NFL Nation: Green Bay Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Dom Capers said he has had an open-door policy ever since he became the Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator in 2009.

Maybe his players have been walking through that door more often of late.

Williams
 Veteran cornerback Tramon Williams attributed the Packers' defensive improvement over the past five weeks, in part, due to improved communication between the players and coaches.

"Whether it's the head coach or it's Dom, at the end of the day we're the ones out there, so we have to be comfortable," Williams said Monday. "I think the communication line has been really [going] well between coaches and players, and the understanding has been really good between us of understanding what we see on the field, trusting what they see on the film and in their game plan and adding that all in together and coming up with a game plan."

The Packers remains near the bottom of the NFL in several key defensive statistical categories, but they did climb out of last place in rushing defense (they're now ahead of only the Cleveland Browns) this week. However, the past five games have seen far better production. Only four teams allowed more points in the first two weeks combined than the 60 that the Packers gave up to the Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets.

In the five games since, they have allowed just 17.4 points per game. That's fifth-best in the league.

Last week in practice, Capers did at least one thing that could be directly attributed to input from his players. He and coach Mike McCarthy devoted an entire period to working on the read-option that they were sure to see plenty of from the Carolina Panthers. And they rendered it ineffective in Sunday's 38-17 rout of the Panthers.

"The more looks you get, the better you play things," Williams said. "I think we've done a good job of that over these past few weeks of doing that and getting better looks. Guys know where they have to be and how it's going to look in the game."

Also in recent weeks, Capers ditched the "quad" package -- essentially a 4-3 alignment that he had never before used in Green Bay until the season opener -- although he said the players had no issues with it and that it remains on his call sheet.

But against the Panthers, Capers unveiled an alignment the Packers call "NASCAR" that features four outside linebackers on the defensive line without any traditional linemen.

McCarthy has a leadership council made up of several veteran players, and Capers said he welcomes the input.

"To me, it's not what I know or what I think," Capers said. "They have to know and believe in it and go out and execute. That's so important. We've got good guys on this team, and I always tell them, 'Hey, if you've got anything on your mind, you let me know.' Because it doesn't do me any good if I don’t know about it. Yeah, I'm always interested in the way they feel because they’re the guys that have to go do it and do it with confidence."

The Film Don't Lie: Packers

October, 21, 2014
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A weekly look at what the Green Bay Packers must fix:

It's not that the Packers' punt return game has been ineffective -- actually it's been more than respectable at 10th in the NFL in average yards per return (9.6) -- but as good as their returners have been, they probably should have broken one for a touchdown by now.

They had at least one good chance in Sunday's 38-17 win over the Carolina Panthers. Randall Cobb matched the team's season best with a 24-yard return in the second quarter, but according to special-teams coach Shawn Slocum, the blocking was not good enough to spring Cobb all the way. It will have to be much better this Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints have allowed an average of just 3.6 yards per punt return this season. That's the second-best mark in the league.

"[We're] not close enough [to breaking a long return]," Slocum said. "We need to get that done. I look at those plays, they're good plays, but we could have gotten a lot more."

How?

"Just finishing blocks a little better," Slocum said.

The Packers have returned one punt for a touchdown in each of the past three seasons. Cobb had one in each of the 2011 and 2012 seasons, while safety Micah Hyde pulled one off last season.

The Packers remain committed to splitting the return duties between Cobb and Hyde. Each has a long punt return of 24 yards this season. Cobb's average (10.75 yards per return) is slightly better than Hyde's mark of 9.8.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- You can't accuse the Green Bay Packers' 64-year-old defensive coordinator of being averse to trying new things.

On Sunday, after a week of questions about why Clay Matthews' production had slipped this season, Dom Capers unveiled another new defensive package. This one, called "NASCAR" presumably because it employed more speed on the defensive front, may not have led to a breakout for Matthews, but it proved useful in what was perhaps the Packers' best defensive showing of the year in their 38-17 win over Carolina.

[+] EnlargeClay Matthews
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsClay Matthews was able to put steady pressure on Panthers quarterback Cam Newton on Sunday.
And, oh yeah, Matthews managed to get a shared sack with Julius Peppers, although it came out of a different package.

In "NASCAR," Capers went without any traditional defensive linemen in what was a dime (six defensive back) secondary alignment. Instead, he lined up Matthews and Peppers -- his starting outside linebackers -- as defensive tackles on the interior of the line and flanked them with Nick Perry and Mike Neal as outside linebackers.

"It gets all four of our elephant types on the field at the same time," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Yeah, it's been very productive."

Capers used it only in third-down situations. The first five times he employed "NASCAR" on Sunday, the Packers came up with third-down stops on four of them, including Perry's sack of Cam Newton on third-and-5 to end the Panthers' second series. Carolina converted just 4-of-12 third downs.

"We like that a lot because you put me, Pep, Mike Neal and Nick Perry out there; that's a pretty good pass-rushing group," Matthews said. "When we put that in there, we're thinking that's a pass-rushing down, and we turn loose a little bit. You always love that."

The Packers sacked Newton just three times, but Matthews missed on two others. He shared one of the sacks with Peppers, who had another by himself. Still, through seven games this season, Matthews has just 1.5 sacks. After getting shut out in the tackle category a week ago at Miami, Matthews was credited with two stops against the Panthers.

"In all honesty, I don't have to prove it to anyone but myself," said Matthews, the four-time Pro Bowler. "I'm a good player, and I know that I am. And it's just about putting together performances."

The Packers didn't feast on turnovers like they had the previous four games (when they had 11 takeaways), although cornerback Casey Hayward picked off his second pass in as many games. But the defense was borderline dominant early in the game. At first quarter's end, the Panthers had just 5 total net yards.

"You wish every quarter was like that," Packers cornerback Davon House said. "We only got, what, 12 plays of defense, and the offense scored every single time they got the ball. That was probably as close to perfect."
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With time to reflect, Aaron Rodgers may see this stretch of football -- one that has all sorts of historical milestones that we'll get too soon enough – as one of the finest of his career.

But late Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers quarterback, who last week insisted the offense he directs still was not humming along as he would like, remained unwilling to concede that much has changed.

Who knows what it will take to get Rodgers to acquiesce, but apparently this kind of start to a game -- touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, punt, touchdown, punt, touchdown -- in Sunday's 38-17 victory over the Carolina Panthers apparently did not satisfy his criteria.

At least he was willing to give an inch or two this week.

"I think we're getting closer," Rodgers said.

Rodgers wants more yards (the Packers managed 363 on Sunday) and more opportunity (they ran just 56 offensive plays). But here's why it might be time for Rodgers to admit this offense is rolling: For the first time this season, it resembled days like in 2011, when Rodgers was in the midst of his MVP season and had a smorgasbord of options in the passing game.

In Sunday's dismantling of the Panthers, Rodgers' 19 completions were spread amongst nine different players, a season high. That's in contrast to three times this season, including last week's game at Miami, when Rodgers completed passes to just five different players.

In 2011, Rodgers had seven games in which he completed passes to at least nine different players. Last season, it happened once, and it came against the Philadelphia Eagles when Rodgers was a spectator because of his collarbone injury.

"Back in '11, I feel like we spread it around a little more," said Rodgers, who was 19-of-22 for 255 yards with three touchdowns on Sunday. "We've had a lot of targets for Jordy [Nelson] and Randall [Cobb] this year, so we've tried the last four games to find ways to move those guys around and get them positive matchups."

This wasn't just the Jordy Nelson show, although the NFL's receiving yardage leader entering the week still managed four catches for 80 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown (his fourth straight game with a score).

Five different Packers scored touchdowns, including rushing touchdowns by Eddie Lacy and James Starks (who combined for 99 yards on 19 carries). When Rodgers also can include Cobb (six catches for 121 yards and his eighth touchdown of the season) and Davante Adams (who had a 21-yard touchdown catch) plus completions to two different tight ends, it qualifies as offensive diversity.

"Everybody got involved," said Cobb, who has matched his career high for touchdown passes in just seven games. "We were able to move the ball really well. Just drive after drive, able to capitalize and put points on the board. At the end of the day, that's the kind of offense we want to be, continue to be. We ran the ball well, we passed the ball well. Everything was open for us."

Had Rodgers not sailed a ball over tight end Richard Rodgers' head in the end zone on his final throw of the game late in the third quarter, he would have finished with four touchdown passes and a passer rating of 157.6 (on a scale in which 158.3 is the max). Still, he finished with just two other incompletions, and a harsh grader might consider both of them drops. When he gave way to Matt Flynn in the fourth quarter, Rodgers' final rating of 154.5 was the second-best mark of his career.

For the fourth straight game (all wins for the 5-2 Packers) he threw at least three touchdowns without an interception. Only Tom Brady (in 2007) has done that in a season.

He ran his streak of consecutive passes without an interception to 192, his career high and the second-best total in team history behind Bart Starr (294, 1964-65).

All of it is starting to feel like 2011, when Rodgers was on the best roll of his career.

"I'll say this about Aaron: Aaron is a much better today than he was in 2011," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "His responsibility level has increased a lot since then. So, what he does during the course of the week, during the course of the game, at the line of scrimmage, the communication between Alex Van Pelt and myself, he is, in my opinion, watching him grow throughout his career, he's clearly a better player."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Green Bay Packers' 38-17 victory Sunday over the Carolina Panthers at Lambeau Field:

Cobb
Ketchup with your touchdown, sir: If Randall Cobb keeps catching touchdown passes at this rate -- he tied his career high with his eighth touchdown (in just the seventh game of the season) -- who knows what else he'll see on his future Lambeau leaps? But he was quite surprised to come out of the stands with ketchup all over his No. 18 jersey after his 3-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. "I apologize to whoever's hot dog that was," Cobb said. "It was fresh. I know that because I had all of the ketchup on me." Cobb said he likes hot dogs, even ones with ketchup. "I wasn't expecting one to get on my shoulder pads, though," said Cobb, who caught six passes for 121 yards.

Matthews' taunting penalty: Outside linebacker Clay Matthews was close to having a big day with at least two near sacks only to see Panthers quarterback Cam Newton escape, but he did share a sack with Julius Peppers (1.5 sacks) in the fourth quarter. However, he was flagged for taunting on the play. "I think just my body posture was a little too mean-looking," Matthews said. "You know how it is nowadays, we've got to be best buds out there, you can't show any aggression." Of course, Matthews said something, too. "But nothing bad," he added.

Dislocated finger: Packers cornerback Davon House, who started in place of the injured Sam Shields, knew something was wrong with his right ring finger when he deflected a pass in the second half, but "I didn’t want to look at it," he said. House said he dislocated it. He squirmed on the bench when it was popped back in place. "I panicked a little bit," House said. The only other injury announced was to running back James Starks (ankle).

Rapid Reaction: Green Bay Packers

October, 19, 2014
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A few thoughts on the Green Bay Packers' 38-17 win against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

What it means: There aren't many stress-free games in the NFL, but the Packers have experienced two of them in the past three weeks. Two weeks after blowing out the Minnesota Vikings 42-10, the Packers had another game where the only major decision to make in the second half was when to take out quarterback Aaron Rodgers and other key starters. It was a welcome respite after last week's last-second victory over the Dolphins. The Packers played about as complete a game as is possible in the NFL. After winning their fourth in a row and now at 5-2, there will be much discussion this week about whether the Packers are perhaps the top team in the NFC.

Stock watch: Rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had seen his playing time increase the last several games, and on Sunday he finally moved into a starting spot ahead of Micah Hyde. And the first-round pick turned in another solid performance. He has brought a physical presence to the Packers' defense. Hyde still played on defense, playing in the nickel and dime packages. Clinton-Dix finished with a team-high nine tackles (including eight solo stops).

Hot dog with ketchup: After his 3-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter, Packers receiver Randall Cobb did the requisite Lambeau Leap. And he came out of the stands with a little something extra on his jersey. A fan holding a hot dog near where Cobb jumped into the crowd spilled ketchup all over Cobb's shoulder.

Game ball: You could probably give a game ball to quarterback Aaron Rodgers in most victories, and his 255-yard, three-touchdown, no-interception day would certainly qualify. It was his sixth straight game without an interception, tying Bart Starr's team record set in 1964, and his fourth straight game with at least three touchdowns. But Cobb has been a touchdown machine this season. He caught his eighth one of the season on Sunday but also had explosive plays of 33 and 47 yards on the way to a six-catch, 121-yard performance.

What's next: The Packers finish the first half of the season at the New Orleans Saints in a Sunday night game and then have their bye.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers won't have to play without both of their starting cornerbacks Sunday against the Carolina Panthers because Tramon Williams was declared active.

That was in question all week after Williams sprained his ankle last Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. And when fellow starting cornerback Sam Shields (knee) was declared out on Friday, the Packers faced the possibility of starting a pair of backup cornerbacks against Cam Newton and Co.

On Friday, Packers coach Mike McCarthy listed Williams as questionable but said he would give his veteran cornerback every chance to play.

Williams, who has missed only one game in his eight-year NFL career, took part in Saturday's practice -- his first on-field work of the week -- on a limited basis and did not experience any setbacks.

Linebacker Jamari Lattimore (neck), who also was listed as questionable, will play and is expected to start.

Davon House will start at Shields' right cornerback spot, and Casey Hayward is expected to be the third cornerback in the nickel package.

Receiver Jarrett Boykin is active after missing the last three games because of a groin injury.

Here's the Packers' full inactives list:

What's holding back Eddie Lacy?

October, 17, 2014
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Eddie Lacy says he's the same player who rushed for 1,178 yards last season and was the NFL's offensive rookie of the year.

But the Green Bay Packers' offense, well that's different.

Lacy played half of last season without quarterback Aaron Rodgers. While teams loaded up to stop the run during that time, Packers coach Mike McCarthy still put the ball in Lacy's hands far more often than he has through six games this season, when Lacy has averaged 13.3 carries per game, more than five and a half fewer than last season.

Is that enough to explain why Lacy has averaged barely more than 50 yards rushing this season -- or nearly 30 fewer yards per game than last year (see chart)?

"Particularly when you have big running backs, I've always felt you gain 1 or 2 yards in the first quarter, 2 or 3 in the second quarter, 3 and 4 yards in the third quarter and then the fourth quarter, man, Katy bar the door," McCarthy said.

Yet McCarthy has defied his own reasoning by relying less on the running game and also splitting time between Lacy and James Starks. In Sunday's comeback win over the Miami Dolphins, it was Starks -- not Lacy -- who got the call for most of the final two drives. Starks' season average of 4.3 yards per attempt is a half-yard better than Lacy's and Sunday against the Dolphins, Starks' averaged a full yard more (3.9 to 2.9).

So McCarthy finds himself in a bit of a quandary. He would like to use both of his backs in an effort to keep them fresh over the long haul, yet he knows both thrive when their attempts are higher.

"They really haven't been given that opportunity, but it's a long season,” McCarthy said. "This is why we have this approach. We're fortunate enough to have two guys, so as far as the way the rotation's gone, I feel good about it."

The results, however, show that the Packers' running game is nowhere close to what it was last season, when it ranked seventh in the league. Through six games, they ranked 24th in rushing yards (94.8 per game) and 21st in rushing average (3.9 yards per carry).

Lacy, whose only 100-yard game came in Week 5 against the Minnesota Vikings on a night when he carried the ball only 13 times, insisted it's possible to replicate last year's success even without 20-plus carries, which he received 11 times last season (including playoffs).

"That's your job," Lacy said, "so you have to."

Before he ever saw Lacy play a snap, McCarthy went into last season looking for a 1-2 running back punch. But when injuries hit DuJuan Harris and Jonathan Franklin, Lacy became the workhorse, while Starks played a complementary role.

Now, the Packers are back to a running-back-by-committee format. The last two games, Lacy and Starks have played almost the exact same number of snaps -- 66 for Lacy and 65 for Starks. In those two games, Lacy has 27 carries to Starks' 20, but Starks has one more catch, four, than Lacy.

"When I came here, my job was to get them ready for all three downs," first-year running backs coach Sam Gash said. "That was kind of the way I was told to do it. It wasn't, Eddie's going to have 300 carries, James is going to have 200. That was never said to me. The only thing that was said to me was, 'We want to win.'"

Lacy has said repeatedly dating to the offseason that he expected this year to be different for two reasons: Opposing defenses know what to expect from him, and a healthy Rodgers means few rushing attempts.

"We're definitely not going to get under center and run the ball every play this year," Lacy said. "It doesn't make sense to do that. You have the best quarterback, why get under center and run the ball every play?"

So the offense is different, but is Lacy?

"I'm the same," he said.

Panthers vs. Packers preview

October, 17, 2014
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Two teams coming off games that went down to the wire last week will meet Sunday at Lambeau Field. The Green Bay Packers (4-2) escaped with a last-second victory over the Miami Dolphins, and the Carolina Panthers (3-2-1) avoided defeat when the Cincinnati Bengals missed a field goal as overtime expired, leaving the game in a tie.

Will there be any carryover effect?

ESPN NFL Nation reporters Rob Demovsky, who covers the Packers, and David Newton, who covers the Panthers, discuss the matchup:

Demovsky: David, when the Packers tied the Vikings last season, it almost felt like a victory, considering they didn't have Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn came on in relief and rallied them from a 16-point, fourth-quarter deficit. But the Panthers were in a different situation when they tied the Bengals on Sunday. Now that they're several days removed from that tie, how do they feel about it now and what impact will it have?

Newton: As coach Ron Rivera said Monday, he's "still kind of ambivalent" to it. The Panthers had chances to all but put the game away late in the third quarter and didn't. They also had a chance to win it in overtime, but Jerricho Cotchery let a touchdown get through his hands. So from that standpoint they look at it as a missed opportunity. But the way the game ended, with Cincinnati missing a short field goal, it was almost a sense of the same relief you mentioned above. And, as the Packers found out last season, half a game can mean the difference in making the playoffs. So the Panthers are trying to focus on the positives. There weren't a lot defensively, but the return of quarterback Cam Newton as a running threat in a way has overshadowed the downside of the missed opportunities.

Rodgers appears to be playing at an MVP level again, but he has been sacked 15 times. Is pressure the only way to slow him down? Or can he be slowed down the way he's playing?

Demovsky: The sack numbers are a little deceiving. He almost never turns the ball over, so where some players might have higher interception totals, Rodgers' sack numbers might be a little higher, but it's a trade-off the Packers happily accept because they don't have to worry much about interceptions. His only interception this season came in Week 1 on a ball that went off the fingertips of Jordy Nelson. It's a big reason the Packers are tied with the Patriots for the NFL lead in turnover differential at plus-9. Rodgers is on a 40-touchdown, 2.7-interception pace. And if you want to try to blitz Rodgers, he’s usually pretty good at picking that apart, too.

What was different about Cam Newton against the Bengals? Why did he run so much more than he had early in the season, and how much do you think he'll try to do more of that against a Packers defense that has had all kinds of trouble with the read-option?

Newton: The difference was the Panthers finally let him run the read-option. They've been overly protective of the left ankle that was surgically repaired in March, going strictly by what the trainers said. They finally felt it was strong enough this past week to turn him loose. It's as simple as that. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula never planned to run Newton 17 times, but when you're getting 6-7 yards a carry, as he averaged on his final 14 attempts, it's a pretty easy call. The threat of Newton running the read-option will be more valuable than anything. It could keep the Packers on their heels and open up the rest of the offense. Carolina's best chance might be to outscore Green Bay. Having said that, the Panthers have struggled against the 3-4 schemes of Pittsburgh and Baltimore when Newton wasn't a running threat.

Since we're on Green Bay's run defense, Rob, why has it been so porous?

Demovsky: It's a multifaceted problem, to be sure. Part of their problem against the run has been missed tackles. Only four teams have more missed tackles than the Packers do this season, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Part of the Packers' problem is they don't seem to know what to play against the run. Early in the season, defensive coordinator Dom Capers -- a longtime proponent of the 3-4 defense -- actually played more 4-3, but they haven't played any of that in the past couple of games. And then there’s this: They might not have the right players suited to stop the run. They decided they wanted to get longer and more athletic up front, so they dumped their big-bodied defensive linemen, and so far it hasn't worked. Losing their lone big-bodied veteran (B.J. Raji) to a season-ending injury in the preseason hasn't helped, either.

Speaking of defense, what's happened to Carolina’s the past few games? I know the Panthers miss defensive end Greg Hardy, but giving up 37 points or more in three of the past four games can’t be attributed to missing just one player, albeit a great one, can it?

Newton: Well, yes. To a degree. The one thing Rivera has said repeatedly the past four games is players are trying to do too much and losing gap control. They are trying to do too much, in my opinion, because they are trying to make up for a player who led the team in sacks with 15, was a great run-stopper and could drop into coverage. I liken it to Green Bay losing Rodgers last season. You take a weapon like that out of the mix and it has an impact. I also blame the secondary. This group hasn't meshed as well as the one last season.

A player the Panthers could have used with Hardy gone is Julius Peppers. How has Carolina’s all-time sack leader fit in with Green Bay?

Demovsky: Peppers hasn't been dominant by any means -- he has only 1.5 sacks in six games -- but he has made enough big plays (a strip sack and fumble recovery in Detroit, an interception return for a touchdown against Minnesota) to be the difference-maker the Packers had hoped for when they signed him in free agency. It has taken some pressure off Clay Matthews, who in the past has been about the Packers' only big-play threat from the front seven. The Packers are actually getting good balance in production from their outside linebackers, which Peppers is a part of now after playing mostly defensive end in a 4-3 in his career.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It was like the Green Bay Packers were back in San Francisco, circa January 2013, last Sunday in South Florida.

Only this time it was Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill -- not Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers -- who fooled the Packers with the read-option play.

It was really only one option play -- OK, maybe two or three -- that fooled the Packers this time. But when Tannehill ran for 40 yards on a second-and-5 play in the third quarter, it left outside linebacker Clay Matthews looking just as fooled as Erik Walden was by Kaepernick in that playoff loss.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
AP Photo/AJ MastPanthers quarterback Cam Newton gained 107 yards on 17 carries against the Bengals.
"I know you guys are looking for someone to blame," Matthews said this week. "That's kind of how the zone-read works, is kind of forcing them into one way or another and having those players react off it. It's not, 'one guy is to blame.' It's having responsibilities to it. It's hard to explain.

"We're doing everything we need to this week to kind of make it as black and white as possible, as far as 'This is this and this is that.' That way there is no confusion throughout the game or in general."

That's a good idea considering what the Packers might face Sunday at Lambeau Field against the Carolina Panthers. Last Sunday, the Panthers ran the read-option 12 times in their 37-37 tie with the Cincinnati Bengals and averaged 5.75 yards per rush doing so, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only one team ran more read-option last week than the Panthers. It was the Dolphins, who did it 18 times.

Against the Bengals, Cam Newton ran for 107 yards on 17 carries -- not all read-option, of course -- after rushing for just 42 yards on 14 attempts in Carolina's first five games.

"It's a concept we spent a lot of time [on Wednesday] at practice," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Obviously Cam Newton runs it very well; he's been running it for quite some time. He's an excellent football player, he brings a dynamic to the read-option as far as his ability to run the football. That was clearly evident in the Cincinnati game.

"We're preparing and how we handle it, there's other elements involved and other factors involved, but it's definitely a primary concept in the NFL. So we're much better prepared today than we were probably a couple years ago, and I think that's like anything in this game, we've seen it more and we've spent more time on it."

In the big picture, the Packers actually handled Miami's read-option better than you might think. The Dolphins averaged just 4.78 yards per attempt in that formation, according to ESPN Stats & Info. They gained 86 yards on their 18 read-option plays, and 40 came on Tannehill's run. Tannehill kept the ball on one other read-option play and picked up 3 yards to convert a second-and-1 in the first quarter. Running back Lamar Miller's 5-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter also was a read-option play.

One theory for Matthews' inability to get much done against the Dolphins -- he failed to record a single tackle -- was their liberal use of the read-option, which in theory slows down Matthews from playing his usual aggressive style, because he first has to assess where the ball goes.

Don't think the Panthers failed to notice that.

"Yes, you do game-plan accordingly," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said on a conference call with reporters at Lambeau Field this week. "You also look at some of the other things they've had problems with and some of the other teams that had success against them and you try to figure out the best way to attack them."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers has not thrown an interception since Week 1. He owns the best touchdown to interception ratio (15 to 1) of any quarterback in the NFL this season. And only one team has averaged more points over the last three weeks than his Green Bay Packers (with a little help from their defense).

And they have won three straight after their 1-2 start.

All should be right with their offense.

Except that it isn't -- at least not in the minds of Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesAaron Rodgers hasn't thrown an interception since Week 1.
"I don't think we're on a roll yet," Rodgers said Wednesday. "I think we're playing OK, scored enough points to win, but we're still low in the league in yards per game, low in first-down percentage, low in a lot of stats -- yards per play, passing yards per game, rushing yards per game. We've got to play better on offense, but we've scored enough points on offense the last three weeks to win."

Rodgers is right about those numbers. They rank 26th in yards per game, 20th in first downs per game, 19th in yards per play, 20th in passing yards per game and 24th in rushing yards per game.

In Sunday's win over the Miami Dolphins, they eclipsed the 75-play mark on offense -- their average goal for every game -- for the first time all season.

Rodgers ranks tied for second in touchdown passes, second in passer rating and third in total QBR.

However, even some Rodgers' best categories historically aren't at their usual standard. His completion percentage (64.6) ranks 13th in the league and is on pace to be his lowest since 2009. His yards per attempt (7.51) is tied for 12th, well off the 9.2 mark he set in his MVP season of 2011.

Make no mistake about it: Rodgers is playing well, but ...

"I've seen him play better," McCarthy said. "I just think one thing from the standard that he's set and all the little things he's done at a high level, he's got a lot of good football in front of him. I mean, the way we're taking care of the football, the big plays and timely plays -- exceptional. No doubt about it. It's not really as much his individual performance I'm referring to. It's our focus this week offensively is we were not clearly as efficient as we want to be after six games. So that's a focus of ours, and it's part of the way we spent our time here the last couple days."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If JC Tretter had been a first-round pick, he'd probably be labeled as a bust by now.

Tretter
Two injuries in two years have prevented the Green Bay Packers' offensive lineman from even playing in an NFL game yet. Justin Harrell and Jamal Reynolds were practically run out of town for less.

But here was Tretter on Wednesday, just a fourth-round draft pick trying to get his career going again. He practiced for the first time since he sustained a fracture in his left knee during a preseason game nearly two months ago. He did not play at all last year as a rookie after he broke his ankle during an offseason practice.

He can't play in a game until Nov. 9 against the Chicago Bears, the first game for which he would be eligible to come off the injured reserve/designated to return list, but even then he might have a hard time seeing the field.

"It would be nice," Tretter said. "It's just careers go different ways, and there's been a few bumps in mine."

The Packers spent all offseason grooming Tretter to take over as the starting center. He had gained the confidence of the coaches and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Now, the coaches and the quarterback have found the same level of trust in rookie Corey Linsley -- so much so that barring an injury there's little reason to think Linsley doesn't have a firm grasp on the job.

"I can't get my starting job back for at least the next three weeks, so I'm not really worrying about it or thinking about it," Tretter said. "I'm just going out there and playing football again. I'm just enjoying practicing again."

But where that leaves Tretter in the long run is unclear. He was drafted as a tackle coming out of Cornell in 2013 but the Packers thought he had the potential to play center, which he proved with a solid preseason until the injury.

Perhaps his future will be back at tackle, where the Packers have two free agents to be -- starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga and swing tackle Derek Sherrod.

"I've always been a team player and whatever the coaches want from you, that's what this job is," Tretter said. "I've just been focused on getting back and being healthy. Right now, there's really no need to worry about it. There's three weeks until any decision needs to be made about anything. So, right now it's just working hard, making sure everything stays healthy and then in three weeks we'll worry about what we need to worry about."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Davante Adams and Randall Cobb suggested after Sunday’s comeback victory over the Miami Dolphins that they knew Aaron Rodgers was going to try the fake-spike play in the final seconds.

Rodgers
Rodgers
The way the Green Bay Packers quarterback recalled the play Tuesday during his ESPN Milwaukee radio show suggested it would have been impossible for his receivers -- even Adams, who caught the ball and scampered 12 yards down the sideline before wisely running out of bounds at the Dolphins’ 4-yard line to stop the clock with 6 seconds left to set up the game-winning touchdown on the next play -- to know it was coming.

Rodgers said simply that he yelled "clock," which means spike, and then did not spike it.

"Anything that anybody else has said about it, my apologies to those people, but it is probably slightly exaggerated," Rodgers said on his show. "That's really what happened."

He expected it to work but did not expect Adams to get 12 yards on the second-and-6 play from the Dolphins’ 16-yard line. More like 5 or 6 yards, he said.

"Two plays from the 10 is better than two plays from the 16," Rodgers said. "All that went into my mindset. It's stuff I think about from time to time when we're running two-minute drills in practice or afterwards when I'm thinking about it.

"I've done the fake spike in practice before with some success, but I did watch the Dan Marino years ago. I was a huge football fan growing up, and I thought [Marino's fake spike in 1994] was brilliant. Saw Dan on the sideline [on Sunday], didn't get to make eye contact with him but saw him across the field at one point during the game, and it was fun to be able to do that in the House that Marino built."

But what about that signal that Adams claims he saw?

"I don't know what he's talking about," Rodgers said. “And that’s the truth."

As for those who thought the play was a big risk, Rodgers said he found "comedy" in the fact that he's criticized for holding the ball too long and not taking enough risks.

"But then I fake a spike and throw it to Davante and get criticized for taking risks," Rodgers said.

Remember when Rodgers said earlier this summer that he's not going to let things bother him the way he used to?

This sounded like one of those times.

"I'm going to play to play the way I played, and it's been pretty successful around here," Rodgers said. "And I'm going to hold on to the ball when I feel like I can, and get out when I feel like I can as well. But I don't worry too much about the critic because it's talking out of both sides of their mouth, which is why that stuff doesn't bother me."

The many plays of Aaron Rodgers

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- There was the scrambling, circus touchdown to Randall Cobb. Then there was the fourth-down conversion to Jordy Nelson. And then there was the fake-spike pass to Davante Adams. And finally there was the game-winning touchdown to Andrew Quarless.

A season's worth of highlights for some quarterbacks.

For Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, they all happened in the second half of Sunday's 27-24 victory at the Miami.

And no one was surprised.

"We're kind of spoiled because he does so many great things consistently," Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements said Monday after reviewing the game film. "So we just hope he keeps on doing them."

If it wasn't for the remarkable final drive, which included the final three of those plays, Cobb's touchdown might have been the talk of the NFL on Monday. It was just a 5-yarder, but Rodgers escaped from at least three Dolphins defenders and scrambled to his right before he threw back across his body to Cobb, who came free in the back of the end zone.

It was just another example of how effective Rodgers can be outside the pocket.

"He's the best in the business at it, has been for a long time," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.

Or maybe the highlight play would have been was the fourth-down throw Rodgers made off his back foot just before Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon drilled him. It ended up as an 18-yard pass to Nelson with one minute left in the game, when the Packers were seemingly down to their last chance.

"It was a great throw," Clements said. "You look at the circumstances, fourth-and-10, under pressure, had a guy in his face, and he put it right on the money. A great throw."

But the fake spike, a play Clements and many others said they had no idea was coming, overshadowed the others -- even the game-winning 4-yard touchdown pass to Quarless.

For Rodgers, it just goes back to something he mentioned after the game. He said Clements tells him all the time that if you have time and you have downs, then you have a chance.

Clements said he has always told his quarterbacks that.

But when your quarterback is Rodgers?

"You have a better chance," Clements said.

The Film Don't Lie: Packers

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
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A weekly look at what the Green Bay Packers must fix:

If the Packers' defense couldn't stop Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill on the read-option plays last Sunday, imagine what Cam Newton might do this week when his Carolina Panthers come to Lambeau Field.

Tannehill ran the read-option to perfection on his 40-yard scamper in the third quarter. On a second-and-5 play, Tannehill sucked in linebacker Clay Matthews, who played it as if Tannehill was going to hand the ball off to running back Knowshon Moreno. But when Tannehill saw that he could beat Matthews to the edge, he kept the ball and ran around left end. He might have scored had safety Micah Hyde not tracked him down from behind.

That would not be the last time the Dolphins fooled the Packers with the read-option on Sunday. On a fourth-quarter play, Matthews got up the field to play Tannehill, who instead handed the ball off to running back Lamar Miller, who ran up the middle for 9 yards.

"We'll go back to work and get that cleaned up," Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "We know we're going to see that with an athletic quarterback coming in this week who ran for over 100 yards and threw the ball for a bunch of yards."

Newton had his best rushing performance of the season in Sunday's tie with the Cincinnati Bengals. The Panthers quarterback rushed for 107 yards on 17 carries, several of them on read-option plays or designed runs.

The read-option has baffled the Packers before, going back to Colin Kaepernick's liberal use of it during the San Francisco 49ers' playoff victory over the Packers in January 2013.

"We're going to get a similar attack with an athletic guy like Cam Newton," Capers said.

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