After a few days of sulking and depression, I've finally worked up the courage to revisit Monday Night's disaster. The Packers have adopted the "Next Man Up" moniker in recent seasons, and it has yielded some surprisingly positive results. However, if there is one position in sports that you cannot have an injury at, it's quarterback.
Throw in the fact that Aaron Rodgers is among a short list of "elite" quarterbacks in the league, and you have a recipe for disaster. Seneca Wallace was underwhelming in his relief duty on Monday night, but what were we really expecting from someone who hadn't even taken a preseason snap for this team? I believe Seneca Wallace can be a serviceable back-up for the next few weeks if the team is able to rely on the run game and utilize the play-action pass.
The good news is that the next three games are very winnable, and Eddie Lacy is quietly starting to become one of the better running backs in the NFL.
The bad news is that this defense is wildly inconsistent. With Aaron Rodgers out for possibly the next month, this defense needs to be able to stop back-up quarterbacks from throwing the ball all over the field. The run defense wasn't great either, but a lot of that can be contributed to the fact the team had to adjust to getting beat through the air, and got away from its base defense.
Let's get to the grades.
I'm going to be generous with this grade considering the conditions Wallace was thrown in to. He's only been around for about two months, he's never played a single snap for his new team, and was being asked to go against the Bears defense (still decent, not great) on Monday Night Football. He wasn't ready for that relief role yet, and his performance made that pretty clear.
Wallace finished 11 for 19 for 114 yards with one interception for a passer rating of 53.4. Obviously, those are not the kind of numbers we are used to seeing from this offense, but I expect Wallace to show improvements given almost a full week of first-team practice reps.
Wallace's decision-making was the biggest detractor for me, as he forced a few passes (James Jones' only reception of the game that should have been intercepted) and he allowed himself to get sacked twice on the final drive of the game when the team had no timeouts. Regardless of your preparation for the moment, Wallace knows better than that.
Running Backs: A+
Eddie Lacy will need to become the focal point of this offense over the course of the next month, and if Monday night was any indication, he appears ready for that responsibility. Lacy rushed for 150 yards and one touchdown on 22 carries. Lacy eats arm-tackles for breakfast with a side of undersized cornerbacks.
James Starks went virtually untouched on a 32-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and finished with 40 yards on six carries. If the team is going to win without Rodgers, it needs to start with a healthy dose of these two running backs.
Wide Receivers: Incomplete
I'm giving the wide outs a pass on this one. It's hard to give a grade to a unit that is clearly the most dependent on the quarterback. Jordy Nelson looked great on the opening drive, hauling in a 27-yard reception that set up a Mason Crosby field goal. The interesting part of that play was that Nelson was in the slot, a place where he excelled against the Vikings and where I expect to continue to see him line up in the coming weeks.
James Jones added one reception for 17 yards, while Jarrett Boykin had one for 15 yards. Myles White caught one pass for eight yards. Although I am giving this unit a pass this week, they need to do a better job of getting open with Wallace at quarterback. They can't rely on him throwing perfect back-shoulder throws; they have to focus on route-running and becoming available off the initial cut. The new month will present favorable match-ups for the wideouts, and they need to take advantage of that.
Tight Ends: B+
One of the lone bright spots from this offense was Andrew Quarless, who finished with five receptions for 34 yards. Tight ends are usually the safety valve for a quarterback, and Wallace seemed to rely on short passes to Quarless if he didn't see anything open on his initial read. Maybe it was a product of a quarterback not risking long passes, but Quarless made himself available and was more than a run-blocker on Monday night.
Brandon Bostick played 15 snaps, and looked generally overmatched in his attempts to run block at the point of attack. If Jake Stoneburner can be more reliable as a run blocker, he might end up stealing Bostick's reps. This team needs run blockers right now, not athletic pass catchers.
Offensive Line: B
Josh Sitton was great in run blocking, and had some impressive blocks while pulling on the patented Packer sweeps. His fellow guard T.J. Lang was not so great in comparison. Before being knocked out of the game with a concussion, Lang didn't create much push at the point of attack, and was pushed backwards on multiple occasions.
Don Barclay was a decent player at both tackle and guard, while Marshall Newhouse appeared to hold his own in relief duty, at least for the most part. David Bakhtiari held his own against Julius Peppers, but was also beat soundly on a few occasions. However, Peppers' tipped pass-turned-interception wasn't Bakhtiari's fault, as the line appeared to be run-blocking to the right while Wallace tried to throw a hot read right after the snap. Evan Dietrich-Smith was solid in run blocking, and didn't give up much pressure up the middle in pass protection.
I'm just grading the entire defense as a whole this week, because it's too painful to even try to break it down into position groups.
Besides B.J. Raji and Mike Neal, this entire unit took a giant step backwards. Josh McCown finished with 272 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 90.7. He didn't throw an interception and was only sacked once. Raji and Neal were both stout against the run, and Neal added the team's only noticeable pass rush with six quarterback hurries (+1.8 rating from PFF).
A.J. Hawk finished with a -5.1 rating from PFF, which is pretty terrible. He had multiple missed tackles, was continually beat in pass coverage, and didn't add much of a pass rush when he blitzed. Nate Palmer and Johnny Jolly both received a -2.6 rating, and both were equally ineffective. Jolly was -3.5 against the run, while Palmer was -2.5 in pass coverage.
Despite their overall PFF grades, Tramon Williams and Morgan Burnett were negative performers on Monday night. Williams was continually beat by Brandon Marshall, while Burnett had numerous missed tackles. Williams' time in the slot may be over, as the team moved Casey Hayward to that role in the second half. Burnett appeared to be late on a few coverage assignments, and didn't provide much help in run support.
Mason Crosby went 2 for 2 with a long of 30 yards, and added two extra points.
That's the Tim Masthay we all know and love! Masthay recorded six punts for an average of 41.7 yards per punt, downing four inside the 20 yard line, and largely keeping Devin Hester from doing anything ridiculous. Unfortunately, Masthay might have an above-average workload over the next month. Let's hope for more of the same from the Ginger Wolverine.
Lost in all the Aaron Rodgers injury buzz and Seneca Wallace bashing is the fact that this defense played like crap. If the Packers secondary plays like this on Sunday, Nick Foles may go for 7 touchdowns again. Add in the big play ability of LeSean McCoy, and this defense might really be in trouble.
With Aaron Rodgers out for at least three weeks, this team will need an improved effort from its defense in order to win any remaining games. This offense isn't going to score in the 30s, so the defense needs to keep teams in the teens in order to have a realistic shot.