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Packers Performance Grades: Fast start helps Green Bay make quick work of Carolina

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We take a second look at the Packers 38-17 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday and hand out positional performance grades.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

At the beginning of the season, Sunday's game against Carolina looked to be a daunting task at home against a stingy Carolina defense, just one week after facing a talented Dolphins defensive front and one week before the team traveled to New Orleans. It's clear now, seven weeks into the season, that the Carolina defense is in a steep decline, and the Packers offense is starting to hit its stride.

The Packers were expected to be able to throw the ball around on a poor Panthers secondary, and they did. The most surprising thing to me was that the Packers defense was able to contain Cam Newton's ability to scramble and extend plays with his legs. The front seven was able to provide constant pressure, and Cam Newton's only option at times was to take a sack or force the ball to rookie Kelvin Benjamin or tight end Greg Olsen.

The game was pretty much over by halftime, with the Packers taking a 28-3 lead and adding 10 points in the third quarter before essentially throwing in the back-ups and showing some mercy.

Let's take a look at the grades.

Quarterback: A

Aaron Rodgers (+1.6 overall, +0.9 pass, +0.6 rush) finished 19 of 22 passing for 255 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He only had three incompletions the entire game and was able to pick apart the Panthers secondary with ease. He also drew penalties with his hard count, picked up 21 yards rushing on three carries, and generally looked dialed in the entire game.

Running Backs: B+

Eddie Lacy (-0.7 overall, -1.3 rush) rushed for 63 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries, while James Starks (+0.1 overall, +1.1 rush) added 36 yards and one touchdown on seven carries. Lacy ran with physicality and great vision, but failed to pick up his feet a few times after he broke a run to the second level. There were at least three runs in the first half that could have gone for 20-25 yards instead of six or seven. He also fumbled once after a beautiful spin move, but the ball was recovered by a teammate.

Starks' 13-yard touchdown run at the end of the first quarter was one of the better runs of his career. He bounced an inside-zone to the outside and then cut back inside and ran over Panthers safety Thomas DeCoud once he got close to the goal line. Starks' shifty running style complements Lacy's straight-ahead, power running style. The fact that the coaching staff has been able to split the workload between the two will make them both more effective in December and January, when the team will need the run game to be at peak performance level.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: A-

Randall Cobb (+1.8 overall) caught six passes for 121 yards and one touchdown, while Jordy Nelson (+2.4) added four receptions for 80 yards and a score. Davante Adams also added a 21-yard touchdown reception. Cobb is starting to look more and more athletic with each passing week, and his athleticism helped him feast on a flat-footed Panthers secondary to the tune of 86 yards after the catch. Nelson continues to be an overpowering force against smaller cornerbacks, and Antoine Cason was no exception.  Nelson was also strong in run blocking, and helped spring some of Cobb's long receptions with excellent drive and technique.

The only thing holding this group back is the blocking by the tight end group. Richard Rodgers (-0.3 overall, +0.6 pass block. -0.6 run block) played more snaps (35) than Andrew Quarless (-0.9 overall, -1.9 pass block, +0.8 run block), who only played 29. Rodgers was better in pass protection, and had a few flashes of strength as a run blocker, but needs to be consistently more powerful on the edge. Quarless completely whiffed on his initial contact with Charles Johnson on the opening drive, and resulted in Rodgers taking a 10-yard loss on a sack that almost stalled the entire drive. Brandon Bostick made a brief appearance in Sunday's game, catching one pass for two yards and dropping another. Like Rodgers, Bostick flashed some physicality as a run blocker, but will need to continue that in order to see more playing time.

Offensive Line: A+

Part of the reason why the Panthers defense looked so bad on Sunday was that the front seven couldn't provide much (if any) pass rush. Bryan Bulaga (+3.5 overall, +1.9 pass block, +1.4 run block) shut down Charles Johnson, and David Bakhtiari (+2.3 overall, +1.8 pass block) controlled Mario Addison from start to finish.

Josh Sitton (+1.1 overall, +1.2 pass block) and T.J. Lang (+2.8 overall) didn't allow a single pressure up the middle, and Corey Linsley (+1.2 overall) continues to be the team's best run blocker. It will be interesting to see what happens once JC Tretter comes back from short-term Injured Reserve, because Linsley is playing like anything but a rookie right now.

Defensive Line: A-

The starting 3-4 defensive line of Letroy Guion (+2.1 overall), Josh Boyd (+0.1) and Mike Daniels (+0.6 overall, -0.4 run, +0.4 rush) each recorded two quarterback hurries on the day. Guion has now strung together three straight dominating performances from his nose tackle position, and has somehow become one of the team's better interior pass rushers. Daniels and Boyd weren't great against the run but they helped blow up a few third-and-short plays that stalled promising drives for the Panthers.

Luther Robinson (-1.4 overall, -1.2 run) and Mike Pennel (+1.5 overall, +1.7 run) saw some playing time when the team switched to a 4-3 look, though neither was able to create much pass rush. Both players appear to be gaining confidence, and could carve out a role in the regular rotation if they continue to be plus-players against the run.

Linebackers: B+

Clay Matthews (+3.4 overall, +0.6 run, +3.1 rush) had his best game of the season on Sunday, even though he only recorded one sack. He was able to notch five hurries, and was in the backfield on almost every other play. His lack of production through the first six weeks was concerning, but if he can play anywhere near the level he played on Sunday, this defense will take a big step forward.

Julius Peppers (-2.2 overall, -0.9 run, -0.5 rush) didn't grade out as well, but still looked effective on the outside. He may not be able to dial up the aggression on every snap like Matthews, but when he does, he is almost unblockable. A.J. Hawk (-0.5 overall) played every snap, and as usual, was just average. He isn't going to make a ton of mistakes, but he also isn't Luke Kuechly.

The battle between Sam Barrington (0.0 overall), who played 35 snaps and Jamari Lattimore (-0.6 overall), who played 26, will be interesting in the coming weeks. It's clear Brad Jones is in the doghouse (no defensive snaps at all), so both the younger inside linebackers will get an extensive look at the starting role. Ultimately, I believe it is Lattimore's job to lose, I just think he is a little dinged up right now. Barrington might be a bit better in coverage, but he is smaller and doesn't get off blocks as well. Lattimore plays like a hammerhead shark in blood-infested water, which sometimes makes him susceptible to play-action passes and misdirection runs. If Barrington comes out of the bye week as the starter, I would be surprised.

Mike Neal (+1.0 overall, -0.5 rush, +1.0 coverage) played 33 snaps, while Nick Perry (+3.3 overall, +3.2 rush) only played 25. Perry appears to be a plus-player when called upon as a bull rusher in a limited snap count role. His core strength and balance make him hard to block when he is fresh off the sidelines and playing with a low pad level.

Secondary: A

Tramon Williams (+0.2 overall) played 57 snaps after not practicing all week, and other than a couple of fade routes in which the 6-foot-5 Benjamin simply won a jump ball, Williams was up to the challenge. Davon House (+0.6 overall, +0.4 coverage) started at the other cornerback spot and displayed great technique and was physical against some of Carolina's slower wide receivers.

Casey Hayward (+1.8 overall,+1.2 coverage) played 44 snaps and was able to lure Cam Newton into throwing a pass he probably shouldn't have thrown. Hayward came off of his assignment in the flats to snatch the ball out of mid-air and end a Panthers drive. He also added some physical tackles in run support.

Morgan Burnett (-1.9 overall, -0.8 run, -0.2 rush, -1.0 coverage) led the team with two missed tackles, but remained aggressive in run support and didn't have any glaring errors in pass coverage. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (-0.7 overall) made his first career start, playing 71 snaps. He played like someone who wanted to prove himself, and delivered some jarring hits in run support. He may be a rookie who makes mistakes at times (like ducking his head before tackling), but he is starting to play more proactive instead reactive. He's going to be a phenomenal player once he gains more experience.

Micah Hyde (+0.3 overall) played 47 snaps and made some impressive open-field tackles, while Sean Richardson (+1.5 overall, +1.6 run) was one of the team's best players against the run in only 19 snaps of action. He might not see the field against a pass-happy offense in the Saints next week, but it's reassuring to know there is a solid tackler in the rotation behind Burnett, who is streaky at times, and Clinton-Dix, who is still a rookie.

Jarrett Bush (-0.8 overall, -0.8 coverage) played 13 snaps in garbage time, and was picked on by Derek Anderson.

Kicker: A

Mason Crosby was 5 for 5 on extra points and added a 34-yard field in the third quarter. He added five touchbacks on seven kickoffs for an average of 71.4 yards per kick and a hang-time of 3.84 seconds.

Punter: A

Tim Masthay (Ginger Wolverine > PFF Grades) averaged 55.2 yards per punt on five attempts.

Coaching: A

The coaching staff knew they had an advantage in the passing game, and they exploited that for an early lead. They also quickly realized on defense that they needed to pin their ears back and pressure Cam Newton due to the Panthers lack of a run game or pass-catching threats. The execution by the players can often make a coach look smart or stupid, but this team appeared focused and ready to play. Carolina didn't, and it resulted in a blowout win at home.

Up Next: The Packers travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints, who lost a tough road game to Detroit on Sunday. The Packers confidence would be sky-high heading into their bye week if they were able to pull off the rare road win in New Orleans.

Josh VanDyke covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Company. He is also currently a sports writer for MLive.com.