Green Bay Packers: Micah Hyde

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INDIANAPOLIS -- Observed and heard at the NFL combine on Friday:

Don’t blame Slocum: If you want to blame former Green Bay Packers special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum for the botched onside kick recovery in the NFC Championship Game loss to the Seattle Seahawks, you should know this: According to a person familiar with Slocum’s instructions on the sideline, one of the last things he told his hands team before the play was this: "If your name isn't Jordy Nelson or Micah Hyde, don't try to field the ball." Of course, we all know that Brandon Bostick, who was released earlier this week, tried to catch it and failed, allowing the Seahawks to recover. Two weeks later Slocum, whose special teams units were problematic all season and allowed the Seahawks to run a fake field goal for a touchdown, was fired.

Zimmer on Bostick: After the Minnesota Vikings claimed Bostick off waivers, coach Mike Zimmer told reporters who cover his team that Bostick will add depth and competition at the tight end position. And then Zimmer joked, "We'll try not to put him on the onside kick team."

Meet the linebackers: A day after coach Mike McCarthy more or less said inside linebacker is the Packers' greatest need this offseason, two of the top inside linebackers in the draft -- Missississppi State's Benardrick McKinney and Miami's Denzel Perryman -- both confirmed they have formal interviews scheduled with the Packers during the combine. The Packers began their overhaul at the position by releasing veteran Brad Jones on Friday.

Big things for Janis: For those fans who wondered why receiver Jeff Janis couldn't get on the field much last year as a rookie, know this: McCarthy still has high hopes for the former seventh-round pick who spent most of last season on the inactive list. Janis was active for only three games and played just 15 snaps on offense. He caught two passes for 16 yards. "I thought probably after Thanksgiving, I thought Jeff really picked it up," McCarthy said. "He was more comfortable, and so I look for him to take a step. He's got to play with extension. That's the one thing he has to do a better job of, but you can see it on the scout team, and at the end of the year he was running some really good routes. Really good routes."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- As we head toward the NFL scouting combine, which begins next week in Indianapolis, it's time to look at the Green Bay Packers' needs by position this offseason and which prospects general manager Ted Thompson might be taking a closer look at during workouts and interviews.

Here are the previous installments:

Monday: Defensive line.

Tuesday: Linebackers.

Next up, cornerbacks.

Why the Packers might need help: Their most reliable cornerback, Tramon Williams, is headed toward free agency. Williams has missed just one game since the start of the 2007 season and has started all but one game since the beginning of the 2010 season. He tied for the team lead in interceptions in 2014 with three and led the team with 16 pass breakups, according to the team's own stats. However, he will turn 32 on March 16, and that's an age when Thompson often times cuts ties with veteran players. Backup cornerback Davon House is also scheduled to become a free agent. He would be a promising prospect if he could shake the injury bug. The former fourth-round pick missed three games late in the season with a shoulder injury but given his age (25) and perhaps a lower cost, the Packers might be more likely to bring him back instead of Williams, who last season made $7.5 million.

If the Packers let both House and Williams walk, they still have starter Sam Shields, proven backup Casey Hayward and slot cover man Micah Hyde, who last season split time between cornerback and safety.

Cornerbacks the Packers should be watching: Last year, five cornerbacks went in the first round of the draft. This year's class does not look as top-heavy. Michigan State's Trae Waynes, Washington's Marcus Peters and LSU's Jalen Collins were the only three corners Todd McShay had going in the first round in his latest mock draftInsider. TCU's Kevin White had an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl and could be moving up on many draft boards. Other corners to keep an eye on include Wake Forest's Kevin Johnson, Florida State's P.J. Williams and Central Florida's Jacoby Glenn.

Draft priority (low, medium or high): Medium. Thompson typically takes a cornerback; he has done so in five of the past six drafts. The highest was Hayward (second round, 2012). Last year, he picked Baylor's Demetri Goodson in the sixth round and although he spent all of his rookie year on the 53-man roster, there's been little evidence to suggest he's ready for a role on defense. Goodson's only playing time as a rookie came on special teams. This could move to the low category in the unlikely event both House and Williams are re-signed.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The meetings might not have been fun, but they were productive.

It was the bye week, and Dom Capers' defense had just come off a shelling at the hands of the New Orleans Saints. Sure, Capers was missing two starters in the secondary -- safety Morgan Burnett and cornerback Sam Shields -- but that can't explain how the Green Bay Packers allowed Mark Ingram to rush for 172 yards.

In one game, the Packers went from bad (31st out of the 32 teams) against the run to the worst.

[+] EnlargeClay Matthews
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesThe insertion of Clay Matthews at middle linebacker in certain packages helped Green Bay's rushing defense improve considerably in the second half of the season.
Capers and head coach Mike McCarthy met at length that week to sort through what went wrong in the first half of the season and to hash out a plan to fix it.

Maybe you think McCarthy, an offensive-minded head coach, doesn't know much about defense. Capers will tell you differently.

"Let me tell you, any good offensive coach knows defense as well," Capers said. "A good defensive coach better know offense, too. And when you've got somebody that's an expert across the ball, you want to always gather as much information as you can."

By now, everyone knows the turnaround the Packers made in the second half of the season.

How it came together, though, is just coming into focus as the Packers prepare for Sunday's NFC Championship Game at the Seattle Seahawks.

"Ah, the bye week," McCarthy said. "We went through everything -- offense, defense, special teams. I think I had four, five topics that we looked at on defense, and then Dom and I got together. As I recall, there was three things that I felt needed to be addressed and the direction and the vision that I felt we needed to go, and the defensive staff made it happen."

McCarthy wouldn't say what those three things were but based on the way the Packers played since the bye, it all centered around Clay Matthews' move to inside linebacker in some packages. They had experimented with moving Matthews off the line of scrimmage early in the season in a 4-3 alignment, but they junked that after only three games before restarting it after the bye. Restarting that also marked the beginning of linebacker Sam Barrington's increased role, which coincided with linebacker A.J. Hawk's reduction in snaps.

"We needed to fix the problems area of our defense," Matthews said this week. "Obviously, we had given up way to much in the run game. I think that was essential to what we were trying to stop."

Matthews wasn't sure whose idea it was, but he figures McCarthy had a hand in it.

"I don’t know what happens behinds the scenes," Matthews said. "But yeah, what the head man says goes, so I'm sure he’s very much involved."

And Capers, a veteran of 29 NFL seasons as a coach, said he had no issue with that.

"As always, Mike's going to give his input on things," said Capers, a two-time NFL head coach. "We tried to respond in a way to where we had a little extra time to do some things to give ourselves the chance to get better. We didn't want to stay the same.

"Mike's a tremendous guy to work for, and you have a great appreciation for that. Being in that position for nine years myself, you just understand when you're working for a guy who's very competent and very good and if you're working in an organization like this, yeah I appreciate that."

When the players returned from the bye week, McCarthy stood in front of them in the first team meeting and shared his vision for the second half of the season.

"As soon as we got back, we understood that we had to get better," defensive back Micah Hyde said. "Coach came into the team meeting room to talk about it. Dom, in the defensive team meeting, talked about it. We all knew what we needed to do."

McCarthy then left Capers, his assistants and the players to implement it.

"Coach Mike lets him do his job," Hyde said. "He'll never come into our defensive meeting room and try to show up Dom or anything like that. I think they work well together. Whatever coach brings to Dom, he presents to us. I really respect that they can work together because I know it's not like that everywhere. Coach will come in every now and then, but he lets Dom do his stuff."
A roundup of what's happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Few teams have slowed down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense this season, but doing so might be the key to knocking Green Bay out of the playoffs.

How can it be done?

Our NFL Nation reporters worked their sources for a feature called NFC Playoffs Confidential, and here's what they discovered from talking to players, coaches, scouts and team personnel from non-playoff teams:

On stopping Rodgers' back-shoulder throw:

"That's on the corner. That's just them being physical at the line of scrimmage. I felt like before they played us, a lot of defensive backs let them have a free release on them. Our guys did a great job of being physical at the line of scrimmage, disrupting the timing.

"Really just getting after Rodgers and making him very nervous up front with our pass rush. Our defensive backs did a great job of playing off and playing on, switching up their coverages, changing their disguise. That right there is key, because if the quarterback doesn't know exactly where you are in regards to the route that's designed for him, he can't really throw the ball where it needs to be."

On minimizing Rodgers' impact:

"I think the key to beating him is, first of all, shutting the running game down. You cannot let them be able to run the football because if you do, you're going to be in for a long day. If they get the running game going, that means they've got the play-action pass going. So, first and foremost, you've got to stop the run.

"Second, you've got to be able to keep the quarterback in the pocket. I think he's probably the most dangerous when he's on the move, escapes the pocket and is throwing on the run. He'll make you look stupid, so you've got to do a great job of containing him and keeping him in the pocket.

"No. 3, you've got to be able to do all that with a four-man rush. You've got to be able to get home and be able to put pressure on the quarterback with a four-man rush and be able to play coverage behind it, whether it be [Cover] 3 or [Cover] 2, some form of zone behind it, and be able to pressure with only four guys rushing and contain him and keep him in the pocket. Once he expands plays, he's hell. He's pretty much unstoppable."

On why the Packers should run Eddie Lacy more than they do:

"I know they're going to pass the ball because they've got an elite quarterback, but they've got to be able to get Eddie Lacy going. Man, you've got to gang tackle him, too, because you hardly ever see one guy bring Eddie Lacy down. So you've got to do a great job of rallying and getting guys to the ball."

For more on all the NFC playoff teams, click here.

The AFC version can be found here.

In case you missed it from ESPN.com:
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- What has become commonplace for Aaron Rodgers is new for Micah Hyde, but together they did something that hasn't been done by Green Bay Packers teammates in nearly 20 years.

Rodgers on Wednesday was named the NFC's offense player of the week, while Hyde was named the NFC's special teams player of the week.

Together, they became the first Packers teammates to win those awards in the same week since 1996, when receiver Don Beebe and kicker Chris Jacke were honored in Week 7 of that season.

Rodgers won for his performance against the Detroit Lions in Week 17, when the Packers quarterback returned from a second-quarter calf injury to lead a 30-20 victory. The Packers led 14-0 when Rodgers left with the injury, and the game was tied at 14-14 when he returned in the third quarter. Although his mobility was limited, he completed 17 of 22 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. He also scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak after he returned from his injury.

It was Rodgers' fourth such honor this season, the most in the NFL in 2014, and his 12th career player of the week award, which tied former quarterback Brett Favre for the most in team history.

Meanwhile, Hyde won for his 55-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter against the Lions. It was the second-year defensive back's first career honor. It was Hyde's second punt return for a touchdown this season and the third of his career, which earned him a share of the team record with Desmond Howard and Will Blackmon.
A roundup of what's happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – If five blocked kicks was "unacceptable" to Packers special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum, imagine where his frustration level is now that they've had two more rejected.

"Extremely high," Slocum said Monday, one day after the Packers had their seventh kick blocked this season.

The latest was a 52-yard field goal attempt by Mason Crosby in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 30-20 win over the Detroit Lions. At the time of the block, the Packers led by only a touchdown.

"Our left wing needs to do a better job there," Slocum said.

He was referring to tight end Andrew Quarless, who was lined up on the far left side of the formation and let Lions safety Isa Abdul-Quddus blow right past him.

"It’s disappointing," Slocum added. "We've spent a lot of time, because we've had some problems this season in our placement protection. We've devoted the necessary time in practice. We were very good in the previous game. We were good inside in that ball game. That was a critical play in the game and our accountability needs to pick up there."

It was the third time Crosby has had a field goal blocked this season to go along with two blocked extra points. Tim Masthay also had two punts blocked this season. And the issues haven't been with the kicks.

The problems earlier in the season were mostly on the interior of the protection unit, where the special teams played without starting guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang for part of the season. The Packers took them off the field goal/extra point team after their Week 8 injuries even though they remained in their regular roles on offense. Only Lang has returned to special teams.

"We've gotten exposed, obviously," long snapper Brett Goode said. "We'd solved it on the inside, and now it's trickled to the outside. We've just got to get it together. Everybody's got to do their job."

It wasn't all rotten on special teams against the Lions. Micah Hyde returned a punt 55 yards for a touchdown. It was his second one of the season and third of his two-year career, tying Desmond Howard and Will Blackmon for the team’s career record.

In case you missed it from ESPN.com: Best of the rest:

Packers still like their playoff path

December, 15, 2014
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- They said it Sunday in Buffalo and reiterated it back at Lambeau Field on Monday: Sunday's loss, while seemingly more than just a pothole on their road to the No. 1 seed in the NFC, was not a major roadblock.

"Nothing’s changed," Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels said Monday. "We've still got to go out and win football games."

Oh, but it has changed.

While the NFL won't release the official Week 16 playoff scenarios until Tuesday, it's easy to see that the Packers (10-4) have a more difficult, if not impossible, road to the top seed than they did a week ago.

This much is known: if the Packers win out, which would require them to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday in South Florida and the Detroit Lions at home in the finale, then they would win the NFC North and be no worse than the No. 2, which is right where they were before the loss to the Bills.

Still, anything short of the top seed makes it more difficult to reach the Super Bowl, especially considering the Packers' mediocre road record (3-4).

"I wouldn't say more difficult," Packers safety Micah Hyde said Monday. "We knew that even with the win yesterday we were going to need to win it. That's just the way we feel. We didn't lose sight of any of our goals or anything like that. We're still looking forward, and I wouldn't say it's more difficult because we already had the mindset that we needed to win out."

As things stand now, the Packers currently have the No. 6 spot, which is the final playoff position, but have yet to clinch a playoff spot. A win at Buffalo combined with a Philadelphia Eagles' victory over the Dallas Cowboys would have taken care of that. Neither happened.

"If we win [out], we get a bye," cornerback Davon House said. "I don't think we'll get the No. 1 seed, but we'll get the bye. At the end of the day, as long as we get to the dance, the records are 0-0, and all that other stuff doesn't matter."

More special-teams gaffes hurt Packers

December, 14, 2014
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – This is shaping up to be the worst special-teams season in Mike McCarthy's nine-year tenure as the Green Bay Packers coach.

Sunday didn't help matters.

For the sixth time this season, they had one of the own kicks blocked. And that wasn't even their most costly special-teams mistake.

The only touchdown the Packers gave up in their 21-13 loss at the Buffalo Bills came on a 75-yard punt return by Marcus Thigpen in the first quarter.

"We definitely hurt ourselves today, that's for sure," Packers punter Tim Masthay said. "We had a punt returned for a touchdown and a field goal blocked and we lost by eight, so yeah, it was not a good day for our unit."

Masthay
Masthay hit a short punt that went only 31 yards and down the middle of the field that Thigpen had to move up to receive. He broke to his left and dodged safety Sean Richardson at his own 30-yard line. The only Packers player with a chance to stop him was cornerback Demetri Goodson, but he had two blockers between him and Thigpen.

"I looked up and all I saw was the whole left side was wide open," Goodson said. "I guess everybody kind of overpursued it. I just saw blockers in front of him."

But Masthay didn't blame the coverage unit.

"If the ball would've been higher, I don't think they would've been able to return it because I hit a couple higher going in that direction and they covered it great," Masthay said. "I see it as my responsibility to hit the ball higher."

Crosby's blocked field goal came on a 53-yard try in the second quarter. Big Mario Williams (6-foot-6) got a hand on it.

"Just coming off my foot it felt good when I made impact, but from that distance, sometimes it comes off a little bit lower," Crosby said. "I don't want to drive it necessarily, but I intentionally hit a ball that’s going to have the right distance, but like I said, I've got to evaluate myself and look at the protection and make sure that we’re accountable. It all starts with me. I've got to make sure I hit the right ball."

It was the second field goal that Crosby has had blocked this season. He's also had two extra points blocked, and Masthay has had two punts blocked.

Last week, special-teams coach Shawn Slocum called having five blocked kicks "unacceptable."

What does that make six?

Other than a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown by Micah Hyde in Week 10 against Philadelphia and Crosby's otherwise solid season (he's 25-of-29 on field goals with two of the four misses blocked), the Packers haven't had much to boast about on special teams.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It was supposed to be a building block, that defensive stand the Green Bay Packers made at Lambeau Field only eight days earlier against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to preserve their best win of the season. Surely, it was going to be what helped defensive coordinator Dom Capers' unit flourish down the stretch.

"And now, it's doomsday," linebacker Clay Matthews said, anticipating the line of questions that was coming after the Packers' 43-37 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night. "Write it. Put it in there so we have something to talk about, so that way we can overcome it and be like, 'I told you so.' Write it."

This story wrote itself.

Just when the Packers thought -- or at least hoped -- their defense had moved past the kind of slapdash performances that have come back to bite them in postseasons past, in walked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and star receiver Julio Jones.

Yes, the Packers got another stellar performance from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who threw three touchdowns without an interception in his 100th career start, and a strong, two-headed rushing attack from Eddie Lacy and James Starks, who combined to help the Packers to a season-best 179 yards rushing. And at 10-3, they kept their lead in the NFC North and remained tied for the best record in the NFC.

But it was no thanks to a defense that allowed Ryan to throw for 375 yards, most of them to Jones, who caught 11 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown despite being unable to finish the game because of a hip injury.

Never before had the Packers allowed a receiver to pile up that many yards against them. Jones bettered Calvin Johnson's 244-yard performance against the Packers in the regular-season finale of 2011. Guess who comes back to Green Bay in three weeks for another Week 17 game? Johnson and the Detroit Lions.

Between now and then, the Packers' defense best figure out what went wrong against the Falcons.

"Coming off the field, I think that it's definitely a bitter taste," said Packers safety Micah Hyde, who allowed one of Ryan's four touchdown passes. "We definitely don't want to finish like that, but at the same time, those good teams win ugly games. You get a win in the NFL, especially the 10th one, you've got to be happy about that."

Capers relied heavily on zone coverages, and Jones easily found the soft spots. Of his 259 yards, 212 came on throws that traveled more than 10 yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"I just think we did everything on the back end wrong," Hyde said. "We're going to have to watch film to know exactly what they were doing, but they were scheming our zones, scheming our man calls. They were just getting him the ball, and I don't think that we did anything right in the second half."

Jones opened the second half with a 79-yard catch on the first play from scrimmage, wiping out all the positive vibes the Packers had from their 31-7 halftime lead. The Packers knew then this was not going to be another one of those Lambeau Field blowouts.

"We've got to play the whole game," Packers linebacker Julius Peppers said. "We can't play one half or three quarters or anything like that. We have to play the whole game out regardless of how big of a lead we have. We've got to finish games."

The defense did just that against the Patriots one game ago, when it sacked Brady on his final third-down play and handed the game over to Rodgers, who secured a victory that made the Packers the popular Super Bowl pick.

And yet now, there are once again questions about whether the Packers have a championship defense to go along with their MVP-caliber quarterback and his array of offensive playmakers.

"We made Matt Ryan look like Matty Ice again out there," Matthews said. "He was fantastic tonight. More power to him, but a lot of that was our doing. We've got to get better, and we will."

Sam Shields still has a shot to play

December, 6, 2014
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Sam Shields still has time to make it through the concussion protocol, so the Green Bay Packers have not ruled their starting cornerback out of Monday night's game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Officially, the Packers listed him as questionable on Saturday's injury report.

Shields
"The medical staff has told me he still has a chance to play," coach Mike McCarthy said Saturday. "He'll be given the opportunity to play in the game if everything goes right."

The Packers did not practice on Saturday, but if they did, Shields would not have taken part. They will hold their final practice of the week on Sunday morning.

"Sam Shields is a starter, so I'm going to give him every opportunity to play," McCarthy said.

Shields was injured in the first half of last Sunday's win against the New England Patriots. Davon House replaced him and finished the game. He would start along with Tramon Williams if Shields isn’t cleared. Cornerback is perhaps the Packers' deepest position on defense, which bodes well against Falcons receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White.

White, however, was listed as questionable on the Falcons injury report, although he insisted he will play.

Safety Micah Hyde has been a fixture into the nickel spot, and cornerback Casey Hayward has been settled into the dime spot.

"It's definitely a very good receiving group," McCarthy said. "We've been practicing all week without Sam, so Davon, Casey and Tramon, they'll be ready to go."

Defensive tackle Mike Daniels, who hasn't practiced all week because of a sore back, looks on track to play.

Here's the full injury report:

Out
LB Jamari Lattimore (ankle)
DE Luther Robinson (calf)

Questionable
CB Shields (concussion)

Probable
DT Josh Boyd (knee)
DT Daniels (back)
G T.J. Lang (ankle)
OLB Nick Perry (shoulder)
G Josh Sitton (toe)
G Lane Taylor (illness)
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers aren't counting out Sam Shields just yet for Monday night's game against the Atlanta Falcons but given that the starting cornerback still hasn't cleared the concussion protocol, they are facing the prospect of playing without him.

Shields
That's something they've done twice already this season: In Week 7 against the Carolina Panthers and in Week 8 against the New Orleans Saints.

With Shields sidelined because of a knee injury, the results were mixed.

"One good and one not so good," Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Friday.

And the difference might have been the difference in the caliber of receivers between the Panthers and the Saints. Carolina threw for just 248 yards and no receiver caught more than three passes. Saints quarterback Drew Brees put up 311 yards and hit on several big plays down the field.

There was another difference in those two games. Safety Morgan Burnett also missed the Saints game because of a calf injury.

"So you had two of your starters that were gone there," Capers said. "You don't like that. You hope not to have one of them out, but we're fortunate to have good depth."

The Packers managed to hold up OK when Shields left Sunday's win over the New England Patriots after just 10 snaps. Davon House replaced him in the base defense, while Micah Hyde and Casey Hayward manned their usual spots in the nickel and dime packages, respectively.

"Davon House went in and did a good job," Capers said. "You've seen Casey Hayward and Micah and we've had a number of guys that have had to step in, and that's one of the advantages of having some depth in the secondary. In this day and age, if you don't have depth in the secondary you can have big problems in a hurry just because you've got to match up with all these good wide receivers that you're going against."

Shields was at Lambeau Field on Friday but did not practice. All coach Mike McCarthy would say is that Shields is still going through the concussion protocol.

"I think as we all know, you're either in it or not," McCarthy said. "He's making progress."

With the Monday night game, the Packers don't have to make their official injury designations -- out, doubtful, questionable or probable -- until Saturday.

Here's the full injury report:
  • DT Josh Boyd (knee, limited participation in practice)
  • DT Mike Daniels (back, did not practice)
  • G T.J. Lang (ankle, limited participation)
  • LB Jamari Lattimore (ankle, did not practice)
  • LB Nick Perry (shoulder, limited participation)
  • CB Sam Shields (concussion, did not practice)
  • G Josh Sitton (toe, limited participation)
  • G Lane Taylor (illness, did not practice)
A roundup of what's happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Packers' first and only appearance on Monday Night Football this season coincides with quarterback Aaron Rodgers' 100th NFL start.

Rodgers
 But don't expect him to spend much time pondering it in advance of the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Lambeau Field.

"I just turned 31 [on Tuesday]; I'm getting kind of old in this league here," Rodgers said. "A hundred starts, that's kind of all it means. I'm not too excited either way about it. Hopefully get another hundred."

Maybe it shouldn't be the feat itself that's celebrated but rather the player Rodgers has become along the way.

Coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Tom Clements have made reference to it at various points this season, that Rodgers is in complete control of the offense in his seventh season as the starter. That's where Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, who was a rookie when Rodgers took over as the starter in 2008, sees the biggest difference in his quarterback today.

"What he does every play for us now from an offensive standing point -- [we] used to huddle every play to now we're no-huddle every play, and he's got full control over anything and everything he wants to check to, developing with his receivers, as a leader over the years stepping into that role -- he's the best player in the game," Nelson said. "I don't know if you could say that seven years ago, but there's no doubt about it now."

When asked what has impressed him the most about Rodgers, Nelson mentioned the very thing that Rodgers is perhaps most proud of -- his touchdown-to-interception ratio (219 to 54 as a starter).

"The way he takes care of the ball compared to any quarterback in the league, in the history of the league, he values the ball," Nelson said. "And he'll do whatever he has to do in order to keep us with the ball. He tells us every game, 'If we don’t turn it over, we're going to win the game.' And that’s usually the case, so the way he takes care of it and the way he can make plays with his feet, it's amazing."

In case you missed it from ESPN.com: Best of the rest:

Mailbag: Packers-Patriots matchups

November, 29, 2014
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Each week, readers are invited to submit questions about the Green Bay Packers via Twitter using the hashtag #PackersMail. As the Packers finish preparations for Sunday's game against the New England Patriots at Lambeau Field, here's our last chance to address some of this week's key topics:
Demovsky: Exclusively? No. As good as Micah Hyde can be in coverage, it would be a surprise if he were asked to cover Rob Gronkowski play in and play out. In fact, it would be a surprise if defensive coordinator Dom Capers asked any single player to do that. For one, it's probably too taxing a chore to do that for 70 plays. Two, that's rarely, if ever, the way Capers operates. His defense is predicated on variety and using different players to blitz and cover. Hyde will get his share of chances to match Gronkowski, but so will a variety of other defensive backs and linebackers. You can read more about that here. What will be more interesting is whether Capers plays more man or zone coverage.

Demovsky: It depends on who Bill Belichick wants to double team. If it's Jordy Nelson he feels needs double coverage, which is probably the better bet, then expect Brandon Browner to get Nelson with some help. That would leave Darrelle Revis to cover Randall Cobb. That's the way they played the Lions last week, with Browner plus help on Calvin Johnson and Revis on Golden Tate. Aaron Rodgers said it this week, that the Patriots are a matchup defense. We'll find out right away how they game-planned, and how the Packers adjust to it.

Demovsky: Interesting question. With help from the ESPN Stats & Information database, here's what I discovered about Eddie Lacy's production this season: On runs between the tackles, he has 117 carries for 560 yards. That's an average of 4.79 yards per carry. On runs outside the tackles, he has 37 carries for 112 yards. That's an average of 3.03 yards per carry. There was an even bigger contrast last season, when Lacy averaged 4.57 yards per carry between the tackles and 2.96 yards per carry outside the tackles. For comparative purposes, the numbers would suggest that James Starks is the better outside runner than Lacy. This season, Starks has averaged 3.68 yards per carry between the tackles and 3.4 yards per carry outside the tackles. Last season, Starks' averages were 5.94 yards per carry between the tackles and 4.15 outside the tackles.

Demovsky: You're referring to my 41-24 pick that was posted Friday. Here's my thinking: When was the last time the Packers beat an elite-level quarterback? Look at the quarterbacks they've beaten this season: Geno Smith, Jay Cutler (twice), Christian Ponder, Ryan Tannehill, Cam Newton, Mark Sanchez and Teddy Bridgewater. Outside of maybe Newton, would you take any of those guys if you were starting a franchise? Few, if any, general managers would. Contrast that with the quarterbacks to beat the Packers this season: Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees. And all three of them beat the Packers by double digits. To which group does Tom Brady belong?
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Clay Matthews wants his shot. So does Micah Hyde.

Both almost certainly will get the chance on Sunday against the New England Patriots.

But there's nothing on film to suggest that either of those Green Bay Packers' defensive players will be able to shut down – or even slow down – tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Whether it's a linebacker such as Matthews or a slot cover guy like Hyde – or even a safety or a cornerback – it does not seem to matter. Oh, the Packers will surely try some of all of those combinations, but ...

[+] EnlargeGronkowski
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesPatriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is a matchup nightmare for any team, and keeping him in check is much easier said than done.
"I don't know that a lot of people have had great success covering him," Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Friday. "He can go vertical. He's a big guy. He's got a big wing span. You've seen him catch a ball thrown behind him and pull it in. He likes the physical part of the game. He's going to challenge you in terms of tackling. If you go up on his upper body, the guy's big and strong. Tacklers bounce off of him.

"You've got to have a plan to try to get the second and third guy there. He obviously gives them a matchup issue. And then Tom Brady's always aware of who's matched up on him."

After a slow start during which he was working his way back into form following ACL surgery, no tight end in the league has been more productive than Gronkowski. Since Week 5, he has 45 catches for 665 yards and six touchdowns. That's nine more catches and 200 more yards than any other tight end during that span, which encompasses the Patriots' current seven-game winning streak.

None of the Packers' three position coaches – Winston Moss (linebackers), Darren Perry (safeties) and Joe Whitt (cornerbacks) – whose players could conceivably be used in coverage against the Patriots' 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end -- could identify one type of player who has had the most success defending Gronkowski this season.

Said Moss: "It requires a mindset to where the entire defense has to be ready to handle their assignments."

Said Perry: "No, this guy just makes plays. It seems to not even matter who's covering him. He's going to find a way to make plays and we've just got to hopefully slow him down a little bit. He's a great player."

Said Whitt: "He's very hard on little guys because little guys can't bring him down. He's very hard on big guys because he can separate from them. So he's a dynamic player, and he plays with a great play speed and effort."

That sounds like what defenders used to say about former Packers tight end Jermichael Finley.

"I think you could say that," Whitt said. "He's a matchup issue; he really is."

So who will it be on Gronkowski?

Maybe Matthews.

"There could potentially be some opportunities in the game where I'm matched up against him," Matthews said this week. "Yeah, we'll see. Obviously, I enjoy those opportunities to kind of showcase my talents, especially at something that is not my normal pass rushing."

Perhaps Hyde.

"I didn't go to the coach and say, 'I want him,' but at the same time I think it will be fun," Hyde said. "Whoever is lined up against him, I have confidence in any one of our guys that lines up against him, and it's going to be a good opportunity."

And don't forget about outside linebacker Julius Peppers, who has dropped into coverage more this year than in perhaps his first 12 NFL seasons combined. He has a pair of interceptions, both returned for touchdowns, to show for it.

"I've had a little success with it this year," Peppers said. "It's something that I wanted to do, and I've been able to do it since I've been here."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The bigger the game, the more the little things matter.

That's how Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers is approaching the preparation for Sunday's game against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots (9-2) at Lambeau Field.

Brady
"Well, you have to be sharp," Capers said Monday. "There's not a lot of margin for error when you're going against a quarterback that's done it for as long as he's done it with the level of efficiency he's done it with. There's not many things he hasn't seen."

For a good portion of Monday's group session with reporters, Capers used words like "sharp" and phrases such as being "on top of your game" when talking about the Patriots.

When asked later what he meant by those, Capers pointed to three instances from Sunday's 24-21 win at the Minnesota Vikings that, if repeated against the Patriots, could prove more costly.

They were:
  • On a fourth-and-5 play in the second quarter, Morgan Burnett's interception was wiped out because of a holding penalty on Micah Hyde. The Vikings scored their first touchdown on that drive.
  • On a third-and-6 play in the second quarter, Hyde had a chance to tackle running back Joe Banyard short of the line to gain but instead Banyard carried him for 3 extra yards and a first down. (Hyde made up for it with an interception on the next play.)
  • On a third-and-4 play in the fourth quarter, outside linebacker Mike Neal was flagged for a neutral-zone infraction, which gave the Vikings a first down and led to the touchdown that pulled them to within three points with 3:23 left in the game.

"Those are the kind of things that in a game like this, these guys are efficient enough, you can't give them any advantage with, say, penalty-aided drives." Capers said. "Both of the [Vikings'] touchdown drives yesterday were penalty-aided."

The Vikings did not have the experienced quarterback or the playmakers to make Capers' defense pay for its mistakes.

The Patriots (9-3) do with Brady and his supporting cast of tight end Rob Gronkowski -- a match-up nightmare for linebackers and safeties alike -- receiver Julian Edelman and whichever running back they decide to use on a particular week. Two games ago, it was Jonas Gray, who rushed for 201 yards. The last game, it was the recently re-signed LeGarrette Blount, who had two touchdowns in his return to New England.

"We certainly have probably the biggest challenge coming in here Sunday," Capers said. "We've got to go back to work and make sure we're on top of our game and we're ready to go out and play our best, because that's what it's going to take to win a game like this."

When it was posed to coach Mike McCarthy on Monday that the Packers (8-3) would need to be sharp against Brady and Co., he replied: "So you're saying we're not sharp?"

Then how about extra sharp?

"OK, well extra sharp will be the focus," McCarthy said. "You gave me my theme for the week, I guess, there."

And then his tone turned more serious.

"New England is a great football team," McCarthy said. "Just the way they're hitting their stride right now, just watching the video this morning, very impressive. We'll stay in tune with that. We're not going to make a bunch of changes. We like the football team that we are, and we look forward to the competition."

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