On the sixth play from scrimmage in Sunday's game between the Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins, Eddie Lacy took a carry off left tackle for a gain of 10, in which he broke a few arm tackles and showed signs of potentially having a break out performance. Instead, Brandon Meriweather went helmet-to-helmet with Lacy, in what was a blatant cheap shot, and Lacy was knocked out of the game with a concussion.
I, like many of you, was furious there was no penalty called on the play. I was also worried about the potential drop-off in the run game once James Starks or Johnathan Franklin took over. It took a few drives to really see a spark, but early in the second quarter on second-and-four from the Green Bay 31-yard line, James Starks took a toss off the left side for a gain of 20. Starks ran over Meriweather on the play, and forced the safety out of the game with a concussion of his own. (Side note: I don't wish injury on any player, but that guy needs to learn how to tackle properly before he really hurts himself).
After that play, Starks looked like a different running back. He ran harder, faster, and more decisive. He finished with 132 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries, and may have opened the discussion on a possible two-back system once Lacy returns. The Packers have been missing that spark for over three seasons now. If that is a sign of things to come, the Redskins defense will be the first of many to look utterly bewildered on how to stop a balanced Packers offense.
Now, on to this week's grades:
34 for 42 for 480 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions with a passer rating of 146.0. This Aaron Rodgers guy is pretty damn good. The most impressive thing about his performance, at least to me, is that he was able to get everybody involved. 12 targets to James Jones, 10 to Randall Cobb, seven to Jermichael Finley, four to Jordy Nelson, three to Andrew Quarless, and five to James Starks. If Rodgers can spread the ball around that well, and get a steady run game to open up play-action passes....get used to seeing these kinds of numbers.
Running Back: A
As I mentioned earlier, I was worried about the production the team would get out of Starks or Franklin after Lacy went down, but Starks delivered in a big way. His 32-yard touchdown run at the end of the third quarter was a thing of beauty, and he generally looked like a different running back in parts of the game. If Starks can stay healthy and consistent, he could make the coaching staff look like geniuses for keeping him over Alex Green.
Starks finished with 132 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries, and broke the 44-game drought of 100-yard rushers. I was getting tired of hearing about it, so I can't imagine how relieved the team feels for finally breaking through on that front.
Wide Receivers: A+
After a quiet Week 1, James Jones responded with one of the best performances of his career, hauling in 11 receptions for a career-high 178 yards. I'm not sure if it was part of the game plan, or just James being able to get himself open more frequently, but his 12 targets show that Aaron Rodgers felt he had a mismatch on Sunday.
The Packers three-headed monster at wide out didn't disappoint, as Randall Cobb added nine receptions for 128 yards and a 35-yard touchdown, while Jordy Nelson caught three passes for 66 yards and two touchdowns.
Tight Ends: B+
Jermichael Finley had one of his most consistent performances as a Packer, catching six passes for 65 yards and one touchdown. Finley even added some nice seal blocks on some stretch runs. Hopefully his nagging toe injury will heal soon, and it doesn't present a long-term problem. Much like the running attack, if Finley can make himself a pass-catching threat across the middle of the field and in the seams, this offense will be hard to stop.
The only downgrade for the position was due to Andrew Quarless' miscommunication with David Bahktiari on a chip-block that resulted in a sack on Aaron Rodgers. That is something that will get fixed over repetitions in practice, which is something Quarless missed out on while sitting out for most of training camp. It seem a little harsh, but it was a glaring error that makes it hard to hand out an A-grade for the position.
Offensive Line: B-
The offensive line was able to create some running lanes for James Starks, and recovered well in the second-half after giving up three sacks in the first half. Ryan Kerrigan's back-to-back sacks on Rodgers on the opening drive was a rough start for the line, but I thought Don Barclay recovered nicely after that, and finished with a +1.3 grade from Pro Football Focus, with a 1.7 pass block rating, but only a 0.1 run block rating. David Bakhtiari had a similar day, struggling on the first two drives but bouncing back for a very good performance.
Meanwhile, both guards looked solid in all phases of the game, and Josh Sitton's bounce-back after a rough game against the 49ers was a great sign for him. T.J. Lang might not have done anything wrong all day.
The lone disappoint would be Evan Dietrich-Smith, who allowed one sack and two quarterback hurries. When defenses can get pressure directly up the middle, bad things happen. EDS needs to shore that up in a hurry, as the Bengals and Geno Atkins will likely plan on exploiting that weakness.
Overall, the development of the run game was a pleasant surprise, but four sacks is too many to give the line a high grade.
Defensive Line: A-
For the second week in a row, the Packers defensive line was able to keep a mobile quarterback in the pocket with good gap discipline, and a little pressure up the middle. Mike Daniels, Ryan Pickett, and B.J. Raji all had some splash plays. Johnny Jolly added three tackles, and that awesome GIF. The defense recorded eight quarterback hurries on Sunday, and four of them were by a defensive lineman.
The Redskins came out with a game plan to slow down Clay Matthews off the edge, and succeeded for the most part, as Matthews only recorded three tackles on the day. By forcing the Redskins to double-team him, he was able to open up one-on-one opportunities for Mike Neal, Nick Perry, and others off the edge.
Speaking of Nick Perry, he also finished with three tackles and one pass break-up. His ability to apply pressure while maintaining gap integrity has been a key factor in the Packers not allowing Kaepernick or RGIII to run wild on scrambles.
Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk both finished with five tackles on the day, and had much better performances in pass coverage.
Sam Shields continues to be the most consistent defensive back on the roster, and lead the team in both pass break-ups (3) and tackles (8). Davon House took advantage of his opportunities on Sunday, recording four tackles, including one sack.
Tramon Williams added five tackles and a pass break-up. Micah Hyde didn't record a tackle in 24 total snaps, and continued to struggle somewhat in coverage.
Sunday felt a lot like 2011, where the defense was playing prevent in the second half with a big lead. It's hard to be angry with garbage time touchdowns, and I thought the secondary bounced back well after a poor performance last week.
Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings were once again forced into action at both safety spots due to the injury of Morgan Burnett. McMillian recorded five solo tackles but still struggled somewhat in the passing game. Jennings recorded four tackles of his own. Fan favorite Chris Banjo put up two solo tackles.
The overall safety play was much sharper than last week, and when Morgan Burnett gets back on the field it will likely improve even more. However, it appears to still be a toss up as far as McMillian or Jennings at the other safety spot. It will be interesting to see how that battle plays out in the coming weeks.
Mason Crosby made his first field goal of the season with his 28-yard chip shot on Sunday. While he hasn't been tested yet, it is nice to see Crosby slowly gain some confidence at a position that is more mental than physical.
Tim Masthay only recorded three punts for an average of 40.3 yards. One appeared to be partially blocked, which brought the average down a little bit. The biggest factor Masthay brings to the team might be his kickoff power. Masthay only allowed three kickoff returns for an average of 19.7 yards on Sunday, which could go a long way in neutralizing the special teams weapons of future opponents like Chicago and Minnesota.
The Packers improve to 1-1, and look impressive in the process. It will be interesting to see if the offensive line can provide some running lanes for James Starks and (hopefully) Eddie Lacy next Sunday against the Bengals defensive front seven. A healthy Morgan Burnett would also be a nice addition to the Packers secondary.
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