It’s been a couple of days since the Packers finally found a way to defeat the Seattle Seahawks. They have had two days off to let it soak in before they return to the practice field today and turn their attention toward the Kansas City Chiefs. The team hasn’t faltered in the first chapters of the season, and there are several lessons that have been learned after last week’s victory that can help the team build momentum as they move forward.
The Next Man Up is still a powerful weapon.
It’s been the mantra since the 2010 Super Bowl run. The Packers don’t have time to wallow in losses to injury. While it hasn’t always been the case (Exhibit A: a fractured left clavicle), The Packers haven’t lost momentum thus far with the first wave of injuries.
Sure, the sky could have been falling when Jordy Nelson tore his ACL, but the team didn’t collapse from its own panic. Instead, they took a chance on a veteran the sent packing a year ago. James Jones may not be in the same rarified air as Nelson, but he sure seems to have slipped back into a comfortable rhythm after the first two games. It’s like he never was gone. His routes are smooth, and Rodgers trusts him as though they had practiced all summer together. That said, it’s no surprise that he was the first target that Rodgers gifted with a touchdown in the end zone in each of the two games. He knows the system and definitely is a calm and mature presence in the receivers meetings, giving the corps a sense of security while Randall Cobb shoulder continues to heal and younger receivers Davante Adams and Ty Montgomery continue to develop.
Meanwhile, it could’ve been curtains for the running game after Eddie Lacy went down with an ankle injury. It was deja vu all over again last Sunday when Lacy exited early in the game. The same thing happened last year against the Seahawks, only that time it was a concussion that took him out.
Yet the Packers weren’t going to concede the running game and make the offensive scheme more one-dimensional. Sure, Rodgers can get a lot done in the air, but look what happened last year. While James Starks didn’t find the end zone, he forced the Seattle defense to commit to defending the run. With 95 yards on 20 carries, he managed to put up Lacy-like numbers on the ground. He kept the running game alive when Lacy could not, and is ready to pick up where he left off if Lacy remains on the injury list heading into the weekend.
Then there was Don Barclay. Sure, he graded out somewhere in the negative bamillions by Pro Football Focus (okay, it was really minus-ten something.) But if you rewatch him on the field, he wasn’t as bad as the numbers say. And yes, he bent, but at least he didn’t break. He bought time for Rodgers to drop back or take off running. And on the bright side, he didn’t collapse the pocket as quickly as those filling in for Bulaga this time last year when Rodgers spent a lot of time on his back. Is he perfect? No, but he tends to perform better on the right than on the left.
Special Teams is not as bad as you thought it was.
Seriously, one game and people were calling for Ron Zook’s head. I kid you not. Yes, game one was not pretty. But ST was not a liability this past week against Seattle and they can definitely build on that positive momentum as they prepare for Kansas City.
First off, Tim Masthay seemed to forget about the slump/bad head space he’d been in since last season. His punts were long, the hang time was good, and the placement was good. And to top it off, it never looked like he was about to be blocked and flattened. Protecting the punter was such a huge problem last year, but it seems that the kinks got ironed out and Masthay had plenty of time to do his job.
Speaking of which, he didn’t have to tackle anyone this week, and that is always a bonus. Timing on kicks and punts were worlds better this week. The players anticipated the hang time better and were already in position when the returner fielded the ball. This paid off dividends this week and the improvement in hustle as well as tackles reflected when the returner was often stopped deep in his own territory.
And then there’s Mason Crosby’s 55 yard field goal. His accuracy continues and he leaped over Ryan Longwell as the teams all-time highest scorer.
Jayrone Elliott is ready for prime time.
The second year linebacker came to play. While everyone has been obsessed with Clay Matthew’s transition to ILB, perhaps his move opened up an opportunity for Green Bay’s new threat from the outside. Watching the game, I noticed that Matthews sometimes zigged when quarterback Russell Wilson zagged. Sure, he has the reputation that demands coverage. But when attention is focused on Matthews, even when he’s off in left field, perhaps this opened the door for Elliott to shine. He astutely read a screen play and was able to reach in and effortlessly pull in a one-handed interception. Couple that with a forced fumble that lead to victory formation, and Elliott is suddenly a force to be reckoned with. Interestingly enough, the Packers trainers staff saw this potential in the 2014 preseason when they dubbed him Shakespeare because all he did “was make plays.”
He has the speed to make crucial plays, but more importantly he has high football IQ to learn from lining up across from Aaron Rodgers and jumping his routes (which he attributes to his success of the field last Sunday.) Expect him to live up to his nickname.
The season is still young, but the Packers are in much better shape than they were at this time last year. Kansas City won’t be a cakewalk. Their defense is stout, and they have an offense that surprises teams that don’t take it seriously. (In aside, I’m going to set the over/under of a salty QB reminding the press that Mike McCarthy passed him over for Smith in the 2005 draft at 2 minutes in his post-game press conference.)
But if the Packers can capitalize on the lessons learned getting the Seahawks monkey off their back, they very well could be looking at an 3-0 start.--------------