Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers gave the Green Bay Packers a serious upset scare at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, as the rookie quarterback helped give the Panthers a 13-0 lead in the first quarter before the defending Super Bowl champions found their footing and took over in the second half. Three turnovers to start the second half helped the Packers score 16 points in the third quarter, and Aaron Rodgers found Jordy Nelson for an 84-yard touchdown pass that put the dagger in the Panthers’ upset bid.
Here are five observations from the Packers’ Week 2 win:
1. Concern in the secondary
Many were quick to attribute the Packers struggles on defense in Week 1 to playing a passing magician in Drew Brees, but the fears were confirmed against Newton and the Panthers. You could probably count 10 or so occasions where the Panthers had receivers wide open for completions. Newton spared no one, as Charles Woodson, Sam Shields, Jarrett Bush, Morgan Burnett, Clay Matthews and Erik Walden were all beat. It all equaled another 400-yard passing day against the Packers defense, who now ranks 32nd in the NFL in passing yardage.
Add in the fact that safety Nick Collins will miss the year due to a neck injury, and there are legitimate concerns in the Packers pass defense. There’s no way to sugar coat it two weeks into the season. They need to be better for the Packers to reach their high expectations in 2011.
2. Starks emerges
If there was any doubt going into Carolina who should be the Packers No. 1 back, James Starks erased them with a nine-carry, 85-yard day. He also caught three passes for 30 yads. While Ryan Grant is the established veteran in the equation, Starks simply looks like a better running back at this point. I’ve said all along—Starks just runs angry. That violence ensures he never goes down on the first hit. Grant can still be used in certain situations, but Starks deserves at least an 80-20 share of the touches until he shows otherwise.
3. Covering running backs
For the second straight week, the Packers were unable to get a hold of running backs in the passing game. After watching the Saints back field catch 11 passes for 112 yards—seven and 75 coming from Darren Sproles—the Packers allowed Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams to haul in 12 passes for 123 yards. Stewart alone caught eight balls for 100 yards.
Think the Bears haven’t seen that on film? Matt Forte has 15 catches for 205 yards and touchdown already in two games this season. Mike Martz will come up with ways to get Forte alone on linebackers next week.
4. Woodson changes the game
The soon-to-be 35-year-old has likely lost a step since coming to Green Bay, but there’s very few defensive players in the NFL as instinctual as Charles Woodson. Those skills were on display against the Panthers.
The first of his two interceptions was more a result of a bad throw from Newton, but Woodson still made an athletic play to catch the ball before it hit the ground. His second pick is where the instincts showed. Newton was hurried from his right and tried fitting the ball into Steve Smith off his back foot, but Woodson wisely undercut the route and likely would have went the distance had he kept his feet underneath him. He later recovered a fumble after Smith showed every young football player how not to hold the football. Those three plays turned the game in the Packers favor.
5. Aaron Rodgers makes the plays
I think Rodgers would be the first to admit that he missed a handful of throws on Sunday that he normally makes in his sleep, especially early on. But like an elite quarterback does, Rodgers made the throws that the Packers absolutely had to have. The highlights show Rodgers’ 49-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings and the 84-yard score to Nelson, but the biggest throw he made in the game came in the first half.
After running just three plays in the first, Rodgers found himself with the ball down 13 points on the Packers’ first possession of the second quarter. Facing a third-and-seven from the Packers’ own 23-yard-line, Rodgers scrambled and found Jermichael Finley down field for 39 yards and first down. That allowed Green Bay to continue their march, which eventually ended in a John Kuhn touchdown. Who knows where that game goes without his throw to Finley. The Packers likely punt, and the Panthers’ red-hot offense comes back with good field position and after just three plays on the sidelines. That may have led to another score that could have potentially put the Packers in too deep of a hole to climb out of. Instead, the Packers pulled to within six and the game was on from there.——————
Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.
You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.Follow @zachkruse2