Even this Packers fanatic could not have scripted a 9-0 shutout in the Big Apple against the NFL’s best team any better
As we enter into the second half of the season, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about what the Green Bay Packers have been able to accomplish thus far. Sitting atop the NFC North at 5-3 hardly seems like reason to celebrate, but in a less than stellar first half performance from the rest of the division, there lacks a sense of intimidation and challenge. Though they stumbled against a hot Chicago Bears squad earlier in the year, Jay Cutler and his offensive line were soon exposed and decimated in a shaky offensive scheme. The Lions, although dangerous at times, proved to lack the talent to match the Pack, and the Minnesota Vikings seem to be overcome by emotion and age in a recent battle at Lambeau Field.
One concern many fans have are the plague of injuries and the long term viability of the rest of the Packer’s personnel, but one can simply look at last weeks performance at the Meadowlands against the Jets to assess what kind of game plan Green Bay is capable of putting together in spite of setbacks. The Packers have sustained more injuries to starters than any other club in the NFL.
The current injury report today at the midway point: (www.packers.com)
Charles Woodson, CB – Toe (Probable)
Aaron Rodgers, QB – Sprained Ankle (Probable)
Ryan Pickett, DT – Calf (Questionable)
Donald Driver, WR – Quad (Out)
Atari Bigby, S – Ankle (Out)
Al Harris, CB – Knee (Out)
Cullen Jenkins, DE – Calf (Probable)
Nick Collins, S – Knee (Probable)
Nick Barnett, LB – Wrist (Out for season)
Chad Clifton, T – Hamstring/ Knee
Daryn Colledge, G – Back
Pat Lee, CB – Ankle (Out)
Andrew Quarless, TE – Shoulder (Questionable)
Mark Tauscher, T – Shoulder (Questionable)
Clay Matthews, LB – Shin (Probable)
Dimitri Nance, RB – Ankle (Questionable)
…and not to mention the Injured Reserve list as well: (www.packers.com)
Nick Barnett, LB
Josh Bell, CB
Morgan Burnett, S
Jermichael Finley, TE
Ryan Grant, RB
Justin Harrell, DE
Brad Jones, LB
Derrick Martin, S
Mike Neal, DE
Brady Poppinga, LB
With an overwhelming injury report like this, many analysts wonder how the Packers will fair through the second half of their schedule. A good assessment of what to expect is to breakdown their performance against a healthy and prepared New York Jets team last Sunday. The 9-0 shutout of New York can show that the Packers defensive ability can be deceiving and frustrating, even to a confident offensive team. Despite being outgained in total yardage by the Jets, the Green Bay limited New York’s red zone opportunities by merely opposing a greater will. Two plays specifically demonstrated the hunger of the Packers when cornerback Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson were able to swipe the ball out of the wide receivers hands of two Jets players. Both instances were rather routine catches that a receiver must make, but the fight and intelligence to play until the whistle blows show the preparation of Dom Capers defensive unit. Continuing to focus on the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Clay Matthews has been sensational in the 3-4 defense and currently leads the NFL in sacks despite missing a game. Matthews 9.5 sacks is forcing teams to double and triple team block the second year player. His worth goes beyond the stat sheet as he has shown the ability to goad opponents into costly penalties ( i.e Minnesota).
Aaron Rodgers less than stellar first half may be contributed to many factors. Rodgers has shown an uncharacteristic lack of efficient decision making and has already elapsed his interception total of last year (9>7). Rodgers has also declined in quarterback rating from 103.2 to 85.3 this season. Much of this comes from the lack luster receiver performance in drops and yards after catch. Maybe the most telling sign of the offensive struggles can be contributed to the loss of 1000+ yard running back Ryan Grant. His season ending injury really decimated the Packers ground game and came back to bite the Packers front office hard. Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy elected to enter the season with an extra fullback rather than the 3 back set on the depth chart. Brandon Jackson has been a viable backfield option and looks to be getting the job done with the help of fullback John Kuhn, but lets be honest, neither player fills the void of Ryan Grant. Rodgers and the offense were also dealt a hard blow when they lost the playmaking ability of tight end Jermichael Finley. Before Finley went down against the hard hitting Redskins, his tremendous upside shined on a potent offensive gameplan. Finley’s size and speed made him a near impossible matchup for linebackers and corners alike. But like any good system, Green Bay must be able to fill in the replacements into their system and keep everybody on the same page. Back up tight ends Donald Lee and Andrew Quarless have shown the capability of running the routes but have lacked to the ability to shake stone hand tendencies and make the big catches.
With Rodgers playing some of his worst football since becoming the starter, look for an offensive savy player to pick up his performance and right the offensive woes. The defense looks to be jelling together no matter what the personnel is. As long as Matthews and Woodson are working together to keep players adhering to Capers mischief and the redzone is sealed, look for the Packers to be able to get through the second half of their schedule much like the 2008 New York Giants. So many times, this team reminds me of the former Super Bowl champs. A lackluster offensive team but anchored by a staunch defense. Also playing into the hands of the Packers is their remaining schedule. Tough late season battles await at New England and Atlanta, but hosting a match up against the Giants and Bears can be great tests to expose what the Packers may really be made of. In a lackluster division, a 10-6 record may just be the magic number to win the NFC North.