I picked the 49ers to steal this one from us a few weeks ago. They have a solid defense, particularly against the run (3rd ranked in the NFL coming in), and Gore can be a beast as he showed in that break-away on the first possession. But the Packers demonstrated the same style of play they showed against the Cowboys – excelling in the exact facets of the game that have plagued them in previous weeks.
1) Running game – what a statement game for Ryan Grant, 129 yards and a TD. His 43 yards on the opening drive established the tone, and his 21 yard rush in the final drive sealed the victory. He finished with over 6 yards/carry. Plus, Grant and Jackson combined for another 81 receiving yards, creating a dimension to their offense that I felt had been missing. The result of all this production was a 2:1 time-of-possession advantage. The last few seasons, it seems we’ve had to wait until the last third of the season for the running game to emerge. Let’s hope we can sustain this kind of production.
2) Rodgers vs. Smith – as I broke down two weeks ago http://triggpack.blogspot.com/2009/11/packers-vs-vikings-part-deux.html, there is no other quarterback drafted since 2005 I’d rather have than Aaron Rodgers right now. The guy is money. He went 32 of 45 on the day, for 344 yards, 2 TDs and no interceptions. He set a career high 274 yards passing in the first half. Sure, I would have liked to see those first two drives culminate in touchdowns rather than field goals, but what more can you realistically ask of your quarterback?
The juxtaposition against Alex Smith couldn’t have been more stark. The QB who was drafted ahead of him, first overall, in the 2005 draft. Selected by the 49ers, where our very own Mike McCarthy was offensive coordinator at the time. Same draft year, both first rounders, both have first names that start with “A”, and, maybe it’s just me, but they even look a little bit like each other! But the results couldn’t be more different. Rodgers hasn’t been able to get the Brett Favre monkey off his back yet, but he served the Alex Smith one with a side of rice on Sunday. Imagine if we had Alex Smith. Or Jason Campbell, Vince Young, Matt Leinert, JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, or anyone else who has come into the league since for that matter. Yikers.
3) Offensive line – by far the best performance by our offensive line. The first half was evidence of how effective we can be when we don’t have sacks and penalties on every other down. The line gave up only two sacks on the day, but more importantly they avoided the costly holding and false start penalties. Wells got flagged once for holding, and Rodgers got an intentional ground and delay of game penalty, but that was it on offense.
To me, this shows the benefit of establishing the run early. I just believe that if you let your linemen get a little smash mouth mindset going early by rushing the ball, that they perform better in all aspects of the game. Of course, getting Tauscher back probably helped too, and Clifton and Colledge both had relatively good games for a change.
So that was “the good.” The concerning part of the day was the fact that the 49ers almost came back, despite the dominating performance. And, once again, we have the special teams unit to thank for leaving the door open. Josh Morgan’s 76-yard kick-off return changed the momentum of the game. The only team sucking more than Green Bay at kick coverage is the Steelers. Special teams also had two penalties on the day.
And then, there were the injuries. Ugh... what a bummer. Losing Harris and Kampman both for the season is a major blow. Kampman, as amazing as it feels to say this, seems like the easier guy to replace. Brad Jones held up fine when Kampman was out against the Cowboys, and Poppinga should be able to help as well. Plus, Clay Matthews – or as my four-year-old calls him, “the Rookie Matthews” – has provided both the effective pass rush and ability to drop into coverage at that position that, frankly, Kampman hadn’t been consistently delivering.
Harris is another matter. I see his unique abilities as a shut-down cover corner to be foundational to the kind of defense the Packers want to play. Tramon Williams is a capable back-up, and I’m hopeful that with more playing time he can really develop into a legitimate starter. But it seems inevitable that they will have to adjust to a slightly more conservative defense – putting Woodson on the opposition’s top receivers (reducing his ability to blitz and create chaos), and providing more safety support. I also worry about Jarrett Bush, Brandon Underwood, and the newly-signed Josh Bell coming into nickel and dime formations. I’m glad to see the Packers at least trying to get some depth at that position with the Bell deal.
This week should be winnable – particularly with Stafford likely to be inactive. Can’t have another let-down-our-guard game though, because after this it gets rough:
- Baltimore Ravens
- @ Chicago Bears
- @ Pittsburgh Steelers
- Seattle Seahawks
- @ Arizona Cardinals