Aaron Rodgers threw three first half touchdowns, including strikes of 93 and 35 yards, and the Packers (6-0) defense made enough plays to keep the Rams out of the end zone as Green Bay rolled to a 24-3 win over the still winless Rams (0-5).
Here are five observations from the game:
1. Quick start
For the third time this season, the Packers scored 24 points in the first half of a game. For a team that has occasionally gotten off to slow starts in the past, that’s an encouraging sign. The Packers got a field goal from Mason Crosby—his franchise record-tying 17th straight made kick—on their first possession in the first quarter. After a punt on the next series, the Packers scored touchdowns on three straight possessions to essentially put the deflated Rams away. The first score came following James Starks’ 15-yard run on a fourth-and-1 play. Aaron Rodgers’ run-action fake gave him all day as he rolled to his left, and James Jones worked his way back from the righthand of the formation to haul in Rodgers’ perfectly thrown pass in the end zone. In a wind that gave both special teams units problems, Rodgers’ throw couldn’t have been placed any better.
Rams punter Donnie Jones pinned the Packers at the 7-yard-line to begin their next drive, but Jordy Nelson’s perfectly ran sluggo route on former Packers Al Harris allowed him to get behind the Rams defense for a 93-yard score. Harris bit hard on Rodgers’ pump, but there’s no doubting that Nelson has proven to be a home run hitter through six games in 2011. He has 20 catches for 409 yards and four scores, with three of the touchdowns coming from 50 yards or further out.
Rodgers’ final touchdown pass, this time to Donald Driver, capped an 11-play, 77 yard drive that gave the Packers a 24-point lead with under two minutes left in the first half. Facing a second-and-goal, Rodgers again rolled to his left, and Driver made a veteran move to get space in the end zone for a sidearm throw from Rodgers. At that point, Rodgers had 234 yards passing and three scores for a perfect 158.3 rating. Any scoreline from the Packers seemed attainable with the way the offense was clicking to start the game. It probably goes without saying, but the Packers will be a tough out if they continue to play that well to begin games.
2. Ugly second
For as well as the Packers played in the first half, they played just as uninspired and lackadaisical in the second. Green Bay had just 126 yards of offense and went 3-for-9 on third downs in the final 30 minutes. Drops became an issue, too. Nelson starting running upfield before securing a third-and-2 pass that would have netted an easy first down in the third quarter, and then Greg Jennings one upped Nelson by having a perfect throw from Rodgers clank off his hands and into the waiting arms of Craig Dahl for an interception in the fourth. Both were indications of the focus level of the Packers offense in the second half. People will blame Mike McCarthy for letting his foot off the gas and sticking more to the ground, but the Packers simply didn’t execute. The talent level was so wide for the Packers offense and Rams defense that it shouldn’t have really mattered what McCarthy called. The Packers offense mentally checked out of this game at halftime, and it resulted in a goose egg on the scoreboard in both the third and fourth quarters.
3. Bend but don’t break
The Packers gave up 424 total yards, but I’d argue that the defense played well on Sunday. Anytime you can keep an NFL team—even one as poor as the Rams—out of the end zone, you’ve done something right. The Rams were just 1-for-3 in the red zone, with the lone score coming on a field goal before the half. Sam Shields’ interception in the end zone, which saw him play perfect coverage and then make a nice play on the thrown pass, ended one scoring opportunity for the Rams. Clay Matthews second sack of the season ended the other. The stops might have seemed inconsequential in the scheme of a 24-3 win, but a better team would have made this a nail-biter on Sunday. The Packers put a lot of internal pressure on their defense in the second half and they responded when they had to.
4. Introducing Clay Matthews, but he’s been here the whole time
Most have been highly critical of Matthews this season for the simple fact that he’s registered just a single sack in five games before Sunday. Anyone who’s watched the Packers with any consistency would tell you he’s playing just as well as he has in his previous two Pro Bowl seasons. Sacks are a stat that can be very misleading if used on its own. You have to look at the whole picture. According to Pro Football Focus, Matthews had tallied a combined 25 sacks, quarterback hits and hurries in the Packers first five games—a number that tied him with the Cowboys’ DeMarcus Ware for No. 1 among outside linebackers. By my unofficial count, Matthews added six more to that total (one sack, three quarterback hits and two hurries) on Sunday against the Rams. The sexy stats aren’t there in huge quantities this season—Matthews had 8.5 sacks at this same time in 2010—but he’s still making impact plays.
5. Perfect, but with imperfections
The Packers are 6-0 for the first time since 1965, and Sunday’s win marked the seventh time a defending champion started the next season with that record. With the Lions’ 25-19 loss to the 49ers, the Packers remain the NFL’s only undefeated team. But like they’ve done all season, the Packers were unable to put together 60 minutes of football that’s up to their standard. The drops in the second half were inexcusable. Third down execution was far below what we’ve seen (55.4 percent before Sunday). The run defense gave up 125 yards and a 5.0 yard average. Austin Pettis nearly broke a punt return for a touchdown. But still, the Packers found a way to win a game by three touchdowns. As McCarthy said after the game, “The last time I checked, when you win by three touchdowns, that’s a pretty significant win.” It’s hard to argue with McCarthy there. It’s going to be easy for fans to focus on some of the negatives of the Packers win, but don’t lose focus on the task at hand. The goal every week is to win the game in front of you. The Packers are 6-for-6 in that category in 2011.
MLB A.J. Hawk gave the one-finger salute after a sack in the second quarter, which he promptly apologized for post-game. It was directed towards the Packers sidelines and was meant as an “inside joke.” Regardless, Hawk should expect a fine sometime this week from the NFL…With a 119.1 passer rating Sunday, Rodgers became the first quarterback in NFL history to go over 110 in every game through six weeks…The Packers don’t play again at Lambeau Field until Nov. 14. Green Bay goes to Minnesota before their bye week, then travels to San Diego in Week 9…Rodgers 93-yard touchdown to Nelson was the Packers longest completion since Brett Favre hit Robert Brooks for a 99-yard touchdown in 1995…James Jones has caught a touchdown pass in three straight weeks, which marks the first time he’s done that in his NFL career…The Packers are alone in first place in the NFC North for the first time since 2007.——————
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