Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
At the beginning of the year there were signs that the Packers were going to develop into a balanced offensive attack with a potent passing game and competent running game.....has this team finally evolved into this model?
A long time ago I wrote about how the offense was evolving into something a bit different than what we saw last year. At the time the Packers were sending more and more of the offense through Cedric Benson and it appeared as though the Packers were going to have a 50/50 split between run and pass. That was the beginning of the year when the team was searching for its identity and everyone was healthy. Now we have reached the end of the year with a good third of the team beaten up and unexpected contributors stepping up to fill in the places where guys have fallen away. Cedric Benson is gone, and has been gone for a long time. James Starks is all but gone too. The receivers have been a revolving door with more than one of the big name players missing multiple games due to injury. The offensive line has lost nearly half its week one starters as well, with relatively unknowns stepping in.
And you know what? As we come back to Bears week I’m left with the same thought that I had when we left the first Bears week. The offense, it’s a changin’.
The last two weeks have seen the Packers begin to turn into that cold weather team we have been waiting for a year and a half. Gone is the super fantastic passing attack of 2011, and in its place is a competent running game and opportunistic passing attack led by the best QB in the league. Records won’t be broken and there won’t be pretty wins, but there will be wins. The Packers seem tougher now than have looked in months….if not years.
This is the reason why I can’t bring myself to say that this was an ugly win. It wasn’t a perfect win to be sure, but when the offense can score on a seven play drive that does not involve a single pass that’s not ugly. When that drive comes in the fourth quarter to help seal up a victory, that’s not ugly either. When they can get three different running backs running the ball and making key third down conversions on the ground….well that’s just plain beautiful boys and girls.
It’s not awe inspiring offense of last year that chased history. It’s a tougher, humbler offense that is ready to handle bad weather conditions and take the pressure off of Aaron Rodgers. Unlike last year I feel comfortable with this offense if Rodgers does not have a perfect day. That alone shows that this team is more playoff ready than it was a year ago, despite some of the ugly losses the team has suffered.
Passing Offense Review
Aaron Rodgers – 14/24 173 YDS 7.2 AVG 80.7 RTG
Randall Cobb – 7 REC 102 YDS 14.6 AVG 38 LG 7 TGTS
Jermichael Finley 2 REC 16 YDS 8.0 AVG 9 LG 3 TGTS
This is the first home game in a long time that Rodgers has not thrown a touchdown pass. As sad as it is to see a historic streak end, it’s even better to see the Packers win and succeed on offense in a new way. Not long ago I talked about the numbers on offense lying, that Rodgers had a day where the traditional numbers looked good but his performance was actually disappointing. This game seems similar with the opposite conclusion. The traditional numbers suggest a disappointing day, but this misses the point of what he did. Rodgers had a pretty good day, and pretty efficient, despite completing just over 50% of his throws. He generally managed the pressure he faced well and was able to protect the football save his one strip sack. Considering the conditions and skill of the Detroit Lions’ defensive line this is no easy feat.
The receivers did a better job of getting open and allowing Rodgers to find them, or at least better than they had been over the past couple weeks. Randall Cobb continued to be the best target for Rodgers catching seven balls and only dropping one pass (which did not officially count as a target due to two penalties on the Lions). Rodgers even did a better job of spreading the ball around this week targeting 8 different receivers and hitting 6 of them.
Finally the offensive line deserves some love. The stats show a three sack night for them, which is awful, but again this does not seem to tell the whole story. Most of the night Rodgers had plenty of time to throw the football, and many of the problems came early in the game when the entire team seemed to struggle. Also remember one of the sacks Rodgers just gave himself up to the defender, making the smart football decision to take the sack and keep the clock running rather than throw the ball away and stop the clock. Yes the protection failed miserably on that play, most notably in not allowing the screen to be set up, but if that same play was a minute sooner in the game it probably would not have been a sack. So give the offensive line some love, at the very least it was worlds better than what we saw of the line against Detroit the first time.
Rushing Offense Review
Alex Green – 13 CAR 69 YDS 5.3 AVG 12 LG
DuJuan Harris – 7 CAR 31 YDS 4.4 AVG 1 TD 14 LG
Ryan Grant – 1 CAR 13 YDS
Let’s start with the big story of the running game from this past Sunday…DuJuan Harris. Chances are that you probably have not heard of him before Sunday’s game….unless you copiously read Aaron Rodgers quotes. Even then the quotes were about how good this kid from the PS could be and how he almost made it on the field for the Vikings game. I didn’t think much of it personally, having grown a bit skeptical of the praise Rodgers gives to the unnamed after being duped by Chastin West, Ruvell Martin, Diondre Borel, and even Jermichael Finley. Rodgers is great, but sometimes he can be a bit of a stamp tramp….so when I saw DuJuan Harris being talked up by those at 1265 I figured a wait and see approach would be best.
Well, consider me impressed with what I saw. DuJuan Harris was signed off the practice squad of the Jacksonville Jaguars and eventually moved on to the active roster this month. He’s a player who has come up the hard way within the Packers organization, proving in practice that he can make plays with a nice mix of speed and power. In a way he reminds me of Spencer Havner. For those who remember, Havner eventually made it on the field because he just kept scoring touchdowns in practice and so the Packers brass gave him a chance on the field….and then all he did was score touchdowns on Sunday. Harris is a nice addition to the backfield and seems to have the ability to grind for that extra yard more than any other running back the Packers have had…other than possibly Cedric Benson.
Speaking of the other backs, this was probably the best game yet for Alex Green. All year Green has shown more ability to break the big play than any of the other backs the Packers have had on the roster, but he has lacked consistency and power in his runs often going down at first contact and losing yards. This week Green showed some tough running and was able to get to the second level. Best of all Green started to show some patience, letting the holes develop and then make the one cut necessary to break free. It was a good performance and another strong showing like this may get people feeling better about Green as an every down back….maybe.
Finally there is Ryan Grant. Grant had one carry, but looked good on that one carry. It’s uncertain how much Grant will get the ball with Harris rising and Green starting to come into his own. Despite this it’s still good to have Grant in the mix and he seems to bring a consistent presence…or at the very least he seems like a very good fall back plan should the two younger guys fall on their face at some point.
The offensive line did a pretty good job in the running game this week. Best of all it seems that coach McCarthy is getting a better feel for calling the runs than he has in the past. Sure the delayed draws out of the gun are still there, but they appeared less frequently and generally worked this week (save the awful John Kuhn run play). More importantly, the Packers did a large part of their running out of power formations attacking the tackles. One thing Marshall Newhouse has been consistent with while in the lineup has been his run blocking, and Don Barclay seems to have a good mean streak in him as well. If the Packers can effectively attack the edge of the defensive line with their running attack that should help prevent some of the pass rush that is sure to come their way….especially against teams that have an over aggressive edge rusher or two [cough, cough, the New York Giants, cough].
Special Teams Review – Field Goal Kicking
Mason Crosby – 2/3 49 LG
So last week we were left with a question mark as to the status of Crosby’s slump. Well I wish I could tell you that this week provided a clear answer, but that’s just not the case. Crosby hit two for three. The two he hit were pretty good distance, especially his long of 49, but he missed the 50+ attempt. The maddening part is that it’s not the amount of leg that’s the issue here like Jason Hansen ran into, but rather the spin he’s putting on the ball. We may be through the worst of Crosby’s slump, but he’s got to get better at the long field goals…especially as the playoffs come close.
Special Teams Review – Return Game
Randall Cobb – 3 KR 76 YDS 25.3 29 LG 1 PR 13 YDS
The good news here is that Cobb ran forward while returning kicks and punts this week. This is an improvement over what has happened the last couple weeks, but there was no big returns either. This makes for a solid, but unspectacular day in the return game.