Green Bay Packers: Brandon Marshall

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- NFC North

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
10:00
AM ET
video
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.

First Down

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.

Michael C. Wright: Fiction. That is only happening if the other two quarterbacks end up as backups. First off, Bridgewater doesn't have to put up big numbers because he has a beast in the backfield in Adrian Peterson. So all he needs to do is hand off to Peterson and make sure not to turn it over on passing downs; be a game-manager. Perhaps Bridgewater is more of a gamer than workout performer, which is what all the scouts I have talked to would say. But I'm just not sold on Bridgewater based on what I saw from his pro day workout. That means he will probably wind up being Rookie of the Year.

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.


Second Down

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.


Third Down

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.


Fourth Down

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.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers still have three more NFL draft picks to sign, but even before those contracts are completed, we now have a clear idea of how much salary-cap space the team will have to use on extensions for veteran players this season.

As of the start of the week, the Packers were $15,045,712 under their adjusted salary cap. Only seven teams in the NFL had more cap space available than the Packers. Only the top 51 contracts count in the salary-cap calculations during the offseason.

That $15 million-plus figure, however, does not include deals for first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, second-round pick Davante Adams and third-round picks Khyri Thornton and Richard Rodgers. Thornton is the only one of that group who is under contract, but his deal was not completed until Monday and therefore has not been entered into the contract database yet.

But based on what those four players are expected to receive under the NFL's rookie slotting system, that foursome will combine to account for about $3.336 million in salary-cap space in 2014.

That would leave the Packers with about $11.7 million in unused cap space.

Is that enough to sign receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson to contract extensions? It should be, depending on how creative vice president of player finance Russ Ball gets in the structure of those deals.

On Monday, we looked at how Bears receiver Brandon Marshall’s contract extension might impact the market for Cobb and Nelson. Neither Cobb nor Nelson will likely net the $10 million-per-year average that Marshall received but even if the Packers paid out that kind of signing-bonus money, the proration for salary-cap purposes likely will still fit under their available cap space.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Don't think the Green Bay Packers and the agents for receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson didn't notice the contract extension that Chicago Bears receiver Brandon Marshall signed on Monday -- even if none of the parties involved had on ABC's "The View."

Nelson
Cobb
Marshall's deal could impact negotiations between the Packers and their top-two receivers, both of whom are entering the final year of their contracts.

Marshall's three-year, $30 million contract extension also came with him entering the final year of his contract. His last deal averaged $11.194 million per season, making him the NFL's sixth-highest-paid receiver, according to ESPN Stats & Information salary data.

While Marshall isn't an exact comparison for either Cobb or Nelson -- at age 30 he's closer in age to Nelson (28) than Cobb (23), but he has five Pro Bowls and one All-Pro selection compared to none for either Nelson or Cobb -- every deal signed by a marquee receiver will help shape the market for the Packers' duo.

Nelson's last contract averaged $4.2 million per season, an average per year that currently ranks 32nd among NFL receivers. If nothing else, Nelson's camp certainly has a strong case that he's better than the 32nd-best receiver in the NFL, especially coming off a season in which he ranked 13th among receivers in receptions (85) and 10th in yards (1,314).

Cobb is still playing under his original rookie contract -- a four-year, $3.233 million deal that ranks 79th on the list of receivers in terms of average per year. Again, there certainly are not 78 receivers better than Cobb in the NFL, but the injury that kept him out of 10 games last season could impact the negotiations. Also, the fact Cobb plays primarily in the slot could limit his value. The highest-paid slot receiver is Victor Cruz ($8.6 million per season) of the New York Giants.

As of Monday, there were eight receivers with contracts that average at least $10 million per season led by Detroit's Calvin Johnson ($16.207 million per season) and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald ($16.142 million).

Before the Packers began signing their latest round of rookie contracts last week, they had $15,078,037 in salary-cap space available for this season.
Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson Getty ImagesGreen Bay Packers receivers Randall Cobb (18) and Jordy Nelson are both in line for raises as they enter the final season of their current contracts.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- At some point in the next 11 months -- likely sooner rather than later -- the Green Bay Packers will extend the contracts of receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson.

Between now and when they scribble their names on their new deals there will be much discussion about each player's value.

Myriad factors come in to play during contract negotiations, but the most important ones are production, injury history (which is usually tied to production) and age (which can be tied to injury history).

Another factor you might hear thrown around when it comes to Cobb and Nelson is the unscientific term "No. 1 receiver" -- as in should either one or both be paid like one?

In an ESPN Insider piece, former NFL scout Matt Williamson helped define exactly what that term means .

He came up with four characteristics:

  • They need to have the ability to separate from man coverage, understand how to find the soft spots in zones and have very strong athletic traits.
  • They need to be strong, fast and play big, which often -- but not always -- can eliminate shorter wide receivers from this equation.
  • They must be productive, even when opposing defenses are scheming to take them out of the equation; No. 1 receivers can be uncoverable and never come off the field.
  • They must display the above traits with consistency.

What was perhaps most interesting about Williamson's list is that he came up with only 14 players in the NFL who fit his criteria.

"The term 'No. 1 receiver' is often thrown around loosely, but to me, there certainly are not 32 No. 1 receivers in the league just because every team has a favorite target," Williamson wrote.

Also, Williamson had two tight ends -- New England's Rob Gronkowski and New Orleans' Jimmy Graham -- among his 14.

Among his 12 receivers, only four were among the NFL's top-10 highest-paid receivers (see the accompanying chart). They were: Detroit's Calvin Johnson (No. 1), Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald (No. 2), Chicago's Brandon Marshall (No. 6) and Houston's Andre Johnson (No. 8).

However, six of the 12 are still playing under their rookie contracts and will be in line for significant raises on their next deal.

Back to the cases for whether Cobb and Nelson belong in that same category as they enter the final season of their current contracts.

According to Williamson, one of them should be considered a No. 1 receiver and the other is close. Also, it's possible for one team to have two No. 1 receivers, Williamson wrote, as is the case with the Bears (Marshall and Alshon Jeffery).

The 6-foot-3, 217-pound Nelson cracked the list at No. 13 under the heading "Just ask their quarterbacks if they are No. 1 receivers." Williamson also put San Francisco's Michael Crabtree in that same category.

"With great size for the position, he is often mistaken for a possession weapon, however only three receivers converted more receptions of 20 or more yards last year, Williamson wrote of Nelson. "His deep speed and big-play ability is vastly underrated, but Nelson also is Aaron Rodgers' go-to target when Rodgers needs a first down and has always proven to be reliable.

"Nelson had his best season in 2013, accumulating over 1,300 receiving yards, and bear in mind that he was playing without Rodgers for much of that time. He isn't a product of the system or his surroundings and would be great in any environment."

Nelson's next contract will be his third. Midway through the 2011 season, he signed a three-year extension that averaged $4.2 million per season. That average ranks 32nd among all NFL receivers in 2014.

Williamson ranked Cobb among 11 players who he termed as "close but not quite" No. 1 receivers.

Cobb, who like Nelson was a second-round pick, is entering the final season of his rookie contract. Two factors likely kept Cobb out of Williamson’s top 14: his size (5-10, 192) and that he missed 10 games last season because of a fractured tibia.

But in 2012, Cobb caught 80 passes despite missing one game, and there is room for growth. He is entering his fourth season but won't turn 24 years old until late in training camp this summer, making him more than 5 years younger than Nelson, who turns 29 in May.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Earlier this month, we revealed our ESPN.com All-NFC North team as voted on by the four NFL Nation reporters who cover this division.

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.

Mailbag: Talking Rodgers, Cobb and more

December, 21, 2013
12/21/13
8:00
AM ET
Each week, I will ask for questions via Twitter with the hashtag #PackersMail, then will deliver the answers over the weekend.

 

Thanks again for all the great questions. Talk to you soon.

Starter Pack: Defensive letdown

November, 5, 2013
11/05/13
8:00
AM ET
A roundup of what's happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- While most of the focus after Monday night's 27-20 loss to the Chicago Bears was on quarterback Aaron Rodgers' injury -- and rightly so -- the Packers might have pulled out an unlikely victory if their defense didn't play one of its worst games of the season.

Missed tackles, an inability to stop running back Matt Forte (who rushed for 125 yards on 24 carries) or effectively cover receivers Brandon Marshall (seven catches for 107 yards and a touchdown) and Alshon Jeffery (five catches for 60 yards and a touchdown) ruined any chance the Packers had to win a game without Rodgers for the final 3 1/2 quarters.

“Defensively, we didn't do a very good job of stopping the run,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “The tackling to me, without seeing the tape, it looked like we had a lot of missed tackles and also in the passing game.”

They let backup Josh McCown throw for 272 yards and two touchdowns. They sacked him only once and did not force a turnover. In all, the Bears piled up 442 yards of total offense.

“If we could've stopped them, we definitely could have won it,” Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “The score was 27-20. We definitely should have pulled it off. Obviously, we didn't help our offense out. They were running all over the place, and we couldn't get off the field.”

In case you missed it on ESPN.com:
Elsewhere:
On the day former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith got the job, he said that one of his priorities was to beat the Green Bay Packers.

First-year Bears coach Marc Trestman made no such promises about this rivalry, but it goes without saying that he's eager to end Chicago's six-game losing streak to the Packers.

The last time Chicago beat Green Bay was on Sept. 27, 2010, on "Monday Night Football." The teams meet again in prime time Monday night at Lambeau Field.

ESPN.com's Packers reporter Rob Demovsky and Bears reporter Michael C. Wright break down the matchup.

Rob Demovsky: We all know how much Smith wanted to beat the Packers. He stated as much the day he got the head coaching job. What has Trestman's approach to this rivalry been like?

Wright: Rob, my man, you know that rivalries have to cut both ways in terms of wins and losses for it to be truly considered a rivalry. Counting the postseason, the Bears have lost six in a row and nine of the last 11. So, if anything, this is more Green Bay dominance than a rivalry. But the interesting thing about Trestman is he's a guy who likes to compartmentalize everything. He looks at today rather than the past or the future. So while it sounds cliché, Trestman is looking at the Packers as just another opponent on the schedule. That's just the way Trestman likes to operate, and I think for him it sort of makes things easier.

I keep looking at Green Bay's sack numbers, and I'm a little surprised the club is still in the top 10 in sacks with Clay Matthews out the last three games and other key members of the defense missing time. What is Dom Capers doing over there schematically to keep up the production?

Demovsky: I figured when Matthews broke his thumb, Capers would have to blitz like crazy. Now, he's picked his spots, but he hasn't gone blitz-happy like I thought he might. However, he has been sending different pass-rushers to keep offenses off guard. One game, against the Baltimore Ravens, linebacker A.J. Hawk came a bunch and sacked Joe Flacco three times. Also, they've finally found a defensive lineman with some rush ability in second-year pro Mike Daniels. Three of his team-leading four sacks have come in the past two games.

As long as we're on the topic of quarterbacks, in 2011, backup Josh McCown played a halfway decent game against the Packers on Christmas at Lambeau Field, but he threw a couple of interceptions. What do you expect from him this time around as he starts in place of the injured Jay Cutler?

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsThe Packers have limited Brandon Marshall to 8 catches for 80 yards in their past two meetings.
Wright: Believe it or not, I expect little to no drop-off from McCown in this game. The biggest difference between now and then is that in 2011, McCown joined the team in November, fresh from a stint as a high school football coach in North Carolina, and four weeks later became the starter. So he basically came in cold and still played relatively well. This time around, McCown has become immersed in the offense from the ground level, when Trestman first came on board, and even had some input as the team constructed the scheme. In fact, during the offseason, McCown was holding film sessions with all the club's new additions to teach everyone the new offense. So he's got complete mastery of the offense just like Cutler, which is why McCown came in against the Redskins and the offense didn't miss a beat. Obviously, McCown doesn't possess Cutler's arm strength. But he'll make up for that deficiency with anticipation. I'm quite sure the Bears won't scale down the offense to accommodate McCown at all, because they don't need to. So I expect McCown to play well. I'm just not sure Chicago's offense can keep up with Green Bay's in what I expect to be a high-scoring game.

Speaking of high scoring, the Packers put up 44 points on the Minnesota Vikings. How is Green Bay handling the preparation process for the Bears?

Demovsky: Well, they certainly don't have as much time as the Bears do, considering the Bears are coming off their bye week. But the Packers have gotten themselves into a rhythm. They've won four in a row after their 1-2 start and look like a different team than they did the first three weeks of the season. Mike McCarthy probably doesn't get enough credit nationally, but show me another coach who has stared injuries in the face and hasn't blinked. What other team could lose playmakers like Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jermichael Finley and Matthews and still keep winning? That's a testament to the program he has established here. You can argue with some of his in-game coaching decisions, but you can do that with every coach. What you can't question, though, is the team's preparation.

The Bears, obviously, have had their share of injuries, too, losing Cutler and linebacker Lance Briggs. What's a bigger loss -- Cutler to the offense or Briggs to the defense?

Wright: Well, Cutler's replacement is a veteran in McCown who has plenty of experience and a ton of weapons surrounding him on offense, while rookie Khaseem Greene will likely fill in for Briggs on a bad defense that will also feature rookie Jon Bostic in the middle. From my vantage point, losing Briggs is much more significant. The Bears have already proved to be horrible against the run (ranked 25th), and that issue certainly won't improve with two rookies at linebacker and a defensive line decimated by injury. It's also worth noting that Briggs made all the defensive calls and served as somewhat of a coach on the field for Bostic. Given that Green Bay seems to be running the ball so well, the current situation with Chicago's front seven could be devastating.

Now that the Packers are running the ball so well, how has that changed the way the offense is called? It seems Green Bay runs well regardless of which running back they line up in the backfield.

Demovsky: It's remarkable -- and even a bit stunning -- to see Aaron Rodgers check out of a pass play and in to a run play at the line of scrimmage. That kind of thing hasn't happened around here in a long, long time -- probably not since Ahman Green was piling up 1,000-yard seasons nearly a decade ago. Teams no longer can sit back in a Cover-2 look and dare the Packers to run. Because guess what? The Packers can finally do it. It also has given the receivers more one-on-one opportunities, so it's helped the passing game, too. Right now, this offense almost looks unstoppable.

If the Packers keep playing like this, they might be tough to catch in the NFC North. What are the Bears' prospects for staying in the NFC North race until Cutler and Briggs return?

Wright: To me, this game is the measuring stick for making that determination. But I'm not really confident about Chicago's chances, and that has more to do with the team's struggling defense than Cutler's absence. There have been conflicting statements made about Cutler's recovery time frame. Some teammates think he'll be ready to return by the time the Bears face Detroit on Nov. 4, while Trestman said the plan is to stick to the minimum four-week time frame prescribed by the doctors. Either way, if the Bears lose to the Lions you can kiss their prospects for the playoffs goodbye. The Bears might be able to afford a loss to the Packers because they'll face them again on Dec. 29. But a sweep by the Lions kills Chicago's chances to me because just from what we've seen so far, it appears one of the wild cards will come out of the NFC North with the other coming from the NFC West. Obviously it's too early to predict that, but that's the way things seem to be shaking out.

Without two of his top receivers and tight end Finley, Rogers still hit 83 percent of his passes against the Vikings. Is that success a product of the system, a bad Minnesota defense, or is Rodgers just that good at this point?

Demovsky: The more I see other quarterbacks play, the more I'm convinced it's Rodgers. For example, seldom-used receiver Jarrett Boykin makes his first NFL start two weeks ago against the Cleveland Browns, and he ends up with eight catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. How many catches do you think he would have had if he were playing for the Browns that day? Their quarterback, Brandon Weeden, completed only 17-of-42 passes. That's not to minimize what Boykin did or what players like Jordy Nelson do week in and week out, but Rodgers is special, and special players elevate the play of those around them. Look at what Greg Jennings has done since he left for the Vikings. Now tell me the quarterback doesn't make the receiver, not vice versa.

Speaking of receivers, other than Anquan Boldin, who lit up the Packers in the opener at San Francisco, they've done a solid job shutting down other team's No. 1 receivers -- most recently Jennings and Cincinnati's A.J. Green. How do you think the Bears will try to get Brandon Marshall involved against what has been a pretty good Packers secondary?

Wright: This question brings me back to the 2012 massacre at Lambeau Field on Sept. 13. The Packers bracketed Marshall with two-man coverage, and the Bears struggled tremendously. Shoot, cornerback Tramon Williams caught as many of Cutler's passes as Marshall, who finished the game with two grabs for 24 yards. Obviously, this offensive coaching staff is a lot different than last year's group. So the Bears will go into this game with a lot more answers for that coverage. I definitely see McCown leaning on Marshall and trying to get him involved as early as possible, but the only way he'll be able to do that is for the Bears to establish the rushing attack with Matt Forte so the quarterback can operate off play action. When the Bears go to Marshall early, expect to see a lot of short passes that will enable the receiver to gain some yardage after the catch.

Over the years, Green Bay has been pretty successful at limiting the impact of return man Devin Hester. So I was a little shocked to see the Packers give up a kickoff return for a touchdown to Cordarrelle Patterson. As you probably know, Hester is coming off a pretty strong return game against the Redskins. Do you think the Packers fix the problems they encountered last week, and minimize Hester's impact?

Demovsky: Part of the Packers' problem on special teams has been that all the injuries have created a trickle-down effect. Here's what I mean: On the kickoff coverage until they gave up the 109-yard return to Patterson, they lined up six rookies, two of whom weren't even on the opening day roster. The Packers always have feared Hester, as they should, and in various games in recent years have shown they'd almost rather kick the ball out of bounds than give him any return opportunities. He's one of those special players who make rivalry games so entertaining.

A roundup of what’s happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Those who have followed the Packers for more than a decade may remember the name Frank Novak. The jovial former special-teams coach served under head coach Mike Sherman from 2000 to 2004, and whenever Novak walked by the assembled media at practice, he always had one word.

“Doubters,” Novak would say.

He always had a smile on his face when he said it, but he understood the business well enough to know the role of the media.

Current Packers kicker Mason Crosby, who never worked with Novak, certainly could have wagged his finger and used Novak’s favorite phrase on Thursday, when Crosby was named NFC special teams player of the month for October. Surely, Crosby knows that plenty of those who stood in front of his locker and asked him about his award had their doubts he would ever reach such heights again after last season’s slump.

“My mindset is all about the positive stuff,” Crosby said. “I’m not trying to dwell on the negatives. Don’t stick it to people who weren’t supportive.”

Through all of last season’s struggles, when he had the lowest field-goal percentage (63.6 percent) in the league, Crosby persevered.

And he might be a better kicker – and person – because of it. It’s something he said he and his wife, Molly, talk about often.

“We’re able to look back and just be like, ‘Man, that was such an amazing blessing in our life and it’s something that we can grow on,’ and we became closer as a family,” Crosby said. “We really saw what was important in our life together, with family and friends. My relationships grew stronger. I really saw some good positives.

“I obviously want to be successful every year in my job and what I do on the field, but there were a lot of really good things. I found a lot in myself that I knew I could just work a little bit harder, put a little bit more into it. The resiliency that I’ve been able to show, I really am happy. Right now, obviously, I’m happy with how this year is going. I wish the numbers weren’t what they were last year, but I’m happy that I went through it and made it through it and can look back and really draw on it to extend my career. That can be something I can really sit on and make sure that I say, ‘This was a defining moment, a moment that I can find a lot of positives in, as well.’”

Elsewhere:
  • Our ESPN.com coverage included a look at how Bears receiver Brandon Marshall has fared against the Packers and how they may try to cover him on Monday night. ... Also, remember two weeks ago, when coach Mike McCarthy’s message was "Keep calm and carry on"? Well, his message was much different this week. ... In addition to Crosby’s award, running back Eddie Lacy was named offensive rookie of the month for October. ... We also took a look at some impressive streaks the Packers have going and will put on the line against the Bears on Monday. ... In our daily injury report, it appears receiver James Jones is no closer to returning from his Oct. 13 knee injury.
  • ESPN colleague Kevin Seifert has a detailed breakdown of the Packers’ running game, including this nugget: “They have given their running backs 19 percent more carries than their average for the previous five years, and those backs – led by rookie Eddie Lacy – have produced 42 percent more yards than the five-year average.”
  • Almost everyone – save one – on our ESPN panel of experts picked the Packers to beat the Bears. See who the lone dissenter was.
  • At ESPNWisconsin.com, Jason Wilde went where McCarthy and the coaches have refused – into detail about how quarterback Aaron Rodgers changes plays so effectively at the line of scrimmage.
  • In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Weston Hodkiewicz took a look at the Packers' cornerback position, which may be the deepest it’s been in years. ... Mike Vandermause wrote about the impact tight end Ryan Taylor’s return from a knee injury could have on the special-teams units.
  • In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tyler Dunne wrote that rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari has faced a murderer’s row of pass rushers and has passed almost every test.

The plan for covering Brandon Marshall

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
8:45
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Apparently, Chicago Bears receiver Brandon Marshall has a selective memory when it comes to the Green Bay Packers.

Marshall
Asked on Thursday about the success the Packers had defending him, Marshall said: "Well, I don't know where you get that from."

He seemed to have little recollection of the two games he played against the Packers last year.

In a Week 2 loss at Lambeau Field, he caught just two passes for 24 yards and no touchdowns.

Three months later in a loss at Soldier Field, he caught six passes for 56 yards and one touchdown.

"You go back to the Denver days when [former Packers cornerback] Al Harris was there, I had a good game, made some plays even though it as a tough matchup, a lot of give and take," Marshall said during a conference call with reporters at Lambeau Field. "When I was in Miami, I think I had 100-something yards, and we won the game. I think that was y'all's Super Bowl year, so I don't know where you get that from that it's been tough for me."

Marshall had that part of it right. In 2007, he caught three passes for 74 yards for the Broncos in a loss to the Packers. In 2010, he had a monster game with 10 catches for 127 yards for the Dolphins in a win at Lambeau Field.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Marshall is a tough matchup for anyone, but Packers cornerback Tramon Williams -- with some help -- nearly shut him out in the first meeting last season.

"Tramon, he was pretty much following me a little bit," Marshall said, "with help over the top."

That's the norm for Marshall, who often is double covered.

"Yeah, it sucks," he said.

"He's one of those guys, he's big and he does everything well," Williams said. "He runs pretty good routes. He comes back to the ball, comes out of his breaks well and he's good after the catch and strong. so he's a guy who presents a lot of challenges. Your best odds are to try to keep him from catching the ball because once he does catch the ball, he's really good with it."

Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers has used his cornerbacks differently this season. He began by leaving Williams on one side and Sam Shields on the other rather than matching them up. In recent weeks, he has moved Williams inside in the nickel (three cornerbacks) package, leaving Shields and Davon House on the outside.

Since giving up 13 catches for 208 yards to San Francisco 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin in the season opener, the Packers have fared much better against No. 1 receivers. Since, if anyone draws the assignment to match the other team's top receiver, it has been Shields. Halfway through the Week 3 game at Cincinnati, Shields asked to cover Bengals Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green and although he gave up a touchdown, Shields held Green relatively in check with four catches for 46 yards.

"After the first game getting torched by Anquan, no other number one has put up huge numbers, so you have to look at that and respect what they do on defense," Marshall said. "They're getting better."

In the game at Chicago last December, Shields covered receiver Alshon Jeffery for most of the game. Shields frustrated Jeffery to the point where he was called for three offensive pass interference penalties.

Now, it may be up to Shields to shadow Marshall in Monday night's game at Lambeau Field. In some ways, it may make up for the fact that Shields did not get to cover Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson in the Oct. 6 game. Shields was looking forward to testing himself against Johnson, who was inactive because of a knee injury.

"We got another game coming this Thanksgiving," Shields said, referring to the rematch with the Lions.

But for now, his sights are set on Marshall, should he draw that assignment.

"This is a big challenge, and I'm up for all challenges," Shields said. "Whatever decision the coaches make, I'm ready and willing to go forward."

Since Boldin and the 49ers lit up the Packers in the opener, Green Bay's pass defense has made a steady recovery. Ranked 30th out of 32 teams in the league in passing yards allowed per game after two weeks, the Packers have climbed to 21st.

"We're not letting anyone get the big, explosive plays," Shields said.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider