After a tough week 1 loss to the 49ers, Packer fans took to every medium possible and were ready to jump off the ledge.After a tough week 1 loss to the 49ers, Packer fans took to every medium possible and were ready to jump off the ledge.While it surely doesn’t happen often in season openers, let alone home season openers, it does happen. Now to be fair and for those of you who follow and hopefully will now follow me on Twitter, I definitely was waving the white flag a bit early in the 49ers game. Reason? I have watched this team and their tendencies since Aaron Rodgers took over at QB. They don’t tend to play as well when having to come from behind. They haven’t taken well to being out muscled and don’t have many last minute wins under their belt so the situation just didn’t seem ripe for a comeback. Now I’m not saying they can’t win a game in the last minute. I wouldn’t put anything past Aaron Rodgers and after all he is the reigning NFL MVP.
I can understand the reason for concern. Last year’s team put up points in their sleep. It seemed they were already up 14-0 at the opening kickoff every week and along came week 13 and the Pack hadn’t lost a game. Would they? Brash fans took to Twitter, Facebook, radio talk shows and proclaimed their team’s dominance. They were surely primed for another championship run. Then came the abrupt end to the season and 7 months to stew over it. Was it a fluke? 2012 season opener comes and another loss at home. Now surely the sky is falling, right? No! Now, yes I did pick the Bears and I had a feeling the Pack would come out flat. All the Packers did was show me that I have a lot to learn about the 2012 team. I can admit it and I challenge the ney sayers to as well.
They do have the ability to bounce back after a tough outing. I’m not taking anything away from how well the 49ers played in week 1 but maybe that first game was somewhat of a fluke. In game 2, the Pack came back and were able to run the ball, rush the passer and defend the pass much better than they had the week before. Two different teams the 49ers and Bears are, but this at least shows that they prepared and came ready to play.
Another stiff test awaits them this coming Monday night as they travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks. It’s the Packers’ road opener and is one of the toughest venues to play in. CenturyLink Field boasts some of the, if not THE loudest fans in the league. This will be a good test of the team’s ability to maintain composure in a hostile environment. It will also test their communication as a team. Rodgers and the offense will likely operate with a silent snap count for much of the game unless they are able to build an early lead that takes the crowd out of it. A win would go a long way in gaining back some of the confidence that was lost so very quickly after 1 loss.
As far as the team goes, they surely have their share of question marks. Why is TE Jermichael Finley still dropping the ball? I am running out of theories. Catching a football requires both mechanics and concentration. If one is lacking, there’s a good probability the ball falls to the turf. I don’t see anything overly flawed in Finley’s mechanics so I have to defer to the concentration. I have seen Finley pull in some very tough passes and get up and snag balls away from defenders in the end zone. He had 3 TD’s at Chicago last year and that spectacular catch and run late in the game at NY last season comes to mind as well.
The ability is there. But then there are games like last year’s contest at Kansas City and the home playoff loss in which it’s hard to think back without recalling a few untimely Finley drops. Surely those were not the only drops nor the sole reasons for the losses, but they didn’t help. For as much as I have heard about Finley’s potential over the past 3 years, it’s time for that potential to start nicking the ceiling. I have my doubts that he all of a sudden gets over the dropsies. A zebra rarely changes its stripes. The Pack seem to be working 2nd year TE DJ Williams into more of their formations and we all saw backup TE Tom Crabtree take a fake FG into the end zone so there are some other options. These next few weeks will say a lot about where Finley fits into the team’s plans throughout the rest of this season.
Why did they seemingly turn to the run in the 3rd quarter of the Bears game when their lead was anything but safe? Because they can now. With Cedric Benson, the Pack have something they haven’t had since 2009 and some would argue, even before that: a dependable running back. After Ahman Green left in 2007, the Packers have not had that stud, workhorse back since. Ryan Grant was steady in 2007 but never flashed much since and had injury problems. After his ankle injury in week 1 of the 2010 season, he was never the same back and the team did not bring him back in 2012.
When it became clear that James Starks might not be the answer the team was looking for after struggling in the first preseason game (and a pedestrian 2011 season), the team signed Benson. The former Bear and Bengal gives the team a dependable and smart back who has the vision and desire to get the tough yards. Without that option in the arsenal last year, it was up to Rodgers and his arm (or feet) to get the job done. It seems safe to say that Rodgers won’t be the team’s leading rusher this season.
After struggling in week 1 due to a very tough 49er defensive front and uninspiring run blocking by the Pack O line, Benson was able to rack up 80 yards in week 2 against his former team. One play in particular that stood out to me was his hard 3 yard run with 2:30 left in last week’s game to pick up a 1st down and force Chicago to use its final timeout. From there, it was 3 kneel downs and the Pack had their 1st win of the young season.
I am reading that fans are panicking that Rodgers isn’t throwing enough and that something must be wrong with him if they’re running when they used to throw like clockwork. Think balance, my friends. Anytime a team can gain more balance, they are going to make life very tough on opposing defenses and their coordinators. And while you’re thinking “balance”, have some patience. If the play action opportunity doesn’t present itself in every game, it eventually will. The Pack are still very much a “pass first” team and defenses will be keying on Rodgers. Given a few weeks of consistent success on the ground and suddenly defenses will have to start picking their poison. That’s when the other options begin to reveal themselves. The big question is: what will the Pack’s identity be come season’s end?
Next Question: Why is Aaron Rodgers throwing passes right to defenders? Once in each game so far, Aaron Rodgers has thrown a pass that seemed to be right at a defender. In week 1 it was a throw that 49er linebacker NaVorro Bowman picked off. The throw was intended for a Jordy Nelson who was crossing just behind Bowman. From the vantage point behind the line of scrimmage it looked like a bad throw from the beginning. The game moves fast and players are in position one second and gone in another. But I’m still not sure what Rodgers was expecting to happen there. Bowman had virtually sat down in coverage and must have blended in with the backdrop? That’s all I can come up with.
Then comes week 2 and again, Rodgers puts one right into coverage by Bear LB Lance Briggs. It’s only because Briggs isn’t a wide receiver that he didn’t come down with the ball. But it was another throw that was put into a spot that wasn’t really open. Perhaps Rodgers’ success over the past 2 seasons has given him more of a sense of security that he can eek the ball in there. Hopefully it’s not an issue with his vision, which I’m sure it is not. For a QB who has been so incredibly careful with the ball and who prides himself on his pinpoint accuracy, this is surely a bit of a concern. In a loud venue such as Seattle and with opportunistic DB’s, Rodgers will again be challenged to keep the ball out of the other guys’ hands in week 3.
My best guess is that AR just needs to get more confident and in sync with his WR’s. That will come with increased reps and as the season moves along. As good as the Packer passing attack has been, defenses are keying on it. Rodgers & Co. will have no easy roads to running on all cylinders, but my money is on that they eventually do before not.
What’s with the resurgence in the pass rush? 11 sacks through 2 games reminds us more of the Packer defense that won a Super Bowl in 2010 and that established their identity in 2009. Last season, the team seemed to have an aversion to the pocket. It was a virtual Bermuda Triangle. Surely the loss of DE Cullen Jenkins was a factor and his replacement, Jarius Wynn, was merely a body. They weren’t able to generate pressure on the QB and opposing passers had all day to find open receivers. The result was that the Pack gave up a record number of passing yards.
The difference this year? The Pack added D linemen Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels in the 2012 draft. Veteran CJ Wilson is a year wiser and was the opening day starter at RDE. Thus far, BJ Raji is getting a much better push than he did last season and that may be the result of increased rest as they rotate Daniels in more often. Another significant change was the move of All Pro OLB Clay Matthews from the left to the right side. Matthews has 6 sacks in 2 games after getting only 6 all of last season. He appears to be benefiting from more 1 on 1 matchups vs. left tackles as well as additional threats Worthy and 1st round pick Nick Perry on the left side. In relief of a young Perry, who needs time to develop, Erik Walden was more effective in week 2 than we saw him be last season. He had a burst off the line and reminded Jay Cutler of what life was like when he had 3 sacks vs. the Bears in week 17 of 2010.
ILB DJ Smith had a sack of Jay Cutler on the first snap of last week’s game and those types of fast starts set the tone for the entire game. One of the byproducts of the effective pressure was 4 INT’s from a very opportunistic group of DB’s. They have lived and died by the takeaway the last 2 seasons and if they can continue that trend this year, they have a great chance to be playing well into January. The increase in QB pressure is also a very good thing to see when you consider that D Coordinator Dom Capers has a tendency to peak in his 2nd or 3rd year in a system and then sees a decline in performance from there. Hopefully the Pack have added the right guys who can literally push their way back to a solid playoff run.
As the season goes on, these questions along with new ones will mount. Each week will provide answers and clues as to what this Packer team will ultimately become but again, I urge you all to remember: it’s week 3. Remember 2010 when a late hot streak catapulted them into a championship run. Remember how in just 4 days, a team that got punched in the mouth got up and threw the punches. Most of all, remember NOT TO PANIC!——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: