Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers

October, 22, 2012
10/22/12
11:15
AM ET
After the Green Bay Packers' 30-20 victory over the St. Louis Rams, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Free Head Exam
    ESPN.com
    Opponents have had decent success against the Packers this season while playing back in coverage and sending only four pass rushers. Sunday, however, quarterback Aaron Rodgers torched the Rams' standard rush by completing 20 of his 24 throws against it for two touchdowns. Two of the completions went for at least 30 yards, and a total of 11 went for first downs. But this might be the portion of the season where Rodgers serves notice that no scheme can keep this offense down for any length of time. When the Rams blitzed him on the goal line in the first quarter, he calmly threw a back-shoulder pass to receiver Jordy Nelson for a three-yard touchdown. It was Nelson's 20th touchdown reception since the start of the 2011 season. Only New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (22) has more.
  2. Last season, we gave Chicago Bears guard Lance Louis a hustle award for sprinting 71 yards to chase down a interception return short of the end zone. Sunday, we saw a similar play from Packers linebacker Erik Walden on a screen pass to the opposite side of the field. Walden sprinted about 60 yards -- from the Rams' 14 yard line to the Packers' 26-yard line -- to catch receiver Chris Givens on what was a 56-yard screen pass. Walden was fortunate that Givens slowed down to cut back, but the energy required just to be in position to make that tackle was extraordinary. I realize the Rams scored a touchdown anyway five plays later, but those are the kinds of plays that generate confidence from coaches and teammates alike. Sunday was Walden's first start since the man who replaced him, rookie Nick Perry, suffered a knee injury. It doesn't appear that Walden wanted to leave anything to chance. He led the Packers with nine tackles, including a sack and a second hit on quarterback Sam Bradford.
  3. We touched on several important issues in Sunday's Wrap-up post, and you can review it here if desired. Here's one we didn't hit: In two starts, running back Alex Green has carries 42 times and has gained 95 yards. I can't argue with coach Mike McCarthy's decision to keep running the ball, especially on the road and based on how the Rams' pass rush opened the game. But it's fair to wonder if the Packers will consider mixing veteran James Starks into the rotation. And if they don't, it's fair to wonder why Starks is even on the roster. This isn't a rip on Green. I'm not sure that he's leaving a lot of yards on the field. But has he earned the leeway to continue as the Packers' exclusive back at this production level? Just something to think about as the Packers prepare for Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
Is there any quarterback who takes better advantage of so-called "free plays" than Rodgers? It seems as though his aggressiveness moves to another level when he believes the defense has jumped offsides, putting him in position to make a high-risk, high-reward pass that can be nullified by the ensuing penalty if it goes wrong. Rodgers completed two such plays Sunday, a 52-yard pass to Nelson to set up one touchdown and a 38-yard scoring strike to Randall Cobb on the other "I think what he does best," Rams linebacker James Laurinatis said, "is that he's good at the improv."

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