NFL Week 11: Green Bay Packers Unit Grades vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When a team has won 15 straight games, they have a tendency to get into opposing coaches' and players' heads. They often make errors they would not otherwise make that put their teams at a disadvantage.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris fell into that trap Sunday, trying two onside kicks that gave the Green Bay Packers a short field to score. On the second kick, they had the momentum and plenty of time left on the clock.
A team with the advantage the Packers already had does not need any more of them on its own home field, especially when they are a northern team playing a southern one in subfreezing temperatures.
Of course, no team can play full throttle for all 16 regular-season games, but all the opponents of the unbeaten Super Bowl champions will. Other than his two mistakes, Morris got the most out of his 4-5 Bucs, with the Packers victory in doubt into the final minutes.
Where did the Packers fall short of expectations? To what can we credit the eventual win?
This is not a case of grading a player more harshly because he has raised expectations. Statistically, this was Aaron Rodgers' second-worst performance of 2011, and thus, would have earned him a D- on a curve.
But just because his passer rating was still higher than any other quarterback's season rating does not mean I should give him his ninth A of the season, either. He was playing a defense that ranked in the bottom third of the league in the three statistical categories of importance: sacks, interceptions and opponent passer rating.
Rodgers had 11 incompletions, and only one was via a dropped pass. He simply missed on three passes, and a quarterback, who averaged one pick per three games coming in, forced a terrible pass into a covered receiver to give a team that averaged fewer than one pick per game a turnover that kept them in the game.
In other words, he's human after all.
Rodgers still had good numbers, going 23-of-34 for 299 yards with three touchdowns and the pick. He was sacked twice for 12 yards total but had 29 yards on four scrambles before his kneel down to end the game.
Three Bucs' defensive line penalties (five yards each) are attributable to Rodgers, as well.
Running Backs: D
James Starks was hurt in Sunday's game.
Reports are that is a minor sprain of his ankle and knee. While there's no confirmation that he is out for Thursday's game, it would seem unlikely that he's brought back on such a short week.
That could spell trouble for a unit already without its third player on the depth chart. Ryan Grant is also not the ideal choice of the two-headed combination to play against the Lions stout defensive line.
Against the Buccaneers, however, Grant had 16 yards on four carries, making him the only running back to average four yards per carry. Starks had 11 carries for 38 yards (3.5 average), but more than half of that came on one carry.
John Kuhn added a two-yard touchdown run and caught the last Rodgers pass for a one-yard loss. Starks added 53 yards on six catches (8.8 average) to give the unit just 96 total yards of offense, but one touchdown.
Beyond that, neither sack could be pinned on a back, and technically B.J. Raji was functioning as a back when he plunged in for a one-yard score.
The four-year, $14 million contract the Packers signed Jordy Nelson to a few weeks ago is looking like a bargain. He was again the Packers leading receiver with six catches, 123 yards (20.5) and two scores.
Donald Driver was active for the second straight week, grabbing four passes for 72 yards (18.0), while the Packers got big catches out of Jermichael Finley (30 yards) and Randall Cobb (11). However, Greg Jennings and Tom Crabtree had only two small catches each for a total of 11 yards, though Crabtree had a touchdown.
Finley had a drop and was called for offensive pass interference, but the Packers receivers also drew three illegal contact penalties. Still, they did not get open as much as one would expect considering the backfield they were facing.
Offensive Line: D+
Allowing two sacks against a subpar pass rush is still marginally acceptable, but not when your quarterback had to avoid several more with his legs.
Rodgers was pressured in some way on about a third of his drop-backs, and the penalties he drew on the defensive line were all but neutralized by Josh Sitton's hold and false start.
Likewise, the line opened few holes for the Packers runners, who averaged just 3.4 yards per carry. As an indication of how seldom they were able to open a true hole, only one running back had a carry of over five yards.
Defensive Line: C
Ryan Pickett had a great game, with four tackles and an assist. Unfortunately, the entire rest of the line combined for only one assist (Howard Green)...no sacks, no fumbles forced and not even one penalty drawn.
However, this was a very solid line they were up against. Tampa allows among the fewest sacks in the league, and one of the reasons LeGarrette Blount is able to run people over is he can hit holes at full speed.
Against the Packers, he did not have holes on 16-of-18 carries, and it's not the line's fault that he got about two-thirds of his yards on those two carries. Instead, they deserve credit for holding him to about 2.5 per carry otherwise.
On scrambles and reverses, linebackers are primarily responsible for contain. They can be big plays, so two carries for 14 yards is acceptable. However, linebackers failed to tackle Blount on his big runs, or they would have had more than the mediocre (considering they were against a running team) 19 tackles and five assists as a unit.
Kellen Winslow was covered mostly by the secondary, but other tight ends and running backs would be linebacker responsibilities in the passing game. They combined for just four catches and 25 yards, and the unit got a sack (Erik Walden) for a decent game overall.
Tramon Williams had seven tackles, two assists and two interceptions. Charles Woodson had three tackles and a sack. The rest of the unit combined for seven tackles and five assists.
The Bucs receivers were chewing up yardage. Kellen Winslow had nine catches for 132 yards, Mike Williams added seven for 83 yards and a score and Aurrelious Benn had five more for 75. Even Tampa's depth receivers cost the Packers, with Preston Parker and Dezmon Briscoe getting three more for 27 yards.
Ultimately, the secondary allowed the 28th-ranked passer in the league to finish over 95 in passer rating and throw for 342 yards. However, getting an equal number of picks to touchdowns allowed, a sack and drawing a pass interference while going penalty-free equals a little more good than bad.
Special Teams: C-
The Packers special teams outperformed Tampa's, but it was not from good play of their own, but the mistakes of their opponents.
Tampa's two failed onside kicks helped the Packers offense score two touchdowns. The kicker inexplicably touched the ball on one right before a Packer with nothing to gain from doing the same could, nullifying a recovery. They also had five-yard penalties on two kicks.
The Packers failed to block someone on a punt—disastrous if not for the heads-up play of Tim Masthay to run six yards for a first down (and fumble out of bounds untouched, but it's especially not about style points for a punter). Mason Crosby missed his first field goal of the year—a 29-yarder—and Green Bay had two holding penalties.
Green Bay's coverage on pedestrian returners was mediocre at best, allowing about 25 yards per kick return and a 16-yard punt return. But here again, Tampa was worse, with Randall Cobb getting 69 yards on two punts, though just 17 per kick.
Thus, Masthay averaged almost 20 yards greater net than Michael Koenen even though his gross was only about eight yards better; both pinned one kick inside the 20.