If I've learned anything over the past week and a half, it’s that we should appreciate what Aaron Rodgers means to this organization. His contract might seem borderline ridiculous for any football player, but it looks a lot less ridiculous now.
The Packers offense has taken a giant step back without their All-Pro quarterback, but it’s the defense that has been the biggest letdown. For the second week in a row, the Packers defense was unable to get off the field in the fourth quarter, and this time the Eagles were able to run the clock out with a two-score advantage. The past two weeks, the Packers defense has allowed the opposing offense to hold the ball for a combined 21:27 in the fourth quarter compared to 9:33 for the Packers offense. You are not going to win many games with that time of possession differential (unless you’re scoring on extremely quick drives).
The injuries continue to mount, and the Packers appear to be at a breaking point. These next two weeks have quickly become elimination games for the Packers as they continue to slip out of playoff contention.
Let’s get to the grades…..
Seneca Wallace started out 5 for 5 for 25 yards before a groin injury knocked him out of the game, and apparently the season. It’s a shame he got hurt, because on that drive he looked like a completely different player after a short week of practice with the first-team.
Enter Scott Tolzien.
Much like Wallace last week, Tolzien gets the benefit of the doubt due to his lack of experience and obvious lack of preparation. He made some great throws (e.g. the would-be touchdown pass to Nelson in the fourth quarter), but he also made some bad throws off terrible reads (two interceptions). Tolzien finished 24 for 39 for 280 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions for a passer rating of 70.5. He has definitely improved his mechanics and release since his time as a Badger, but I’m not sure if he’s a long-term back-up plan. He’ll get a chance to prove himself over the next couple weeks.
Running Backs: A-
With the opposing defense keying on him, Eddie Lacy found a way to turn some negative running plays into positive running plays. He did not have great numbers (73 yards on 24 carries), but he showed great physicality and determination. The best example of this was when Lang and Barclay both missed blocks near the Green Bay goal line, and Lacy hit the defenders, lowered his pad level, and forced the ball forward for a gain of 1 when it could have easily been a safety.
James Starks added 5 yards on 4 carries, and John Kuhn added one rush for two yards. Kuhn showed improved footwork and blocking technique on Sunday, and hopefully that continues as teams continue to stack the box against the Packers run game.
Wide Receivers: B
I gave this unit a pass last week, but I can’t this week. When you are on your third-string quarterback, you need your talented group of wide receivers to make plays when it counts. I didn’t feel like James Jones and Jordy Nelson did enough to help out Scott Tolzien. Nelson finished with 6 receptions for 56 yards on 10 targets, while Jones added 4 for 44 yard on 7 targets.
Were the passes perfect? No, but you have to adjust to who is throwing you the ball, and work that much harder to get open and help him out. Both of them were able to make some athletic catches on difficult passes, and maybe I have just simply set the bar too high, but I thought they could have done more to help the Packers get back into the game. I haven’t seen Jones or Nelson create much separation lately, and that is something that will need to improve until Aaron Rodgers returns.
On a positive note, Jarrett Boykin has not only been serviceable, but he’s turning into a legitimate threat in the passing game. Boykin finished with 8 receptions for 112 yards on 13 targets. If there is any silver lining in the Randall Cobb injury, it’s that Boykin has been able to prove himself.
Tight Ends: C
Brandon Bostick flashed his athletic ability on Sunday, recording 3 receptions for 42 yards and an impressive 22-yard touchdown in the third quarter. As impressive as Bostick was a pass-catcher, he was equally as unimpressive as a run-blocker. He finished with a (-1.5) run block rating from PFF, and he didn’t seem to create any push at the point of attack when asked to block, or even chip a defensive end.
Andrew Quarless added one catch for 8 yards on third-and-nine. Quarless is big enough, and athletic enough to make that play, and he should have been able to get past a smaller Patrick Chung and pick up that extra yard. Quarless was also not very effective as a run-blocker (-0.4) and didn't do much as a pass blocker either (-1.0). Bostick might be the better option if the Packers ever go with any five-wide sets in the future, but the more concerning issue is that I’m not sure if the Packers have a reliable blocking tight end on the roster for this season, or the future.
Offensive Line: B-
Josh Sitton and Evan Dietrich-Smith had fantastic games on Sunday. I don’t usually notice EDS making plays in the run game, but he made some impressive blocks on the Eagles nose-tackle Bennie Logan to open up a few running plays. Don Barclay also had a solid performance before leaving the game with a knee injury.
Let’s hope he’s able to play this Sunday, because Scott Tolzien is going to be running for his life if Marshall Newhouse is playing. Newhouse had a horrendous game (-3.6 overall rating). Newhouse gave up one of the quickest sacks I’ve ever seen to a back-up defensive end, and then false started on the very next play.
T.J. Lang and David Bakhtiari were less than impressive in run blocking, but didn’t have any glaring errors in pass protection. The Eagles stacked the box, which made their jobs difficult but they have to win the initial attack against the man in front of them, and I don’t think they did that enough on Sunday. Let’s hope for a quick turnaround, because the Giants defensive line is one of the more athletic groups in football.
Defensive Line: C-
If it weren’t for Datone Jones and Mike Daniels, I would have given this whole unit an F for the second week in a row. Jones finished with three tackles, including two sacks. Daniels added a half-sack when he and Tramon Williams combined to take down Nick Foles on a blitz. Daniels also added consistent pressure, recording multiple quarterback hurries.
B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, and Johnny Jolly didn't do much of anything on Sunday. After consistently stuffing the run early on in the season, the Packers defensive front can’t seem to close the gaps anymore. For the second straight week, the Packers allowed a 100-yard rusher. Some of it has to do with poor tackling by the linebackers, but it starts with the defensive line closing the lanes. That didn't happen on Sunday.
I loved seeing Clay Matthews back on the field, but maybe he’s rushing his return a little bit. The giant cast on his hand isn’t going to help, but it was still a poor performance regardless. Matthews finished with a (-3.4) rating, after only recording two tackles. Not to be outdone, Brad Jones also added a poor performance, especially in run support. He never appeared to be quite right after leaving the game briefly with an ankle/foot injury.
Nick Perry and Mike Neal didn’t offer up much help in run support. Nate Palmer saw 24 snaps, but didn’t do much in his limited role with only two tackles.
A.J. Hawk was really the only reason this unit didn’t completely fail. Hawk didn’t get beat in pass coverage, didn’t miss any tackles, and was generally sound in all his assignments. He finished with 7 tackles, including two for a loss, and was one of the only players on the defensive side of the ball that showed any heart.
Tramon Williams (+3.7) had probably his best game of the season so far. He blitzed and tackled effectively, and generally made good plays on the ball. On the long touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson that everyone seemed to blame on Williams, it was Morgan Burnett who tipped the ball away from Williams and into the eager hands of Jackson. Maybe Jackson still makes the play over Williams, but Burnett made it impossible for Williams to do anything. Williams finished with 7 tackles, including a half-sack.
Sam Shields added seven tackles and shutdown Jackson once he was assigned to him in the second quarter. He continues to be the best cover corner on the roster, and will need to continue to do so as Casey Hayward is likely done for the season after damaging his hamstring again.
Davon House continues to be inconsistent. After some promising games earlier in the season, House struggled for the second week in a row. House only recorded one tackle, and was generally the weak spot of the unit.
Morgan Burnett might have just had his worst game of his career on Sunday. Nick Foles didn't throw the ball around much, but when he did, it was usually at Burnett’s expense. Burnett finished with a (-2.2) overall rating, and was beat multiple times in pass coverage. The epitome of this unit’s performance was on Riley Cooper’s 32-yard touchdown reception at the end of the third quarter. Burnett took a poor angle right off the start, and was beat by about 10 yards. M.D. Jennings made an equally poor read, gave up the middle of the field, and then ran to a spot instead of running to the receiver.
Safeties are the last line of defense, and usually get hung out to dry when a corner makes a mistake. The opposite is true on this team. Williams and Shields have recorded quality performances, but Burnett, Jennings, and McMillian have continually made bad reads, taken poor angles, or just haven’t tackled well. There are leaks all over this defense right now, but cleaning up the execution at safety should be a top priority next to stopping the run.
Mason Crosby went 2 for 4 in windy conditions on Sunday. He made kicks from 26 and 35, and nearly made one from 53-yards out (hit the crossbar). His miss from 42 yards out was on him though. He misjudged the wind and sent the kick wide right. We’ll see how mentally-stable Crosby is after an average performance.
Tim Masthay only punted twice for an average of 48.1 yards (51 and 45 yards), pinning one inside the Eagles 20-yard line.
It’s time for the Packers to regroup, and try to galvanize around their ability to run the ball effectively, while stopping the run on a consistent basis. If they can get that area shored up on both sides of the ball, it will go a long way in helping the Packers win these next two games. If they go into Thanksgiving with a 7-4 record, and get Aaron Rodgers back by December, they could make a legitimate playoff push. If they lose these next two games, it will be nearly impossible to get back into the mix.
Josh VanDyke covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Company. He is also currently a sports writer for MLive.com. Follow him on Twitter: @JVanDyke24
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