Green Bay Packers: 10 Things We've Learned so Far This Season
In 2009, the Packers struggled to stop big name quarterbacks, win big games, but had the best turnover margin, lead the league in time of possession, and had one of most statistically balanced offenses and defenses in the NFL.
In 2010, they struggled in the run game, lost six games by fewer than seven points, and struggled with injuries. But they also had one of the league's best defenses, allowing only 15 points per game, allowed quarterbacks to an average passer rating of 67.2 (a league best), and won the Super Bowl.
Not three games into the season yet, and there are already some huge strengths and weaknesses as clear as day for the Packers, and here are the top 10 things we've learned (so far) about the Green Bay Packers.
Aaron Rodgers Is Making a Case for 2011 NFL MVP
Michael Vick will probably play this week despite his concussion, but it still goes to show that he won't stay healthy for the entire season. We might be able to drop him out of the MVP race along with Peyton Manning.
That leaves Aaron Rodgers to compete with only two other quarterbacks, which would be Drew Brees and obviously Tom Brady. Brees threw a career high 22 interceptions last season, but like Rodgers he has yet to throw a pick this season.
Brady broke his NFL record 358 passing attempts without an interception back in Week 1, but he has still thrown for seven touchdowns and a league high 940 yards in just two games. That puts him on pace to have over 7,500 passing yards for the season!
Rodgers is still the best runner of the three, but it's going to take every yard he can run to keep up with the two of them. So far, he's not the front runner (no pun intended), but hopefully that will change in the weeks to come.
The Front Seven Has Played Magnificently
Cullen Jenkins departed, Johnny Jolly is still under suspension, Ryan Pickett and Howard Green are both 32 years old, Mike Neal has yet to play, there's still no pass rusher opposite to Clay Matthews (who is injured), and what do we have to show for it?
Why seven sacks, and a near complete stop of the run game actually.
Back in the season opener, the Packers were able to keep quarterback Drew Brees from ever getting comfortable, and while he passed over 400 yards, he had to work for every completion and his offense was stopped four out of five times in the red zone. Extremely impressive considering that Brees works behind one of the best offensive lines in football.
The Saints host a three-headed monster in Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles, but all three were effectively contained to only a total of 78 rushing yards.
Cam Newton is only a rookie, but has already proven that he can be very elusive. Despite his elusiveness the Packers managed to effectively pressure him into having to run with the ball, and even sacked him four times (five if hadn't barely crossed the line of scrimmage on a fourth down).
You can say what you want about Carolina, but they have arguably the best running back duo in the league with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. The two combined for a total of 18 rushing yards in Week 2.
The Packers rank sixth in the league against the run currently, but take away quarterback Cam Newton's rushing yards, and they rank No. 1 in the league.
Was letting Cullen Jenkins depart really such a bad idea? Maybe, the guy already has three sacks on the season. But we have yet to even see what Vic So'oto and Mike Neal can bring to the table, and I can only imagine how the front seven will look like then.
The Secondary Has Played Anything but Magnificently
The seconday has done a good job with five turnovers in just two games already, (Nick Collins and Morgan Burnett each forced a fumble that was recovered by Green Bay), but it's playing like the unit that let Ben Roethlisberger throw for over 500 yards back in Week 15 of 2009.
I would expect Drew Brees to throw over 400 yards, but a rookie quarterback who has one legit receiver to do the same? There aren't very many excuses for that.
Maybe it's a little too early to panic, after all no defense is playing lights out right now because of missed offseason OTA's, Newton is an elusive quarterback who was able to buy time, and Tramon Williams is expected replace Jarret Bush this week.
Again, it's a little early to hit the panic button, but this group of ball hawks has to get it's act together soon.
T.J. Lang and Green Bay's Offensive Line Have Also Played Magnificently
Is it too early to say that Rodgers is playing behind the best offensive line he's had since becoming the starter?
Scott Wells is playing like a beast at the age of 31, Josh Sitton is playing as good as ever, Bryan Bulaga is solidifying the right tackle position, Chad Clifton continues to have problems with his knee but is still playing about as good as ever, and T.J. Lang has solidified the left guard position.
The Packers were wise to let Daryn Colledge walk, he was good but under-performing for a second round pick, and Lang is five years younger than him anyways.
Lang had two false starts in the season opener, but so far has not allowed a single sack and appears to be a better run blocker than Colledge. By the end of the year, we could be saying that Lang is one of the better left guards in the NFL.
This group allowed only three sacks on their quarterback, and that has been against two teams that have thrown seven defenders all at once at him!
The run blocking seems to have been upgraded as well, especially on the right side of the line between Bulaga and Sitton. Maybe this is the a new start for the, and Rodgers can finally stop having to run for his life.
Morgan Burnett Is the Real Deal
There's a reason Ted Thompson traded up for Morgan Burnett, and it's showing.
So far, Burnett has a sack, a forced fumble, two deflected passes, an interception, and is currently tied at third in the league with 21 tackles. Not bad for a second year pro recovering from ACL injury.
It appears as though that ACL injury he suffered a season ago isn't slowing him down, and he should make a great tandem with Charlie Peprah through the season.
Desmond Bishop Is a Fine Replacement for Nick Barnett
In 2010, Desmond Bishop had 103 tackles, three sacks, a pick-six and a forced fumble in just 12 starts back in 2010. There was little doubt that production would drop in 2011.
But not only has his production stayed consistent, he appears to only be getting better. Bishop is currently second in the league with 22 tackles, and there's not a foreseeable reason why that production will drop.
Bishop may have a few maturity issues, especially with the way he treats his twitter account, but that's a gargantuan step from where he was four years ago, and it's certainly a lot less distracting than what Nick Barnett is doing even at the age of 30.
Even if Barnett has the greatest season of his career this year in Buffalo, Bishop will easily match his numbers, and he's three years younger than him anyways.
Thompson made the easy, right decision to give Bishop a contract extension and to cut Barnett.
Clay Matthews Is off to a Slow Start
At this same point last season, Clay Matthews had 12 tackles, six sacks, a forced fumble, and a game changing play against Philadelphia.
So far this season, Matthews has nine tackles, and only one sack.
Don't get me wrong, Matthews has been very effective so far this season. One notable reason he hasn't had so many sacks is because quarterbacks have been keeping a closer eye on him, and offensive coordinators have been placing up to three linemen at a time on him.
Not to mention he's also playing with a quad injury.
In time he should get better, but the Packers are going to need his help as soon as they can get it with their game against Chicago coming soon.
James Starks Will Sooner or Later (preferably Sooner) Take the Starting Job
When people were saying that this guy had to prove his worth, I was shaking my head thinking "did anybody even watch the postseason?"
You'd think that rushing for 126 yards against the league's two top rush defenses (Chicago, Pittsburgh) would be enough to prove his worth, and by the time Grant returns he would be 28 years old coming off an ankle injury, but apparently that wasn't enough to think he would become Green Bays best running back.
Honestly I just didn't get it, but what he's doing now is what matters. Starks is playing with a physical dominance, and is averaging 6.9 yards per carry. It's only a matter of time before he takes Grant's job.
Jordy Nelson Is Becoming More Than a Slot Receiver
If you don't believe it by now, then you probably will very soon believe that Nelson is a better receiver than James Jones.
Since Week 16 of last season (including playoff games), Nelson has 610 receiving yards on 34 receptions for an average of nearly 18 yards per catch, and five touchdowns.
Nobody should be surprised if Ted Thompson trades James Jones in my opinion.
Randall Cobb Is Making an Impact on Special Teams
Yes, he fumbled against Carolina which gave Carolina an early advantage, but he's a rookie. Did he not match the return for touchdown record with 108 yards?
There was also a 30 yard punt return by Cobb that was taken back from an illegal block in the back penalty.
There's still a whole season to go before we can judge Cobb's performance, but so far he looks like Green Bay's version of Percy Harvin, A.K.A. a rookie of the year contender.
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