Green Bay Packers: Adrian Peterson
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Don't ask Clay Matthews or Julius Peppers to name the Vikings running backs they will face Thursday at Lambeau Field. Neither Packers linebacker could come up with the names Jerick McKinnon or Matt Asiata.
But they certainly know what the duo is capable of doing.
"We haven't heard much as far as who their running backs are for years now, outside of Adrian Peterson," Matthews said. "But now they've got ... they've got that one guy who can run really hard, ran for over 100 yards. And the little guy, he was really quick, too."
The former would be McKinnon and the latter Asiata.
Peppers actually apologized for not knowing McKinnon's name, and instead referred to him by his uniform number.
"I’ve been pretty impressed with 31," Peppers said. "I'm sorry I don't even know [his name], but I definitely notice him on the field. He's made plays. They have some guys that can make plays, so we're on alert."
Matthews said he meant no disrespect that he didn't know their names.
"They put up some running yards last week, and that"s what I mean," he said. "You think with the drop-off of A.P., or that there would be a drop-off, but there really isn't. We're going to have our hands full, especially with what we put on film last week, this past weekend. They've got to be coming in here thinking that they're going to run it on us. It's just a great opportunity for us to showcase that that's not the case."
After allowing the Bears to rush for 235 yards last Sunday, the Packers slipped to 32nd (last) in the NFL in rushing defense.
In case you didn't know anything them either, the 5-foot-9, 208-pound McKinnon was a third-round pick this year from Georgia Southern, and Asiata is a third-year pro who has many carries this season (47) as he did in his first two seasons (three and 44). McKinnon rushed for 135 yards on 18 carries on Sunday, while Asiata had 78 yards on 20 carries with three touchdowns.
In case you missed it from ESPN.com:
- Speaking of the running game, the Packers are still trying to get theirs going, and coach Mike McCarthy said he erred by not getting James Starks some carries last week.
- Veteran guard Josh Sitton didn't sugarcoat his feelings about the Thursday night games. He said he hates them.
- On a conference call with reporters at Lambeau Field, former Packers receiver Greg Jennings said he doesn't miss Green Bay and doesn't care if he gets booed when the Vikings come to Lambeau Field. What he said might not sit well with Packers' fans.
- In our weekly feature called "The Film Don’t Lie," we examined the problems in the run defense.
- ESPN TV reporter Bob Holtzman and I discussed the issues facing the Packers' run defense and running game in this video.
- And finally, the Packers moved up five spots in this week's Power Rankings.
- At ESPNWisconsin.com, you can listen to quarterback Aaron Rodgers' weekly radio show in its entirety.
- In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Weston Hodkiewicz wrote that the Packers remain confident they can stop the run despite the rough start.
- In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tyler Dunne wrote that the Randall Cobb the Packers saw on Sunday is the player they are counting on all season.
Maybe not quite the Adrian Peterson tactic, but close.
It's not an injury issue; the 24-year-old Lacy has taken on a full workload in practice. But just like the Minnesota Vikings do with Peterson, the Packers may be taking a similar approach with their workhorse running back when it comes to the preseason.
"It's not my goal for his workload to be very high in preseason games," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Tuesday.
Peterson, 29, played one series in the third preseason game last summer, but before that had not carried the ball in the exhibition season since 2011.
Lacy said Tuesday he did not know if that was going to be the Packers' approach but doubted he would go into the regular-season opener at Seattle on Sept. 4 without any game action.
"That's definitely something else that you would have to ask the coaching staff," Lacy said. "But as far as me as a player, whatever opportunities I'm given, whether it's [playing in] preseason or held out until the first game -- which I highly doubt that -- whatever work I get will definitely help as far as getting timing and rhythm down."
If anything, Lacy's snaps in practice have increased. McCarthy wants to turn Lacy into a three-down back and practiced him extensively in that role during the early portion of camp.
But when it came time to suit up against the Titans, Lacy joined quarterback Aaron Rodgers in sweats on the sideline. James Starks started in place of Lacy and picked up where he left off last season, when he averaged 5.5 yards per carry as Lacy's primary backup. Starks rushed for 49 yards on just six carries, including a 20-yard touchdown, against the Titans.
Matt Flynn got the call in place of Rodgers, who is expected to start Saturday against the St. Louis Rams and again in the third preseason game against the Oakland Raiders but almost certainly will not play in the finale against the Kansas City Chiefs, one week before the opener.
"That's usually how it goes," McCarthy said of the preseason plan for Rodgers.
Questions about Lacy's durability have followed him since his days at Alabama. But his pounding style largely held up last season. He missed one full game and most of another because of a concussion early in the season and then missed half of another late-season game because of ankle injury. In 14 games, he rushed for a Packers’ rookie record of 1,178 yards.
But given the his penchant for contact, it's worth wondering how long Lacy can last.
"That's kind of a tough question," Lacy said. "It doesn't matter if you're a power back or a speed back, as long as you're a running back, nobody knows how long you can play the game."
The NFC North features a mix of veteran quarterbacks and a rookie in Minnesota who might be in line for significant playing time this season.
Will Teddy Bridgewater put up the most impressive numbers among rookie quarterbacks?
Will Matthew Stafford be directing the most explosive offense in the division now that the Detroit Lions have added weapons?
Will rising star Alshon Jeffery emerge as the Bears' No. 1 target, supplanting Brandon Marshall?
And could the Packers withstand another injury to Aaron Rodgers, as they did last season while winning the division?
These are the questions our NFC North reporters tackle in the latest version of 4 Downs.
Of the three QBs taken in the first round of this year's draft, Teddy Bridgewater will put up the most impressive numbers.
Michael Rothstein: Fact, although not because Bridgewater will be the best quarterback of the first-rounders. Simply, he is going to end up playing more than either Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles this season, so he will have more opportunity. Plus, Minnesota is going to be down in a lot of games this season, so the Vikings are going to have to throw more in the second halves of games. He'll end up having nice numbers, but the number that matters -- the record -- will be ugly.
Rob Demovsky: Fiction, unless Matt Cassel goes down with an injury. There is more pressure on the Browns to play Johnny Manziel right away than there is on the Vikings to play Bridgewater. The same could be said of the Jaguars and Blake Bortles. All three of the first-round quarterbacks have journeyman veterans starting in front of them, so it all depends on which one flames out or gets hurt first. Cassel seems the least likely to do either.
Ben Goessling: I'm going to say fiction, simply because I think he'll have more work to do to get on the field than Johnny Manziel. The Vikings have Matt Cassel and have been giving him many of the first-team snaps during organized team activities and minicamp. So unless Bridgewater is so good that he takes the job away from Cassel in training camp, I think it will be a while before he is on the field in regular-season games. Now, he might be more efficient once he gets in there -- he has certainly looked sharp during the Vikings' offseason program -- but he might not put up many numbers until late in the season, if at all.
@GoesslingESPN True, and it won't be close. Like asking which will have the more pleasant winter: North Dakota, Manitoba, or Hawaii?— Steven Macks (@semacks) June 17, 2014
The Lions will have the most explosive offense in the NFC North this season.
Michael Rothstein: Fact. There are a bunch of good offenses in the NFC North this season, although none improved on paper as much as the Lions. Detroit still has Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell as targets for Matthew Stafford. The Lions added Golden Tate, which is an upgrade from Nate Burleson. They also held on to Joseph Fauria and re-signed Brandon Pettigrew, along with drafting Eric Ebron in the first round. While Ebron's hands are in question, his athleticism and ability to get open down the field are not. As long as Stafford and Johnson stay healthy, there is no reason Detroit should not be a top-10 offense again. They should inch ahead of Green Bay and Chicago, both of which had top-10 offenses as well in 2013.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. It's fact if "implosive" is the word used. Just kidding. But the Lions in the past relied too much on Matthew Stafford forcing the ball to Calvin Johnson, which often led to turnovers and quick three-and-outs. And although the offense features multiple weapons, it's easy to see why the club has operated this way. Megatron is the best in the game. He is going to make plays other receivers can't make. But, to me, it's expected that a team operating a new scheme will experience its fair share of growing pains. I see that happening with the Lions in 2014. I know Stafford has put up big numbers in the past, but I see his inconsistency holding this offense back this season if he doesn't take a big step in his development.
Rob Demovsky: Fiction, unless Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler get hurt again. Do you trust Matthew Stafford more than Rodgers or Cutler for a full 16-game season? At this point, the Bears might have the most explosive offense. They have the best 1-2 receiver punch with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, and the Packers have the best quarterback. Not only do the Lions not have the most explosive offense in the division, they might not even be No. 2.
Ben Goessling: Fiction. They have the talent to have it, but how often do the Lions turn talent and potential into actual results? Give me the Bears, with Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte, or the Packers, now that Aaron Rodgers will be healthy and have a full season with running back Eddie Lacy. I like what Golden Tate gives the Lions opposite Calvin Johnson, and Eric Ebron fits nicely into their scheme, but I think they have the third-best quarterback in the division.
@mikerothstein If Stafford plays the way he can play then fact. Good O-Line, balance runners, best WR and other WR/TE opt— Tom (@tomarmetta) June 16, 2014
Alshon Jeffery, not Brandon Marshall, will be Chicago's go-to receiver in 2014.
Michael Rothstein: Fiction. Jeffery might have had more yards last season, but opponents also are going to be more aware of the former South Carolina receiver this season from the get-go. While his numbers were gaudy a season ago, 467 of his 1,421 yards came in two games. Marshall had a little more consistency last season than Jeffery and was a more consistent target. The real reason Jeffery won't be considered Chicago's go-to receiver next season is that the Bears won't have one on a consistent basis. It will likely change based on matchups, because they are the best receiver duo in the division.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. As long as Jay Cutler is quarterbacking the Chicago Bears, Marshall always will be the go-to receiver. And why not? Marshall is one of the league's best, even when teams focus on stopping him with double teams. Besides that, Marshall, in my opinion, is poised for a big season because he has spent this entire offseason actually training instead of rehabbing an injury. In 2013, it took Marshall, who was coming off hip surgery, about half the season to finally find his groove; yet he still finished with a team-high 100 grabs for 1,295 yards. Last season, Jeffery was probably the beneficiary of extra coverage devoted to a hobbled Marshall. Because of the damage Jeffery did last season, he will start to see more coverage, which should free up Marshall to continue to do his thing. Besides, Marshall was the fifth-most targeted receiver in the NFL last season. Marshall's 163 targets ranked even more than Calvin Johnson, who had 156 passes thrown his way.
Rob Demovsky: Fact, if we're talking about making big plays. Marshall still might end up having more receptions like he did last season; he's Cutler's security blanket. But even last season, Jeffery began to emerge as the bigger playmaker of the two. His 16.0-yard average per catch was 11th best in the league among all receivers last season. He is a freak athlete with great size, making him a matchup nightmare.
Ben Goessling: Fact. Jeffery is six years younger than Marshall and probably is a better deep threat at this point in his career. I thought he was phenomenal last season, and, to me, he might be the second-best receiver in the division right now behind Calvin Johnson. If he is not there yet, he can ascend to that spot by the end of the season. Marshall is still a great receiver, but Jeffery seems ready to become the main man in Chicago's offense.
The Packers can win the division again even if Aaron Rodgers misses nearly half the season, like he did last season.
Michael Rothstein: Fiction. Not a chance. Chicago has improved defensively and should have a more potent offense in 2014, as well as a healthy Jay Cutler for the entire season. Detroit should have a more dynamic offense than in 2013, and the leadership within the Lions should keep the team from collapsing like they did in 2013. Minnesota is likely not a factor this season, but either Chicago or Detroit would take advantage of a Rodgers-less Green Bay team better than they did a year ago.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. In the past, this would definitely be "fact" and it might still be now that the Packers have put together a nice ground game to complement their passing attack. But I just think the rest of the division is starting to catch up to the Packers in terms of overall talent. Every team in the division improved its talent. Detroit's offense should be above average at the very least, and its defense definitely will be better. The Bears will be potent on offense in Year 2 of Marc Trestman's system, and their defense should be improved, especially up front with that revamped line. Let's not forget that Rodgers' return (combined with a mental bust by Bears safety Chris Conte on the quarterback's game-winning bomb) is what won Green Bay the division title. The Packers appear to have put together a better backup plan than they had last season, but we all know how important Rodgers is to his team's success.
Rob Demovsky: Fiction. The Bears and Lions folded last season, which allowed the Packers to stay afloat until Rodgers returned for the regular-season finale in Chicago. Both teams have taken measures to ensure that won't happen again. The Bears beefed up their defense, and the Lions made a coaching change. That said, the Packers might be in better position to handle a Rodgers absence because they should have Matt Flynn as the backup from the get-go.
Ben Goessling: Fiction. The only reason the Packers won the division last season was because the other three teams were flawed enough not to take it from them. The Lions collapsed late in the season, the Bears lost four of their last six (including the season finale against Green Bay) and the Vikings blew five last-minute leads (including one against the Packers) to take themselves out of the race. Green Bay might be better prepared for a Rodgers injury now that they have gone through it with Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien, but the Packers' offense is predicated on Rodgers making throws few others can make. You can't expect a team to survive the loss of an elite player like that again.
@RobDemovsky True. Defense will be much better this year & flynn/tolzien will have a full training camp to run offense.— Jules Parmentier (@JulesPthe5th) June 12, 2014
And if you're a Green Bay Packers' fan, which is safe to assume since you’re reading this, you have decisions to make. Do you draft with your heart and select Packers players or do you draft with your head and take the best player available?
Perhaps there's a way to do both.
We have unveiled our latest fantasy rankings for the 2014 season. Among the top 200 players overall regardless of position were seven Packers.
Here's a breakdown of where they fell on the top 200 list:
6. Eddie Lacy: After rushing for 1,178 yards last season, the reigning offensive rookie of the year could top that if he can stay healthy for the entire season. He missed one full game and significant parts of two others because of injuries (concussion, ankle) last season. Running backs occupied the top six spots, and Lacy was behind Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, Jamal Charles, Matt Forte and Marshawn Lynch.
12. Aaron Rodgers: Only one quarterback, Peyton Manning, ranked ahead of Rodgers. That says it all.
22. Jordy Nelson: Nelson is hoping to avoid his every-other-year pattern. In 2011 and 2013, he had big seasons with 1,200 yards or more in each season, combined to catch 23 touchdowns and did not miss any games. But in 2012 he missed four games and managed just 745 yards and seven touchdowns. Ranked seventh among receivers.
30. Randall Cobb: After an 80-catch season in 2012, he was poised for another big year last season before a fractured leg limited him to six games. Like Nelson, Cobb is in a contract year, which could help his production. Ranked 10th among receivers.
122. James Starks: Had his most productive season last year as Lacy's primary backup, posting career highs in touchdowns (four -- three rushing, one receiving) and yards per carry (5.5). Ranked 51st among running backs.
154. Mason Crosby: Saved his job last season by making 33-of-37 field goals (89.2 percent) after a career-low 63.6 percent conversion rate in 2012. Has tallied at least 100 points in seven straight seasons. Ranked fourth among kickers.
161. Jarrett Boykin: Emerged last season as a viable No. 3 with 49 catches for 681 yards and three touchdowns over the final 12 games but could see reduced playing time this year after the Packers drafted three receivers. Ranked 54th among receivers.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When it came to picking the best running back in the NFC North this past season, there were some tough choices.
You can never go wrong with the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson.
And the Chicago Bears' Matt Forte had another impressive season.
Those were the two backs selected for our ESPN.com All-NFC North team, which was unveiled earlier this month.
But when it came to this week’s Pro Bowl draft, the first of its kind, Packers running back Eddie Lacy got the call before Forte. Lacy, a first alternate who was added to Sunday's all-star game after Peterson pulled out because of an injury, was selected Wednesday night by Team Sanders, headed up by Deion Sanders.
Shortly thereafter, Forte was picked by Team Rice, captained by Jerry Rice.
The other running backs taken by Team Sanders were the Kansas City Chiefs' Jamaal Charles and the Washington Redskins' Alfred Morris. The quarterbacks picked for that team were the Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton and the Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck.
The full story about the first-ever Pro Bowl draft can be found here.
In case you missed it on ESPN.com:
- Speaking of All-NFC North teams, ProFootballFocus.com announced its squad. It featured six Packers' players, including Lacy.
- We continued our position outlook with the receiver group.
- In our NFL Nation survey, Peterson was selected as the one more players want to see get a shot at the Super Bowl. It was reminiscent of the feeling many had before Donald Driver made it to Super Bowl XLV.
- In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Pete Dougherty reported that running backs coach Alex Van Pelt is under contract for next season, meaning coach Mike McCarthy could block him from interviewing for an offensive coordinator job. (We know of at least one other position coach, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt, who is under contract for next season. Whitt confirmed that earlier this month).
- In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Martin Hendricks caught up with former Packers safety Nick Collins, whose career was cut short by a neck injury.
In that exercise, six Green Bay Packers were honored.
On Wednesday, ProFootballFocus.com unveiled its All-NFC North team. It also featured six members of the Packers, but it didn’t exactly match what was selected by our team of reporters.
The matches were: left guard Josh Sitton, defensive lineman Mike Daniels and cornerback Sam Shields.
However, PFF selected quarterback Aaron Rodgers, running back Eddie Lacy and receiver Jordy Nelson. None of those three made the ESPN.com team, which included outside linebacker Clay Matthews and both specialists – kicker Mason Crosby and punter Tim Masthay.
On our team, Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions was the quarterback.
In selecting Rodgers, who missed nearly half the season because of his broken collarbone, PFF’s Nathan Jahnke wrote: “There were definitely steps in the right direction made by Matthew Stafford, but it wasn’t enough to put him on the same level as Rodgers even though Rodgers missed a big part of the season. When healthy Rodgers is just too accurate a passer and for that reason he remains in his own class here.”
While PFF picked only one running back, Lacy, we selected two – Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings and Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears.
“While Adrian Peterson might be a better runner, and Matt Forte a better receiver, Eddie Lacy gets this spot for being the better all-around player,” Jahnke wrote. “Lacy was among the best runners in the league and became a larger part of the passing game as the season went on. He also was among the best pass blocking backs which is typically something rookies struggle with and also something that Peterson and Forte aren’t great at.”
Nelson got the nod as PFF’s third receiver, along with Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Chicago’s Brandon Marshall. On our team, we selected only two receivers -- Johnson and Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery.
“Even though some teams in the NFC North often use a second tight end or fullback, it was impossible to not include at least three wide receivers,” Jahnke wrote. “While Alshon Jeffery had an incredible sophomore season, the trio of Johnson, Marshall and Nelson were three of the top four rated wide receivers this year. If a team had all three of these receivers, I don’t know how they could lose.”
PFF did not pick Matthews, who missed five games because of a broken thumb. Instead, its linebackers were DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch of the Lions (both of which were on our team) along with Minnesota’s Erin Henderson.
PFF picked Minnesota’s Blair Walsh instead of Crosby and Detroit’s Sam Martin instead of Masthay.
In all, 14 players made both our team and the one selected by PFF, which breaks down every play of every NFL game and assigns numerical ratings to every player each week.
A few years ago, then-Packers receiver Donald Driver might have been one of the leading vote getters in this category. Driver was in his 12th NFL season when he finally reached his first Super Bowl.
“I don’t know if you get any doubt,” Driver said shortly after the Packers clinched their trip to Super Bowl XLV. “I think you get to a point where it’s hard to get here, and once you get in, then you just say hey, I’ve got to win it all.”
And Driver did just that.
But for every player like Driver, there are the likes of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez.
They were the top-two vote getters in this category.
Peterson, who received 18.4 percent of the votes, finished his seventh NFL season and has been to the playoff three times but never to a Super Bowl. Gonzalez, who received 17.5 percent of the votes, completed his 17th NFL season and announced his retirement without ever making it to the Super Bowl.
Interestingly, one member of the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV team that did receive a vote in this category was linebacker Nick Barnett, who did not play in that game because he was on injured reserve with a broken wrist.
Those wild eyes in front of that flowing blonde hair, his hulking 6-foot-3 frame, the memories of watching what he did to opposing quarterbacks -- sacking them 160 times in his 15-year NFL playing career -- and his brief stint as a professional wrestler are more than enough to make you feel a little intimidated.
It takes a while for that to go away.
It was a story that was critical of rookie outside linebacker Frank Zombo, who in the previous game against the Minnesota Vikings had missed an open-field tackle that allowed running back Toby Gerhart to convert a third-and-12 dump-off pass into a first down.
Greene asked -- make that told -- me to follow him down the hallway, something that was highly unusual because it was an area normally restricted to reporters, and into the outside linebackers meeting room. He closed the door and opened with this:
“What you wrote about Frank Zombo was unnnnnnnnnjustified," holding the "n" for several seconds.
Over the next 15 minutes, Greene showed about 20 clips from the Vikings’ game. He conceded that the missed tackle of Gerhart was a bad play, but he wanted to make it perfectly clear that he felt Zombo was playing well.
From that film session, a story was born and appeared in the Nov. 26, 2010, edition of the Press-Gazette. Here’s an excerpt:
So Greene cued up play after play.
He showed Zombo in perfect position when dropping in coverage to defend the hook-curl area in the middle of the field.
He showed Zombo knocking one of the Vikings' guards back into the fullback, which freed up inside linebacker A.J. Hawk to tackle Adrian Peterson for a short gain.
He showed Zombo, all 6-foot-3 and 254 pounds of him, bull-rushing Vikings' left tackle Bryant McKinnie (6-8, 335) straight back into [Brett] Favre, who had to throw off balance.
"Who's kicking who's (butt)?" Greene asks rhetorically. "Seriously, straight up. He's changing the line of scrimmage on a guy who weighs 350 pounds and (went to the) Pro Bowl. This is David and Goliath. It's Zombo kicking a big man's (butt), if you ever want to see what a (butt) kicking looks like. McKinnie's job is to hit him in the lips and blow him off the ball, move him off the line of scrimmage. Not the other way around. Whose feet are going back? McKinnie's."
With each highlight Greene showed, the former star outside linebacker, who is in his second season on the Packers' coaching staff, became more excited.
At various points, he'd just yell, "Zombo!"
At one point on that afternoon, a Packers staff member opened the door to see if everything was OK.
To which Greene responded, “OK, we’re almost done.”
But there was one more play he wanted to show on the big screen.
“Watch this run,” Greene said. “They try to run a delayed screen on Zombo. Guess what? Tackle for no gain.”
Zombo would go on to start for the Packers in Super Bowl XLV before injuries derailed his career, which was revived this season with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Greene cared about his players, who he often referred to as “my kids.” He had a passion for the game as a player and he carried it over to his coaching. He coached like he played, full speed ahead.
Perhaps that’s why after only five seasons on the Packers staff, he has decided to step away from coaching, the team announced on Friday, to spend more time with his family.
That hallway, that meeting room may never been the same.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Coach Mike McCarthy and his staff typically spend a portion of their offseason studying their division foes.
That task will be more difficult this year because half the teams in the division fired their coaches, meaning the old scheme reports on the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings will be largely useless as the Packers prepare for the 2014 season.
What's more, the coaches those teams hired -- Jim Caldwell in Detroit and Mike Zimmer in Minnesota -- aren’t exactly familiar foes for the Packers.
Both came from the AFC.
Caldwell, who was hired by the Lions on Tuesday, has been coaching in the AFC since 2002 with the Indianapolis Colts and most recently as the Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator. Zimmer, who was hired by the Vikings on Wednesday, has been in the AFC since 2008, all as the Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator.
McCarthy was the longest-tenured coach in the division even before the Lions fired Jim Schwartz and the Vikings fired Leslie Frazier earlier this month. Now, he’s the only coach in the division who has been with his current team for more than one season. Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman just finished his first year. Trestman also was a bit of an unknown, having come from the CFL.
No matter who has coached against him in the division, McCarthy has largely mastered them. He has a 35-12-1 regular-season record against NFC North opponents since he came to Green Bay in 2006. Only New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick (38-10) has a better record against his division foes in that same stretch.
Under McCarthy, the Packers have won three straight division titles and four in all, which helps explain the coaching turnover in the NFC North.
In case you missed it on ESPN.com:
- Running back Eddie Lacy was added to the Pro Bowl after Vikings running back Adrian Peterson withdrew on Wednesday. Lacy’s production showed he was was deserving even before he made it as a first-alternate.
- Mel Kiper Jr. released his first 2014 mock draft. You need to be an ESPN Insider subscriber to see the entire first round, but here’s a look at who he penciled in for the Packers at No. 21.
- We continued our look at the 10 plays that most shaped the season. No. 3 was another injury.
- And we continued our ranking of the Packers’ entire roster based on their 2013 production. Here’s Nos. 31-40, which included a couple of up-and-comers and a couple of underachieving, highly paid veterans.
Lacy was seventh in the voting at a position where six players were selected.
Let’s compare Lacy’s numbers to the running backs originally voted in.
In that department, Lacy averaged 78.5 yards per game in the 15 games in which he appeared. That matched or bettered the average of two of the six backs originally voted in -- Gore (70.5 yards per game) and the Seattle Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch (78.5 yards per game).
If you use 14 games as the divider given that Lacy was injured on his lone carry in the first quarter in Week 2, then Lacy’s average of 84.1 rushing yards per game would surpass one other back originally voted in -- the Chicago Bears' Matt Forte (83.7 yards per game) -- and would nearly match the Kansas City Chiefs' Jamaal Charles (85.8 yards per game).
To be sure, Lacy couldn’t match the Philadelphia Eagles' LeSean McCoy (who led the NFL with 1,607 yards rushing) in total yards or even Peterson (who averaged 90.4 yards per game over 14 games). But Lacy revived a running game that had not sent a running back to the Pro Bowl since 2004 (Ahman Green).
“I don’t fear anyone,” a few of them said.
But that wasn’t going to work for our NFL Nation confidential survey (more of which will be revealed as the month leading up to the Super Bowl goes on).
It should come as no surprise, especially to those who play in the NFC North, that Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh topped the league-wide list in this category.
But feared doesn’t have to mean dirty, which is why some players in the Packers’ locker room selected running back Adrian Peterson.
Among the other names suggested for this category by Packers players were Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, Washington Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather and Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen.
In any other year, it’s hard to imagine the Green Bay Packers having only one offensive player on the All-NFC North team.
But when Aaron Rodgers misses nearly half the season with a broken collarbone, and the Packers use three different backup quarterbacks behind him, it’s safe to say this isn’t like any other season.
One constant, however, was guard Josh Sitton. A Pro Bowl selection at right guard last season, Sitton made the switch to left guard in the offseason and has performed just as well, if not better, despite not getting voted back into the Pro Bowl.
An argument could have been made for running back Eddie Lacy, who became the Packers’ first rookie since 1971 to rush for 1,000 yards. He wasn’t going to edge Adrian Peterson, but it should have been a close call between him and Matt Forte for the other running back spot. (Sorry, John Kuhn, there’s no place for a fullback on the all-division team these days.)
On the defensive side of the ball, Clay Matthews remained one of the division’s biggest impact players despite missing five games because of a broken thumb. But the biggest surprise was the development of second-year defensive tackle Mike Daniels, who was the Packers’ best interior pass-rusher. Cornerback Sam Shields' emergence as the team’s top cover cornerback will earn him a big paycheck in free agency, whether it’s from the Packers or another team.
No one kicks in more difficult conditions than the Packers’ specialists, which makes their selections even more impressive. Few are better at pinning teams inside the 20 than punter Tim Masthay, and kicker Mason Crosby put the demons of his dismal 2012 season behind him and had a career year.
The Green Bay Packers don’t often pursue big-name free agents, but they chased running back Steven Jackson last March only to see him sign a three-year, $12 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons.
The Packers almost certainly would not have used a second-round pick on a running back, like they did with Lacy, had they signed a free agent like Jackson.
“Probably not,” Packers running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said. “That’s a management question there, but I know going into the draft we were going to be looking for one, possibly two, and we ended up taking two.”
While Lacy has built a strong case for the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year award by rushing for 822 yards -- tops among all rookie running backs and eighth overall in the NFL despite missing nearly two full games because of a concussion -- the 30-year-old Jackson struggled to replicate the success he had during his long, productive run with the St. Louis Rams.
Jackson’s streak of eight straight 1,000-yard seasons will end this year. He missed four games because of an early season hamstring injury and has just 339 yards on 97 carries for the struggling Falcons.
Lacy and Jackson will be on the same field for the first time on Sunday, when the Falcons come to Lambeau Field.
Although Jackson wouldn’t say how close he came to signing with the Packers, he admitted he was intrigued by the possibility.
“Green Bay was in my possible [destinations], yes,” Jackson said. “Obviously, their quarterback is one of the best in the league. The tradition and history with that organization is one of the best.”
In fact, Packers defensive tackle Ryan Pickett, who played two seasons with Jackson in St. Louis, was with Jackson at NFL Players Association meetings in the Bahamas when the Packers were courting the three-time Pro Bowl back this offseason.
Pickett sees some similarities between the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Jackson and Lacy, who is shorter at 5-11 but almost as well put together at 230 pounds.
“They’re similar in they’re big and explosive; that’s about it,” Pickett said. “I think they both have really great vision. They see things before it happens. That’s what makes Steven a good back. I remember he would read blocks very well, and Eddie has that same thing.”
Both also have shown an ability to withstanding the pounding that workhorse running backs take. Lacy’s 207 carries ranks seventh in the NFL, but he has a long way to go to match Jackson’s durability. From 2004 through last season, Jackson missed only 13 regular-season games. He had an eight-year stretch in which he carried at least 237 times in every season, including three seasons with 300-plus carries.
Since Lacy returned from his concussion in Week 5, only Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has more rushing yards. And Lacy actually held that distinction until last week, when the Detroit Lions held him to just 16 yards on 10 carries. Lacy also has more carries than any back during that stretch.
“I think he’s right where I thought he’d be,” Van Pelt said. “I thought he was a premier player, a premier runner. I’m a little more surprised by his ability to pass protect as well as he has. That’s the biggest thing. I saw it on tape but to translate it over to the NFL game, that’s probably the biggest surprise to me.”
ESPN Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure contributed.
The former Green Bay Packers quarterback was 26 when he won the first one in January of 1996. He won his three MVPs in consecutive years, meaning his last one came at the age of 28.
Aaron Rodgers was 28 he was named the NFL’s MVP on Feb. 4, 2012.
The Packers' current quarterback turned 30 today. So does that mean his best years are behind him?
That Favre’s MVP seasons all came in his 20s has not been the norm for award-winning quarterbacks in recent years.
Dating to the 2001 season, for which St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner was the MVP, 10 quarterbacks have won the award. Seven of them, including Warner, were in their 30s.
Rodgers is under contract through the 2019 season thanks to the extension he signed in April. He will be 36 years old when that deal expires.
How many more MVP-type seasons would be it reasonable to expect? This season, even if Rodgers returns this week from his broken collarbone -- which is still a big if -- is lost in terms of his MVP candidacy. However, based on the past winners, the answer to that question would seem to be several.
An NFL scout told me last week he thought Rodgers had four more “great seasons” in him.
Three non-quarterbacks have won the MVP since 2001. All were running backs, and all were in their 20s -- Shaun Alexander (28), LaDainian Tomlinson (27) and Adrian Peterson (27). That’s not surprising considering the shelf life for running backs is much shorter than for quarterbacks.
Too early for two: Mike McCarthy became the latest in a long line of coaches who made the mistake of trying a two-point conversion too early in the game. The Packers coach made the call with 11:42 remaining after Eddie Lacy's 3-yard touchdown run cut the Vikings' lead to 23-13. McCarthy gave away one sure point, and quarterback Matt Flynn couldn't convert on a throw to tight end Andrew Quarless. The Packers got two more possessions and scored a touchdown (and kicked the extra point) with 3:30 left and then kicked a field goal with 46 seconds left. That field goal, which forced overtime, would have been the go-ahead points had McCarthy gone for the PAT earlier. "I think once you cross that fourth quarter like you've got to look at the whole picture -- how many series were available to you at that time, obviously what was going on on the headsets just getting ready for each series on offense, the way they were running the football on defense, you're playing at home is a positive because you've got to the crowd behind you," McCarthy said. "I'm comfortable with the decision. We had a good play. Frankly, I wish had a couple more reps in that play; I think it would have been a little clearer for [Flynn]. So I thought it was a solid decision."
Lacy bounces back: The Vikings stacked the box against Lacy just like the New York Giants did a week earlier when they limited him to just 27 carries on 14 yards. This time, Lacy was a tackle-breaking machine against a similar defensive strategy by the Vikings. More than half of his yards came after contact. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 56 of Lacy's 110 rushing yards came after contact. His 4-yard gain on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter was made even more impressive by the fact that he was first hit 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Lacy also caught a season-high six passes for 48 yards, giving him 158 total yards from scrimmage. Lacy had to leave the game late in the overtime period after he had problems with his asthma, but his tackle-breaking ability elicited some of the loudest cheers from the fans at Lambeau Field and provided a boost of energy for the offense. "I think it lights a spark under Packer Nation," fullback John Kuhn said. "You hear the fans get riled up after something like that so if it jacks the fans up, you know our sideline is going to be happy."
Up-and-down defense: The Packers had a season-high six sacks, including Clay Matthews' first two-sack game of the season, and they didn't have any major coverage gaffes that led to big plays like they did against the Giants. Then again, they were playing against Christian Ponder, one of three Vikings quarterbacks to play this season. But as has been the case with this defense this season, there's almost always one major weakness. This time, it came against the run. Missed tackles were a killer. It's one thing to give up 146 yards rushing to Adrian Peterson, but it's another to let Toby Gerhart get 91 more on only eight carries. On the second-half drive in which the Vikings kicked a field goal to take a 23-7 lead, it was worth wondering whether the defense had mailed it in. "You're going to have your missed tackles against AP," Matthews said. "It always seems that he's good enough to exploit you when you're out of gaps. And that's kind of been the theme whenever we've given up too many yards rushing. I'm sure that'll be addressed. You know he's going to make his plays but not that many."