With nine games under their belt, the Packers are technically beyond the midseason, but that’s just a technicality.
There’s no Packers game to review this week, so now is as good a time as any to grade what’s happened so far. The offense is up first. The defense and special teams will be up later this week.
Aaron Rodgers does things no other quarterback in the NFL can do. All the injuries the Packers have suffered are frustrating, but as long as Rodgers is on the field, the Packers have a chance. I enjoyed reading the comments made by several of the Arizona Cardinals’ defensive players after the Packers beat them last week. They were being asked about Randall Cobb, James Jones, the Tom Crabtree catch, and a bunch of other stuff, but they kept coming back to Rodgers and how great he is. Meanwhile, in another room down the hall, Rodgers was talking about how poorly he played.
I suppose I could be as harsh on Rodgers as he is on himself and knock his grade down to a ‘B’ if I really wanted to. I could point to the reduction in explosive plays, holding the ball too long, and the fact that the Packers are averaging about three yards fewer per completion than last season.
Those are all valid criticisms, but it’s not enough to knock Rodgers’ grade down, in my view. The guy has racked up almost 2,400 yards to go along with 25 touchdowns and only five interceptions without his No. 1 receiver, a shaky offensive line, and a receiving corp that drops too many passes.
Honestly, I was going to give the Packers quarterbacks an ‘A,’ but I knocked it to an ‘A-‘ because of Graham Harrell’s goal line fumble against the Saints.
Running Backs: D+
Not every son or daughter gets straight ‘A’s’ in school. Some try hard, only to realize that the best they can do is a ‘C.’ Some don’t try at all and are thrilled if they manage to eek out a ‘C.’
The Packers running backs fall into one of these two categories.
Right when the Packers rushing offense appeared to be waking up, Cedric Benson went down with a foot injury. But even before the injury, it’s not like Benson was on his way to the pro bowl. He only averaged over four yards per carry in two of his five games and never cracked 100 yards.
It’s only gotten worse since Benson’s injury. Alex Green is averaging 3.1 yards per carry and doesn’t have the vision and patience yet to take advantage of cutback lanes and wait an extra split second for holes to open. James Starks finally got healthy and was given an opportunity against Arizona. He had a few nice plays, but messed up a couple of pass protections and fumbled.
The Packers don’t need to get this grade up to an ‘A’ in the second half, but it’d be nice if they can eek out a ‘C.’ I’d hang that report card on the fridge.
Offensive Line: D
When the Packers offensive line held strong and gave Rodgers plenty of time and wide-open throwing lanes against the Texans, Rodgers threw six touchdowns and the Packers were unstoppable. It’s nice to have a quarterback like Rodgers who masks a lot of problems in pass protection. But it’s nicer to have a guy like Rodgers when he doesn’t have to worry about covering for his offensive line and can just stand in the pocket and go to work.
Overall, the Packers line hasn’t been bad in pass protection, but they haven’t been good enough, either. The group completely broke down in the first half against Seattle and in the second half against Indianapolis. Bryan Bulaga got off to a terrible start, and now he’s hurt. Jeff Saturday has gotten run over several times and Marshall Newhouse, even though he’s surpassed tepid expectations, still gets run over too often.
Run blocking has been even worse. The Packers aren’t able to blow teams off the line. Instead, they need to use draws from the shotgun or handoffs to Randall Cobb if they want to break a run.
That’s a very negative assessment, so let’s end with a little bit of positive: Pro Football Focus rates the Packers line as the seventh-best pass blocking unit in football (even though Rodgers is on pace to get sacked 51 times). They probably put some of the pass-blocking issues on Rodgers holding the ball, which makes me think that the sacks will go down if the offense gets in a better rhythm.
I don’t like Bulaga being hurt, but I’m optimistic that Evan Dietrich-Smith at left guard and T.J. Lang at right tackle might bring a little more nasty on run plays. Here’s hoping…
Wide Receivers: B-
The Packers are on pace for 44 plays of 20 yards or more, which would be down from 70 a season ago. That’s what happens when you play most of the season without Greg Jennings and the last two games without Jordy Nelson.
I wanted to give the receivers a higher grade. Where would this team be without Jams Jones going off and Randall Cobb turning into a star?
But drops knock this group’s grade down. Cobb has seven, Nelson has six, and Driver has had a couple of nasty instances of stone hands, including a touchdown drop against Seattle that could’ve resulted in Fail Mary never happening in the first place. There has also been a few too many stretches where the receivers fail to get separation in man coverage or find openings against a cover-2.
A ‘B-‘ might seem a little low for this group, but of all the offensive position groups, I like the odds of the WR’s grade going up. A healthy Jennings (hopefully). A healthy Nelson (dear God, please be healthy), a rejuvenated Jones and an emerging Cobb. I like it.
Tight Ends: C-
We all looked forward to a Packers tight end that was active on Twitter and always a good interview making big plays and catching touchdowns. Few of us thought that tight end would be Tom Crabtree instead of Jermichael Finley, though.
Where would this position group be without Tom Crabtree’s out-of-nowhere big plays? Before answering that, keep in mind that I’m not factoring in special teams. Crabtree’s fake field goal reception and Ryan Taylor’s special teams blocking will be addressed in the special teams section.
Finley has seven drops and is never open. Rodgers rarely even looks in his direction any more. D.J. Williams has done next to nothing. Crabtree has a few spectacular plays, but has only been so-so run blocking. Taylor mostly plays special teams.
To be fair, this group has also dealt with injuries. But the Packers need more out of their tight ends down the stretch.——————