For the second time in as many weeks, the Packers' starting quarterback was forced out of the game after one drive. That by itself would be enough to sink a season for most teams, but this is an offense that had already lost it's starting left tackle, running back, tight end, multiple wide receivers, not to mention the multiple injuries that came during the game. The string of misfortunes most clearly recalls those of the infamous Body Bag Game 23 years ago. At this point, it's difficult to pinpoint the roots of Green Bay's problems as injuries by themselves threaten to swallow the season. For that reason, this week's Takeaways will take a less macro look at the Packers' most recent game.
Scott Tolzien could be the answer at backup quarterback
The stat line isn't impressive: 24 of 39 for 280 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. Each of those picks was the type of mistake that accompanies lack of preparation, which was surely the case with Scott Tolzien this week. After nearly leaving Green Bay for a spot on the Browns' 53-man roster, Tolzien was promoted midweek as part of the fallout from Aaron Rodgers' broken collarbone. While he got plenty of mental reps in the position meetings and ran the scout team, there is no substitute for first team snaps.
It's within that context that Tolzien's performance holds promise for the future. Despite being given little time to prepare for the Philadelphia defense, Tolzien managed to complete over 60% of his passes with an average of over seven yards per attempt. Those are telling statistics, as it shows that the Packers do not have to limit the offense to short passes with him under center. Tolzien demonstrated a surprising amount of arm strength as well as solid ball placement. He won't be confused for Rodgers, but he can operate in this offense.
But what was most impressive about Tolzien's debut was his patience when progressing through his reads. Young quarterbacks -- especially those seeing their first NFL action -- tend to lock onto a particular receiver and struggle when that target isn't open (Case Keenum being a prime example). Tolzien avoided such pitfalls, connecting with 10 different receivers over the course of the game.
With a full week to prepare as the starter, Tolzien will give the Packers a fighting chance against the Giants.
Clay Matthews struggled in his return, but should perform better against the Giants
After Rodgers' injury, the most heavily discussed Packer topic was that of Clay Matthews' return from a broken thumb. Since he first injured the thumb four weeks ago against the Lions, it was known that Matthews would initially be required to club his hand upon his return.
Unfortunately for the Packers, a one-armed Matthews isn't nearly as menacing as the two-armed version.
Matthews was often stymied at the line, whether by left tackle Jason Peters or replacement Allen Barbre. Yes, that Allen Barbre. In the run game, Matthews was able to force LeSean McCoy to change direction on numerous occasions, but in all but a few instances McCoy still wiggled away from Matthews' grasp. Matthews clubbed right hands -- a hindrance that is expected to return for at least another week -- prevented the All-Pro from playing effectively.
That said, Matthews should have a much better showing in week 11.
One of the reasons for Matthews struggles this week was Philadelphia's solid offensive line. The group is composed of blue chippers Evan Mathis and the aforementioned Peters, reliable veterans Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans, and a promising, highly-touted youngster in Lane Johnson. Next week's opponents, the New York Giants, possess one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. Even if Matthews' condition doesn't improve, the drop off in pass protection should allow Matthews to apply some badly needed pressure on defense.
Six games into his contract extension, Morgan Burnett is looking like a bad investment
There is plenty of blame to go around the Packers' secondary. Tramon Williams twice whiffed on interception/knockdown opportunities which ultimately resulted in two scores. Davon House failed to rebound from a shaky performance a week ago. Casey Hayward is still working his way back from a hamstring injury that cost him most of the season to date. However, after signing a big extension this offseason, Morgan Burnett has been the most disappointing defensive back in Green Bay.
For the past few weeks, Burnett has been chided for poor tackling in crucial situations. Not only is that an entirely fair criticism, but he's been caught out of position on several big plays. On Nick Foles' 55-yard ricochet touchdown throw, Burnett bit hard on the play action, allowing Jackson to run past single coverage towards the end zone. When you're the deep safety, mistakes like this can sink your team, especially given the Packers' lack of a pass rush.
The counter to this argument is that the struggles of Burnett and the Green Bay secondary are rooted in the lack of pressure up front. Certainly, applying addition pressure on Foles would have helped Sunday. However, many of Burnett's mistakes came when Foles held the ball for under two seconds. Burnett's guessing too much and suffering the consequences. There's still time to turn his season around, but don't be surprised if it's Victor Cruz running past him next Sunday.
The long-awaited return of Derek Sherrod could happen this week
Since his gruesome leg injury back in December 2011 and the rollercoaster recovery that followed, Derek Sherrod's return to the playing field has been the subject of countless articles and speculation. The wait may come to an end this Sunday in New York.
Due to a confluence of events, the Packers' offensive line finds itself in a state of flux. Against Philadelphia, Evan Dietrich-Smith and Don Barclay were both lost to injuries. If either one is unable to suit up this week, the Packers will be forced to use a reserve at right tackle.
For the past two games, this responsibility has fallen on Marshall Newhouse, the Packers' starting left tackle for most of 2011 and 2012. However, after failing to redeem himself against the Eagles, Newhouse could be flirting with the waiver wire. Whether or not he's ultimately released, he's burned the Packers too many times to be trusted again.
The timing might be perfect for Sherrod, who just completed his second week of practice since the Packers activated him off the PUP list. The coaches have been cautious with Sherrod, but if he's finally healthy after a near two year absence, the opportunity to walk into the starting unit is there for the taking.
The Packers need to strike a better balance between Eddie Lacy and James Starks
Since Eddie Lacy's 29 carry, 94-yard performance against the Vikings, Mike McCarthy has reiterated a desire to reduce his workload by given more snaps to James Starks. For a team that still sees itself in the postseason, this strategy makes a lot of sense. Since his time at Alabama, Lacy has struggled with his health while having his most productive years as part of a backfield tandem. Additionally, Starks has demonstrated on several occasions that he can be an effective runner in a limited role.
So far, the Packers are still striving for the right balance. Against Philadelphia, Lacy carried the ball 24 times and added two more touches in the passing game. Starks had only five touches, all coming on the same drive.
It's understandable why McCarthy prefers to stick with the same back for each drive. The Packers excel in the no-huddle, and it gives the runner a full possession to get into a rhythm. However, the workload split remains out of whack. Starks needs to get more series to keep Lacy fresh, especially if Rodgers is going to miss more than three weeks.
More from Acme Packing Company:
- Cheese Curds: Green Bay Packers News and Links for November 11, 2013
- Scott Tolzien to Start for Packers vs. Giants
- Eagles vs. Packers: Final score 27-13, but at least we learned something about Scott Tolzien? Maybe?