NFL Nation: Aaron Rodgers

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DETROIT -- It was just one play, one failed play, but in many ways it encapsulated everything that was wrong with the Green Bay Packers' offense in Sunday's 19-7 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

It was fourth-and-5 from the Lions' 20-yard line with 6:59 remaining. Jordy Nelson, the NFL's receiving yardage leader through the first two weeks of the season, found himself open up the right seam. It's a route he has run, and run successfully, hundreds of times. As Nelson took the route to the post, quarterback Aaron Rodgers saw him break free and fired what would have been a touchdown that could have at least given the Packers a chance at a comeback victory for the second straight week.

And the ball came up short and well behind Nelson.

Game over.

With the Rodgers-Nelson connection off -- Nelson had just five catches for 59 yards after combining for 18 receptions and an NFL-high 292 yards the first two weeks -- the Packers (1-2) had little chance given their lack of a running game and dearth of playmakers at the other skill positions.

The result was the lowest scoring output of a game that Rodgers started and finished -- and his second-lowest passing yardage total in such games -- since he took over as the Packers' quarterback in 2008, leaving it open to wonder what exactly is missing from what has been and what was supposed to be a prolific offense.

"There's a lot missing," said Rodgers, who completed 16 of 27 passes for 162 yards. "There's execution missing. We haven't been able to run the ball very well in any of the three games. We just haven't executed as well as we have in the past in the passing game."

Forget for now about the Packers' woeful running game, which totaled just 76 yards on 22 carries and featured a fumble by Eddie Lacy on his second carry of the game. That Rodgers & Co. could not shred a Lions' second-handed secondary which was missing starting strong safety James Ihedigbo and also had to play its fourth, fifth and sixth different nickel defensive backs of the season at various points on Sunday is perhaps most troublesome.

It showed that even a patchwork secondary can take away one player -- Nelson -- if it wants to and expose the lack of weapons around him. The Packers dropped at least three passes, one each by Randall Cobb, James Starks and Jarrett Boykin.

Cobb called his three-catch, 29-yard showing "embarrassing."

"I've got to figure out what it is that I can do to help and do more and give this team more," Cobb said.

Although the only points came on a 10-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Quarless in the first quarter, the Packers' tight ends have not come close to replicating the big-play threat that Jermichael Finley provided before his neck injury last season.

"We need to find a way to get those guys the ball when they're really trying to take Jordy away," Rodgers said. "Find a way to get Randall the football more, and we've got to run block better and we've got to run better."

Packers coach Mike McCarthy admitted that perhaps he stuck with an unproductive running game too long, saying he "maybe should have given [Rodgers] the ball completely earlier," but the normally accurate Rodgers missed his mark more than usual, so it might not have mattered.

Even before the missed fourth-down throw to Nelson, Rodgers overthrew Cobb on a roll-out pass on third down that killed the opening drive of the third quarter and then short-hopped a ball to Boykin on third down that ruined the next possession.

Counting the Nelson play, five of Rodgers' incompletions where underthrown, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. That came a week after six underthrown incompletions (the most of his career).

"We got what we wanted," Nelson said of the fourth-and-5 play. "We had an opportunity to make a play and just weren't able to connect on the throw. It's not an easy game. Sometimes we make it look easier than what it was, but today was not easy at all."
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DETROIT -- Each Saturday in the Detroit Lions' defensive line meeting, coaches Jim Washburn and Kris Kocurek handed out a link to a chain.

There are, defensive tackle Nick Fairley said, 10 chain links. Each of the Lions’ 10 linemen then talks about what he will do the next day. After the exercise, the chain is put together. The next day it comes out onto the field with the Lions before the game.

If you’re looking for a strong link for this Detroit team, it resides with the defensive line. Injuries have decimated the secondary -- they played their fourth, fifth and sixth slot cornerbacks of the season Sunday -- and middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch missed most of the game with a knee injury.

Yet the Detroit defensive line shut down Green Bay’s run and flustered Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers throughout the Lions’ 19-7 win. It's a win where the defense actually outscored the Packers’ offense, 8-7.

That started with the defensive line.

"Every time in the defensive line room, man, our main thing is staying on gap and staying fundamental," Fairley said. "They are not going to be able to run the ball if we’re able to do that. If we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot, we’re going to be able to stop the run ... nine times out of 10, that’s what we’re going to be able to do the whole year."

Through three games, Detroit has managed it well. The Lions entered the game with the stiffest run defense in the league, allowing 2.5 yards a carry. Gap integrity remained intact Sunday as the Lions allowed 3.5 yards a carry and picked up a safety on a run.

The first Detroit touchdown came off a Green Bay run, too. Eddie Lacy got the ball on the Packers’ second offensive play. Fairley moved into the gap between the Green Bay center and left guard. Lacy bounced to the 'B' gap between the guard and tackle. Fairley was stuck, but he was able to 'just put my arm out and was able to get my hands on the ball."

Lacy’s fumble led to a Don Carey touchdown and started a day for the Detroit defensive line that saw it produce three tackles for losses, two quarterback hits and the Fairley forced fumble. The line also helped put enough pressure on Rodgers to produce a career-worst performance against the Lions.

Detroit rushed its front four on 25 of Rodgers' 29 dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Against that pressure, Rodgers completed just 58.3 percent of his passes for only 5.8 yards an attempt. That was possible because Detroit shut off the run.

"The plan was, basically, keep Aaron in the pocket, stop the run, and at least on the pass get in his face," defensive end Jason Jones said. "Make him uncomfortable back there."

Detroit gambled in trusting its front four. The Lions played both safeties high -- something Rodgers noticed quickly -- throughout the game. Rodgers said Green Bay never adjusted and did what Detroit wanted.

"We really took it as a challenge, playing two high safeties against them," Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy said. "You kind of have to with how good a quarterback he is and how great of receivers he has. I think it’s kind of a risk-reward thing.

"You take the risk of maybe not being as tight in the run, but you’d rather Lacy have the ball than Aaron Rodgers. Not to knock Lacy, he’s a great running back, too, but we kind of put it on ourselves and stepped to the challenge."
DETROIT -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Detroit Lions' 19-7 win over Green Bay.
  • Vaughn
    Cornerback Cassius Vaughn -- one of the long line of Lions' nickelbacks so far this season -- was spotted with a walking boot on his left foot after the game. When he was asked about how the foot was feeling, he responded with a simple "it’s good" before heading on his way. Vaughn missed two practices this week with what was listed as an ankle injury. The Lions have played six players at nickel this season: Bill Bentley, Nevin Lawson, Vaughn, Don Carey, Danny Gorrer and Mohammed Seisay. Carey re-injured his hamstring in the first quarter Sunday.
  • Linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who injured his knee in the game, had posted on Instagram earlier in the day about the death of his former teammate in Tennessee, Rob Bironas. Tulloch played with Bironas for five seasons and said the two went to country music concerts together. "It hurt me big time, man," Tulloch said of the news.
  • The Lions didn’t seem to be making a big deal about beating Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the first time in his career, when he played a full game. Instead, they brushed it off as just another win early in a season. That is a mantra Jim Caldwell started in his postgame news conference when he said "I didn’t pay much attention to it."

Lions vs. Packers preview

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
8:00
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It is a rivalry filled with dirtbags, scumbags, stomps and a winning streak going on longer than some NFL rookies have been alive. And that is just the past few decades.

Whenever the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions play each other, something ends up happening. So far, two of the major instigators of the recent vintage -- Packers lineman Josh Sitton and Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh -- have remained quiet. That doesn’t mean something won't end up happening between now and game time.

So what happens during the game? NFL Nation Lions reporter Michael Rothstein and Packers reporter Rob Demovsky break down what you might see Sunday.

Rothstein: So, Rob, the Lions are going to have their third different starting slot corner in as many weeks on Sunday. How have the Packers done in three-wide sets this season and is that an exploitable area for Aaron Rodgers?

Demovsky: The three-receiver set is essentially their base offense. They use it primarily when they go no-huddle. But it really has not mattered much what the Packers are in personnel-wise, they’ve been looking to Jordy Nelson time and again. At some point, teams are surely going to force other receivers to beat them and that’s where Randall Cobb could come in. Although he caught a pair of touchdown passes last Sunday against the Jets, he had only 39 yards receiving. Given that he’s their slot receiver, perhaps this is a matchup the Packers will look to exploit this week.

I know it’s early in the season, but Nelson is putting up Calvin Johnson-type numbers so far. In fact, Nelson and Johnson come into this game ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in receiving yards. Nelson turned 29 this offseason and doesn’t look like he’s lost a step. Johnson will turn 29 at the end of this month. Is there any reason to think he’s slowing down at all?

Rothstein: Not at all. There was perhaps some concern over that during spring workouts, but he came into training camp looking like the receiver who has dominated the NFL over the past four seasons. The Lions brought in Golden Tate and Eric Ebron to help elongate Johnson's career as much as to help Matthew Stafford from taking nasty hits. So far, it has worked. Johnson is still being targeted a ton, but Tate is tied for 25th in the league in catches and 19th in yards with 150. Not bad for a true No. 2 receiver.

As long as Johnson can avoid injuries, he should still be in his prime for another couple of seasons. He takes extremely good care of himself and the Lions are doing their best to manage him. In the preseason they barely played him. Even during regular-season games, they are doing what they can to keep him fresh. That'll be one difference for Green Bay. There will be plays he's healthy on the sideline as the team tries to keep him as healthy and fresh as possible.

While the receivers will get the attention, the last time these two teams played, Josh Sitton called Ndamukong Suh and friends "dirtbags" and the Lions defensive line responded with their best game of the season. Is there still a similar level of dislike there or has that changed with the switch in the Detroit coaching staff?

Demovsky: Certainly the change in the coaches eased some of the tension between the Packers’ players and the Lions. Let’s face it, Sitton was pretty blunt in what he said about Jim Schwartz, so some of that is now gone. And Evan Dietrich-Smith, the player Suh stomped on, is no longer with the Packers. That said, there’s always going to be an emotional charge as long as Suh is on the other side. That will never go away as long as he’s there and Sitton and T.J. Lang are here. But both of those players are experienced enough to know now that this game is bigger than the individuals. And besides, the last time the Packers were at Ford Field, they took a beating, so if anything, the Packers might go back there humbled.

How much carryover, if any, will the Lions take from that 40-10 win over the Packers last Thanksgiving given that Rodgers did not even play in the game?

Rothstein: Not much, I don't think. So much has changed since then, from Rodgers now being healthy to the Packers switching defensive fronts to the Lions changing coaching staffs and offensive and defensive philosophies. I think it helps the Lions -- and Stafford -- that he finally beat Green Bay so there's potentially an underlying confidence thing there, but not a ton to it. Detroit doesn't seem focused on last season at all. For instance, when I asked Suh about that game last year and the aforementioned dirtbags comment, he smiled and basically said that was last season and had nothing to do with this season.

One of the Detroit offensive linemen, Rob Sims, mentioned the defensive line looks a lot different this year both in size and personnel. How much has the defense really shifted and how much 3-4 might the Packers still run, if any?

Demovsky: It’s like someone took Dom Capers’ old playbook away from him given how much 4-3 he’s running. It’s the first time he has done that since he came to Green Bay in 2009. What’s more, when he’s playing a four-man line, he’s using Clay Matthews off the line of scrimmage almost like an inside linebacker. They’re also much smaller across the front without those big three defensive tackles they had last season. It’s a completely different look, and it remains to be seen whether the change has been for the good. So far, they have struggled to stop the run, allowing 176.5 yards per game, which ranks 31st in the NFL.

The Packers have not been able to run the ball at all up the middle this season, and it looks like it might not get any easier this week. Why has the Lions' run defense been so effective?

Rothstein: It starts with that familiar guy from earlier, Ndamukong Suh. While teams still like to double him as much as possible, he is so difficult to deal with when an offensive line is trying to run block. Plus, the Lions have become much more aggressive this season with sending their linebackers, so rush lanes up the middle that used to be available in the Wide 9 defensive front are no longer an option for opposing teams.

But it starts with Suh and then linebackers DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch. Those three players are going to make it difficult for any team Detroit faces to run up the middle. Here’s what you need to know there. The Giants and Panthers tried 34 rushes either up the middle or behind guards the first two weeks of the season. They’ve gotten pretty much nowhere, gaining only 69 yards. It’s a strength for Detroit, without a doubt.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Green Bay Packers receiver Jordy Nelson can speak comfortably and fluidly about most topics.

Ask him about quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and he'll go on and on about his arm strength, play-making ability and even their friendship.

Ask him about running back Eddie Lacy, and he'll marvel at his ability to break tackles.

[+] EnlargeJordy Nelson
AP Photo/Mike RoemerAaron Rodgers is targeting Packers receiver Jordy Nelson at a record rate.
Ask him about the Packers' history, and he'll recite championship seasons and players from the past.

But as everyone saw Sunday, after he caught nine passes for a career-high 209 yards in the win over the New York Jets, Nelson's tone tends to change when it comes time to talk about himself. That was evident when he stepped to the podium in the Lambeau Field auditorium for the first time in his seven-year career and said: "I'm going to hate this, so go ahead [with questions]."

If Nelson keeps catching passes and piling up yards at a league-leading rate, he had better get used to the attention. Nelson leads the NFL in receiving yards (292), 45 ahead of Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, and is tied with New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham for the league lead in catches (18).

"It's just awkward being up there," Nelson said Wednesday back in the friendly surroundings of the Packers' locker room. "It singles you out."

The only person Nelson wants to do that is his quarterback.

"You do care about your quarterback and what he thinks," Nelson said. "It's taken a lot of years to get to that point, a lot of reps, a lot of meetings, a lot of conversations. And the biggest thing there to take is that he has confidence in me and trust in me."

According to ESPN Stats & Information, no NFL receiver has been targeted on a higher percentage of their routes through two games than Nelson, who has seen the ball 42.3 percent of the time he has gone out for a pass. For his part, Nelson does not think he will continue to be targeted at this pace, an average of 15 times per game. Rodgers, however, might have other ideas.

"I think we've found ourselves targeting him more and realizing that there's a lot of good things happen when the ball's thrown his way," Rodgers said this week on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show.

That, perhaps more than anything else, has caught the attention of others.

"You better know where he is," said Lions coach Jim Caldwell, whose team is preparing to face Nelson on Sunday. "He's no different than a couple guys that we have on our team. I would assume that you better know where Calvin Johnson is, because without question he's a great talent. So we know where he is, and we're certainly looking at all of our options."

Despite signing a four-year, $39 million contract extension in July that made him one of the league's top-10 highest-paid receivers, Nelson has remained relatively anonymous. He's never made All-Pro or a Pro Bowl, accolades he said he has never given a second thought.

If you don't believe him, you should hear him try to pronounce the word accolades.

"You'll take wins and playoff wins and Super Bowls over that any day," Nelson said. "All the accolations will come at the end. Again, we are two games into this. We are a long ways away from any of that."

Accolations?

"Whatever that word is," Nelson said. "Just make sure you type it correctly when you write it."

Rodgers wants to keep targeting Nelson

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
4:15
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If there's a downside to the fact that Jordy Nelson has an NFL-leading 18 catches for 292 yards through two games -- and there may not be one -- it could be that the Green Bay Packers have become too reliant one player.

At this point, the man throwing Nelson the ball does not see that as a concern.

Rodgers
Rodgers
Nelson
While admitting it's a departure from what they normally do, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Tuesday on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show that he does not see a downside to it.

"If teams are going to start rolling some coverage to Jordy, then we need our other guys to step up and we need to be able to run the ball more effectively," Rodgers said on his show.

In Sunday's comeback win over the Jets, Rodgers targeted Nelson 16 times. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rodgers had never before thrown that many passes toward a single receiver in one game. The previous week, Rodgers went to Nelson 14 times.

"That's a lot of targets," Rodgers said. "We've spread the ball around pretty good over the years because that's the way we run our offense. We throw to the open guy, we go through our progressions and a lot of guys have opportunities to be the No. 1 on various plays.

"But I think we've found ourselves targeting him more and realizing that there's a lot of good things happen when the ball's thrown his way. I'm happy for him. I'm not surprised. The guy makes incredible plays every day in practice. He is constantly looking for ways to help out our offense, and he does the little things as well. He's a great blocker, he's a great route runner, he has great second and third reactions. Just going to keep trying to find ways to give him the football."

The Film Don't Lie: Packers

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
4:00
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A weekly look at what the Green Bay Packers must fix:

What was the seventh-best rushing attack in the NFL last season has been rendered ineffective through the first two weeks of this season, and reigning offensive rookie of the year Eddie Lacy has not found much running room.

The Packers rank 24th in the NFL in rushing yards (160), and nearly 18 percent of that total has come from quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Packers rank 26th in yards per carry (3.7) and it might not get any easier to fix that this week, considering they play in Detroit against the Lions, who through Sunday's games have allowed just 57.5 yards rushing per game, the second-lowest total in the league.

In Sunday's win over the New York Jets, Lacy carried 13 times for 43 yards, but only three of those runs went outside the tackles and he broke only one tackle, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

"There was obviously a commitment to take Eddie Lacy out of the game," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of the way the Jets defended his team.

Regardless, the Packers need to take some of the pressure off Rodgers and receiver Jordy Nelson, who is about the only consistent offensive weapon they have right now. Nothing would do that better than re-establishing the running game.

Nelson's big day powers Packers again

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
11:30
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- At some point, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers might need to start spreading the ball around.

But not if Jordy Nelson keeps this up.

One game after he was targeted 14 times, Nelson saw 16 passes come his way in Sunday's 31-24 comeback win over the New York Jets. And it did not matter for a second that the Packers made no effort to hide the fact they were going to force-feed him the ball.

[+] EnlargeJordy Nelson
AP Photo/Mike RoemerJordy Nelson has been targeted a whopping 30 times (18 receptions) through two games.
Nelson, fresh off his four-year, $39 million contract extension this summer, torched the Jets for a career-high 209 yards on nine catches, including an 80-yard touchdown in the third quarter that turned out to be the game winner.

"Jordy spoils us," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "He plays that way all the time. He practices the same way. He's just a clutch, clutch player."

With the Jets focused on taking away the Packers' running game, they kept their base defense on the field even when McCarthy went to his standard three-receiver set -- a personnel group that usually causes defensive coordinators to use their nickel package to get another cornerback on the field.

That not only left Randall Cobb with a favorable matchup in the slot, either against a safety or a linebacker, but it gave Nelson more one-on-one coverage than usual on the outside.

That's exactly the coverage Nelson saw when he lined up wide to the right on first down from his own 20-yard line with 2:21 left in the third quarter. That time, he was the only receiver in what looked like a clear run formation. With the Jets in a one-high safety man coverage, Nelson ran a 10-yard out and when Jets cornerback Dee Milliner broke on the out route, Nelson turned it up the field.

"At that point in time, I was pretty confident we were going to hit it," Nelson said. "Just didn't know where the safety would be, if he'd be playing over the top or what."

By the time safety Calvin Pryor came over, it was too late. Nelson already caught the ball at midfield and did the rest himself.

"Jordy gives you those opportunities to really make some special plays," said Rodgers, who threw for 346 yards, three touchdowns and registered the largest comeback (from down 18) of his career.

It can be habit-forming to rely on one player, even one as good as Nelson. Sure, Cobb caught a pair of touchdowns, but he totaled just 39 yards on his five catches. Rookie Davante Adams had something of a breakout game with five catches for 50 yards after getting shut out in the opener against the Seahawks.

"Everybody needs help," Adams said. "Otherwise, if you've just got one guy, then you just double that guy and you can shut a team down."

The Seahawks did that to a degree -- holding Nelson to 83 yards despite nine receptions in the Packers' Week 1 blowout loss -- but the Jets could not. It was all Nelson, whose 209 yards was the biggest day by a Packers receiver since Don Beebe posted 220 in an overtime game against the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 14, 1996.

At this rate, Nelson is on a 144-catch pace, which is about as realistic as the Packers throwing him to an average of 15 times per game. Before Sunday, Rodgers had never targeted one receiver 16 times in a game, according to ESPN Stats & Information, perhaps leaving it open to wonder whether the Packers have enough other options.

But as Sunday's game was winding down, there was Nelson with 194 yards receiving to his name, something Cobb reminded him. And when the Packers needed one more first down to complete the comeback, Rodgers, of course, went to Nelson, who came up with 15 more yards.

"One-ninety is good, 199 is great but 200 just sounds better," Nelson said.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Although the NBC Television cameras appeared to catch only a one-word response from Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman during the postgame handshakes last Thursday night, Rodgers indicated it was a little longer than that.

On his ESPNMilwaukee radio show Tuesday afternoon, Rodgers not only explained the reason he did not throw a single pass toward Sherman but also shared what he said to him afterward.

Rodgers
Rodgers
"I think I said, 'I hope you get some work this year,'" Rodgers said on his show. "By that point, I knew that we hadn't really looked to his side or thrown to his side, and I just said that to him, and I think we kind of laughed about it and went on the way."

The Packers put No. 3 receiver Jarrett Boykin on Sherman's side of the field in order to see if the standout cornerback would move to the other side to match up against Jordy Nelson, which he did not. It was a strategy coach Mike McCarthy said did not mean they were intentionally throwing away from Sherman.

"I think it just comes down to matchups," Rodgers said. "We don't have a specific go-to receiver that we force it to. We never have in my time. That's just not how I play and not how we script plays."

Rodgers threw Nelson's way 14 times, completing nine of them for just 83 yards. An average of just 9.2 yards per catch, well below Nelson’s career average of 15.2. Boykin did not have a single pass thrown his way.

"We liked the matchup with Jordy on the left; it gave him a lot of opportunities," Rodgers said. "Looked the other side a few times and just didn't have the right look to throw it over there. It's nothing more than the way we like to work matchups. When Cleveland came in here last year, Joe Haden, who's an exceptional player, he went with Jordy on both sides of the field, and you had Buster Skrine guarding Jarrett for most of the night. Jarrett got off to a good start, made a couple of catches and ended up having over 100 yards and a touchdown, and that's just the way it went."

Rodgers also addressed one of the game's other points of interest, when he called timeout and yelled at rookie center Corey Linsley after there appeared to be a miscommunication between them. While Linsley said after the game that he had no problem with the way Rodgers reacted, the quarterback expressed regret over the way it happened.

"That's a moment that I don't think, as a leader, you're wearing as a badge of honor there," Rodgers said. "That's not the greatest moment. That's a frustrated moment."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- An examination of what the Green Bay Packers must do after their 36-16 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night:

Don Barclay isn't coming back to save the offensive line again, so if the knee injury that starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga suffered in the second quarter against the Seahawks is serious, Packers coach Mike McCarthy and offensive line coach James Campen better find a way to get Derek Sherrod to eliminate the handful of game-breaking plays that contributed to the Packers' demise in the opener.

Bulaga
Either that or they might have to consider other options.

The coaches might say Sherrod made only a few mistakes, but when your job is to protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers and clear holes for running back Eddie Lacy, even one mistake is too many.

Maybe Sherrod, the former first-round pick, will improve if he has to play again. After all, Thursday was his first meaningful game action since he broke his leg as a rookie in December 2011. But the two sacks he allowed were drive-killers. One came on fourth-and-5. The other resulted in Rodgers' fumble and a safety.

"You just go about it like you always do, work hard in practice," Sherrod said when asked what he needs to do to bounce back.

If the Packers have lost faith in Sherrod, general manager Ted Thompson might have to look to his emergency list for a roster addition. Or McCarthy and Campen could move right guard T.J. Lang to tackle and fill the hole at guard with reserve Lane Taylor.

This is where the knee injury that Barclay suffered early in training camp is costly. He started 18 games the past two seasons, including 14 last year at right tackle.

The Packers said the initial reports on Bulaga's knee were positive, and they called it a sprain. But remember, they also expressed initial optimism about B.J. Raji's arm injury (which turned out to be a season-ending torn biceps) and about JC Tretter's knee injury (which landed him on the temporary injured reserve list).

If they did not avoid a major injury to Bulaga, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL in the same knee he hurt Thursday, it will be a devastating blow personally to a player who had not played since Nov. 9, 2012 because of injuries, and it could cripple the Packers' offense.

"Obviously, he's a guy who's had some bad luck the last couple of years," Lang said. "He's one of the hardest-working guys we've got, and seeing him go down is never easy. Talking with him, I think he sounded pretty confident that he won't be out long. He's a guy that we need. He's a good player for us."
SEATTLE -- You can't blame everything that went wrong Thursday night for Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on the turnstile-like performance by replacement right tackle Derek Sherrod.

And Rodgers, to his credit, did not.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers, Michael Bennett
Scott Eklund/Associated PressThe Seahawks sacked Aaron Rodgers three times, with two of those resulting in a safety and a turnover on downs.
Even if Rodgers was being generous to Sherrod -- who allowed two sacks (including one strip-sack that ended in a safety) after he replaced injured starter Bryan Bulaga (knee) in the second quarter -- the MVP quarterback admitted he misfired on one costly throw that resulted in a momentum-turning interception and otherwise was uncharacteristically unproductive in the 36-16 loss to the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.

"This is the Seattle Seahawks," Rodgers said. "They're a great defense. You don't expect to be able to move the ball effectively every down on every drive. But you need to make the most of your opportunities."

Most of the opportunities the Seahawks gave Rodgers were short over the middle or in the flat. The result was just 189 yards passing despite completing 23 of 33 passes. The 5.7-yard average per attempt was well below his career average of 8.2 and seemingly miles from the 9.2-yard mark he set in 2011, when he led the NFL in that underrated category.

"My play-call sheet has way too many [deep] shot plays that weren't called tonight," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after the game. "I'd definitely agree with that. A lot of those things are about down-and-distance; we weren't in very good down-and-distances, particularly early. We got into a rhythm and made some drives, hit a couple plays there in the second half, but a lot of those shot plays, I just didn't get them called."

That standout cornerback Richard Sherman shut down one side of the field didn't give Rodgers much room to operate. Rodgers never threw Sherman's way and, according to ESPN Stats & Information, did not attempt a pass to a receiver outside the numbers on the right side, where Sherman patrolled.

"We did a lot of check-downs," Rodgers conceded. "We had Jordy [Nelson] a couple times, the flat defender elements where the linebacker or safety really hard out to his side quickly, so it opened up some of the underneath stuff. If you're not breaking a lot of tackles, you're going to have some 2-, 3- and 4-yard gains."

And then there was the throw Rodgers missed. It was the Packers' first offensive play of the second half, and Rodgers slightly overthrew Nelson on the left sideline. The ball caromed off his hands, and Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell picked it off.

"I missed my spot," Rodgers said, "probably [by] about a foot."

Nelson, who stretched out to try to catch it, blamed himself.

"If it hits your hands, you've got to catch it," Nelson said.

That trigged an ugly third-quarter stretch in which the Packers' next two possessions ended because of sacks allowed by Sherrod. Trailing 20-10, the Packers went for it on fourth-and-5 from the Seattle 41-yard line, and Cliff Avril beat Sherrod for a driving-ending sack.

On the next possession, with the Packers backed up at their own 10-yard line, Sherrod got smoked again, allowing Rodgers to get hit by Michael Bennett and fumble. Sherrod tracked the ball down in the end zone, and it cost the Packers two more points.

"That stretch in the third quarter, the interception and the safety, kind of put us in a bad spot, put our defense in a bad spot," said Rodgers, who suffered only the third defeat of 20 points or more in his 88 games as a starter. "But you've got to score more points."
Eddie Lacy Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesOnce again, Eddie Lacy and the Green Bay Packers were held up by the NFC West's best, as Green Bay has lost six games a row to the Seahawks and 49ers since 2012.


SEATTLE -- It's a good thing the Green Bay Packers don't play in the NFC West.

If they did, they might not even be a playoff team.

As it is, the Packers might keep winning the NFC North year after year after year -- like they've done in 2011, 2012 and 2013 -- and yet still can't be considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender until they show they can handle the Seattle Seahawks or San Francisco 49ers.

They had their chance in one of the biggest regular-season showcases -- the 2014 opening night game against the defending Super Bowl champions -- and it was just like the 2012 game at CenturyLink Field. (Well maybe not quite like that.) And it was just like their previous four games against the 49ers since 2012.

Thursday night's 36-16 loss to the Seahawks was the worst of their six straight losses to the two teams that own the NFC West and that met in last season's NFC title game.

"You're talking about two good football teams," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "We've got to worry about the Green Bay Packers."

And McCarthy has plenty to worry about.

All the changes on defense that McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers made in the offseason -- including the unveiling of a 4-3 scheme they used part of the game -- still left the Packers vulnerable against the run. Marshawn Lynch rushed for 110 yards on just 20 carries, two of which were touchdowns. Multi-dimensional receiver Percy Harvin ran for 41 yards on just four carries and caught all seven passes thrown his way. The Seahawks had 400 yards total and 210 rushing until losing a yard each on three straight kneel-downs to end the game.

Julius Peppers, the Packers' high-profile free-agent signing, never put much pressure on Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. And when he did -- he and Clay Matthews had an apparent shared sack in the second quarter -- it was wiped out by a penalty.

"We just didn't put it together when we needed to," Matthews said. "In preseason, leading up to it, we felt real confident about this group of guys that we have, but it didn't translate over for some reason."

Defensive tackle Mike Daniels, the most outspoken about the Packers' need to improve on defense, was just as frank about his own play in the opener.

"I want to spit on the way I played," said Daniels, who had six tackles but never got near Wilson. "And I can only speak for myself. It was a pitiful performance. I know I can do way better than that."

It did not go much better on offense, and rookie center Corey Linsley was the least of their problems. Eddie Lacy ran for 6 and 15 yards on his first two carries, and then was shut down. He finished with just 34 yards on 12 attempts before leaving with a concussion in the fourth quarter. Both he and right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who re-injured the left knee that kept him out all of last season, left the game early and did not return. If Bulaga tore his ACL again, the Packers will have another major problem.

Despite completing 23 of 33 passes, Aaron Rodgers totaled only 189 yards with one touchdown and one interception on a ball that went off Jordy Nelson's hands.

Trailing by only a touchdown at halftime, the Packers' first three possessions of the second half ended with an interception, a fourth-down sack and a strip-sack for a safety.

"Fortunately, it was just one game out of 16," Matthews said. "But if we want to get to where we want to go, we're going to have to beat good teams like this. Shoot, we may even end up being back here."

And that might not be a good thing.

Seven NFL predictions for 2014

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
9:00
AM ET
Golden Tate Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesThe Packers and Seahawks open the NFL season in their first meeting since 2012's "Fail Mary."

Of course. Two of the NFL's best teams will kick off the 2014 season Thursday night -- and all you want to talk about is some random play that happened two years ago in a dark period of NFL history.

Fail Mary? Thpptttt. You still don't think Golden Tate caught the ball? You're waiting for Roger Goodell to invoke his right to reverse outcomes? You're incredulous the NFL would open itself to outside influence by substituting woefully underqualified officials as leverage in collective bargaining? You're still following T.J. Lang after he posted the most re-tweeted tweet of all time?

Nope? Me neither. Over it.

I, for one, am far too focused on the crucial nuts and bolts of this game -- and the upcoming season -- to get worked up about the most recent time the Green Bay Packers visited the Seattle Seahawks. This is all business. I want to see if quarterback Aaron Rodgers can withstand the Seahawks' fierce pass rush and if his girlfriend, Oliva Munn, is in the stands to watch it. I'm pumped to break down how Richard Sherman matches up with Jordy Nelson -- in between viewings of his latest Campbell's Soup ad.

Nothing generates deep discussion of strategy, scheme and precision like the NFL. How will the Cleveland Browns find a deep threat after the suspension of Josh Gordon? (And what club will Johnny Manziel hit after their first game?) Will Robert Griffin III respond to new expectations as a pocket passer? (And who will be the next world leader to speak out against the Washington Redskins' team name?) How in the name of doomsday will the Dallas Cowboys field a competitive defense? (And can owner Jerry Jones find a way to market a practice squad player?)

So many questions, so little time in the film room. So for your collective preparation efforts, here is a touchdown's worth of predictions for the 2014 NFL season. Carve them in stone, bet the house on them, and if I'm wrong, feel free to call me at (555) 555-5555.

1. Officiating will be better

[+] EnlargeNFL Instant Replay
AP Photo/Jack DempseyOfficials will now get instant replay assistance from the league office.
Yes, I know. We spent the entire preseason freaking out about a spike of penalties for illegal contact and defensive holding, two key points of emphasis dictated by the NFL's competition committee. I'm well aware that officials called almost the same number of those penalties in 69 preseason games (271) as they did in 256 regular-season games (285) in 2013.

But it's also worth taking a breath and reiterating that the rate dropped sharply in the final week of the preseason as all sides adjusted. The rate will still be higher than in 2013, but I wouldn't expect anything close to what we saw in the first few weeks of the preseason.

Aside from that issue, the league took several important steps this offseason in response to a rough go of it in 2013. It replaced three referees and a total of 13 officials, the biggest turnover in more than a decade. New instant replay assistance from the league office will make the system more accurate and quicker -- by nearly 20 seconds per review, according to vice president of officiating Dean Blandino -- and officials will communicate better now via wireless headsets.

I still expect to see plenty of disputed calls, and I'm not sure how to quantify improvement. But there is no doubt this operation is moving in the right direction.

2. Russell Wilson will be elite . . .

By the time the season is over, the Seahawks' quarterback will no longer be the target of condescending compliments. He won't be known as a winner, a game manager or surprisingly strong-armed for his size. No, Wilson will be one regarded as one of the absolute best quarterbacks -- and passers -- in the NFL. Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees will have no choice but to let him into their club.

This preseason, Wilson looked like a Ph.D. student who has submitted his dissertation. Preseason results are to be taken lightly -- sorry, just expunging the final drops of condescension -- but Wilson was the best player on the field this summer. He accounted for six touchdowns in three games while completing 31 of 37 passes for 400 yards. Wilson looked for all the world like a player on the brink of an individual breakout, one that will force the Seahawks to place him among the league's highest-paid players when he's eligible for a contract extension this spring.

3. . . . and Johnny Manziel, uh, won't

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Duane BurlesonJohnny Manziel seems destined to be more like Troy Smith than Russell Wilson.
Manziel (6-foot) has drawn plenty of comparisons to Wilson (5-11) because of their height, but the associations should end there. This summer, Manziel revealed a big-play attitude but offered no confirmation that he has the physical attributes to carry it out.

There's reason to believe Manziel's inaccurate passing (47.9 percent in the preseason) can improve over time. But what made him a special college player was his ability to break the pocket and pressure defenses on the edge. Those expecting him to play that way in the NFL saw good instincts but not the kind of speed that suggests he can make a living doing it. Instead, we were reminded that Manziel (4.68 seconds in the 40-yard dash) isn't nearly as fleet as players who have pressured defenses with speed in recent years. Griffin (4.41), Wilson (4.55) and Colin Kaepernick (4.53) were all considerably faster when drafted.

Manziel will get on the field, but he'll conjure more images of Troy Smith than Russell Wilson this season.

4. Texans will regret QB approach

The Houston Texans made the right call in bypassing Manziel at No. 1 overall, despite the pleading of some fans. But they'll rue both the day they allowed the Minnesota Vikings to leapfrog them for Teddy Bridgewater at No. 32 overall and the day after, when they passed up Derek Carr at No. 33.

There is no more important job for a new coach than to identify his quarterback, and Bill O'Brien almost certainly won't do that in his first season. Evidence of concern surfaced last week, when the Texans acquired the mildly touted Ryan Mallett to join a mix of journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick and could-miss prospect Tom Savage. In all likelihood, the Texans have pushed this critical question into O'Brien's second year. Texans fans should prepare to hear a ton about Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston and Brett Hundley, the quarterback trio that should lead the 2015 draft.

5. A big-time coach is in his final season

I'm just not sure who yet. Will it be Tom Coughlin, the 68-year-old New York Giants coach whose team might need a rebuild? Coughlin has won two Super Bowls, but he has also missed the playoffs four of the past five seasons. Would the Giants move on if that streak becomes five of the past six?

What about Marvin Lewis? In resurrecting the Cincinnati Bengals, Lewis has made the playoffs five times but now holds the NFL record for coaching the most games (176) without a postseason victory. The Bengals will have their hands full in a tougher AFC North, and Lewis will be coaching without two treasured coordinators, Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer. Is this the year Lewis must win a playoff game to keep his job?

[+] EnlargeJim Harbaugh
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezWill Jim Harbaugh's supernova personality explode in San Francisco?
Then there's Jim Harbaugh, whose contract negotiations with the 49ers have been put on hold until after the season. Plenty of smoke arose this offseason about internal discord and even a potential trade to the Browns. Some consider Harbaugh's personality to be a supernova -- burning brightly for a short time before it explodes.

Jeff Fisher might be facing the biggest challenge in St. Louis. After consecutive seven-win seasons in the game's toughest division, Fisher has again lost his starting quarterback for the year. Has he built his defense into a strong enough group to carry the Rams into the playoffs? Otherwise, he's headed toward his fifth consecutive non-playoff season. The most recent time a Jeff Fisher team won a postseason game? The 2003 Tennessee Titans.

6. Marc Trestman's reputation as a "quarterback whisperer" will swell . . .

. . . when Josh McCown goes back to being Josh McCown, when Jay Cutler continues his refinement and when Jimmy Clausen (!) survives as the Chicago Bears' backup.

McCown had an undeniably great season in 2013. He finished with the NFL's top Total Quarterback Rating (85.1) and threw 13 touchdowns with just one interception. That performance got him a starting job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the Trestman blip in McCown's career is too obvious to ignore.

Before teaming up with Trestman, McCown was a 58 percent passer with a 13-20 career record as a starter and seven more interceptions (44) than touchdowns (37). What's more likely: that he suddenly figured it all out in his 11th season, or that Trestman found a special connection?

McCown's performance overshadowed what turned out to be the best season of Cutler's career (66.4 QBR, 89.2 rating). With a settled offensive line and the Brandon Marshall/Alshon Jeffery receiving duo, Cutler has every opportunity to continue blossoming under Trestman. And if Clausen -- who was out of football in 2013 -- proves anywhere close to a credible backup, as the Bears are counting on, then it'll be time to recognize Trestman as the NFL's top quarterback guru.

7. This will be the last season of the extra point as we know it

Enjoy it while you can. League officials were pleased with an experiment that called for 33-yard extra points in the first two weeks of the preseason. It resulted in eight misses, albeit in some cases by place-kickers who won't be in the league in 2014. At this point, however, the NFL wants something other than a sure thing moving forward -- and the past season's 99.8 conversion rate was pretty darn close.

One alternative to keep an eye on: Some coaches and players want to see the spot moved from the 2- to the 1-yard line. That shift, as the theory goes, would encourage more teams to go for two points -- a decidedly more exciting play than an extra point from any distance. In either event, start getting your autographed prints now. The closeout sale has started.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Eddie Lacy couldn't tell you how many NFL rookies have rushed for 1,000 yards in the 10 years before he came into the league.

(It's 12, Eddie).

And the Green Bay Packers' running back certainly would have no idea how many of them were able to replicate it Year 2.

(That would be six).

The fact that Lacy knows little or nothing about NFL history -- even recent history -- should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to him since he arrived in Green Bay as a second-round pick in 2013. Lacy has said time and again that he does not watch football or read about football in his free time.

In this case, as he begins his second season on Thursday night at Seattle, that blissful ignorance might serve him well in his quest to back up his record-setting rookie season with an equally -- if not more -- impressive year.

"Whatever comes, whatever stats come with it after that game, then that's what it is," said Lacy, who set a Packers' rookie record with 1,178 yards rushing last season on the way to winning the NFL's offensive rookie of the year award. "Because I don't set numbers or anything like that."

Yet when it comes to running backs, numbers are the barometer.

And as those numbers indicate (see accompanying chart), second-year success for 1,000-yard rookie running backs is far from guaranteed.

Of the six who have repeated the feat, only Chris Johnson (with 2,006 yards in 2009), Adrian Peterson (1,760 in 2008) and Domanick Williams (1,188 in 2004) bettered their rookie rushing totals in Year 2.

"I feel like it can be an even better year for him," said DuJuan Harris, one of Lacy's backups this season. "He got that first year out of the way. He's smarter now. He knows the game and has an idea of how things should go."

Perhaps, but Lacy would seem like a marked man now.

Or is he?

Will teams really commit more personnel to stop the Packers' running back and therefore leave themselves vulnerable to quarterback Aaron Rodgers' ability to pick them apart?

"I wasn't here last year," said first-year running backs coach Sam Gash, "but I know that we have Aaron Rodgers. So pick your poison."

Coach Mike McCarthy took extra care with Lacy this summer. Although he took a regular workload in training camp, where full contact was nearly nonexistent, Lacy played in only the middle two preseason games, sitting out the first and last as a healthy scratch. And in each of his preseason appearances, Lacy played only a single series.

The sample size was small -- just 11 carries -- but Lacy averaged 5.5 yards per rush, nearly a full yard and a half better than his 4.1-yard average as a rookie.

"I think Eddie is ready to go," McCarthy said this week. "I'm looking forward to seeing Eddie perform Thursday night."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The way Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy sees it, Seattle is the perfect place for Bryan Bulaga's first game in nearly 22 months.

And he might be right.

Bulaga
The last time Bulaga played against the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field, it was perhaps the low point of his career. The right tackle was responsible for two of the eight first-half sacks of quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the Packers' 14-12 loss to Seattle in Week 3 of the 2012 season on Monday Night Football.

Bulaga had allowed just one sack in 12 starts the previous season and didn't have another game in which he allowed more than one sack the rest of the 2012 season.

Several demons from that night in the Seattle still torment the Packers (see Mary, Fail), and Bulaga's uncharacteristic performance remains one of them, in part because of what he went through in the two years that have followed.

"I think Bryan needs to go back to Seattle, just like we all do," McCarthy said Tuesday, two days before the Packers open the season against the Seahawks.

Seemingly on the way to becoming one of the premier right tackles in the NFC, Bulaga's career path changed significantly shortly thereafter. He has not played in a regular-season game since Nov. 4, 2012, when he sustained a season-ending hip injury that was followed by a knee blowout the following summer that cost him the entire 2013 season.

Although he insisted this week that he has not given the last Seattle game much thought, it's hard to forget just what the Seahawks did to Bulaga and the rest of the Packers' offense in the din of the boisterous crowd at CenturyLink Field. The problems started almost immediately. On the Packers' third play from scrimmage, then-rookie Bruce Irvin tossed Bulaga aside like it was nothing and sacked Rodgers 2.5 seconds after the ball was snapped.

As if to show it was no fluke, Irvin beat Bulaga on the next series with an up-and-under move and got to Rodgers in 3.4 seconds for his second sack.

When the night was over, Bulaga had been charged not only with the two sacks but also with another quarterback hit and eight hurries allowed, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

"I really don't go back [two] years and look at game tapes, I really don't," Bulaga said. "Obviously it needs to be better than what it is; I knew that after the game, but I really don't compare years to years, especially single games. But yeah, overall individually, I definitely do [need to protect better] and as a group, we just need to be more solid. The more time we can give Aaron the better."

Against the Seahawks, even that might not be enough given how well their secondary covers. On four of the sacks in that game two years ago, Rodgers held the ball longer than 3.5 seconds (including longer than 4.8 on two of them).

Bulaga wasn't responsible for any of the four sacks Chris Clemons had that day, and Clemons has now moved on to the Jacksonville Jaguars, but there's still plenty of motivation for Bulaga -- and the rest of the Packers' offensive line. The environment will be just as difficult, as loud or louder than it was in 2012, and the opponent just as capable. The Seahawks fielded the league's top-ranked defense last season on the way to their Super Bowl title.

"That game is a great example of getting out of your fundamentals, and when those things happen, it can snowball on you," Packers offensive line coach James Campen said. "That's certainly a lesson learned."

This is the start of an important season for Bulaga, the 25-year-old, fifth-year tackle. The former first-round pick is in the final year of his contract. According to McCarthy, Bulaga has come back in better shape than ever -- "He's 15 pounds heavier," McCarthy said -- while Campen insists Bulaga's level of play is back to where it was before the injury.

"He looks better than he did," Campen said.

And what better place to show it than in Seattle.

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