Is there now new hope along the offensive line? Is the offense starting to get playoff ready with an improved running attack and ball control passing game? Or was offense seen on Sunday the rest of miscues from the Vikings?
The clear story of the offense this past Sunday was the job that Don Barclay put in holding off an overrated Brian Robison. In Monday’s Cheese Curds Kevin highlighted a great article from Cheesehead TV about the day Barclay had, and the strong case he has made for the starting RT job. As Zach Kruse puts it:
[I]f Lang is healthy, McCarthy will need to think long and hard about plugging Barclay into the starting lineup on the right side and returning Lang to his more natural spot at left guard.
While young, inexperienced and lacking any clout in terms of draft status, Barclay showed more in 2.5 quarters Sunday than Lang did in 9.5 over the last three weeks. Overall Barclay is simply a better athlete in space and has more feel for the position.
It’s a strong argument and seems to make sense to many across Packer Nation. At the very least this move would reduce one weak spot along the line, leaving one instead of two (or two instead of three depending on your view of Marshall Newhouse and/or Jeff Saturday).
Despite this strong argument, a rash move for a relatively unproven and raw player like Barclay is something the coaching staff should be wary of because Barclay’s performance may not be as rosy as it seems. ProFootball Focus gave Barclay a rather poor grade on the day, coming in at a -3.1. PFF counted out four hurries attributable to Barclay (versus one from Cheesehead TV), and noted Barclay’s holding calls as well. What was especially troubling to PFF was the quick release play calling the Packers had which should of reduced the amount of pressure that Aaron Rodgers received.
The real warning flag though may be the vanilla schemes the Vikings used to test (or not test rather) Barclay with once he was in the game. It seems the Vikings were content to just match Robison up one on one with Barclay and expect him to beat the rookie rather than try to fool Barclay with stunts and change ups. Obviously this failed, but future opponents may not be as charitable as the Vikings were on Sunday….or as negligent.
All in all it’s hard to deny the new hope that Barclay brings to the table for the offensive line. This was the best running performance by the Packers in quite some time. It was also a display of power offense that does not always appear here in Green Bay. If the Packers can keep that up through this division run expect them to be a different animal come playoff time…and a much better equipped team for the playoffs than the team that cruised to the #1 seed a year ago.
Passing Offense Review
Aaron Rodgers – 27/35 286 YDS 8.2 AVG 1 TD 1 INT 98.0 RTG
Jermichael Finley – 6 REC 60 YDS 10.0 AVG 21 LG 7 TGTS
Randall Cobb – 6 REC 62 YDS 10.3 AVG 33 LG 6 TGTS
Greg Jennings – 4 REC 46 YDS 11.5 AVG 18 LG 8 TGTS
For weeks the main criticism of the passing offense (outside of the pass blocking) has revolved around receivers not getting open and Rodgers only having eyes for Cobb. It seems the addition of Greg Jennings back into the lineup has helped with these two problems tremendously. The Packers receivers still struggled to get open deep down the field, but having Jennings there helped free up Cobb and get Rodgers to spread the ball around a bit more. This week’s game plan is what most Packer fans would love to see in how Cobb is used in the offense, still a primary weapon but not the only weapon…with Jennings and Finley each getting a healthy number of targets from Rodgers as well.
How about J-Mike by the way? He has now strung together three solid games and has limited the amount of stupid mistakes that he makes out there. There is still a healthy argument that he makes too much money, but this is a bit more of the production we want to see out of the guy. An improved Finley is a great way to challenge the two man deep that the Packers have been seeing week in and week out. It may limit the points that the Packers score with, but they will move the chains and eat the clock which is just fine in playoff football.
Finally let’s hope that this week marks the turning point for stupid decisions by Aaron Rodgers. Early in the game we witnessed his own bad habits continue: holding on to the ball too long, forcing the ball deep down the field on 3 & short instead of making the easy play to get the first down, and then that awful, awful trick play where he forced a pass in there Brett Favre style. After that nightmare of a play Rodgers seemed to calm down and take what the defense gave instead of trying to force something not there. He’s good enough and his supporting cast is good enough to burn defenses that way, so just keep that up….you’ll breakthrough eventually. Especially if the running game can stay on track like it did last week.
Rushing Offense Review
James Starks – 15 CAR 66 YDS 4.4 AVG 1 TD 22 LG
Alex Green – 12 CAR 58 YDS 4.5 AVG 11 LG
John Kuhn – 4 CAR 8 YDS 2.0 AVG 5 LG
Even in a game where the running game shows up, James Starks and Alex Green are virtually identical in their numbers. This is the sort of running game the Packers have needed for some time. The running backs hit their holes. They were able to run hard and get yards after first contact. More importantly it was an offense, and running game, that was able to control the time of possession and bring an opposing defense to exhaustion. Not much more that we can ask for out of this unit, other than maybe seeing an actual 100 yard rusher emerge.
Special Teams Review – Field Goal Kicking
Mason Crosby – 3/4 FG 75% 47 LG
I had the opportunity to go to the game this past weekend and as I returned to my seat in the stands at the start of the third quarter I was treated to a group of Viking fans chanting "Crosby! Crosby!" after Crosby shanked the opening kickoff out of bounds. Something tells me they were continuing this chant as the third and fourth quarter progressed. Funny how a half can change reality in the NFL isn’t it?
The last few days I have been hoping that Crosby’s curse is a bit like the curse of "the Blitz" from How I Met Your Mother…..that when Frazier called that timeout and before Crosby stepped on the field for the kick something deep inside Crosby whispered into the ether "bliiiiitzzzzz" and then a small fog lifted out of him and into Blair Walsh. That would be awesome.
Alas, it’s a bit early to tell if Crosby is really through the woods on his slump. The only way to tell for sure is to keep sending him out there and keep kicking field goals. If he’s not through it then the only way to get him through is to cut him or keep sending him out there some more. In the end we Packer fans will just have to deal with him until the Packers cut him. Given the way this past game turned out, the Packers probably won’t cut Crosby this week….but I will be shocked if he doesn't get some competition in camp next year.
Special Teams Review – The Return Game
Randall Cobb – 3 KR 68 YDS 22.7 AVG 30 LG 3 PR 11 YDS 3.7 AVG 9 LG
It may be time to move Cobb off of punt returns….maybe. Cobb has been working with a case of happy feet back there for some time and he’s developing a bad habit of going backwards. This week it showed in the worst way when he went backwards to about the three yard line and got tackled. That’s just unacceptable. That’s worse than taking a kick off out of the end zone when you’re eight yards back. He’s a playmaker, sure, but he’s got to have a better situational awareness with his game or it’s going to cost the team at an inopportune time.
Last year the Packers did not have an offense that could do what we witnessed on Sunday. They could not form a running game to break the backs of any team...let alone form an epic 18 play 11 minute drive which could be described as "soul-crushing." It's good to see that coming alive this late in the season. The real question lays along the offensive line though, can Barclay be the answer the Packers been searching for to replace Bryan Bulaga for the rest of the year? How long will T.J. Lang be out? Can the Packers stop a top end pass rush like the 49ers or the Giants?
Only time will tell.