Down But Not Out: Green Bay Packers Midseason Report
Here we are, the midway point of the NFL season, and I think its safe to say it hasn't turned out the way anyone expected. No team is undefeated, and two of the three one-loss teams lost yesterday, neither looking like they really stood a chance. There are 11 teams at 5-2 or 5-3, including 3/4 of the NFC South.
This season hasn't exactly gone according to the Packers plans, and its definitely had its ups and downs already. Lets take a look at the Packers' season so far, piece by piece.
@Philadelphia: W 27-20
Buffalo: W 34-7
@Chicago: L 20-17
Detroit: W 28-26
@Washington: L 16-13 (OT)
Miami: L 23-20 (OT)
Minnesota: W (28-24)
@New York (Jets): W 9-0
The Packers season started off with a bang, beating the Philadelphia Eagles in Philadelphia for the first time since 1951. They carried that momentum back home where they throttled Buffalo. Clay Matthews had 3 sacks in each of those games, prompting dreams of breaking the single-season sack record.
Then, an 18 penalty outing against Chicago, a near-loss against Detroit, and two heartbreaking overtime losses to Washington and Miami brought the Green Bay faithful back down to earth. However, after beating Brett Favre in this second trip to Lambeau as a Viking, and recording their first road shutout since 1991 in the Meadowlands, the Packers season is looking strong again.
Any report on the Packers has to have a pretty significant section on injuries. The Injured Reserve list has reached double digits, including two of the top offensive weapons in starting running back Ryan Grant and breakout star TE Jermichael Finley.
On defense, not only have Al Harris and Atari Bigby not yet been declared fit to play (even though, by NFL rule, they must be activated this week), but top ILB Nick Barnett has been lost for the season, as well as promising rookies Mike Neal and Morgan Burnett. Add OLBs Brad Jones and Brady Poppinga, S Wil Blackmon and Derrick Martin, RB Quinn Porter, and CB Josh Bell, and you've got a long list of players.
The offense has had its share of struggles, and has thus far been pretty underwhelming, especially with the lofty expectations most had coming into the season. They rank a pedestrian 16th in total offense with a mere 13 points per game.
One reason for the struggles has been the inability to convert on 3rd downs: The Packers rank 26 in the league, converting at only a 35% clip.
While losing Finley and Grant have been a big part of the problem, Aaron Rodgers hasn't produced the way that a preseason MVP candidate should be. He's already thrown nine interceptions, two more than last season's 16-game total, while leading a passing offense that ranks 10th in the league at 238.9 yards per game.
The running game, while on the surface appears to be struggling, has actually been decent without Grant. The Brandon Jackson-led ground game is ranked 22nd in the league at just 97 yards per game; however, they rank 10th in yards per carry at 4.2, which leads some to believe that Jackson and power back John Kuhn should be getting more carries.
Who's stepped up?
Chad Clifton, OT - Coming of a disappointing, injury-filled season, Clifton is playing as well as he ever has, handling Aaron Rodgers' blind side well week in, week out. His performance against All-Pro Jared Allen was a big reason for the Packers victory in Week 7.
Josh Sitton, OG - Sitton was the Packers best lineman last year for the Pack and hasn't disappointed this year. He continues to live up to the expectations of the Green Bay faithful and will almost certainly be playing in the Pro Bowl someday.
Aaron Rodgers, QB--Rodgers' struggles have already been touched on, but they can't be ignored: The interception numbers are way up, even though his sack numbers are way down.
Last year, he earned the mantra of being one of the top 3rd down and red-zone quarterbacks. This season, 3rd downs have become a huge problem for the offense although Rodgers has stayed pretty sharp in the red-zone.
Overall, Rodgers has looked off with his receivers, often overthrowing them and missing badly on timing routes. It hasn't been the years we've expected from a QB who still has to prove he belongs in the conversation of the elite.
Other Key Players
The entire receiving core-- After getting off to an extremely slow start, Greg Jennings expressed his displeasure with the amount of passes he was getting and since then has exploded. His recent performance, which would earn him a "Who's Stepped Up", has offset his initial performance, which would've earned him a "Who's Disappointed."
Donald Driver had his 133 game streak of consecutive games with a catch broken last Sunday against Minnesota, which we've learned was mostly due to a quad injury. That same injury kept him from being productive in the Jets game, so it's hard to be critical of him.
James Jones has been the more dynamic receiver, taking the place of Driver. But, like throughout his entire career, there have been plenty off dropped balls (including a big one after beating Darrelle Revis against the Jets). Jordy Nelson, on the other hand, has been the more consistent option.
The Packers defense ranks a mere 18th in the league in yards allowed, but that's a misleading stat. They rank 4th in the NFL only allowing 17 points per game, 10th in the NFL in takeaways, and 3rd in the NFL in sacks. They are one of only 5 teams with multiple INT returns for TDs, and are 2nd in the NFL in interception return yardage.
Of the two units, the defense has been hit harder by injuries. Along with the players mentioned above on injured reserve, Brandon Chillar, Cullen Jenkins, and Ryan Pickett have missed significant time with injury.
Who's Stepped Up
Clay Matthews, OLB - Matthews' spectacular start has been well-documented, but he's fallen off a bit since leaving the Washing game with a hamstring injury. His value to the team was evident in the lack of a pass rush for the rest of that game and the entire Miami game, which he missed. Still, having missed 5 quarters of play, Matthews leads the NFL in sacks with 9.5, which puts him on pace for 19 in the season.
Desmond Bishop, ILB - Thanks to Bishop, Barnett's injury hasn't hurt the Packers' production as much as other losses. He's stepped in admirably, making tackles all over the field and showing some skill in pass defense that led to a TD interception return against Brett Favre in Week 7. He's formed a formidable duo with AJ Hawk in the middle of the defense.
Tramon Williams, CB - Consider this William's breakout year. His highlight reel interception of Mark Sanchez in which he out-muscled his man for the ball has earned some well earned media acclaim and, at this point, few would argue that he's not the best cover corner on the roster.
Charles Woodson, CB--The reigning Defensive Player of the Year has played well this year, forcing two fumbles and recording two interceptions, running one back for a TD. But one stat sticks out the most: Woodson has been the league's most penalized player throughout the season. Now, these penalties will occur with Woodson's physical style of play, but they've been too frequent and aren't good for trying to stop the other team.
Other Key Players
Nick Collins, S-- Collins recorded his first interception of the season, an acrobatic catch of a Brett Favre pass in week 7, but hasn't racked up the stats we're used to seeing. The interceptions aren't there, but with such uncertainty at the SS position, teams have been attacking that side of the field much more, staying away from Collins ball-hawking tendencies whenever possible.
The Packers return game continues to be below-average. They rank 26th in kickoff return average, and 19th in punt return average.
The punting game, in general, has been sub-par, ranking 22nd in the league and 25th in net average. However, Tim Masthay really put it together in the Jets game, consistently keeping the Jets deep in their own territory.
Mason Crosby has been fairly productive from the kicker position so far. He's only 12-16, but is second to Miami's Dan Carpenter in kicks from 40+ yards where he's 7/10, including a career-long 56 yarder. In fact, Crosby was just a couple inches away from being 3/3 from beyond 50 yards, not to mention making the Packers 6-2. His kick at the end of the Washington game from 53 yards that hit the left upright was long enough to be good from at least 63 and was one of the most heartbreaking moments of the season so far. "A game of inches," to be sure.
What will the Packers regular season record be?
Week 9: Dallas (1-6)
Week 10: Bye
Week 11: @Minnesota (2-5)
Week 12: @Atlanta (5-2)
Week 13: San Fransisco (2-6)
Week 14: @Detroit (2-5)
Week 15: @New England (6-1)
Week 16: New York Giants (5-2)
Week 17: Chicago (4-3)
Toughest Games: @Atlanta, @New England, New York.
At first glance, it'd be easy to say the Packers will finish 9-7 or 10-6, with wins against the four teams with only one or two wins, and losses to the three teams with five or six, with the Chicago Bears game being the wildcard. But if we've learned anything this season, anything can happen.
If the Packers can beat the Most Disappointing Team of the Year in Dallas going into their bye, they'll be 6-3 and be in good position to get healthy in time for the home stretch.
If Clay Matthews can keep up his disruptive play, and the offense can get on track, we could be an exciting second half of the season to look forward to.
Prediction: 10-6, NFC North Champion, 3rd seed in the NFC Playoffs behind the East/South winners and ahead of the West winner.
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