Game Balls and Lame Calls: Packers 30, Bengals 34
Overall, lots of bad but a couple of good things showed up in the Packers loss to the Bengals. On one hand, we haven’t seen a game as messy as this one since maybe the 18 penalty, 2 turnover night against the Bears in 2010. Aaron Rodgers looked a little lost amongst all the new faces making an appearance due to injuries and the Packers didn’t look as sharp as they normally did, though having to put a wide reciever/returner at running back is probably as desperate as I’ve ever seen the Packers get. On the bright side, the Packers look like they may have another viable running back in Johnathan Franklin and the defense was for once the strength of the team. In fact everything was flipped today; the running game was brutally effective while the passing game was wildly inconsistent and the defense was the reason the Packers stayed in the game while the offense basically blew a huge lead late in the game.
Johnathan Franklin: Give credit where credit is due; many fans had written Franklin off as dead after a dismal showing in the preseason and not seeing the field even in a blowout win against the Redskins last week. Ironically, that paid big dividends as the Bengals were obviously caught with their pants down in coping with the shiftiness and wiggle of Franklin on stretch plays. I also don’t really fault Franklin for the failed conversion, if it wasn’t for the fact that Kuhn, Starks, Harris and Lacy were all injured, Franklin would never have been called to make the play, he’s simply not that kind of back (you can fault him for fumbling the ball though). Personally, I think teams now see what the Packers have in Franklin and I doubt the holes will be as open as they were against the Bengals, but what is perhaps more important is that Franklin does possess the physical capability to be a running back in the NFL, something that wasn’t certain coming into the season. Franklin still has a ton of work to do on pass protection and running between the tackles, and I don’t see him really being a preferred option at running back this year, but will probably be a force to reckoned with next year when things start to click for him.
Sam Shields: Lining up against AJ Green is a tall task (har har), and surprising the 5’11″ Shields held up well 6’4″ Green, essentially shutting him out of the first half with little safety help and even snagged an interception of his own. Even on plays that Green made later in the game, Shields made Green fight for every catch, which can’t be said all the time for the Packers (see Anquan Boldin). Shields has been by far the best cornerback on the team so far and is making a point to be one of those “guys” that Ted Thompson locks up mid-season (hopefully agent Drew Rosenhaus won’t get too much in the way). In the future I’d expect to see Shields used much in the way Tramon Williams or Charles Woodson were used in their prime, i.e. pretty much by themselves and against the opponents best receiver, which will let Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde and Davon House mix and match their assignments based on the opponent and formation.
Turnovers: The Packers defense is predicated on making the big play and they showed it this weekend by almost winning the game by themselves. Clay Matthews and MD Jennings combined a strip sack and defensive touchdown, Sam Shields picked up a interception, Clay Matthews stripped another ball and Brad Jones joined the party with his own forced fumble leading to 4 turnovers by the Bengals. More often than not that would have meant a win for the Packers except for the fact that the Packers had 4 turnovers of their own, leading to a messy game for everyone. For as much malice as the Packers defense has been getting after letting Anquan Boldin run wild in the season opener and the “meltdown” during the 2nd half of the Redskins game (they were killing the clock by letting the Redskins rack up yards, get over it) the defense was definitely holding up the offense for this game.
Jeremy Ross: Not much you can argue about here; Ross simply has not been very good as a returner in the last three games, with this fumble only accentuating the problem. In terms of talent alone, Ross still might be the best returner on the Packers roster, he the size that Randal Cobb doesn’t and the speed that Johnathan Franklin or Micah Hyde don’t. Unfortunately, he just can’t seem to get out of his own way when it comes to catching the ball; the Packers already have put back Cobb on some punting situations that pin the offense back in their own territory in order to mitigate the risk of Ross fumbling but there’s not much excuse for failing field the ball correctly on kickoffs. On a more optimistic note, I think fans don’t remember that Randall Cobb had his own share of fumbles as a rookie on returns (he has 7 career fumbles on punt and kickoff returns), so it’s not like it’s an uncorrectable issue, the only question is if the Packers are willing to stick with Ross until he gets his better.
Editor’s Note: About 5 minutes after this was published, Mike McCarthy stated in his press conference that the Packers cut Ross today.
Aaron Rodgers: You’re not going to see him here often, but this time he really deserves to be here as this was one of the worst games in his otherwise stellar career. Rodgers almost always plays at above a 100 QB rating, and to see Rodgers post a 64.5 QB rating with 244 passing yards, 1 TD and 2 interceptions is actually a little baffling. There were definitely times where Rodgers seemed like his normal self, dissecting defenses and making the right reads and on other occasions, most notably on Randall Cobb pass that resulted in an interception, Rodgers looked decidedly unfocused. Overall, Rodgers never really got in a rhythm and never looked fully in control of the game; I don’t think I’ve seen so many exacerbated looks from the Packers quarterback in a long time, Rodgers prides himself on his intelligence and preparation and I think he knows he made some questionable decisions on the field.
Offensive consistency: The offense simply looked out of whack the entire game; I have a feeling that Aaron Rodgers doesn’t completely trust Johnathan Franklin and Andrew Quarless like he does John Kuhn and Jermichael Finley and it definitely looked like he was hesitant to get them involved while putting added pressure on himself to make bigger plays than what the defense was giving them. One instance that particularly stands out is when Rodgers was running the bootleg with Jeremy Ross, and instead of throwing it to Ross and letting him fight for the touchdown, he instead decided to scramble and dive for the pylon, which ultimately didn’t work and put a big hit on his body. I’d wager if that were Finley, Cobb, Jones or Nelson in on that play, Rodgers would have thrown it without a second thought. A lot of that has to do with injuries as Rodgers seems fine when throwing to one of his established guys.
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.