Game Balls and Lame Calls (with Podcast): Packers Midseason Edition

ALLGBP.com All Green Bay Packers All the Time
Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers
Packers coach Mike McCarthy and QB Aaron Rodgers have five divisional games in their final seven contests.

The first half of the season has come and gone for the Green Bay Packers and the bye week could not have come at a better time.

The Packers have won their last four games but are dealing with an injury epidemic that goes beyond even what they faced in 2010 when they overcame the loss of 15 players to injured reserve and won their fourth Super Bowl title.

Could a similar fate be in store for the 2012 Packers?  That remains to be seen.  The Packers are only one game behind the Chicago Bears for first place in the NFC North and with five of their six division games remaining, all of the Packers’ goals for the year are still very much within reach.

Before we look ahead, let’s take one last look back at the good and the bad of the Packers’ first nine games of 2012.

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Game Balls                                     

QB Aaron Rodgers

Something definitely is wrong with Rodgers.

OK, I can’t even TYPE that with a straight face.

After an alleged “poor” start to the season, Rodgers has returned to his MVP form throwing 15 touchdowns to just one interception in the Packers’ four game winning streak. Rodgers currently is on pace for 44 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Look just like MVP numbers to me.

What’s remarkable is that he hasn’t missed a beat without his two best receivers in Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson.   The Packers have an embarrassment of riches at the wide receiver position and with no running game and lackluster play from their starting tight end in Jermichael Finley, it’s remarkable the numbers Rodgers puts up week in and week out.

Look for more of the same in the second half of the season, especially when Nelson is healthy, as Rodgers very well could win his second consecutive NFL MVP award.

WR Randall Cobb

Packer fans knew how much potential Cobb had but thanks to the team’s mercurial tight end, fans took a cautious approach to the second year receiver out of Kentucky.

People saw how much of a weapon Cobb could be in the return game last season.  With injuries to Jennings and Nelson, Cobb has been forced into a key role in the passing game and has made everything of his opportunity.   His speed and versatility have made him a multi-faceted weapon for the Packers and has finally given the team its own version of Percy Harvin.

Cobb can play out of the backfield as well and that has helped ease the pain of a running game that has basically been dead in the water since starting running back Cedric Benson went down with injury.

Going forward, look for Cobb to continue to establish himself as one of the best young receivers in the game.  If he can continue playing at the level he has, then the Packers have a heck of a decision to make in terms of keeping Jennings past this season.

WR James Jones

It’s hard to believe it was just two short seasons ago Jones was nearly as maligned as Finley is right now in terms of struggling to hang onto the football.

Jones is having the breakout season Nelson experienced a year ago.  Not only does he have eight touchdown catches on the year, but he also had made some highlight reel catches.

So much for having a permanent case of the dropsies.

Look for Jones to make his first Pro Bowl this season.  Along with Cobb and Nelson, the Packers have the best receiving corps in the league, with or without Jennings.

Talk about the rich getting richer.

LB Clay Matthews

Welcome back Claymaker.

One year after he saw his sack total drop to six for the entire season, Matthews started the season on fire by recording eight sacks before being forced out with a hamstring injury.

Part of Matthews’ strong start was due to the play of rookie Nick Perry who is now on injured reserve after undergoing surgery on his wrist.

Improved play along the defensive line has also helped Matthews along the way, though it remains to be seen how much his hamstring injury will hamper his play down the stretch.

With the Packers dangerously thin at linebacker thanks to injuries, the Packers need Matthews more than ever before.  Here’s hoping his injury is not that bad.

CB Casey Hayward

If someone would have said “No Woodson, No Problem” in preseason when it came to the Packers secondary, they’d have had their cheesehead revoked.

Nine games into the season and so far, the Packers seem to be doing just fine without Woodson.   Rookie Hayward has been a revelation at cornerback and has shown an uncanny knack for finding the football.

With four interceptions and a forced fumble on the year, Hayward has shown great promise as Woodson’s heir apparent in the secondary.

With Jerron McMillian developing into a hard hitting safety, the future is bright for the Packers in the secondary.  There may be growing pains this season, so fans need to be patient.

Head Coach Mike McCarthy/GM Ted Thompson

The Packers once again have been hampered by injuries yet here they are with a 6-3 record and just a game out of first place in the NFC North.

Both McCarthy and Thompson deserve praise for that.  Thompson’s eye for talent is second none and McCarthy has his players once again buying into the “next man up mentality.”  It’s a testament to the consistency of the Packers and the stability of the Thompson /McCarthy regime.

The Packers face one big mountain with their remaining schedule and the ongoing injury situation, but with the leadership of Thompson and McCarthy, the team will keep fighting and not give in.

Lame Calls

TE Jermichael Finley

The elephant in the room for Packers fans.   Every year Finley is mentioned as the player who is going to have a breakout season and every year turns out to be an eventful year for Finley everywhere else but on the field.

If he’s not dropping passes, he’s firing off his mouth on Twitter or to a reporter.  The whole bit with his agent criticizing Rodgers’ leadership was ridiculous but note how Finley never really stepped in and defended his quarterback.

Combine that with his lack of on field production and suddenly Finley could be expendable at the end of the season.  Tom Crabtree has emerged as a big play tight end and has improved his ability in the passing game and if Andrew Quarless can return to form, then the argument could be made the Packers no longer need Finley.

Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers

Last year, the defense seemed to lack the right personnel.  This year, the scheme seems to be the problem.

Thompson knew the defense needed some serious reinforcements and had a defense-heavy draft this past spring.  He has restocked the cabinets on defense with playmakers like Perry, Hayward, McMillian and Jerel Worthy.  The talent level has definitely gone up on defense and it shows (at times) on the field.

It’s obviously a young defense and some struggles are to be expected.  What’s not acceptable is the soft zone Capers seems to default to at times whenever the Packers open up a 10-14 point lead.   The Packers at times seem to lack the killer, step-on –their-throat instinct that is a trademark of the NFL’s best defenses.

The defense has improved and Capers deserves credit.  He just needs to consistently place his players in a position to be successful.

Replacement Refs

Thank God they’re gone.

There’s no need to recap the debacle in Seattle.  That said, the Packers very easily could find themselves on the playoff bubble entering Week 17.  If they end up missing the playoffs by one game, then the indignation that Packer Nation felt after the Seahawks game will probably return.

The replacement officials gave the NFL a black eye.  That game against the Seattle costing a popular team like the Packers a playoff spot might knock out a couple teeth.

The Injuries

I wrote earlier about what was going on with the Packers once again staring down an injury epidemic.  I’m not about to get involved in any kind of conspiracy theories, but for this to happen twice in three years (and the third year not having an offseason program due to the lockout) definitely has to raise some eyebrows.

The Packers may need to examine their strength and conditioning program.  This could all be just bad football luck, but twice in three years is bordering on becoming a trend.

Running game (sans Cedric Benson)

Packer fans finally got a chance to see what Alex Green could do and to say the result was underwhelming would be an understatement.

Since the loss of Benson due to a  Lisfranc injury, both Green and James Starks have seen action as the Packers running back and both have had little success matching the promise Benson showed earlier in the season.  Cobb has almost had more success out of the backfield.

The Packers unsurprisingly did not trade for a running back before the trading deadline, so these are the horses the Packers will finish 2012.  Benson can return with the designation, so here’s hoping he regains his pre-injury form as the Packers prepare for a march to another Super Bowl title.

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Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com.

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  • FireMMNow

    Hey Al, in the past I found your site going to packernet.com/articles. you guys probably have seen the site. it is a good place to go that consolidates a ton of packer articles. it appears their site has changed and now they have a “news” section. I cannot find your articles in the “news” section. so if you guys are seeing a drop in traffic that may be one of the reasons why. i hate the new packernet set up.

  • FireMMNow

    Good article, hard to argue with much in there.

    I was just looking at packers cap this morning and it looks like about 6 of the packers top 17 salary cap players will either be reduced or gone next year.

    The max gain in cap space from those 6 players could be $31.67 million.

    The following figures are 2012 cap figures:

    Woodson: $11.44 million – he will have to take a BIG reduction to stick around.

    Jennings: $7.5 miilion – FA and he is most likely signing elsewhere.

    Finley: $5.25 million – i think his 2013 number goes up to 7 or 8 million. I think this is J-mikes last year in GB.

    Saturday: $3.18 million – i would think that TT will replace him with a younger cheaper option. he has been okay this year, but it would be unlike TT to keep him around next year. EDS should be the center next year.

    Driver: $2.3 million – everyone loves him but he has been pretty terrible this year. love the guy, but this is the swan song.

    Collins: $2 million – i think this is the last hit they have to take for him.

    I know there will be some cap hits for cutting the players above, but I would guess that the net savings will be around $20 million. Woodson will probably take a reduced salary to around 5 million.

    Other notables would be:

    Kuhn at $2.4 million. he is just worth that at this point.

    Hawk at $6-6.5 million. he has been better this year, but good enough to make him the 5th highest paid player on the team? definitely not.

    Raji’s cap number is $5.46 million. that is too much money for him right now. if he thinks he is going to get a raise on his second contract he is mistaken…hopefully.

    Also Barnett and Chillar are counting a total of $1.6 million against the cap this year.

    basically, i just wanted to say that it looks like there will be plenty of room for CM3, Jordy and Rodgers to get new deals. although, i hope they can convince rodgers to play nice next year and not demand a new contract.

    • Turophile

      Finley is indeed $5m this year and $8m next year. I agree he will not be here next year. As you say Woodson is gone too, at that salary.

      If Finley + Saturday + Jennings + Woodson + Driver are all gone,it gives the team a rather different look, and they really could all be gone. Lot of leadership right there.

      The one other thing worth mentioning is we were $6.44m under the cap, in September. There may be a contrct for Brett Goode since then, but it won’t be that big.

      All in all, we may end up keeping Jennings and losing the rest. I’d say 50-50 on Jennings at the moment.

      As for injuries. How many of them actually relate to strength and conditioning ? To take an extreme example, Sherrod’s broken leg is not relevant to that. I think S&C is an easy target, but not necessarily the right one.

  • FireMMNow

    Also, now i will make my obligatory lay off dom capers speech. the defense is 9th in the league in scoring and thinking it should be better than that is kind of delusional. he is playing with a ton of young guys and has dealt with significant injuries. he is doing fine.

    on the other side the packers were #1 in scoring offense last year i believe and this year they are 10th. and the offensive side of the ball has significantly more talent than the defensive side of the ball. yet MM gets a pass and DC gets blasted.

    • zac5

      The thing with Dom is that he is just too conservative. What gives me hope is that I have a gut feeling that when the big games come along at the tail end of the season, we will see more aggression and maybe even see Raji drop into coverage.

      • Oppy

        I agree- Dom Capers is too conservative… as FireMM states, Dom is more conservative than 22 other NFL defensive coordinators when it comes to giving up points.

        • zac5

          Your point is valid and true, but as a fan, frustration sets in when the opposition gets on a roll, as I often think to myself( with hindsight), “if only we had played man coverage on that play…” , but luckily for the Packers I am not making any of the calls.
          Don’t get me wrong, although Dom is frustrating at times, I think he will pull a rabbit or two out of a hat by the season’s end.

    • toolkien

      Not only are the Packers 9th in points given up, they are 6th in QB rating surrendered (up from 11th in 2011).