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After a sluggish start to the season, the Packers offense finally found some semblance of life on Sunday against the Saints.
Offense in review
421 total yards, 28 points, and 30 first downs: those are statistics that seem to be a much better reflection of the Green Bay Packers' offense than what we saw in the first three games. The same goes for Aaron Rodgers' 319 passing yards and four touchdowns. Now while we all know that the Saints' defense isn't exactly the 1985 Bears, there are still a number of signs that this sort of success will be sustainable.
First and foremost, the Packers' offensive line, much maligned after their abysmal performance in the first half against Seattle, did not allow a sack on Sunday. Rodgers had time to throw and his pocket was solidly formed around him so that he could step up and make a handful of plays with his legs. Really, the only time there was any cause for concern about Rodgers was on his scramble when Malcolm Jenkins decided to be the Moe to Rodgers' Curly. It's more than a little encouraging to see the linemen respond to criticism with a strong performance.
Also encouraging was the running of Cedric Benson. He didn't break a run over 9 yards (though he nearly had one early in the second half but was tackled from behind), but he consistently picked up 4 and 5 yards on first down plays to give the Packers manageable second down yardage. Benson looks like exactly the same player he has been for the past several years - a solid power back who is consistent without being flashy - but that's the kind of player the Packers need right now to make the run game a legitimate concern.
Now let's move to the passing game. Rodgers and the receivers looked to be on the same page much of the game, and it's entirely possible that it was because of the time Aaron had in the pocket. That said, I don't remember a single receiver dropping an easy catch yesterday, which was a big step up from the past. The only possible "drops" might be on Jermichael Finley in the end zone (on a ball which he bobbled somewhat, but was knocked away by a linebacker) or Randall Cobb over the middle, on the ricocheting ball that went through his hands and bounced off Donald Driver before hitting the turf.
Ultimately, Rodgers threw the ball well. His one interception was an admittedly bad throw, but that was really his only poor throw on the day. In another strange twist, he was trying to throw the ball to an open Finley in the back of the end zone on his first touchdown pass, but got lucky that James Jones cut in front for the score instead of a defender. (You mad, Finley fantasy owners?) Otherwise, Jordy Nelson finally got his game going, with 8 catches for 93 yards and the winning score, while Greg Jennings had a touchdown on his only catch of the day before leaving at halftime when his groin injury flared up again.
Plus, how big was James Jones yesterday? He already had a great day with his two touchdown catches before that absurd no-look catch on third down to ice the game. Despite drawing pass interference, I personally feel that the catch was much more satisfying than if the ball had fallen incomplete and the Packers got the first down via penalty. I also like Mike McCarthy's strategy on that drive: run on first and second down to draw out the clock, then win the game with the passing game on third down. He let his best player win the game, and with some assistance from James Jones, he did.
Now I can't go through the offense without mentioning Graham Harrell's only NFL snap. It still looks to me that Josh Sitton's left foot clips Harrell, but Harrell probably should shoulder some blame for that play, since he should be getting out from under center quicker. McCarthy made an interesting comment about that play though, saying that he should have called a different run play to let Harrell get more comfortable on his first snap. Let's just all be thankful that Rodgers returned on the next drive and led the team down for the winning score.
If I'm grading the Rodgers-led offense only, I would give it a B+ on the day, only docking points for Rodgers' bad interception and the team's three-and-out on the first drive. They converted four of their five red zone opportunities into touchdowns, with the fumble being the only outlier.
The kicking game wasn't asked to do much today. In all honesty, the only time it was really a factor was on the first extra point, when a holding penalty was called to push the PAT back by ten yards. Ultimately, Crosby made all four PATs and didn't get a field goal attempt.
Kick Return review
It seemed like Thomas Morstead and the Saints were pinning Randall Cobb deep on every kickoff, but he did have some moderate success returning. Cobb returned three kicks for a total of 88 yards, or just under 30 yards each. Morstead was also extremely cautious of Cobb on punts, keeping him pinned to the sidelines or punting the ball out of bounds on nearly every opportunity. Cobb wasn't given much of a chance to shine on special teams today, so there isn't much to discuss here.