7

December

Green Bay Packers Again Struggling With Elite Quarterbacks

If a team is going to knock the Green Bay Packers from the ranks of unbeaten in 2011, there’s one thing we know: That team better have an elite quarterback.

While it’s not quite a flashback to 2009, the Packers defense is again struggling mightily with elite level quarterbacks.

Two years ago, the Packers were consistently burned by quarterbacks Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner. The Packers lost all four of those games, including a playoff defeat to the Cardinals in which Warner threw for 379 yards and 5 touchdowns. Roethlisberger went over 500 and Favre had a combined seven touchdowns.

While Green Bay has won every game this season, a similar trend is forming for the 2011 defense.

In my estimation, the Packers have played three elite level quarterbacks this season: Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Eli Manning. Not only were the Packers torched in the passing game by these three quarterbacks, but each of the three games were among the closest the Packers have played this season.

Let’s take a look at some of the stats from these three games.

QUARTERBACK CMP ATT YDS TD INT RATING FINAL
DREW BREES 32 49 416 3 0 112.5 42-34
PHILIP RIVERS 26 46 385 4 3 85.9 45-38
ELI MANNING 23 40 347 3 1 100.7 38-35
TOTALS 81 135 1,148 10 4 99.9

The table is pretty self-explanatory.

The top level of quarterbacks are not only going to be able to move the football—something many have done on the Packers this season—but they’ll also be able to put points on the board by scoring touchdowns. The last part of that is the most important. While we’ve talked all season about the Packers’ “bend-but-don’t-break” defense, allowing touchdowns has been the only way opposing teams have stuck in games. Other quarterbacks—Cam Newton, Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford—have piled up the yards on the Packers defense, but only the three elite quarterbacks listed were able to throw three or more touchdown passes in a single game.

What does this tell me?

Only the teams with elite quarterbacks are going to have the chance to beat the Packers down the stretch. The Packers have faced good defenses and running games, but neither have been consistently effective in keeping teams competitive against the Packers this season. You have to score touchdowns in the passing game to keep up.

8

November

Week 10 Packers Stock Report: Rodgers, Bishop and a Deer Hunting Dilemma

Last weekend was the opening of deer hunting season and I had a dilemma: Do I skip the Packers vs. Chargers game to maximize my chances to bagging the 30-point buck, or do I leave the deer stand early to watch the game? I chose to watch the game (there’s always next weekend to chase the 30-pointer) and I was pleased with my decision.

What a game.

Also, by watching the game, I decreased my chances of sounding like an idiot in this week’s stock report.

Rising

Aaron Rodgers
Besides missing an open Greg Jennings on a key drive late in the fourth quarter, Rodgers was nearly flawless once again on Sunday.

Desmond Bishop
He had all he could do to keep up with Antonio Gates, but Bishop kept getting after it. He tipped a pass that led to Peprah’s first interception, sacked Philip Rivers and was the only Packers defender that looked explosive throughout the game.

Packers WRs
I can’t decide which WRs should go in the rising category and which belong in the steady, so lets just label them all risers. This group of WRs gives you a little bit of everything and is rolling right now.

Steady

Mason Crosby
A 47-yard field goal in the rain? No problem for Crosby. I should probably put Crosby in the rising category, but I don’t like kickers to get too high or too low. I want them to be steady. This is my way of keeping Crosby consistent and grounded. I’m sure he appreciates it.

James Starks
Starks hasn’t grabbed hold of the No. 1 running back spot, but there’s little doubt who the Packers are going to give the ball to when they need to run it down the stretch. Starks is hitting holes harder than he did earlier this season and more often than not gets the Packers the tough yards they need.

Falling

BJ Raji
I don’t remember Raji’s name being called at all on Sunday as the Chargers offensive line blew the Packers off the line early and stonewalled the pass rush. Somebody needs to step up, win their one-on-one matchup and give the Packers pass rush a boost. Didn’t the Packers move Raji to DE this season so he could get more pressures on the QB? So far, it’s not working. Perhaps (if) when Mike Neal returns, Raji will get freed up to make some more plays, but he needs to play better in the meantime.

7

November

McCarthy: Communication in Secondary a Problem; Neal Could Practice Thursday

Photo: Mark Hoffman, Journal Sentinel

At his weekly Monday press conference, Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy made it clear what the main factor in his defense’s inability to stop Philip Rivers and the Chargers was on Sunday.

It’s very simple: A lack of communication.

“The big plays made on our defense were obvious,” McCarthy said. “The breakdowns in pass coverage all go back to communication. A number of the communication errors we had put our guys in bad situations on the big plays.”

In the Packers 45-38 win over the Chargers, Rivers threw for 385 yards and four scores, including two in the final 10 minutes of the fourth quarter that pulled San Diego within seven points. McCarthy also said that you can’t “quantify the errors with one player’s absence,” in reference to the Packers losing Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins in Week 2 against the Panthers. Collins is out for the season with a neck injury and Charlie Peprah has been starting in his place. Morgan Burnett, a second-year player who missed most of 2010 with a knee injury, starts along with Peprah at the back.

McCarthy also gave a brief timeline on injured defensive end Mike Neal, who hasn’t played a game yet in 2011 after suffering a non-contact knee injury during training camp that required surgery. The initial plan this week is for the Packers to get Neal on the practice field by Thursday. There is a “progression” plan in place to get Neal back, and the team is going to take his recovery slow.

Could this be the light at the end of the tunnel for Neal to play in 2011?

Other highlights from McCarthy’s press conference:

  • Frank Zombo has a hamstring strain and will likely miss Monday night’s game with the Minnesota Vikings. It didn’t “sound severe,” McCarthy said, but he’ll be challenged to be ready for this week’s contest. The injury marks Zombo’s third different ailment in 2011 (scapula, knee).
  • McCarthy said the Packers substitution and play entry were sloppy on Sunday. He thought that had a little something to do with readjusting after the bye week but viewed that as an excuse for a “sloppy” game in that respect.
  • The last two series for the Packers defense was the “most consistent,” and McCarthy threw out one of his favorite terms: “Adversity football.” With their backs against the wall, the Packers defense stepped up and produced.
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

6

November

Packers vs. Chargers: 5 Things to Watch

Fresh off their bye week, the Green Bay Packers (7-0) travel west to take on the reeling San Diego Chargers (4-3) in Week 9 NFL action.

The basics 

When: 3:15 CDT; Sunday, Nov. 6, 2011.

Where: Qualcomm Stadium; San Diego, CA.

TV: FOX; Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick with the call, Laura Okmin on the sidelines.

Radio: 620 AM WTMJ (Milwaukee), Packers Radio Network, Westwood One, NFL Sunday Drive (Sirius Radio).

Series: Packers lead, 8-1-0 (Packers won last regular season game, 31-24, in Green Bay on Sept. 23, 2007).

Five things to watch

1. Banged up Bolts

If the Chargers are to knock the Packers off the NFL’s undefeated perch on Sunday, they’ll have to do it by taking a page from Green Bay’s 2010 book. San Diego is a hurting bunch leading into Week 9, and a quick scan through the Chargers injury report shows a frightening list of talented players who will either be out or playing hurt. Defensive end Luis Castillo (tibia) and guard Kris Dielman (concussion/seizure) have both been ruled out. Shaun Phillips, arguably the Chargers best defensive player, is doubtful with a foot injury and not expected to play. Key offensive playmakers Ryan Mathews (groin) and Malcolm Floyd (hips) are both questionable, along with former Packers linebacker Na’il Diggs, who is fighting a knee injury. Mike Tolbert (hamstring), Antonio Gates (foot), Vincent Jackson (hamstring) and Curtis Brinkley (concussion) are also playing and practicing with lingering injuries.

And don’t forget; there’s been a lot of talk around the league about the health status of quarterback Philip Rivers. Some have speculated that his fall from grace in 2011 is the result of something structurally wrong in his arm or shoulder. As bad as that list sounds, the Packers know a thing or two about rallying together despite a long injury list. They won the Super Bowl in 2010 with 15 players on IR. There shouldn’t be anything taken for granted by Green Bay because of a Chargers team that is limping into this contest.

2. Attacking the tackles

4

November

Know Your Packers Enemy: Previewing Packers-Chargers With John Gennaro of Bolts From the Blue

In this week’s installment of “Know Your Packers Enemy,” I talked with John Gennaro, the managing editor of Bolts From the Blue. It’s hands down the best Chargers blog I found in my search and John does a fantastic job ruling over it. You can follow John and the blog on Twitter (@BFTB_Chargers) as well.

Enough with the intros, let’s talk some Packers-Chargers.

ZACH KRUSE: First things first. What’s the vibe around San Diego right now? The Chargers still find themselves atop of the AFC West at 4-3, but is this a dejected fan base after the OT loss? What about Norv Turner? Are you as down on him as the head coach moving forward in San Diego as some of the other Chargers fans I’ve talked with?

JOHN GENNARO: Yes, yes, yes. Not just the loss to the Chiefs, but the loss against the Jets has also left a bad taste in the mouths of Chargers fans. With no wins over teams with winning records, and the Chargers constantly playing against themselves (due to turnovers and penalties) as much as they’re playing against an opposing NFL team, it’s hard to imagine this team going anywhere.

I’ve jumped off the bandwagon that typically supports Norv, although I’m not ready to fire him just yet, for one reason. Norv is here to make sure that the offense and Philip Rivers plays well. Those things are not happening.
-
ZK: I’d like to hear your take on Philip Rivers. Obviously, the numbers in 2011 are far off what we’ve seen from him during his career. What’s the issue? Is there an injury he’s covering up? I obviously haven’t watched Rivers at length like you have, but the tape I’ve seen from this season suggests a more labored motion than usual that could be hiding a deeper structural issue, possibly in the shoulder. That’s just my take. What’s yours?

JG: Football Outsiders did a great job of running through the theories (http://www.footballoutsiders.com/extra-points/2011/what-wrong-philip-rivers) as well as looking over the tape, and came to the same conclusion that everyone else has: We don’t know. It’s obvious that his footwork is messier than usual, but there’s no real reason why. He’s throwing off of his backfoot and falling away instead of stepping into his throws, but again this seems to be more by choice and panic than anything else. Outside of a possible personal problem (that I won’t speculate on), there’s no easy explanation as to why Rivers is playing so much worse than what we’ve come to expect from him.

2

November

McCarthy: Neal Could Practice Next Week, Clifton Still “Multiple Weeks Out”

In his Wednesday press conference, Packers coach Mike McCarthy gave reporters both good and bad news on the timeline for injured players Mike Neal and Chad Clifton.

McCarthy was optimistic that Neal could complete his rehabilitation this week and potentially return to the practice field next week. While Neal is still behind schedule on a knee injury he suffered in training camp, news of a return is a positive revelation. Some have speculated that Neal would be unable return in 2011.

Clifton’s timeline was a little less optimistic, as McCarthy said that his left tackle was still “multiple weeks” from completing his rehab. McCarthy didn’t sound like the IR was in the cards. Clifton hurt his hamstring in Week 5 against the Atlanta Falcons and has missed the past two games. Marshall Newhouse will again start for the Packers at left tackle against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.

Other highlights from McCarthy’s press conference:

  • Watched parts of Monday’s Chargers-Chiefs game live, but fell asleep in the fourth quarter. He watched the full game on the coaches tape on Tuesday morning. McCarthy likes watching division games, especially the second meeting between two teams. You can learn a lot.
  • The Packers will practice again in full pads on Thursday. This week represents the Packers one and only week where they can practice in full pads twice, per the new CBA.
  • McCarthy said Aaron Rodgers is playing at an extremely high level right now. But like any player on the team, there’s always little things to improve on.
  • The best thing about the bye week was the ability to get healthy. The Packers now have a full week to practice with those players.
  • When asked about Jermichael Finley’s comments about living in Green Bay with no distractions, McCarthy responded by saying the city is a great place to live and work. He hopes Finley is in Green Bay for a long time because it’s a great environment for him.
  • Special teams and health have been the big issues holding Vic So’oto back. He’s progressing in his responsibilities as an outside linebacker. Still needs to be better on special teams to compete for a spot on the 46-man gameday roster.
  • McCarthy said you have to treat Chargers TE Antonio Gates as a receiver. He and Finley are similar players. Gates definitely has the ability to get separation.