Before the season started, the Packers were considered by most to be good. Then they played the Seahawks and they weren't good. Then they played the Jets and for a half, they were really not good. Now they're good again. I think.
Welcome to Week 3 of the NFL season where no one has any idea what to make of this team, or any other for that matter. Of course, divisional games have a way of figuring this stuff out and this week, the Packers travel to the dystopian region formerly known as ‘Detroit' to take on the Lions.
If you recall, the last time these teams met, the Lions spent Thanksgiving Day feasting on the Packers defense to the tune of a 40-10 blowout. They feasted so much on Turkey day that they bit off more than they could chew and proceeded to choke away the division. Thanks Lions! Of course, that game gets a bit of an asterisk as Aaron Rodgers spent the game on the sidelines. Will his presence along with a re-tooled defense be the difference this time around? Will Jim Caldwell's hollow gaze into the abyss have a calming effect on the Lions undisciplined defense? And will Ndamukong Suh finally snap and rip the heart out of someone's chest like Kano from Mortal Kombat? Lots of questions remain, so let's get to our weekly 5 things to watch.
Quicker pass plays
Part of what makes the Packers offense so good is the offensive line's ability to hold blocks longer - enabling Aaron Rodgers to stay upright until he finds a receiver. Because of this, I tend not to get on Rodgers for holding onto the ball too long. But last week? What the hell, man? The time Rodgers took in the pocket would be considered vacation time by some employers. And this week, the Packers play a front line every bit as good (if not better) than the Jets. I expect to see more plays designed to get the ball out of Rodgers' hands sooner, limiting not only unnecessary sacks, but some of the cringe-inducing hits he took last week.
Return of Bostick
Based on last week's performance I can't be totally sure, but assuming Jordy Nelson wasn't abducted by aliens in the off-season and injected with space serum that gives him otherworldly physical powers (Editor's note: this did actually happen, but Jordy's body rejected the serum because it already had those abilities), it stands to reason the Packers are going to need their tight ends at some point this season. Fortunately, they stand to get one of their more physically gifted ones back this week in Brandon Bostick. It's hard to say at this point what Bostick is likely to give considering his overall playing time has been so limited, but his mere presence might be enough to open things up for the offense. And given that he's such a mismatch with linebackers and safeties, I wouldn't put catching a few passes out of the question either.
I've been on record (if you consider my ramblings on our podcast as "the record") as saying Dom Capers, for all his ingenuity, occasionally out-thinks himself when it comes to scheming on defense. Which is why I found this article by Vic Ketchman interesting following last week's win over the Jets. There are a few other quotes from players like Mike Daniels out there saying the difference between the two halves came down to "just playing football," but Ketchman's observations elucidate things even further. What it boils down to is this - the Packers relied less on substitutions and scheme and more on their personnel. The stats speak for themselves as the Packers stonewalled the Jets to just 3 points in the second half of last week's game, but the eye test also seemed to show a defense that looked a lot less shackled. Whether that's the plan for this week remains to be seen, but it was nice to see players flying around on defense, using their instincts and getting back to the basics of what makes a defense good - running, covering and knocking the ever-loving crap out of guys with the ball.
The Calvin Rules
In most contexts, Calvin Johnson is referred to as one of the greatest wide receivers - and sometimes, football players - of all time. In some ways, that seems like it undersells just how dominating and brilliant Calvin Johnson has been. Forget football, he's one of the greatest athletes we've ever seen in any sport. In terms of physical specimens that seem to be crafted by some sort of secret government program, Megatron makes Jason Bourne look like a mall cop. So to say the Packers need to be concerned about him is an understatement. Of course, that means having to make the terrifying decision all defensive coordinators face. Either let Calvin Johnson get his while trying to shut down the rest of the receivers, or simply try to limit the destruction he's bound to cause. It's an unenviable task for any defense, and the Packers will have to make that decision early.
Long before the Jets lost in the Jetsiest way possible last week, two decisions were made that greatly impacted the Packers ability to overcome their 18-point deficit. As our own Jason Hirschorn observed, the Packers went away from their first half defensive alignment, helping them to shut down the Jets offense. And as most others noticed, Jarrett Boykin was essentially benched in favor of rookie Davante Adams. Now, I don't think these two decisions mark some philosophical shift by McCarthy and Capers, but it's worth noting mainly because both men have been accused at times of being stubborn as all hell. That they were open to making such crucial changes on the fly shows their willingness to admit when something isn't working. We'll see if that openness continues this week.
Jayrone Elliott getting playing time and recording 9 sacks. It's gonna happen, you guys.
To buy tickets, visit the NFL Ticket Exchange.