A lot of attention has been given to the Packers injuries on offense as of late, but the multitude of injuries to the linebacking group seemed like the biggest concern to me. After Sunday's defensive performance, and a quick glance at the upcoming schedule, I might be changing my mind.
Rookies Andy Mulumba, and Nate Palmer weren't just serviceable back-ups on Sunday, they were above-average players on an aggressive defense. Third-year linebacker Jamari Lattimore had a break-out performance, leading the team in tackles with 12. For a unit that seemed to have limited depth at the start of the season, it sure seems to have developed some young talent at a rapid pace over the past few weeks.
On offense, Jarrett Boykin provided a surprise spark at wideout, but the Packers lost playmaking tight end Jermichael Finely to an apparent spinal cord injury. Luckily, Aaron Rodgers had another bounce-back game after a sub-par performance the week before.
The hits keep piling up for this squad, but time and time again, the next man up has provided above-average play at his given position. When this team gets healthy, they'll be one of the deepest teams in the league.
Now, to the grades!
Aaron Rodgers finished 25 for 36 for 260 yards and three touchdowns for a passer rating of 117.8. Throw in the fact that he was working with a M.A.S.H. unit in crappy field conditions, and you can't help but be impressed with his performance.
Rodgers showed improved accuracy and focus on Sunday, after missing on a few passes and appearing rattled last Sunday in Baltimore. His back-shoulder throw to Nelson for his second touchdown pass was a sign that Rodgers was back to his confident self. Other than the Bears in two weeks, the schedule sets up nicely for Rodgers to have some strong performances against suspect secondaries.
Running Backs: B+
Eddie Lacy finished with 82 yards and one touchdown on 22 carries, and added five receptions for 27 yards. Lacy has taken the reins of the "feature back" spot, and produced a consistent running attack. On Sunday against the seventh-ranked run defense in the NFL, Lacy didn't find a lot of open lanes, but was able to break arm tackles and turn one-yard gains into five-yard gains.
The threat of the run alone has produced some big plays out of play-action, and if Lacy can continue to average 3 to 5 yards per carry (3.7 on Sunday), it will go a long way in giving this team more balance.
Wide Receivers: A
Jarrett Boykin was my offensive MVP on Sunday, with eight receptions for 103 yards and one touchdown. Rodgers must have faith in the young wideout because he targeted Boykin 10 times on Sunday, and Boykin didn't disappoint. With teams focusing on Jordy Nelson until James Jones returns, it will be pivotal that Boykin becomes a playmaker and force teams to respect his big play potential. He did on Sunday, and the offense made enough plays to win.
Jordy Nelson added five receptions for 42 yards and one touchdown, while Myles White added one catch for nine yards. Nelson had a tough assignment against a talented corner in Joe Haden, but was able to get open for a few key receptions that kept drives alive and helped get the Packers on the scoreboard. White's special team's blunder was a lowlight for the rookie out of Louisiana Tech, but with more reps at practice it seems feasible that he could become a valuable option as a kick or punt returner.
Tight Ends: B+
Jermichael Finley had a great performance on Sunday, which makes his spinal cord injury even more devastating. Finley finished with five receptions for 72 yards and one touchdown. His touchdown grab on the opening drive was a perfect demonstration of the tight end's increased focus and determination this season. Unfortunately, with his second concussion this season, who knows if and when we'll see #88 back on the field. It was another devastating blow to an already decimated skill position group.
The biggest cause for concern is that the other tight ends didn't produce a single catch on Sunday. With Ryan Taylor inactive, Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick, and Jake Stoneburner were unproductive in the passing game. Bostick also appeared to line-up incorrectly on a goal line play, and forced Rodgers to take a time out. Let's hope someone steps up in this group with Finley out, because there appears to be a dramatic drop-off after Finley at this position right now.
Offensive Line: B-
The offensive line only allowed one sack on Sunday, but didn't produce many running lanes for Lacy. Don Barclay and David Bakhtiari were both called for holding penalties for the second week in a row, and both were fairly obvious ones too. Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang both appeared to have solid performance with no glaring errors.
The two young tackles appear to have taken a step back lately, especially Barclay who has received a (-2.5) rating from Pro Football Focus since the bye week. With the Vikings, Bears, and Giants coming up, this unit needs to sharpen up its pass protection techniques.
Defensive Line: A
The defensive line was able to hold the Browns' running backs to 63 yards rushing, and even applied to some pressure up the middle. Johnny Jolly led the unit with two tackles, both for loss, while Mike Daniels added one sack and two QB hits. B.J. Raji recorded one tackle, while Datone Jones added one QB hit.
If the defensive line can stuff the run on a regular basis, it might not matter who is back there at linebacker. The lack of contain that allowed the less-than-elusive Brandon Weeden to glide for runs of 11 and nine were a little discouraging, but I doubt they expected to him to take off like he did. Regardless, that's a play that could cost them against Michael Vick (if he's healthy) in a few weeks.
Jamari Lattimore led the team with 12 tackles, one sack, and a pass break-up, while A.J. Hawk added another impressive performance with 12 tackles as well. Nate Palmer recorded six tackles, while Andy Mulumba added one. The biggest detractor from the group was Mike Neal, who clearly wasn't at 100%. He finished with zero tackles, and was caught off-sides on fourth-and-goal late in the game that allowed the Browns to score their only touchdown of the day on the following play.
Davon House gets defensive MVP honors this week for his performance on Browns wideout Josh Gordon. Gordon torched the Lions secondary for seven receptions and 126 yards last week, but was held to just two receptions and 26 yards on Sunday. Sam Shields also made some key plays in coverage of Gordon, but House appeared to be his primary opposition. House finished with three tackles, three pass break-ups, and an interception. Micah Hyde added six tackles, and showed improved pass coverage technique. He was a step late on a pass to Jordan Cameron that could have easily been an interception.
Tramon Williams added five tackles and one sack, while Sam Shields added one tackle and a pass break-up. It appears as if Sam Shields and Davon House have established themselves as cover corners, while Tramon Williams and Micah Hyde have been frequently used as wild cards within Dom Capers' disguised blitz packages. The Packers could be establishing a solid mix of talent and physicality on the back end of a defense that is already stopping the run.
Morgan Burnett had another solid performance on Sunday, recording three tackles and a pass break-up. His leadership is becoming more and more noticeable, as he could be often seen making audibles to the secondary based on what he say pre-play. His leadership will go a long way in helping the development of M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillian, and Chris Banjo.
Speaking of Jennings, he was late getting in front of a slant route by Jordan Cameron on the touchdown pass late in the game. Lattimore could have provided more of a bump at the line of scrimmage to throw Cameron off his route, but Jennings was late reacting, and tried to go over the top instead of under, and ended up colliding with Morgan Burnett in the end zone. It's a teachable moment, but it's not a promising sign when both Jennings and McMillian are making mistakes, and neither one is taking ownership of the safety spot opposite Burnett.
McMillian and Banjo both finished with one tackle, but Banjo seemed more competent in pass coverage. Banjo recorded one pass break-up, and has been one of the most consistent special teams players on the roster. If Jennings and McMillian don't create some separation, Banjo could threaten for some more playing time.
Crosby was 1 for 2 on the day. He connected on a 26-yard field goal in the second quarter, but was short on a 52-yarder to open the second half. It's hard to blame Crosby considering the conditions. In fact, had it not been 4th and 17, I'm sure Coach McCarthy would have opted to go for it.
Just the fact that McCarthy had enough faith in Crosby to attempt the kick has to give the kicker some confidence that the team no longer questions his ability to do his job. That could go along way for a kicker with an apparent fragile psyche.
Tim Masthay recorded three punts for an average of 30 yards, downing one inside the 20. It was not the greatest performance of the season, but what was more alarming was the yardage given up on kickoff returns. I know it's not completely Masthay's fault that Travis Benjamin broke an 86 yard return, and Fozzy Whittaker averaged 34.3 yards per return, but it could have been avoided if Masthay booted the ball out of the end zone.
The Packers advance to 4-2, and take a half-game lead over the Lions and Bears. After watching a limited amount of the Monday Night Game before my eyes melted, I have to believe the Packers should be able to come out of Minnesota at 5-2.
The Vikings will play the Packers tough at home, but with the way the Packers have been able to shut down opposing rush attacks and the lack of production that Josh Freeman seems to provide in the passing game, I can't see them matching Green Bay score for score.
Let's hope for good injury news on all fronts, and another Packers victory on Sunday.
More from Acme Packing Company:
- Report: Jermichael Finley has Bruised Spinal Cord
- McCarthy Presser 10/21: Injury to Jermichael Finley "Significant"
- Packers Game Balls: Rodgers Leads the Way In Win Over Browns
- Packers Take Over First Place in NFC North
- Browns vs. Packers Final Score: Jermichael Finley Stars Early, Gets Hurt Late in 31-13 Win