to finish the play, making a couple of unassisted tackles. There were some who wondered if the Packers had squandered another high pick on a defensive lineman after Raji’s absence from the line-up thus far this season, but it appears that he was just slowed by the high ankle sprain suffered earlier in the year. If he continues to play in such a manner, there will be little doubt in fans minds that Ted Thompson and Co. made the right decision with him.
While Raji is finally starting to break out, the Packers other first-round selection of 2009, Clay Matthews III, continues to have a great rookie campaign. Matthews had two more sacks on Monday, bringing his total to seven on the year. His athleticism, attitude, and penchant for the big play have Packer Nation wanting Rookie of the Year recognition, and while that might be a bit far-fetched (Bills rookie Jairus Byrd is the likely frontrunner at the moment with a league high eight interceptions), Matthews playmaking is not going unnoticed.
While not receiving the attention that Raji and Matthews get, rookie Brad Jones is starting to put together a nice season as well. After making the team out of training camp, the seventh-round pick Jones didn’t see much action in the first half of the regular season. But after injuries took Aaron Kampman out of the lineup, Jones has filled in splendidly. The Packers have won all three games that Jones has started, and although Kampman may be a two-time Pro Bowler, it seems that Jones may be a better fit in Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme and that the Packers may be in a better position to win with Jones out there. For example, Jones seems much better equipped to cover backs and tight ends, an area where Kampman struggled. Also, Jones has enough athleticism to get to the quarterback from a two point stance, shown last night when he was able to take down Joe Flacco.
While rookies may be the story on the defensive side of the ball, Packers vets are the story on the other. Donald Driver continues to have a great season and was able to score his 50th career touchdown against the Ravens, the tenth player in Packers history to reach that mark. The Packers all-time receptions leader is averaging over fifteen and a half yards a catch this season, which would be a career high.
Another Packers record holder, Ahman Green, was back on the field again Monday night after a groin injury kept him out of the Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit. Green carried the ball five times for 23 yards, but his biggest impact came in the passing game. Both Green and third-down back Brandon Jackson have become much better at helping to protect Aaron Rodgers, who was only sacked once last night. In both picking up blitzers or rubbing defensive ends on their way out of the backfield, Green and Jackson are big reasons why Rodgers has been able to stay upright and be the NFL’s top-rated passer on third down.