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Wednesday, October 26, 2011
By the bye: Green Bay Packers

By Kevin Seifert

Reviewing the Green Bay Packers at their bye:

Record: 7-0

Seven-game capsule: The Packers are the best team in football by most objective measures. They're off to the best start for a Packers team since 1962 and have won a franchise-record 13 consecutive games, dating back to last December. Their quarterback is having an MVP season, their place-kicker is perfect and their injury-depleted defense has compensated for some deficiencies with an NFL-high 13 interceptions.

Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are 7-0 heading into their bye week.
MVP: We could fill up an entire post with quarterback Aaron Rodgers' statistical accomplishments this season. I'll continue to pound away at my favorite. Rodgers is leading the NFL in two quite disparate categories: completion percentage (71.5) and yards per attempt (9.9). That means he's completing a greater percentage of passes than all quarterbacks even though he's throwing downfield with more efficiency than anyone else. In his fourth season as a starter, and sixth in the Packers' current offensive scheme, Rodgers has mastered the position and is taking it to new heights.

Runner-up: There are a lot of candidates on a 7-0 team, so I'll use this space to reiterate that linebacker Clay Matthews has had a really strong season, even with his total of three sacks. I'd argue that he sealed two games for the Packers with specific plays: Stuffing New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram on the goal line in Week 1 and tackling Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton on a fourth-down run late in Week 2. And Matthews' run defense is a big reason the Packers are allowing the ninth-fewest rushing yards per game this season.

Biggest surprise: The Packers have actually succeeded in spreading the ball around equitably to their unmatched stable of skill players. James Starks has received 55 percent of carries given to running backs, while Ryan Grant is at 38 percent. Based on their production, both numbers are fair. Receiver Greg Jennings has caught 42 passes, but the Packers have five receivers/tight ends who have caught between 11 and 25 passes. Rodgers has spread his 20 touchdown passes among six different pass-catchers. Jennings has five, but Jermichael Finley and Jordy Nelson have four apiece while James Jones has three and Donald Driver has two.

Biggest disappointment: Nose tackle B.J. Raji has two sacks this season, and Packers coaches have given him 25 tackles based on film review. But I think most of us would agree Raji has had an underwhelming follow-up to his breakout 2010 season. His inconsistent pass rush is one of the reasons the Packers' pass defense is giving up the second-most yards per game in the NFL. To be fair, other reasons include injuries to safety Nick Collins, cornerback Tramon Williams and safety Morgan Burnett. It's also worth noting that Raji really turned it on in the second half of last season. Perhaps the same thing will happen in 2011.

Stat to note: Rodgers is averaging 30.3 yards on his 20 touchdown passes. Four have been longer than 70 yards, and he's the third player since the 1970 merger to throw a 70-plus yard touchdown in three consecutive games. (Sorry, that's more than one stat. Couldn't help it.)

Looking ahead: The Packers are going to the playoffs, presumably as the NFC North champions. The real question is whether they'll secure home-field advantage as the No. 1 seed and if they can do it with a perfect 16-0 record. I see three potential pitfalls: Week 9 at the San Diego Chargers, Week 12 at the Detroit Lions and Week 13 at the New York Giants.