First off, I wanted to apologize for my absence over the past four or five days. Spending five days glued to my bed fighting a nasty head cold was bad enough, but not being able to write and share my opinions on everyone’s favorite team made it exponentially worse. A tiny part of me just wants to think you guys missed me. Now that I’m starting to get better, I’ll share my quick observations from the Packers’ 45-7 rout of the Vikings on Monday night.
1. Randall Cobb will be up and down
There’s a certain amount of risk in sending out a 21-year-old rookie to field each and every kick and punt for an NFL team. Randall Cobb’s three lost fumbles this season, including one against the Vikings that eliminated the Packers’ shutout hopes, are that risk in motion. But it’s the plays like his 80-yard punt return for a touchdown Monday night that make that risk a worthwhile adventure. He’ll continue to improve in ball security, if only because Mike McCarthy preaches it so often. In totality, however, there’s very few who would say that Cobb hasn’t already exceeded expectations in 2011.
2. Blocking struggles
Marshall Newhouse and his struggles against Jared Allen are somewhat to be expected, as Allen is the premier penetration defensive end in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus, Newhouse allowed one sack and three quarterback pressures. Guard T.J. Lang wasn’t much better, as he allowed a sack on a stunt by Allen and two other pressures. Those two are still finding their way on the left side of the Packers offensive line. But don’t leave out Josh Sitton and Scott Wells among those who had blocking struggles against the Vikings. Sitton was beat a handful of times by former All-Pro Kevin Williams and Wells had his worst run blocking grade of the season. Only Bryan Bulaga, who has been a rock at right tackle, had a positive grade Monday night. On a night where the offense scored 38 points, the blocking up front is the only nit-pick you can really find.
3. Woodson’s revival
Few have been as critical of Woodson in 2011 as me, but he certainly looked like the player of old on Monday night. Dom Capers blitzed Woodson nine times, which resulted in four quarterback pressures and two batted passes at the line of scrimmage. In coverage, Woodson allowed just 36 yards and probably should have had two interceptions. But what I was most impressed with was Woodson’s activity level across the board. He finished with nine total tackles and contributed a season-high six stops, which PFF measures as a tackle that results in an offensive failure. Everywhere you looked he was making a play or near the ball. There were obviously many factors in the awakening of the Packers defense on Monday night, but none were as emphatic as Woodson’s revival in all aspects of his play.
4. Pressure cooker
The first problem I addressed last week when I dissected the Packers defensive decline was the reduction in pressure. On Monday night, the pressure came and never let up. Three sacks, including two from Clay Matthews, were the only hard stats to show for it, but the Packers also had 17 total quarterback pressures and two other hits on 39 drop backs from Christian Ponder. I’m not sure the Packers will be able to blitz every team as heavily as they did the Vikings on Monday night, but this drastic increase is a good sign moving forward.
5. Making the rare a common occurence
You’ll hear a lot of NFL commentators talk about the “zone” Aaron Rodgers is in right now. Really, how many times have you heard him asked about how it feels to be in this “zone”? Still, I don’t think anyone can rightfully say that Rodgers is just in a “zone.” This is him consistently playing at the level of he’s capable of. Through nine games this season, and adding the last six from 2010, Rodgers has made his record-breaking play the norm. Consider that of the seven incompletions Rodgers threw on Monday night, three passes were dropped and two others were thrown away. His four touchdown passes—which gives him 28 on the season and on pace to break Tom Brady’s 50 from 2007—were just another day at the office. There’s literally thousands of stats to confirm the historical greatness we’re seeing right now. The moral of the story: Don’t for a second take for granted the level of quarterbacking play you’re seeing from Aaron Rodgers in 2011. He’s making it look like commonplace, but this is rare air we’re dealing with.