We’re not ever allowed to just be happy about a Packers victory, are we? There’s always got to be something that happened that keeps us unsatisfied. We didn’t close in the red zone. Receivers dropped some big passes. The team that we beat was playing without their best player. This outside linebacker that we just agreed to pay $66 million to play football can’t seem to stay healthy. I will tell you this much, however, we’re going to learn a lot about this football team and it’s identity over the next month without Matthews.
I almost feel as though the team is in a constant state of adjustment. I can’t tell if Rodgers really knows how to get comfortable in an offense with this level of balance. I can’t tell if the DBs really know how to play with each other in this new alignment with Tramon Williams in the slot, or if it’s all going to be irrelevant (if) when Casey Hayward comes back. I said at the beginning of the season that every week the Packers are going to be a better version of themselves as talented players continue to learn how to play with each other and get individually better. It has to happen now. Datone Jones has to be a first round pick, right now. Nick Perry and Mike Neal need to figure out how to play OLB, right now (side note: how huge is Green Bay’s front 5 from left to right, Neal, Raji, Pickett, Jolly, Perry). The Packers now have a 4-6 week period in which they need to get through a period without their best defensive player, Clay Matthews. Their ability to “hang on” will define the 2013 season.
Quote of the Week:
“He was having another one of his games, he made some nice plays (Sunday). It’s a shame. I joked with him about (how) he’s going to have to stop getting sacks and just play because that’s when he gets hurt.” -Dom Capers on OLB Clay Matthews
1. OLBs- Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, and Mike Neal all combined for 4 sacks on Sunday. Quite frankly, Perry and Neal’s sacks were more impressive as Clay’s takedown of Matthew Stafford came when he was absolutely unaccounted for (and I have no idea how you do that defensively). It appears as though the development of the OLBs that are not Clay Matthews could not have come at a better time. Perry and Neal will be needed for the next 4-6 weeks to be big contributors to this defense.
2. Eddie Lacy- he’s just the real deal. I have no doubt about Lacy’s future in this league, the kid just has it. I will actually go so far as to say that I see absolutely no reason to place any more value in his former Alabama teammate Trent Richardson than I would in Eddie. The Detroit defensive front is highly drafted and well paid, and the Packers ran the ball right in to the teeth of it. Lacy responded by gaining tough yardage and falling a single yard shy of being the Packers 3rd straight 100 yard rusher, a feat that the team has not accomplished since 2006.
3. Offensive Line- this unit is making Mike McCarthy look very very smart. The whole idea behind flipping the line got shot to hell and back when LT Bryan Bulaga blew out his knee in the family night scrimmage and RT Marshall Newhouse lost his job. The thing is, though, that LT David Bakhtiari really looks like a keeper, and the interior of the line is really starting to jell. The Packers have faced 4 outstanding defensive fronts in the first 4 games of the season and acquitted themselves very nicely. I’m excited to see what the unit can do as it learns to play together and also gets to go against some more “average” competition.
Honorbale Mention: Mason Crobsy- after that disaster last season Mason has been flawless in 2013, and I for one would like to give him some much deserved respect.
1. Injuries- it continues to be incredibly frustrating to listen to Mike McCarthy’s Monday morning press conferences. Star OLB Clay Matthews is lost for at least 4 weeks with a broken thumb that underwent successful surgery yesterday afternoon. ILB and special teams star Robert Francois was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. The man he replaced, Brad Jones, left the game after recording a sack of Matthew Stafford and overall playing very well. Casey Hayward has yet to return to the field, and James Starks missed the game on Sunday, giving the Packers no options other than Lacy after Franklin was benched for fumbling. The Matthews injury is the most concerning, and I have real concerns with the fact that the 4 OLBs still on the roster, (Neal, Perry, Mulumba, Palmer) have played less than a combined NFL season at outside linebacker since at least high school. All 4 were converted defensive lineman from college and none of them have a whole lot of experience, especially in pass coverage.
2. Red zone issues- I keep getting this feeling that this unit just isn’t quite in sync yet, but I’m not worried. The offensive line is improved, the running backs are improved, the receivers stayed the same as they were last season and Aaron Rodgers is still Aaron Rodgers. They will get things figured out. The only issue that I have with the red zone production is the inability of Coach McCarthy to involve the two best inside the 10 options on the roster, bruising RB Eddie Lacy and 6’5″ Jermichael Finley.
3. Completing the act of a catch- as an Aaron Rodgers fantasy owner, I am displeased this fine Tuesday with masters James Jones and Ryan Taylor. Jones had a fantastic 83 yard touchdown that really hammered home my notion of him that he doesn’t exactly have breakaway speed. He also dropped a long pass along the sidelines and failed to get two feet in bounds on a beautifully thrown ball to the front left pylon in the 4th quarter. Ryan Taylor blew a beautifully designed play as he released unmolested down the seam wide open and flat-out dropped the ball. The offense just needs to get in to a rhythm and I think they’ll improve every week.
Bottom Line: This really seemed like an “empty” win for the Packers. The offense did not look great, and the defense played very well but played against a team that didn’t have it’s biggest weapon. I’m very encouraged by the ability of the team to shut down opposing running backs, as the Packers bottled up Reggie Bush with elite effectiveness. The loss of Matthews puts a dark cloud over the victory, but when all is said and done this team thrives on winning division games and home games, and it got done what it needed to get done on Sunday.