Bears vs. Packers: Offense / Kicking / Returning Review

This is not a welcome site and unfortunately it has been a common one through the first two games.

Due to the short week last week (and definitely not due to the heart breaking performance of the Packers during the 49ers game) we did not get to unveil all the regular posts following games for this fall. One of them being a Monday morning break down of the offensive and defensive performances (with the appropriate special teams mixed in). This week we are going to kick that off in style. Starting with the look at how the offense performed in Week 2.

Right now the Packers offense is a curious thing to me. There are moments when it looks like all might come together just fine, but then there are others where the offense looks much shakier than last year. I supposed it is unrealistic to expect a repeat of last year's historic performance, but there is something slightly troubling about how uneven the Packers offense looks right now.

If we were to bottom line this I think the best thing I could say is that the offense is different. It seems to be evolving into a more balanced, and perhaps less explosive, version of what we saw last year. A more apt comparison may be the 2010 version of this offense. Right now the Packers look an awful lot like the 2010 team offensively....and that's not necessarily a good thing. The 2010 Packer offense struggled out of the gate and relied too much on the defense and the big play in order to find ways to win. Similarly, this year's Packers are struggling to find an identity and struggling to find consistency. This means that Aaron Rodgers is pressing slightly. It means that receivers are dropping passes. It means that the names making the plays are changing and so everyone is trying to find balance in the new norm.

Let's take a look at what I mean with how the offense fared against the Bears:

The Passing Game Against The Bears

Aaron Rodgers Stat line: 22/32 219 Yards 1 TD 1 INT

Leading receiver: Jordy Nelson - 6 receptions 84 yards

Right now Rodgers numbers are pretty good, but not great. If you doubt this then chew on this fact...right now the highest rated QB in the division right now is Christian Ponder. Ponder is also the only QB in the division to have not thrown an INT this season.

This is not totally on Rodgers, in fact he's looked generally good, but on many of the pieces around him. All of the receivers seem to be struggling with a case of the dropsies and the offensive line has looked a bit shaky - especially at left tackle. Despite this, Rodgers is playing a slightly lower level than last year. Again not surprising, but it's something that will need to improve if the Packers want to make a good push at the end of the year. The best way I can capture what I'm trying to say is by highlighting a play near the end of the first half. On this play Rodgers pressed a pass down field in an attempt to try and score and capitalize on a turnover. The problem was he did not see Lance Briggs, who dropped an interception. This is the second time this year that Rodgers just missed a linebacker in coverage and it's a mistake that he rarely ever made last year (I can think of only two times to be honest...once was an amazing play by Brian Urlacher and the other the LB turned out to be in the wrong place on the field and just got lucky). Is this an end of the season sort of problem? No, but it is a bit troubling and could be a sign that Rodgers will not be quite as sharp this year.

As for the receivers, Nelson played well being the leading target, but has not been the deep threat that he was last year. Perhaps more telling is that last year he caught a TD pass in every home game. This year there have been two home games and he is yet to notch his first TD of the year. Mix in a few dropped passes and you have a slight disappointment from Nelson. He's still good, but he's just not as great as last year. More disappointing has been James Jones and Jermichael Finley. Each of these players have the tools and ability to be huge contributors, but mental errors have prevented that. For Jones this has been shown through dropped balls, wrong routes being run (which led to Rodgers INT for the game) and making the wrong break on the ball in the end zone (forcing Jones to make a great adjustment, but still drop the pass). Finley also has been dropping passes, he also got stripped of the football by the Bears defense.

The Running Game Against The Bears

Leading Rusher: Cedric Benson - 20 attempts 81 yards 4.1 average 11 longest run.

Remember I said that the offense is evolving? This is probably the largest area of growth. It's clear right now that the Packers are changing up their offense on the fly in order to mix in Benson. This means that there are more "I" formations and single back with Rodgers under center. Against Chicago there was lots of use of Tom Crabtree as an H back and John Kuhn as a lead blocker. Benson's performance against Chicago wasn't dynamic, but it was solid and kept the offense moving the chains when the rest of the offense seemed to stumble. I also believe that Benson's performance is starting to put to rest the notion that the Packer offensive line can't run block. The Bears are a bit softer than in years past, but they are definitely not weak in their front seven. Despite this, Benson was able to have a respectable 4 yards per carry average and get some good runs in. Maybe the problem the last couple years was talent at the RB spot and not the run blocking.

The other guy being included in the offense is Randall Cobb. Cobb's role in the offense is taking shape as much as a running back as it is a wide receiver. For instance, against Chicago Cobb had one reception for 20 yards and one rush for 28 yards. He also seems to be lining up as much in the backfield as he is out wide or in the slot. Maybe he will be used in a similar fashion as the 2009 Percy Harvin after all.

The Kicking Game Against The Bears

Mason Crosby stats: Extra Points 2/2 FG: 3/3 Long: 54

Crosby has continued his solid year against the Bears. He made all three field goals and from some significant distances as well.

Then there is also that fake field goal try. It was the right play at the right time. Funny story, I actually watch that play be called countless times during training camp. The coaching staff would often have Tim Masthay and Crosby not kick during practice periods where they were trying to get players to line up right or get down their assignments. For kick offs and punts they would use the JUGS machine to simulate the kick. Often they would run this play on the FG attempts. I always thought it was just a funny little trick play to have them do something after the snap of the ball....I mean come on, who in their right mind would run a fake field goal like that and have Crabtree of all people run the football! Wow was I wrong.

Other than that you are going to read lots and lots about this play for the next day (and probably have seen lots and lots in the last few days). Peter King had a pretty good run down of it in his MMQB piece this week. I suggest you read it.

Kick / Punt Returns Against The Bears

Randall Cobb Returning Stats: (KR) 2 returns 57 yards 28.5 average 38 long / (PR) 1 return 16 yards

The Bears are one of the premiere special team units in the league, and so it's not surprising that there isn't much to report here. I'll take the fake field goal for a touch down instead and call it a good special teams day.

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