The Green Bay Packers have completed the first of their regular season with a clean sheet in the loss column, and while there’s no doubt that quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been the best passer so far in 2011, the Packers bye week may be much more crucial than it originally seemed.
So far this year, we’ve beaten the same old drum when it comes to penalties, sacks and injuries (I’m sure you’ve noticed). There’s also been plenty of drama in the past seven weeks surrounding the Packers secondary, and I’d say there’s a lot more to come with the San Diego Chargers and Detroit Lions approaching soon.
But while fans take a week off to focus on other NFC conference battles, there’s still five problems Mike McCarthy needs to address in practice this week:
Protect Rodgers Blindside
The Packers have allowed 17 sacks this season, one less than the defense has actually made up for. I’m sure you saw Jared Allen run rings around Marshall Newhouse last week, but with the Packers showing more and more of the bootleg these days, keeping Rodgers’ blindside protected is priority number one.
If the Packers had any other quarterback under centre, its likely Green Bay wouldn’t rank fourth in turnovers at this stage. Fact of the matter is, Rodgers does a good job of holding onto the ball, and all this comes during Chad Clifton’s prolonged absence.
Nevertheless, I’m struggling whether to credit Newhouse’s work ethic so far, or base my expectation ahead of the next few months on his performance last weekend in Minnesota. Whichever one turns out to be right, the offensive line needs to keep defenders in front of them after the bye.
Don’t Allow the Run Defense to Fall
The saving grace of Dom Capers defense has been defending the run this season, but even that has looked suspicious at times too.
Keep in mind that last week against the Vikings, the Packers were facing the same running back that has gashed the defense for 807-yards in the past five years, but even so, Green Bay’s defense has stood up to the test that most opposing runners have shown.
The real test though is still coming, especially with so many defenders nursing injuries. Frank Zombo is the latest player to find himself hurt, and while Clay Matthews has returned from the slump that some fans thought he was in, injuries to Tramon Williams and Morgan Burnett haven’t helped the tackle count.
A month ago the Packers defense was responsible for limiting Matt Forte to a laughable two yards, a stat Capers can be proud of. Adrian Peterson pulled out the opposite last week when running for 175-yards however, and I don’t need to tell you how nice it will be when Mike Neal returns from injury.
Prepare for the Cold
The chilly weather is coming, which also means we can probably expect a few more mistakes and turnovers from the offense if the snow and wind really picks up.
Here’s a tip the Packers could try: Ahead of the playoffs last season the New York Giants turned down the temperature in their practice facility to prepare for Lambeau Field. Looking back, it never really mattered anyway, but with Rodgers playing it just one more dome environment this season (Ford Field), McCarthy may be wise to try the same experiment himself.
Of course, out of the Packers remaining games, the weather may not play too much of a factor if mother nature is kind. Aside from home games, a trip to Metlife Stadium to play the Giants in December looks to be one of the toughest weather-wise, but it’s hard to look past the two home games to end the year.
Rodgers has been at home in the dome since taking over as a starter in 2008, but my guess it that the cold confines of Green Bay slow down the offense just a touch.
So we know the Packers have dropped an awful lot of passes in the past seven weeks – another drum that has been (drummed?) enough. What bothers me about this though, is that it managed to tack on two unnecessary incompletions to Rodgers tally last week, and the problem isn’t just limited to the offense either.
Since I can remember, the special teams’ game has never been pretty for the Packers, but Randall Cobb’s dropped punt against the Vikings last week more than likely gave McCarthy fits. Either Cobb is trying to do much dancing with the ball and not enough securing, or his pads are getting in the way when he tried to bring it in.
Whatever it is, expect this to be on the top of McCarthy’s list this week.
I’ve left the best for last, because the pass rush continues to struggle against young quarterbacks who love to flirt with defenders outside of the pocket.
Last week Christian Ponder was expected to bring with him that rookie swagger that all first year players possess. He did just that, but no one expected him to dodge several of Capers’ blitz packages in the process.
The four man rush wasn’t used quite so heavily to begin the season, which shows just how much of an impact injuries have had. Even with Mike Neal still out, the slump of nose-tackle B.J. Raji has been by far the most surprising, and of course the most costly.
Earlier this week McCarthy told the Boston Herald “We’re a scheme defense, we’re not a my-guy-is-better-than-your-guy deal. We’re trying to create matchups with different combinations.”
So far that theory has began to fail under pressure this season, but I wouldn’t say we will be seeing less of Capers packages in the next month.
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