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Monday, December 6, 2010
Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

After the Green Bay Packers' 34-16 victory against the San Francisco 49ers, here are three issues that merit further examination:
    Head Exam
    The Green Bay Packers take their turn in the examination room after beating San Francisco.
  1. The Packers have another injured starter to replace. This time, it's defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who has a calf strain and could miss "a couple weeks," coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. Jenkins has three sacks in the past three games and a career-high seven this year, even while playing with a fractured hand for the first half of the season. The Packers have a couple of options to replace him, including Jarius Wynn, C.J. Wilson and Howard Green. They could also spend more time in their nickel package, which often features only two down linemen. Jenkins has been a force since his hand healed and will be missed, but it's with some sarcasm that we note the Packers have grown quite accustomed to the "next-man-up" drill.
  2. It's time for our weekly list of statistical superlatives on quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He's now thrown 11 touchdowns and no interceptions over the past five games. In fact, Rodgers hasn't thrown an interception in 177 consecutive attempts after throwing nine in his first 222 attempts this season. Sunday also marked the second time in the history of Lambeau Field that a quarterback has thrown two touchdowns longer than 50 yards at Lambeau Field in the month of December, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Finally, Rodgers surpassed San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and now has the highest career passer rating (98.0) in NFL history among quarterbacks with at least 1,500 attempts.
  3. We noted several times last week that deficiencies in the Packers' running game was most notable in short-yardage situations, where they didn't seem confident enough to run in a 20-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Sunday, however, they converted all seven of their opportunities from third-and-2 or shorter. Running back John Kuhn accounted for four of them. Rodgers threw touchdown passes to receiver Greg Jennings on two of them and a 7-yard completion to receiver James Jones on another. Also, tailback James Starks converted a second-and-1 with a three-yard run. It was important for the Packers to convert those plays, obviously. But it was no less critical that they put the conversions on tape for future opponents to see and realize they are willing to use the running game to convert short yardage.
And here is one issue I don't get:
Linebacker Clay Matthews has one sack over the past three games, and even that one was a non-contact credit when Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre slid behind the line of scrimmage. He is no longer the NFL's sack leader, now ranking second by a half-sack behind Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake. It's a fact that Matthews has been nursing a shin injury. Is that to blame for his dip in production? Have defenses caught up to him? Or is it the most likely scenario: That sacks come and go over the course of a 16-game season? I couldn't tell you, although I'm most inclined to believe the latter scenario.