Last week's blowout of Detroit was the least exciting 26-0 victory I had ever studied. There were numerous miscues, stupid penalties, awful pass protection, and reaggravated injuries.
This week's 31-3 blowout of Cleveland? Much more exciting.
As usual, I'm going to start off by analyzing the negatives. Yeah, yeah, simmer down, there weren't that many this time. Once again, what follows are all impressions that I got despite not watching the game. (Sidenote: If anyone has a problem with me breaking down the games using NFL.com's video packages, play-by-plays, and box scores, please e-mail me for information on my favorite charity, Mitchell's DirectTV Fund.)
8 penalties for 70 yards. While they cut the yardage lost to yellow flags from last week by 50%, this is still far too many flags. Some of them were just downright sloppy (Al Harris' facemask of Mohamed Massaquoi, 12 men on the field, Atari Bigby's unnecessary roughness). Others were fairly normal calls (Brady Poppinga's defensive holding, Donald Lee's offensive holding and offensive pass interference, Al Harris' illegal contact).
I can live with the holding penalties (provided they occur at lower rates), but the sloppy mistakes really bother me. Especially Harris' facemask, where he overran the receiver and reached back to grab whatever he could, despite having help on the tackle.
Jermichael Finley's short day. Before the game, one of my friends was debating whether he should start Finley or Owen Daniels in fantasy football. I was adamant that Finley was going to have a career day against Cleveland and that Daniels would struggle against San Francisco's linebackers. Had he listened to me, he would have gotten the dreaded double-whammy of a starter getting hurt and the benched player going off for a point explosion.
Finley has looked really good in 2009, and has shown improvement each and every week. Seeing him in street clothes before halftime was not an encouraging sign, even if they didn't need him against the Browns.
I have yet to see any news regarding Finley's diagnosis and how much time he will miss. As soon as I do, I'll post an update. Especially since one of today's problems was...
Stalled drives. I know I shouldn't complain about a day where the offense gets both a 1-yard run and a 5-yard pass for touchdowns. But in the early going, the Packers had their first drive stall at the Cleveland 32-yard line. Later, on the first drive of the second half, they had a drive stall at the Cleveland 37-yard line, and followed that by settling for a field goal after getting 1st-and-goal from the Cleveland 8-yard line.
While this might be considered nitpicking (mainly because it is nitpicking), the fact that the offense had three drives stall in the opponent's territory is somewhat worrisome. Against Cleveland, you can get away with it, but heading into the toughest part of the 2009 schedule, the offense needs to sustain every drive it possibly can.
If Jermichael Finley is healthy, this will probably be a lesser problem going forward. A big target like that is a major asset, especially deep in enemy territory. However, if he's going to miss significant time, it's up to the rest of the offense to step up and make scores happen whenever they cross midfield.
See, that wasn't so bad, was it? Now let's talk about the positives.
Donald Driver and the Fountain of Youth. When I was in grade school, my favorite subject was social studies. Social studies was a fancy way of combining history and political science, which ended up being my concentration in college. One of my favorite stories in this subject was Ponce de Leon searching for the fountain of youth in Florida. Clearly, he was looking in the wrong spot, since Donald Driver has evidently used it in the Midwest.
While Driver only had 2 catches for 84 yards, his 71-yard touchdown came off of a beautiful hot read by Rodgers, who saw the seam in coverage and zipped it between the defenders and into Driver's chest. From there, Driver showed off the acceleration, angular running, and body control that made him the franchise reception leader. He might not be AP, but he can still get it done in the open field. Just ask Eric Wright.
At 34, Driver is leading the team in catches (27), yards (479), and touchdowns (3). While this is awesome in so many ways, it's curious that Greg Jennings' numbers are not at the same levels. Jennings had another relatively quiet day (5 catches, 52 yards), and his stats for the season are modest by his historical standards.
Some readers attribute this to the new development of defenses double-covering Jennings to prevent big plays. I tend to agree with this assessment, especially since Jennings hasn't seen consistent double-coverage in his career yet. Plus, it explains why Driver has been able to make so many big plays; he has less defenders in his way.
Aaron Rodgers' short day. Anytime your starting quarterback has a line of 15/20 for 246 yards and 3 scores by the middle of the fourth quarter, it's time to give the backup some reps. That's exactly what happened today, and it is a welcome sight.
It helps that Rodgers was able to avoid what little pressure Cleveland managed to throw his way and come away unscathed. Today's zero sack performance by the offensive line lowered the per-game average from 5.0 to 4.1. We can build on this!
T.J. Lang = LT of the future? If you would have asked me in September where Lang would have ended up this season, I would have told you that he would either be on the bench or in the rotation at RT. I never would have thought he would have made such a good case for starting at LT. Chad Clifton's ankle injury will likely keep the mainstay tackle sidelined for a few weeks, and we already know that Daryn Colledge can't handle the position.
Lang, however, has looked solid in his three week audition. He gets excellent force behind his initial punch, but more importantly, he follows through by creating contact with the defender. While Detroit and Cleveland are not defensive stalwarts, keeping a man of that size at bay is impressive, and Lang now has the inside track towards starting against Jared Allen next week.
Will T.J. Lang be able to protect Rodgers' blindside from the best pass rusher in the league? I don't know. But I do know that he will give Rodgers a much better chance than a gimpy Chad Clifton or Daryn Colledge, who clearly belongs at LG.
Ryan Grant earning his paycheck. Raise your hands if you're happy to see Grant put up a dominating rushing performance (27 carries, 148 yards, 1 TD).
OK, now raise your hands if you're irritated it took this long to happen.
While Grant's struggles are well-documented on this site, I place myself in the "better late than never" camp when it comes to success on the ground. A consistent run game gave Green Bay a 10-minute edge in time of possession, and the workload allowed Grant to get into a rhythm and bust off some good carries.
Red zone defense. The Browns had an abysmal offensive showing, but they still were able to move into striking distance (inside the Green Bay 5-yard line) on two seperate occasions. The fact that the defense held them to no touchdowns and only one field goal speaks volumes of the defensive effort yesterday.
Charles Woodson again showed why he deserves to at least be in the conversation for DPOY (even if he won't win it) with a pick and a forced fumble. Aaron Kampman got good pressure all day, and came away with a sack. Cullen Jenkins and B.J. Raji consistently got penetration, which opened up plays for the linebackers. Jenkins also recorded a sack and a forced fumble. A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett registered seven and six tackles respectively, and generally looked like they belonged on the field.
All in all, the defense looks active and aggressive, creating pressure from various positions and angles, flowing to stop the ball, cutting off running lanes from ball carriers, and forcing quarterbacks into bad throws. Sounds like a good recipe going forward to me.
Scoreboard watching. It's not even close to playoff time, but many of us were keeping tabs on the other teams in the NFC North that were in action. Seeing Chicago getting blown out by Cincinnati did wonders for some Packer fans' confidence, as it shows just how much the Bengals were overlooked at the beginning of the season. Likewise, seeing the Vikings' luck run out in Pittsburgh was equally therapeutic, even if the two biggest plays in the 4th quarter (Favre sacked, stripped, and the fumble returned for a TD and Chester Taylor's inability to snag a short screen pass that was thrown a bit too hard) were somewhat fluky.
The most important result from the weekend is Green Bay improving to 4-2 while Minnesota falls to 6-1 and Chicago to 3-3. Moving into second place in the division and only 1.5 games behind the leading Minnesota Vikings isn't the ideal scenario we imagined back in September, but it's a far sight better than it could be.