2

January

Packers vs. Lions: 5 Observations from Green Bay’s 45-41 Win over Detroit

Packers QB Matt Flynn broke several franchise records Sunday. (Photo: Tom Lynn, JSOnline)

Backup quarterback Matt Flynn threw six touchdowns in relief of a deactivated Aaron Rodgers Sunday, leading the Green Bay Packers to a 45-41 shootout win over the Detroit Lions in Week 17 at Lambeau Field.

Here are five observations from the Packers’ win:

1. Cha-Ching 

In throwing for a Packers’ record in both passing yards (480) and touchdowns (six), Matt Flynn vaulted himself to the top of the 2012 free agent quarterback class. He’ll become a rich man sometime this summer, as there will likely be at least one quarterback-needy team that pays big money to Flynn despite only two NFL starts.

Any chance of the Packers trying to re-sign as a backup him went out the window Sunday. He’s ready to start, and that’s not happening in Green Bay. It’ll be interesting to see how the Packers approach the impending situation this offseason, however. They could choose to let Flynn walk and simply net the compensatory pick in next year’s draft. Or, they could franchise tag him and then pursue a trade, which gives them control over the compensation and location. I don’t think any team in the division is a threat to sign Flynn, but the Packers’ decision regarding their backup quarterback is definitely something to watch after this season.

2. More than a steal

You would be hard-pressed to find a receiver that had a better calendar year than Jordy Nelson. His stunning run started in Super Bowl XLV and has been followed by a breakout 2011 season. On the first day of 2012, Nelson finished his career year with another career game. Nelson caught nine passes for 162 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday, pushing his season totals to 68 for 1,263 and 15. Nelson’s 15 receiving touchdowns is third in Packers history to only 18 from Sterling Sharpe in 1994 and 17 from Don Hutson in 1942.

But possibly the most encouraging part of Nelson’s day was the fact that he did it without Greg Jennings, who missed his third game with a sprained knee. Any concerns about Nelson’s capability of handling the lead role were calmed. He’s a legitimate No. 1 NFL receiver. Can you believe the Packers re-upped Nelson for four years and just $14 million? What a steal that deal looks like now.

12

December

Packers vs. Raiders: 5 Observations from Green Bay’s 46-16 Win over Oakland

Photo courtesy of Green Bay Press-Gazette

Using five forced turnovers and a balanced offensive attack, the Green Bay Packers (13-0) raced out to a 34-0 lead over the Oakland Raiders (7-6) before finishing their 19th straight win overall, 46-16, Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Here are five observations from the game:

1. Fast start

This game, which some thought could be the one where the Packers would fall for the first time in 2011, was over within the first 20 or so minutes. Following an interception from D.J. Smith on the Raiders’ initial possession, Ryan Grant took the Packers’ first play from scrimmage 47 yards for a touchdown. The vision in the hole and burst at the second level reminded some of the running back that racked up consecutive 1,200-yard seasons from 2008-09. The Packers would score on their next four possessions to go up 31-0 with 7:06 left in the first half. Game, set and match. The rest of the game was played on cruise control.

2. Ground game gets going

After a stretch of games where he was either ineffective or invisible, Ryan Grant had his best game of 2011 on Sunday with 85 yards rushing and two scores on just 10 carries. While the interior of the Packers’ line and the Raiders’ 28th ranked run defense were important factors, it has to be encouraging this late in the year that Green Bay’s offense can run the football with some success.

On his long touchdown to kick off the game, Grant set up middle linebacker Rolando McClain to the right in the hole, then burst past the secondary to get into the end zone. It was classic Ryan Grant in both areas. John Kuhn also added 46 yards as the Packers ran for a 136 yards, a number that ties their season-high (San Diego). As the weather turns more winter-like in Wisconsin, the run game will increase in importance. Sunday was a confidence-building effort from that unit.

3. Takin’ it away

While the Packers’ defense gave up north of 350 yards again, this was far from a poor defensive performance. The majority of the yards came when the Raiders were down by four or more scores. The defense again made their living by causing turnovers, which they did a season-high five times. Four more interceptions give the Packers an NFL-leading 27 this season, and a third quarter fumble recovery from Erik Walden resulted in another defensive touchdown. Say what you want about that side of the ball, but this is the winning formula the Packers defense has created for themselves in 2011.

24

November

Packers vs. Lions: 5 Instant Observations from Green Bay’s 27-15 Win over Detroit

Aaron Rodgers rebounded from a slow start, James Jones caught his fifth touchdown pass and the defense played arguably its finest game of 2011 season as the Green Bay Packers took down the Detroit Lions, 27-15, on Thursday at Ford Field.

Here are five observations from the game:

1. Defense states their case

On a day in which the Packers lost Desmond Bishop, A.J. Hawk and Erik Walden at various times, the defense may have played their best game of the 2011 season. Despite giving up over 400 total yards again, the Packers intercepted Matthew Stafford three times and held a shutout into the fourth quarter against an explosive offense on the road. Calvin Johnson, one of the NFL’s best receivers, was held to just four catches for 49 yards and a meaningless garbage time touchdown. Backup inside linebackers D.J. Smith and Robert Francois played surprisingly well in emergency duty. Considering everything involved on Thursday, you could make a strong case this was the Packers most impressive defensive performance of 2011.

2. Suh’s stomp changes game

Terry McAulay’s officiating crew were bad for both sides on Thursday, but they absolutely got it right when they ejected Ndamukong Suh in the third quarter. Not only did he stomp Evan Dietrich-Smith’s arm, but Suh also banged Dietrich-Smith’s head off the ground multiple times before the stomp. There’s simply no place for that kind of behavior in football, and Suh deserves to sit a couple of games, especially considering his history. Luckily for the Packers, Suh’s dirty play gave them a new set of downs at the Lions’ 1-yard-line, and John Kuhn promptly turned the break into a 14-0 lead 9:06 left in the third quarter. It wasn’t the decicing factor in the game, but Suh’s ejection and penalty turned the tides in what was a close contest at that juncture.

3. Rodgers rebounds

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers started slow on Thursday, but the Lions were unable to hold him down for a full four quarters. After being held under 100 yards passing and failing to convert a third down in the first half, the NFL’s best signal caller caught fire in the second half and finished with another stat line that Packers’ fans have come to expect. By the time the game was over, Rodgers had completed 22 of 32 passes for 307 yards and two scores, including a 65-yard strike to James Jones that put the Packers up 21 points. His 120.2 passer rating extended his NFL record streak for games over 110.0 passer rating to 11 straight. Rodgers was especially deadly on back shoulder throws in the second half. Anytime the Packers needed a big play, he found a receiver being covered by a corner with his back to the play. At that point, it’s stealing for Rodgers and this group of receivers.

21

November

Packers vs. Buccaneers: 5 Observations from Green Bay’s 35-26 Win over Tampa Bay

Photo: Mark Hoffman, Journal Sentinel

The Green Bay Packers (10-0) held a tenuous two-point lead over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-6) late in the fourth quarter Sunday, but a third down scoring play from Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson and a pair of interceptions from Tramon Williams helped the Packers win their 10th straight game of 2011 and 16th overall dating back to last season.

Here are five observations from the game:

1. “Worst” game

During a season in which he’s made the impossible look easy, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers admittedly had his first “off day” of 2011. The accuracy wasn’t there in stunning detail, as Rodgers missed a handful of receivers on throws that he’s made in his sleep through the first nine games. Also, the blame for the interception he threw in the fourth quarter lands squarely on his shoulders. James Jones was blanketed on the short out, and it was an easy pick for Elbert Mack on the worst decision Rodgers’ has made with the football this season.

In his post game press conference, Rodgers was visibly frustrated about some of the mistakes. For a perfectionist like Rodgers, that frustration is easy to understand. But here’s the best part of the whole deal: On a day where Rodgers has his “worst” performance of the season, he still threw for 299 yards and three scores on 68 percent passing. He extended his NFL record streak of passer ratings over 110 to nine with a 112.3 mark. Rodgers’ worst day of 2011 still exceeds what the majority of the NFL’s quarterbacks do at their very best.

2. An odd start

The Packers first offensive drive of the game gave us an early glimpse into what turned out to be an odd football game. A Josh Sitton hold on Albert Haynesworth put the Packers offense into a hole they couldn’t climb out of, but punter Tim Masthay’s fumble(s) and stumble while avoiding a block on fourth-and-1 gave the offense a new set of downs. 11 plays later, Rodgers was handing the ball off to B.J. “The Freezer” Raji for a one-yard touchdown that gave the Packers a 7-0 lead. Raji’s dive up the gut capped off the Packers most extensive drive of the season (15 plays, 88 yards, 8:27) and, for better or worse, gave us our second viewing of Raji’s bellydancing skills. The 340-pound Raji wisely avoided an attempt at a Lambeau Leap.

16

November

Packers vs. Vikings: 5 Quick Observations from Green Bay’s 45-7 Rout of Minnesota

Photo: Rick Wood, Journal Sentinel

First off, I wanted to apologize for my absence over the past four or five days. Spending five days glued to my bed fighting a nasty head cold was bad enough, but not being able to write and share my opinions on everyone’s favorite team made it exponentially worse. A tiny part of me just wants to think you guys missed me. Now that I’m starting to get better, I’ll share my quick observations from the Packers’ 45-7 rout of the Vikings on Monday night.

1. Randall Cobb will be up and down

There’s a certain amount of risk in sending out a 21-year-old rookie to field each and every kick and punt for an NFL team. Randall Cobb’s three lost fumbles this season, including one against the Vikings that eliminated the Packers’ shutout hopes, are that risk in motion. But it’s the plays like his 80-yard punt return for a touchdown Monday night that make that risk a worthwhile adventure.  He’ll continue to improve in ball security, if only because Mike McCarthy preaches it so often. In totality, however, there’s very few who would say that Cobb hasn’t already exceeded expectations in 2011.

2. Blocking struggles

Marshall Newhouse and his struggles against Jared Allen are somewhat to be expected, as Allen is the premier penetration defensive end in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus, Newhouse allowed one sack and three quarterback pressures. Guard T.J. Lang wasn’t much better, as he allowed a sack on a stunt by Allen and two other pressures. Those two are still finding their way on the left side of the Packers offensive line. But don’t leave out Josh Sitton and Scott Wells among those who had blocking struggles against the Vikings. Sitton was beat a handful of times by former All-Pro Kevin Williams and Wells had his worst run blocking grade of the season. Only Bryan Bulaga, who has been a rock at right tackle, had a positive grade Monday night. On a night where the offense scored 38 points, the blocking up front is the only nit-pick you can really find.

3. Woodson’s revival

7

November

Packers vs. Chargers: 5 Observations from Green Bay’s 45-38 Win over San Diego

Photo: Packers.com

Aaron Rodgers threw for four scores, Tramon Williams and Charlie Peprah each had interception returns for touchdowns, and the defense held off a frenzied fourth quarter rally as the Green Bay Packers beat the San Diego Chargers, 45-38, on Sunday to remain the NFL’s lone undefeated team at 8-0.

Here are five observations from the game:

1. Defensive issues

There was optimism that the Packers defense might rebound after a bye week in which some key players were getting healthy and an adjustment or two could be made. That wishful thinking was dashed in San Diego with another disappointing performance. Philip Rivers threw for 385 yards and four touchdowns, and there were times in which the Chargers marched up and down the field seemingly at will. San Diego finished with 460 total yards on offense. So what are the issues? Or maybe the better question, what isn’t an issue? The Packers had breakdowns in both man and zone coverages on Sunday. Tramon Williams, Charles Woodson and Sam Shields were beaten several times, and each is having a considerably worse season than they did a year ago. No one in the front seven can consistently pressure the quarterback either. That’s a frightening combination for any pass defense. And don’t forget, the tackling has been atrocious through eight games. Mike Tolbert ran through several more arm tackles on Sunday.

At this point, it might be time to start considering that the Packers 2011 defense might be more like their ’09 version than ’10—at least in terms of yards and points. Even slightly above average offenses are going to move the football against the Packers. But you can’t overlook the fact that the defense got two stops—a punt and a pick—once the Chargers pulled with seven late in the fourth quarter. They have pushed “bend but don’t break” to its very limits, and to this point, the Packers defense hasn’t completely broken down. Turnovers have held this group’s head above water, as the Packers extended their NFL lead in interceptions with three more on Sunday. The defense gives plenty but they also take it away. That’s likely how the rest of the 2011 will go for the Packers on that side of the ball.

2. The Packers’ great equalizer

24

October

Packers vs. Vikings: 5 Observations from Green Bay’s 33-27 Win in Minnesota

Photo: Tom Lynn, Journal Sentinel

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was near perfect in throwing for 335 yards and three touchdowns, and his defense made just enough plays to keep Vikings rookie Christian Ponder from pulling off one of the more improbable upsets in the history of the rivalry as Green Bay beat Minnesota, 33-27, Sunday at the Metrodome.

Here are five observations from the game:

1. Minnesota has their QB

The final stats (13-for-32, 219 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) were far from Rodgers-like, but it certainly looks like the Vikings have found themselves a young, franchise-type quarterback in Christian Ponder. Unlike most rookies making their first NFL start, Ponder kept his poise, made plays with his legs and converted 9-of-16 third downs.

His first touchdown throw was more a result of blown coverage from the Packers than an elite play from Ponder, but credit the Vikings for opening the playbook right out of the gates and catching the Packers sleeping. He made the throw rolling to his left and without his feet set. Ponder looked his best early on rolling out outside on bootlegs, but he made plenty of big throws from the pocket, including a 24-yard TD strike to Michael Jenkins that cut the Packers lead to just seven points with 7:49 left. He also had third down completions to Percy Harvin, Visanthe Shiancoe and Greg Camarillo that extended drives. The two interceptions he threw were rookie mistakes and directly contributed to Minnesota falling down 16 points. But the Vikings’ brass has to feel good about their decision to take Ponder with the 12th overall pick last April. At the very least, he gives the Vikings a chance to compete in a division that has three established starting quarterbacks.

2. Same story

“Adversity football” is a term that coach Mike McCarthy loves throwing around, but it was needed again Sunday. With just 1:02 gone from the first quarter clock, the Vikings had already taken a 7-0 lead and given their crowd something to be loud about.  The offense didn’t blink on its ensuing possession, as Rodgers hit six different receivers and led the Packers on a 9-play, 91-yard drive that tied the game. It was the kind of drive we’ve come to expect from the Packers offense no matter what the score or venue.