- The Offensive Line is playing more cohesively as a unit . Even without T.J. Lang , who I believe will be a good starter for years, the Big Guys up front continue to improve. Tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher are anchoring the line as they have for a decade (yes, they were both drafted in 2000 - ain't that some shit!?). The running lanes between the tackles are staying open noticeably longer, which is allowing Ryan Grant and now Ahman Green , who has run and blocked very well in limited time, to have more patience behind the line. Sure, it didn't hurt the Packers that All-Worlders S Ed Reed and OLB Terrell Suggs were inactive last night. But you can't help but be impressed with how much this once horrible Offensive Line has improved in the second half of the season.
- The Packers have rediscovered their bread and butter: the West Coast offense. After straying from their dangerous short passing game for several weeks in the second quarter of the season, the Packers are back at it. The five-yard slants are once again the staple of this offense, which means teams are going to have a hard time stopping the Pack in December. Armed with two of the most dangerous receivers after the catch in the league, Greg Jennings and Donald Driver , the Packers are better off letting their playmakers turn slants into big plays than forcing big plays downfield.
- But the Playmakers need to catch the ball first! While the Packers' receivers have shown on a weekly basis that they have one of the deepest corps in the league, they have been dropping the ball too much. It seems that Jennings, Driver and crew often forget that they have to catch the ball before they rack up the YAC. (Jermichael Finley , I love you, but this applies to you more than anyone). And the Ravens game is not the only game the Packers receiving corps has had "Troy Williamson Moments" - there have been several "say whaaa" drops in each of the past five games. I know it sounds like I'm nitpicking here, but come January an easy drop in the second quarter could end up spelling the end of the season.
- At times, Jermichael Finley looks like a Pro Bowl playmaking tight end . But other times he looks like a second
year player who is still adjusting to the fact that linebackers can actually run with him at this level. While Jerry-Mike has the occasional drop and the occasional missed block, he is only a second year player who was drafted out of Texas with the future in mind. As he continues to improve his blocking, the sky is the limit for Finley in this offense (think Mark Chmura pre-high school graduation party ). Every game you can see the immense potential this athletic tight end has, and in two years I think GerMickey will be one of the top receiving tight ends in the league.
- Mike McCarthy must take pride in losing challenges . OC Joe Philbin : "Mike, I'm positive that we didn't catch that ball." McCarthy : "You know this is my thing Joe. Losin' another challenge, one game at a time." It's hard to blame Mike on some of his challenges. Some key plays are worth risking a timeout to be sure that they end in the Packers' favor. But other challenges this year, like the Kelley Washington catch last night , have been flat-out stupid. The ESPN guys should be doing a whole "C'mon Man!" segment on McCarthy's dumb challenges this year. If McCarthy throws out the red flag, then you know the chances of the Packers losing a timeout and wasting everybody's time are prettttty pretttty pretttty good.
- The defensive line is playing really well. Cullen Jenkins , B.J. Raji , Ryan Pickett , Johnny Jolly , and the whole crew have had the trenches on lock down for several weeks. The D-linemen are putting some pressure on quarterbacks, but most importantly, they are commanding attention opening up lanes for stunts and linebacker blitzes. The negative: Pickett and Raji could miss a few games with injuries .
- Clay Matthews is going to be a pro-bowl linebacker for years to come. The guy just doesn't quit. I geeked during the play when he literally ran in circles after Joe Flacco . The guy really plays with reckless abandon -- he can take on blocks, make all the tackles in the running game, and already looks like a seasoned pass-rusher at times. As Clay continues to gain experience and master some of the nuances of the game that made his position coach Kevin Greene a pro-bowl pass rusher , he is only going to improve. Players with that kind of aggressiveness and intensity don't fall by the wayside. They flourish.
- Brad Jones looks like he has a bright future with the Packers. Size, speed, awareness -- Brad Jones has it all. People are probably beginning to wonder how he dropped to the seventh round of the 2009 NFL draft . He seems to fit this defense very well and is starting to look like another seventh round steal for the Pack. His pass rushing ability fits our defensive scheme perfectly, and there is a reason why Brandon Chillar , Desmond Bishop , etc. are on the sideline -- because this guy is damn good.
- HOLY COLUMBUS!!! Did A.J. Hawk just make a big play!? After being drafted by the Packers #5 overall in 2006 , A.J. Hawk has done little to stand during his four years as a starter. While he is, for the most part, a solid "gap responsibility" linebacker, he hasn't made nearly enough plays to warrant the #5 overall pick. Not only does Brady Quinn's brother-in-law struggle shedding blockers, but his downfield coverage has been a weakness for years. With that said....A.J. made a big interception on Monday Night Football! And it was actually great coverage. Let's not expect this often, but it was certainly nice to see a play out of Hawk.
For weekly Wisconsin sports podcasts and much, much more Packers, Bucks and Brewers analysis like this, visit www.wiscosportstalk.com .