Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers
November, 5, 2012
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
After the Green Bay Packers' 31-17 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, here are three issues that merit further examination:
- During our pregame discussion, I wondered if the Cardinals would dare blitz Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. They have been a heavy blitz team at times this season, but Rodgers has crushed it throughout. Sunday, we found out. The Cardinals blitzed on 10 of Rodgers' 30 attempts, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He completed seven of them, including two for touchdowns. That means Rodgers had 13 incompletions in 20 attempts against the Cardinals' standard rush. Other factors were at play as well, including Rodgers' admitted inaccuracy, but Packers opponents should know that this season, almost nothing good has come from blitzing Rodgers. On the whole, it has been better to sit back in coverage.ESPN.com
- The big plays of backup tight end Tom Crabtree have been unexpected and fun. His six receptions have gone for 72, 48, 27, 16, 14 and six yards. The longest three were touchdowns, including one on a fake field goal. But it's almost as if Crabtree has swapped roles with starter Jermichael Finley, the Packers tight end most of us figured would be a big-play threat. In the Packers' four-game winning streak, Finley has caught seven passes for 73 yards. His longest reception over that span has been 20 yards, and his only touchdown game in Week 1. I'm sure opponents are paying a closer eye to him than Crabtree, and Finley has dropped some passes that could have gone for big plays. But he just doesn't seem to be the same player this season, and it's not clear why.
- At 6-3, the Packers are officially 1.5 games behind the Chicago Bears in the NFC North race. They're already keeping an eye on the Bears, whom they'll play at Soldier Field in Week 16. So technically speaking, the Packers will need some help to win the division this season. "It's huge that we've won these last four games," said defensive lineman Ryan Pickett, "[but] Chicago is out there a pretty good ways. So we have to keep winning. I don't see them losing any time soon. We've go to keep this pace going." A two-month race for the NFC North crown? Yes. please.
The Packers are taking a general hope that some of their injured players will be ready to play when they return from their bye. But as the list piles up, I wonder if there really is going to be a "eureka moment" when enough players get back and suddenly the Packers "take off," to use the term Rodgers suggested Sunday. Getting their receiver position back to full strength seems like a reasonable expectation, assuming Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson get back on the field soon. But working players back into a lineup is more complicated the longer they're out. Part of me thinks this Packers team is destined to be more of a grind-it-out team in victory as they were Sunday, than the kind of overwhelming group that chewed up the Houston Texans in Week 6. The wins count the same regardless, but that might prove to be the Packers' identity in 2012.