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Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers

After the Green Bay Packers' 55-7 victory over the Tennessee Titans, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Maybe the lasting impact of the "Fail Mary" is that it will produce the two most dangerous teams in the NFC. I'm sure the Atlanta Falcons would disagree, but the Packers and Seattle Seahawks sure are peaking at the right time. As ESPN's Merril Hoge notes in the video below, the Packers' surge coincides with the influx of injured players they've been getting back onto the field. Linebacker Clay Matthews has three sacks in the two games since returning from a hamstring injury. Receiver Greg Jennings, now four games into his return from an abdominal injury, had his first touchdown reception Sunday since Week 4. Defensive back Charles Woodson and receiver Jordy Nelson are also close to returning. All told, the Packers have won nine of their past 10 games and will benefit from a playoff-type atmosphere Sunday at the Metrodome as well.

  2. If you were hoping that Randall Cobb's ankle injury would convince the Packers to remove him from special teams, you're going to be disappointed. Coach Mike McCarthy said Monday morning that "I don't have a really high tolerance" for such questions because "I don't understand how you play scared in the game of football." McCarthy added: "You can't sit here and say special teams is important if you don't put a guy like Randall Cobb out there as a returner." At this point in the season, I totally agree with McCarthy's sentiment. Week 17 is not the time to bench a reliable and potentially explosive returner when there isn't an obvious replacement on the roster. Cobb's emergence as the Packers' leading receiver could well influence an offseason plan to find another returner for 2013. But to do it now because of an ankle injury he suffered somewhat randomly on a punt return? There is as much potential harm in removing him now as there is the potential of averting another injury.

  3. Expectations were so low this season for defensive lineman Mike Neal that the most productive stretch of his career has largely gone unnoticed. Neal served a four-game NFL suspension to start the season and his long history of injuries made him an afterthought on the Packers' reconfigured defensive line. But injuries to others left him playing 66 percent of the Packers' defensive snaps Sunday. His sack of Titans quarterback Jake Locker gave him 2.5 over his past two games and 4.5 in his abbreviated season. In nine career games over his previous two -- much more anticipated -- seasons, Neal had one sack.

And here is one issue I still don't get:

We all know Matthews is one of the NFL's best defensive players, but it has still been amazing to see how differently the Packers' defense has played since his return. Over the past two games, the Packers have given up an average of 185 yards and 11 first downs. They have 11 sacks and have limited opponents to four third-down conversions in 24 opportunities. Can that all be because of Matthews? I would imagine the topic will come up once or twice whenever Matthews and the Packers sit down to negotiate a new contract.