Still Super Bowl Bound? Observations from the Green Bay Packers Week 1 Success

Ryan CookFeatured ColumnistSeptember 13, 2010

Still Super Bowl Bound? Observations from the Green Bay Packers Week 1 Success

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    They say it takes baby steps to reach the promise land in the NFL, but if you told Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers that he needs to ease into the season gradually if the Packers are to reach the big dance this season, he'd most likely laugh right in your face.

    Today the Green Bay Packers looked impressive. They took on a rugged, yet still capable Philadelphia Eagles team on a rainy day at Lincoln Financial Field. When the game first kicked off with a few Packer mistakes on offense, things didn't come all that easy for the alleged Super Bowl favorite pick.

    But, similar to jumping into a 70 degree hot tub, the Packers gradually eased themselves into the deep end, and soon enough found their rhythm to waltz to a comfortable yet nerve wracking win over young Kevin Kolb and a strong Eagles defense.

    For the most part, the thought around Green Bay is positive. Aaron Rodgers didn't have an overly impressive game, but by looking around the team in general, it's fair to say that Green Bay gave an effort good enough to earn themselves their first win in Philadelphia in over 40 years.

    However, what did we all take away from the game this Sunday, in terms of negatives and positives?

    I mean, the win was great and all for a team striving for the Lombardi Trophy, but surely there were some negatives along with the long list of positives as well, right?

    Exactly.

    Therefore, here's a quick taste of what we saw from the Packers in Week 1, and a small word or two on the pros and cons from the Packers at this point in the season.

10 . Mason Crosby Is Back on the Right Track

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    Prior to the beginning of preseason football a little over a month ago, no Packer fan knew what to expect from once deadly accurate kicker Mason Crosby, as his 2009 season proved to be quite disappointing when it came to his overall performance.

    Last season Mason Crosby notably struggled. Overall Crosby attempted 36 kicks in total, while he only managed to slot 27 of his tries.

    But luckily for the Packers, head coach Mike McCarthy realized how vital the kicking game is to a football team, and decided to hold on to old No. 2, and given him that second chance that he had certainly deserved after all of his years of hard work in Green Bay.

    So did this second opportunity at life in Green Bay turn out for the better?

    Well, so far it has.

    Today, Mason Crosby was successful in slotting both of his two attempts in Philadelphia. More importantly though, Crosby sent the Packers into the halftime break with a bundle of confidence, after he capped off an impressive drive led by Aaron Rodgers, with a 54 yard field goal.

    Of course with all of this in mind, it is important not to jump the gun with Crosby. After all, he could miss another ten kicks this season, and find himself in a hole that even Mike McCarthy can't dig him out of.

    But when it comes to being on the right track, Mason Crosby is certainly on the trail. We all saw firsthand how important the kicking game is in the Washington vs. Dallas game on Sunday Night Football, and if the Packers are to have a legitimate shot at the Lombardi Trophy, Mason Crosby will act as a small piece of that success.

9. Donald Driver’s Double Knee Surgery Hasn't Affected His Performance

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    If Greg Jennings is the ultimate stud on the Packers offense, then Donald Driver is a close second, as he consecutively posts great stats year in and year out.

    Although Donald Driver is one of the more underrated wide receivers in football right now, most people are well aware of his age. Seeing as though he recently underwent double knee surgery during the offseason, it's fair to say that some people were a little worried about his performance this season.

    But like everything on the Packer offense right now, Donald Driver is proving to be just as impressive as he once was.

    For anyone that needed convincing that No. 80 was still the quick footed wide receiver that he once was in his early days, his touchdown today against the tough Philadelphia Eagles defense was certainly impressive.

    What comes as greater news than Donald Driver's latest stat, is the fact that both of his knees seem to be perfectly fine, and not showing any signs of weakening this season.

    Last year, Donald Driver ended his campaign with 1,061 yards and six touchdowns. Whether or not the all-smiles wide receiver comes close to this margin this year is a mystery, but after today's 30 yard performance, you won't be blamed for placing a little money on it.

    As already mentioned, Donald Driver has and always will be a key piece to the Packer offense. He may be getting a little long in the tooth, but so is his old quarterback Brett Favre, and he's doing just fine.

    Maybe the fountain of youth was installed back in the Lombardi days, as Packer players still don't seem to be showing any signs of age.

    But hey, Packer fans aren't complaining, right?  They've still got one of the league's brightest receivers in their arsenal.

8. Second Year Blues? Not for Clay Matthews

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    When a player has a dominant first year, statistically speaking, it seems nowadays that people believe he is ultimately destined for a case of the second year blues the very next season.

    In relation to Packer linebacker Clay Matthews, he was no exception.  Before the season even began, the big man was being doubted at times by skeptical fans, and was even labeled to somehow fail to live up to expectations on the Green Bay defense this season.

    Boy, how things changed.

    I guess when you concuss first year starting quarterback Kevin Kolb in the first half of Week 1 and sideline him for the rest of the game, people stand up and realize just how talented you really are.

    But as if that wasn't enough, when you don't play a single game in the entire preseason and explode out of the gates for two sacks against a moderately impressive Philadelphia Eagles offense, the term "second year blues" becomes no longer relevant for the remainder of the season.

    Realistically, I don't totally understand what fans were expecting. With the Packers losing two key players to the PUP list before their clash against the Eagles this week, the pressure was always going to be on Clay Matthews to stand up and take charge at the linebacker position.

    At the end of the day, there isn't much to say here. Clay Matthews is following in his father's footsteps, and it appears that if he continues along with this path of destruction, the defensive player of the year award may be staying in Green Bay for an extended period of time.

    Maybe it isn't wise to jump to conclusions just yet, but two sacks in Week 1 must be recognized. Clay Matthews did battle with injury in the offseason, however, it appears that any soreness is now out of his system.

    Can Matthews keep this momentum going for the next 15 games and more?

    We'll wait and see.  But hitting people hard seems to be in his blood.

7. The Green Bay Defense Still Has Issues Against Good Quarterback Play

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    Before Kevin Kolb went down injured in the first half of the game, the Packer defense held up nicely, considering that they limited wide receiver DeSean Jackson to zero catches, and quarterback Kevin Kolb to 24 yards.

    However, once Clay Matthews placed Kevin Kolb on the sidelines and backup quarterback Michael Vick stepped in, the Green Bay secondary appeared to take their foot off the gas a little in the second half of play.

    Now, while some of you may be thinking that Michael Vick is far from a great quarterback, he does do a lot of things right. His passing isn't always accurate, but when his confidence and momentum get the better of him, he normally performs at a very high standard. Such was the case last night.

    For the most part, Michael Vick was very accurate against a strong Packer defense.  He was the main reason that DeSean Jackson became an option in the second half, and whether it was a low or high ball, Vick appeared capable of ripping it off.

    Secondly, Michael Vick also managed to expose the Packer defense for some big scrambling yards.  Twice he burnt the Packers when it came to the run, and seeing as though  LeSean McCoy was flat footed for most of the game, Vick's quick feet were the sole reason for the Eagles late fight back in the forth quarter.

    Much of the Packers problems against the pass has been highlighted as of late. Green Bay were constantly criticized following their NFC Wildcard game loss to the Arizona Cardinals last season, along with their last minute loss to Ben Roethlisbeger's heroics in Pittsburgh.

    While Michael Vick may not come close to the likes of Warner or Roethlisberger, he has shown that the Packers do have a problem when a passer gets space.

    Most of this problem comes from the fact that the Packers don't always maintain consecutive pressure on a quarterback, and often allow him long periods of time in the pocket.

    This is not only a concern for the Packers, it is also a worry when it comes to postseason football if Green Bay are to make it. With this in mind, it is a problem the Packers can fix, and when Al Harris and Atari Bigby return, it should help things out a little bit more.

    Still, if a quarterback like Michael Vick can get going, it does have trouble written all over it early in the season. Let's hope Mike McCarthy fixes this problem very soon.

6. Jordy Nelson Is Still a Fantastic Kick Returner

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    Most Packer fans were aware of Jordy Nelson's pace very early on, but for those who weren't, I suggest you watch highlight tape of the Philadelphia game. Jordy Nelson consecutively burned the Eagles special teams on a number of occasions.

    Last season, Jordy Nelson also displayed his impressive ways. He finished the year with 635 yards on kick returns, and although he failed to post any touchdowns, he did give the Packers great field position when they needed it.

    Today against the Philadelphia Eagles, Jordy Nelson also resembled Usain Bolt at times. While he didn't run 100 yards in under five seconds, he did manage to break off a few big gains, one in which accounted for 51 yards.

    For the Packers, kick returning hasn't been a great issue. Green Bay may never have a Devin Hester like returner, but they do have a very solid and consistent guy in Jordy Nelson, that they can always depend on.

    I think every Packer fan appreciates good field position, and with Aaron Rodgers passing, it only further helps the Packers chances off success. 

    If all things line up accordingly, Jordy Nelson is in for a great year. There isn't much competition at the returning role, and nor should there be. Jordy Nelson is the main man in Green Bay right now.

5. Forget Darrelle Revis, Charles Woodson Is Still the Best Cornerback in Town

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    Some might say that the headline is a little hasty, however, there is no denying that Charles Woodson is at the peak of his career right now in Green Bay.

    Upon watching Sunday's match up, broadcaster Troy Aikman brought forward a very interesting fact. He stated that when Charles Woodson was set to leave the Oakland Raiders and sign with the Green Bay Packers, most people felt his career was over.

    Looking back now though, that may have been true at the time, but considering how hard Charles Woodson has worked, his persistence and determination has sure payed off.

    In 2009 Charles Woodson reached a career high nine interceptions, that saw him earn the honor of defensive player of the year, ahead of Darrelle Revis and other defensive stars. His season was all round fantastic, and he seemed to have a new outlook on his career, especially when it came to making plays.

    But unfortunately, like Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson to was facing allegations of the "second year blues" even though No. 21 is well past his second year in the NFL.

    Luckily, just like Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson has answered his critics. Today against the Philadelphia Eagles he recorded four tackles, one forced fumble, and a very near interception that would have been the icing on the cake if he was able to hold on.

    Is the real Charles Woodson standing up right now?

    I'd say so, as he showcased once again that he is the team leader on defense for the Packers.

    Nine interceptions last year?

    Don't be surprised if he tops that, as he looked scary on defense today against the Eagles.

4. Ryan Grant’s Injury Concerns Are a Worry

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    Did your mother ever tell you as a kid that you were "in the wars," if you continued to keep hurting yourself?

    Well if not, take a look at Ryan Grant, as his offseason and now regular season has been as rough as it comes in the NFL.

    Prior to the start of the season, Ryan Grant went down with a concussion in preseason football. His status was notably shady during that period of time, and although Grant did manage to fight his way back to the season opener yesterday, the injury bug bit him again, and not for the first time.

    Before Ryan Grant went down injured, he was looking to come out of his shell. Much of the first quarter, Grant notable struggled to maintain any penetration on the Eagles defense, but toward the end he had successfully mustered up great looking runs that resulted in 10 or more yards.

    Unfortunately though, on a tough running play against a strong Eagles defense, Ryan Grant came up limping with a leg injury, and never returned to the game.  Much to the frustration of Packer fans, this wasn't the site they wanted to see, even though back up running back Brandon Jackson was fantastic as Grant's replacement.

    This recent injury to Ryan Grant now comes as a worry. Leg injuries are never welcome to a running back, and although it appears he will be fine, it is the type of injury that may reoccur if he suffers another heavy hit sometime soon.

    More importantly though, all of these injuries to Grant do come as a worry. Finally Grant was showing signs of being a fantastic runner this season, but all of these setbacks are only further slowing down a process that the Packers hoped to have evolved well and truly by now.

    First a concussion, then a leg injury, what next?

    If the trend keeps going, it may just get worse. It may not be time to panic just yet in Green Bay, but the rushing game is a vital part of this team, no matter how much the Packers are heavily based around the passing offense.

    Losing Ryan Grant doesn't just mean that they will lose a running back, it also means they lose a receiver. Hopefully it doesn't come to that, but this recent plague of injury issues is certainly unwelcome right about now.

3. Brandon Jackson Is a Great Back Up Running Back

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    Sticking with the running back theme, once Ryan Grant fell to an unlucky injury, tough tests lay ahead for the Packers run game, as Brandon Jackson then stepped in to replace.

    Although most Green Bay fans are fairly comfortable with Brandon Jackson taking over the duties, Ryan Grant's injury didn't come at the most welcome time in terms of game play. The Packers weren't exactly dominating on the scoreboard, and seeing as though No. 32 was set to step in, a huge sigh of relief was felt when Brandon Jackson actually looked impressive.

    At times during the game, Brandon Jackson was utilized at all. He didn't post any points on the board, but when he was given the ball, he made the most of it, and was successful in gaining some form of positive yardage nine times out of ten.

    Once the clock hit triple zero in the forth quarter, Brandon Jackson ended his day with 63 yards and 18 carries, quite impressive stats for a guy that was thrown into the deep end, and asked to perform at a steady rate.

    I guess the sigh of relief was certainly right of Packer fans. They no longer have to worry about Ryan Grant possibly going down with a season ending injury, as Brandon Jackson is a very suitable replacement to fill in if the worst was to happen.

    A lot of credit here is due to head coach Mike McCarthy, who has conditioned Jackson for a number of games. By placing him in at very select times, Jackson has found his rhythm in the game, and is now ready to take on a number one starting role if the call was to come.

    It's always great to have someone to fall back on if things go from bad to worse, so Brandon Jackson's performance today was a very big positive to come out of this game.

2. The Packers Offensive Line Is Still Far from Being Solid

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    The Packers offensive line was the ultimate talking point this season, and in Game 1 against the Eagles it was time for all of Mike McCarthy's hard work to turn into results for quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

    Unfortunately for Packer Nation, the site that unfolded wasn't overly convincing. Not only did Aaron Rodgers hit the turf for a sack three times against the Philadelphia Eagles, holes continued to open up against a strong Eagles defensive line, which forced Rodgers to move out of the pocket unexpectedly.

    On the positive side of things, the Packers offensive lineman do seem to be capable of performing well.  Each and every player was at, one point or another, doing their job, and although Greg Jennings' one handed brilliance made the line seem a little less disappointing than they actually were, things have improved from last season.

    Perhaps the most concerning side of this problem is that Aaron Rodgers also threw two interceptions in this game. Picks weren't one of Rodgers' biggest issues last season, and even though the game was being played in the rain, at times Rodgers was forced to make snap decisions that weren't exactly favoring the receivers.

    Expect Mike McCarthy to highlight this problem in practice this week, and like many have said, it is a work in progress.

    However, today's signs show that there is still work to be done, and whether or not that means giving Bryan Bulaga a go at starting, remains to be seen.

    Hopefully the Packers have these problems sorted before the likes of Minnesota and New York pop up, as we all know how this story unfolded last year. If the same holes continue to pop up though, then you may as well list Aaron Rodgers down for another league high in sack numbers, as this line will struggle to maintain tough defensive lineman again this year.

1. Green Bay Coped Just Fine Without Atari Bigby and Al Harris

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    Even though it has been stated that Michael Vick was allowed way too much time in the pocket against the Eagles, the Packer defense did a remarkable job in coverage, considering that they limited DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek to a combined 62 yards on the day.

    What was more impressive though from the Packers was the fact that they were forcing fumbles. We all know that Charles Woodson was successful in knocking the ball lose, but the pressure on receivers was duly noted, particularly when it meant the difference between a first down or a punt.

    More importantly though, the most significant promising factor to come from all of this is that the Packer defense coped just fine without Al Harris and Atari Bigby. 

    Yes, young cornerback Sam Shields struggled, but on the flip side, Morgan Burnett seemed to be quiet yet composed at the safety position, and showed some signs of a very bright future if he makes his name known.

    Luckily for the Packers, they will gain Harris and Bigby back in five weeks time. Still, head coach Mike McCarthy stated how happy he was with his defense after the first half, and if you take a look at the fact that the Eagles had more penalty yards than offensive yards in the first half, it shows that the Packer pressure contributed to the win.

    It's smiles all around on the Packer defensive side of the ball, and it should be. Clay Matthews had two sacks, Charles Woodson had a forced fumble and a near pick, and more importantly, Green Bay got the win.

    The Packers have now gotten through their tougher game without Al Harris and Atari Bigby against Philadelphia, and can set their sites on the likes of Buffalo and Detroit.

    No one has forgotten Al Harris and Atari Bigby just yet, but the Packers certainly haven't struggled without them.