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Packers Walkthroughs: What surprised APC writers in Week 1?

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Acme Packing Company writers talk about surprises from the first week of NFL action

Seattle Seahawks v Green Bay Packers
Randall Cobb’s big role in the offense in Week 1 was just one of several surprises for our APC staff.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

As we wind down our reviews of the Green Bay Packers’ week one victory over the Seattle Seahawks, APC’s writers weigh in on a specific prompt this week in our Walkthroughs. That prompt is this: What has surprised you about the Packers’ season so far?

We have a couple of writers weighing in on specific items from the week one win, while one takes a broader look at the entire set of events since the league year began in March.

Here are the takes!

Jordan E. Smith: Blake Martinez

According to Pro Football Focus, Martinez was the second best graded player for the Packers after their win against Seattle according to their initial grades. He’s positioned snugly between Nick Perry (89.8 grade) at the top and Mike Daniels (86.6 grade) who stood out as dominant in that game.

The stats won’t reflect Martinez’ performance as much as Daniels’, recording only 2 tackles. However, the second-year linebacker played an integral role in run support and preventing the Seahawks from what they wanted to do on the ground. Martinez also led the ILB group in snaps with 42, ahead of Jake Ryan and Joe Thomas who each tallied 5 snaps inside. Martinez played heavily alongside Morgan Burnett in the Nitro package which is something we should expect to see a lot.

Going to temper my excitement, though. Damarious Randall was the highest graded corner in THE LEAGUE after week 1 last year. Let’s see where this goes.

Shawn Wagner: The heavy use of the “Nitro” package

Prior to the draft a couple years ago, I was enamored with Su’a Cravens of USC and the variety of defensive packages the Packers could use him in. Although he had the size of a safety, his speed was reminiscent of a faster linebacker. After watching him disrupt plays on film with his instincts, physicality, and coverage ability, I was struck with Deone Buchanon comparisons. At the end of the draft, however, Cravens was drafted by the Washington Redskins in the second round, and I remained a believer that Green Bay was too conventional on defense to incorporate safety/linebacker hybrids into their game plans.

I was incorrect. Less than two years later, the Packers played six defensive backs with regularity (almost all game) in week one. Heading into Seattle, I had concerns with Green Bay’s persistent issue of defending the tight end position. Those concerns were unfounded, as Jimmy Graham had three catches for eight yards, Luke Willson failed to catch a pass, and third tight end Nick Vannett had a ten-yard reception. Morgan Burnett, lining up at linebacker in the Nitro package, was a big reason for this success. He trailed the tight ends all day and had a notable pass breakup on a third down pass intended for Graham. While Blake Martinez also had a significant role in the pass defense, Burnett’s speed and coverage skills make him an excellent fit for the hybrid role.

While I thought the Nitro would be utilized quite often in 2017, the incredible amount it was used already in the first week of the season left me surprised. As others including Tex have stated, the snap count numbers suggest the Nitro is here to stay in Green Bay.

Evan “Tex” Western: Ted Thompson’s personnel strategy

Jordan and Shawn actually addressed two of the items that surprised me the most from week one, so I’ll go back to a broader topic. The way Ted Thompson has put together the 2017 Green Bay Packers roster should be truly stunning to anyone familiar with his past tendencies. Thompson signed a big-name free agent in Martellus Bennett, but that is actually not that surprising to me, considering he has landed players like Julius Peppers and Charles Woodson in the past.

Rather, it is Thompson’s sudden willingness to dip into the middle and lower tiers of free agency and the timing with which he did so that should be the biggest shocks. For years, fans have been clamoring for these veteran free agent signings to plug holes on the roster, and Thompson delivered in the offseason with Davon House, Jahri Evans, Lance Kendricks, and Ricky Jean Francois. But he wasn’t done, adding 49ers castoffs Ahmad Brooks and Quinton Dial in the days leading up to and following final cuts before week one - a time when he has not historically brought in veteran players. All of those players (sans Francois, whose role will be played by Dial) are set to play key roles, with House and Evans in the starting lineup.

This change either is the result of free agent circumstances falling in the Packers’ favor -- as Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy have publicly indicated -- or a tacit acknowledgement by Thompson that there is actually significant value to be gained with signings like these, which he had historically eschewed in favor of homegrown players. Considering the early results, which show that House did not allow a completion into his coverage in week one and that Evans and the offensive line gelled in the second half against Seattle, Packers fans should be grateful for the change, regardless of how it came about.

Jon Meerdink: Randall Cobb’s big Sunday

Accurate or not, the prevailing opinion for much of training camp seemed to have Randall Cobb as the odd man out in the Packers offense. With Jordy Nelson back to full strength, Davante Adams still ascending, Geronimo Allison’s second year expanded role, Ty Montgomery working as a receiver out of the backfield, and Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks soaking up passes, it was fair to wonder how much would be left for Cobb.

If the season’s first game is any indication, quite a lot is still available for the newly-minted 27-year old.

Cobb led the Packers with 13 targets on Sunday, five more than Jordy Nelson’s second place total of eight. While he probably won’t maintain that pace, it was interesting to see how much the Packers focused on Cobb, who may be able to find more opportunities with more attention paid to receivers on the outside.

Paul Noonan - Brandon Jackson’s star pupil

Ty Montgomery proved he could carry a full running back workload over the course of a game, but one of the reasons he was allowed to was vastly improved pass protection. Jamaal Williams was a skilled pass pro coming out of college and Aaron Ripkowski is also very good, and I assumed that Montgomery would frequently (and annoyingly) be leaving the field in certain passing situations because of it. Instead he was brilliant, even though he was facing one of the best defensive fronts in football, and even though his own line was banged up.

It’s not easy to improve this much over the course of a year, but Montgomery has been a quick study at essentially everything he’s undertaken. Those who can do cannot always teach, but Brandon Jackson, one of the best blocking running backs I’ve ever seen, has shown a knack for passing on his skillset, and the Packers are much better for it.