2010 December : Packers Insider

Detroit Lions scouting report: Still some Roar

December 8, 2010 by  
Filed under News

Megatron: WR Calvin Johnson has been a tough matchup for Charles Woodson and the Packers. Here he scores a touchdown last year in Detroit against Woodson. Ealier this season, in Green Bay, Johnson scored two touchdowns on Woodson, from backup QB Shaun Hill.

From the great Bob McGinn, Journal-Sentinel Packer Insider Chief

~Green Bay — The Detroit Lions haven’t won more games than they’ve lost since 2000 and they’re not going to have a winning season in 2010, but are they as bad as their record would indicate?

“They’re a lot better than a 2-10 team,” said an assistant coach for a recent Lions opponent. “I think everybody that goes in there finds that out. They’re still playing hard. I think they do have a real shot.”

The coach was referring to the Lions’ chances of upsetting the Green Bay Packers (8-4), who visit Ford Field on Sunday as a 7-point favorite.

Of their six games on home turf, the Lions have yet to lay an egg. Despite their 2-4 record, they’ve outscored the opposition, 177-158.

“They play pretty well at home,” an executive in personnel for an NFC team said. “I think it’s going to be about what happened last week in Detroit. Detroit’s going to score, but they’ll make enough mistakes to lose.”

On Sunday, the Lions led at halftime for the third game in a row only to give up a decisive fourth-quarter touchdown and fall to Chicago, 24-20. It was Detroit’s fifth straight loss, a skid that began Nov. 7 when the Lions squandered a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter at Ford Field and lost in overtime to the New York Jets, 23-20.

In all, the Lions have a respectable point differential of minus-28, which is far better than anything they’ve finished a full season with since 2000.

“But I think this has been demoralizing, these last three or four games,” another personnel director said. “They’re the kind of team now, if you jumped on them early, then that might be it. If you let them in the game and some good things happen, then they’re going to go all the way through.”

Green Bay has won 10 in a row in the series and 18 of the last 20. Mike McCarthy is 9-0 against the Lions with a 14.5-point average margin of victory.

A victory would extend the Packers’ winning streak in Detroit to five. The only time the Packers have won more than five straight in Detroit was 1936-’44, when they captured nine in a row at University of Detroit Stadium and Briggs Stadium.

“The Packers are a machine. I don’t see (an upset) happening,” one scout said. “The Lions would have had a chance with (Matthew) Stafford and a few more wins so they felt like they had it going.”

OFFENSE

SCHEME

Second-year coordinator Scott Linehan prefers a one-back, three-WR set, frequently from shotgun. The Lions’ 28th-ranked ground game (89.0) features stretch and counter plays, sometimes with “wham” blocking. The Lions are so weak at WR, they don’t even use four-WR sets. They rank 13th in points (23.2), 15th in yards (339.3) and tied for 16th in giveaways (21).

RECEIVERS

There were games early in Calvin Johnson’s four-year career when bump-and-run specialists such as Al Harris got in his face and won the day. The only way foes can contain Johnson now is safety over the top and redirects underneath. Johnson has great size (6 feet 5 inches, 236 pounds), speed (4.35 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and jumping ability (42½ inches). Plus, he scored 23 on the Wonderlic intelligence test and has come out of his shell to shoulder more of a leadership role. Nate Burleson (6-0½, 198), who sat out the first GB game, is an adequate No. 2. A 65-game starter for Minnesota and Seattle from 2003-’09, Burleson is athletic, nifty and elusive after the catch. He’s also not very strong and not very tough. The rotating No. 3s, Derrick Williams (5-11½, 197) and Bryant Johnson (6-2½, 215), offer next to nothing. Brandon Pettigrew (6-5½, 265) is tied for second in receptions by a TE with 60. The 20th pick in ’09, Pettigrew is a tremendous all-around talent. He’s big, moves well with the ball, catches just about everything and can get movement as a drive blocker. Backup TE Tony Scheffler (6-5½, 255), a featured player through midyear, remains nagged by a rib injury and hasn’t been a factor.

OFFENSIVE LINE

GM Martin Mayhew made a great trade in April, acquiring LG Rob Sims (6-2½, 312) from Seattle for a fifth-round pick. Sims quickly became the Lions’ No. 1 blocker, excelling in pass protection, pulling well and making few mistakes. LT Jeff Backus (6-5½, 305), a starter since ’01, has been up and down but it still ranks as one of his better years. He’s consistently adequate. RT Gosder Cherilus (6-6½, 325), a three-year starter, has long arms, huge hands (11¾ inches) and a mean streak that has led to penalties. He’s no gazelle, but at least he has been more reliable. C Dominic Raiola (6-2, 295), a starter since ’02, calls a good game, goes all-out and races downfield but also will struggle against muscle. The weak link is penalty-ridden RG Stephen Peterman (6-4, 323), a scrapper whose stiffness is made worse by a foot injury that has limited him for two months.

QUARTERBACKS

Matthew Stafford (shoulder) and Shaun Hill (finger) are out, leaving Drew Stanton (6-3, 230) to start just the third game of his four-year career. He was OK against the Bears, directing a risk-reduced game plan and avoiding the killer miscue. Stanton is confident if not cocky, smart (Wonderlic of 35), marginally tough and a threat to run (4.75 40). He’s also scatter-armed and not nearly as good as Hill, let alone Stafford. Rookie Zac Robinson (6-2½, 218), a seventh-round pick cut by New England, joined the Lions on Nov. 9. He had 15 on the Wonderlic, runs 4.69 and was an iffy decision-maker at Oklahoma State.

RUNNING BACKS

Rookie RB Jahvid Best (5-10, 199) is coming off probably his best game since Week 5. His 4.38 speed was evident against Chicago, but he still can’t cut and elude like he did before suffering turf toe injuries on both feet in September. Best has exceptional vision, soft hands and terrific receiving skills. With RB Kevin Smith (thumb) on injured reserve for a month, former Seahawk Maurice Morris (6-1, 216) has been an effective backup. He’s tough as nails, gets what’s there and is seasoned out of the backfield. FB Jerome Felton (6-0, 246), a three-year starter, has ball-carrying

DEFENSE

SCHEME

Coordinator Gunther Cunningham, 64, plays his DEs wide and stacks his LBs inside in a 4-3, trying to squeeze the run. He employs more of a “Tampa 2” scheme with a form of “quarters” coverage. Once a heavy blitzer, Cunningham’s pressure ratio has been moderate. The Lions are tied for ninth in take-aways (22), 21st in yards (350.0) and 25th in points (25.5).

DEFENSIVE LINE

Categorized as doubtful against Chicago (neck-shoulder), RE Kyle Vanden Bosch (6-3½, 278) missed his first game and remains highly questionable. He’s as intense as they come and brainy (Wonderlic of 38), a skilled rusher and an all-around inspirational figure. Behind Vanden Bosch, the backup combo of former Seahawk Lawrence Jackson (6-4, 271) and former Chief Turk McBride (6-2½, 278) isn’t bad. Jackson has long arms and ideal speed (4.84) but isn’t overly physical and tends to disappear. McBride is a high-energy edge rusher. LE Cliff Avril (6-3, 265) has added 15 pounds over a three-year span and become much more than just an upfield rusher. He plays hard, manages the run and is coming off a three-sack game. The strength of the defense is DTs Ndamukong Suh (6-4, 307), former Packer Corey Williams (6-3½, 320) and Sammie Hill (6-4, 329). Suh, the second pick in April, is learning to deal with double-teams on almost every play. He’s incredibly strong, reads blockers and finds the ball, likes punishing people and is hard to dislodge. He isn’t a great player yet but he should be in another year or two. Williams fit perfectly in Cunningham’s slanting front. He’s lightning off the ball (sometimes too quick with almost 10 penalties), powerful and productive. It’s probably his best season. Hill might be a better pure rusher than Williams.

LINEBACKERS

The only keeper is MLB DeAndre Levy (6-3, 238), a third-round pick from Wisconsin via Milwaukee Vincent High School. Nagged by injuries early, Levy is solid but not special in all phases. OLBs Julian Peterson (6-3, 245) and Landon Johnson (6-2, 232) have no future in Detroit beyond the next four games. Peterson, 32, used to compensate for his mental deficiencies as a rushing threat and violent hitter. Today, he offers zilch rushing and hurts the defense because he’s fooled so often. Johnson, a stopgap starter in Cincinnati and Carolina from 2004-’09, has lost speed and doesn’t take on blocks.

SECONDARY

Five of the unit’s paltry seven interceptions were by impressive little RC Alphonso Smith, who damaged his shoulder Sunday and is out. It’s a critical loss at what was a thin position even with him. Replacing Smith is Brandon McDonald (5-10½, 185), who started for Cleveland in 2008-’09 but was cut by the Browns and Cardinals in ’10. Having played five games, McDonald (4.58) has been aggressive and generally in the right place. Former Falcon LC Chris Houston (5-10, 178) can run (4.34) with anyone. But he doesn’t like to hit, gambles and is out of position too much. Former Bear Nathan Vasher (5-10, 185), a Pro Bowler in ’05, will have to be the nickel back even though he can’t run anymore. The best DB is FS Louis Delmas (5-11½, 202), who fires up teammates with big hits but might be too reckless for his own good. SS Amari Spievey (5-11, 195), a converted CB who became a starter in Week 8, is feeling his way in coverage but has tackled very well.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K Dave Rayner, a Packer in ’06, replaced injured Jason Hanson (knee) in Week 9 and is workmanlike. P Nick Harris, 32, is directionally-oriented and ranks 28th in net (35.5). Former Steeler Stefan Logan (5-6, 180) could be the all-pro KR. He can cut on a dime, break tackles and go the distance. He isn’t fumbling, either. LB Isaiah Ekejiuba leads coach Danny Crossman’s physical, effective cover units.

Full story HERE

Addition of Starks expands Packers’ ground game

December 8, 2010 by  
Filed under News

From Gary D’Amato, Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay — Though James Starks made a good first impression in his NFL debut Sunday, 18 carries weren’t enough to gauge exactly how good he is or will become for the Green Bay Packers.

Starks rushed for 73 yards against a team, the San Francisco 49ers, that had no film on him.

On the other hand, when he was on the field the 49ers pretty much knew he was going to get the ball, especially during a clock-eating, 17-play drive late in the game, and he still averaged 4.1 yards per carry.

He didn’t fumble, was decisive with his reads, mostly got what he should have gotten and had one nice 16-yard run in which he broke two tackles.

"He's an every-down back," RB Coach Edgar Bennett said. "He does have that type of talent where he can stay on the field in every situation."

“Well, I’m not ready to put James’ plaque up here,” said offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. “But he’s off to a good start.”

What Starks does give the Packers is another option at running back. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound rookie, who was activated Nov. 9 from the physically unable to perform list, joins Brandon Jackson, Dimitri Nance and John Kuhn in a suddenly crowded backfield.

It will be interesting to see how coach Mike McCarthy uses them over the final four weeks of the regular season. Will Starks supplant Jackson, who leads the team with 527 rushing yards, as the No. 1 back? How will Kuhn and Nance be used?

“For the twelve-hundredth time, there really are no depth charts,” McCarthy said Monday. “Brandon Jackson has done an excellent job and will continue to do so. . . . I’d really like to get into more of a rotation now that I know I have three halfbacks.”

Four, counting Kuhn, who plays a hybrid halfback / fullback role and gets most of his carries in short-yardage situations.

Nance, who suffered a concussion on his only carry against Atlanta, was inactive Sunday.

“Nance, we don’t know a lot about yet still,” Philbin said. “He hasn’t had the same kind of shots. James had 18 carries so that’s a good first look. Obviously, we don’t know everything about him, either.”

It’s not as if the Packers have a four-headed monster. Jackson, Kuhn, Nance and Starks have combined for 886 yards, which would rank 11th among individual running backs in the NFL.

But Starks showed how even a modest running game can help open up the passing game for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. McCarthy talks a lot about balance, and the Packers had it in a 410-yard performance Sunday.

“He did a nice job,” Philbin said. “I thought, No. 1, he protected the ball very well. Secondly, he ran pretty decisively and pretty hard. Obviously, his reads aren’t perfect yet, but for the most part we felt like he got the yards that were there. And he broke a couple tackles.”

Starks is a tall back with long legs and tends to run upright. Running backs coach Edgar Bennett has to constantly remind him about his pad level but said Starks was making good progress.

“For the most part I thought he ran with leverage,” Bennett said. “He’s a big guy and he always falls forward. In the situations where he ended up getting knocked backwards, it was because his pad level was too high.”

Said Philbin, “His height is not necessarily a disadvantage for him. There’s a couple times when he did a nice job lowering his pads and keeping them down, because the pad level helps protect the football. Obviously, he’s not there yet. He still does run a little bit high.”

Starks ran mostly out of two- and three-back sets, but Bennett said he could play in any of the Packers’ formations. McCarthy said Starks had receiving skills and could catch the ball coming out of the backfield.

“He’s an every-down back,” Bennett said. “He does have that type of talent where he can stay on the field in every situation.”

At the very least, Starks gives opposing defenses something else to think about. Bennett said Starks, Jackson, Nance and Kuhn all “bring something unique to the table.”

Said McCarthy, “I don’t really want to get into specifics of how we’re going to use each one. That’s really what the games are for and for our opponents to plan against.”

Jackson wound up with just four carries against San Francisco, but he did catch four passes for 63 yards, including a nicely executed 37-yard screen.

Philbin said he was not worried about Jackson’s attitude if the running back got fewer chances to carry the ball because of Starks’ emergence.

“He’s a high-character guy,” Philbin said. “He’s done everything we’ve ever asked him to do. He’s never been a guy that I know that has complained an awful lot. It wasn’t like he was shut out of the game plan, or ‘Brandon Jackson, I don’t want you touching the football in this game plan.’ That certainly wasn’t the case at all.”

Still, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Starks get the bulk of the carries again against the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

“The kid, he never gave the impression that it was too big,” Bennett said. “He was poised. In the pregame warm-up, you saw it in his eyes: You knew this kid was ready to play.”

Full story HERE

We’ve got a long ways to go

December 6, 2010 by  
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From the pistol Pete Dougherty, Press-Gazette

~The Green Bay Packers came out on a blustery, cold day at Lambeau Field and did what they had to, beating an inferior team going toe to toe in a bad-weather game.

The San Francisco 49ers aren’t bereft of talent with Vernon Davis at tight end and Michael Crabtree at receiver, but they couldn’t match up with the Packers at quarterback or on defense.

Safety Nick Collins returns an interception of 49ers QB Troy Smith

The 49ers were exposed for what they are: A below-average team that’s on the fringe of the playoff chase only because it plays in the NFL’s worst division, the NFC West.

The Packers ended up winning comfortably, 34-16, behind another efficient performance by Aaron Rodgers, a couple of big plays by receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, and a stout defense that kept San Francisco from doing the one thing that would have given it a chance, that is, running the ball.

“We out-physicaled a team that prides itself on being physical,” Packers defensive end Ryan Pickett said. “Felt like we came out and played more physical than them, especially up front. Their line, watching them on tape, they got a lot of push, they pushed around a lot of the teams. That came right down our alley, they tried to play power ball with us, and we stopped ’em.”

This was a must win for the Packers, just as it will be next week when they face the 2-10 Detroit Lions.

At 8-4, the Packers will face a tough three-game stretch to close the season at New England and at home against the New York Giants and Chicago. They can’t afford to slip up against the two lesser teams left on their schedule in their chase for the playoffs.

The win keeps the Packers one game behind the NFC North Division-leading Bears, whose come-from-behind victory at Detroit pushed their record to 9-3.

With one playoff spot reserved for an NFC West champion that probably will be .500 at best, the Packers are one of seven clubs fighting for five playoff spots: Atlanta is on top at 10-2, followed by New Orleans and Chicago at 9-3; Philadelphia, the Giants and Packers at 8-4; and Tampa Bay at 7-5.

“Eight-and-four, pretty good record so far,” Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said. “But we’ve got a long ways to go. We all in here know that. Everyone’s up for the challenge.”

The Packers didn’t jump on the 49ers right away on a day when the winds were blowing from the northwest at 16 mph and made the 26-degree day feel like 14 degrees.

But as the game went on, Rodgers’ passing only improved as he adapted to the conditions for a 70.0 completion percentage (21-for-30). The offense also got some help from a new source, sixth-round draft pick James Starks, who in his NFL debut shot past Brandon Jackson as the team’s primary running back.

The 49ers, on the other hand, never got a running game going without injured halfback Frank Gore. His replacements, Brian Westbrook and Anthony Dixon, combined for 64 yards on 18 carries.

Quarterback Troy Smith, winner of three of his four previous starts with the 49ers, was unable to carry the offense without that help on the ground. His 64.4 passer rating included a scattershot 40 percent (10-for-25) completion rate.

The 49ers’ three drives with their best field position of the day told the story. Twice they took over in Packers territory in the first half, and another time at their 47 in the second half, yet came away with only three points.

“They were kicking field goals when we were scoring touchdowns,” McCarthy said. “I thought that was a big factor in the outcome.”

In contrast to Smith, Rodgers was sharp and continued a hot streak in which his passer rating has topped the 130-point mark in three of the last four games and was 114.5 in the fourth. He’s thrown 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions in the last five weeks.

Rodgers’ only blemish against the 49ers was getting sacked four times, but he also made his share of plays, including two long completions that were the difference.

The first came on a free play when the 49ers jumped offsides and Rodgers threw exquisite deep ball to Greg Jennings for a 57-yard touchdown in the second quarter. The other was when Rodgers beat a blitz with a strike to Donald Driver, whose 61-yard catch-and run touchdown in the quarter was a play for the ages.

“Look at the last five weeks, haven’t thrown a pick,” Rodgers said, “but in the game we had a turnover, last week (at Atlanta) I fumbled, and we lost the game. When we don’t turn it over we’re going to win most of those games.”

The game turned on Driver’s touchdown, which electrified Lambeau Field while giving the Packers a 21-13 lead early in the second half.

The completion was easy, because Driver was wide open after streaking past cornerback Shawntae Spencer’s blown coverage. But it was what the 35-year-old Driver did after the catch that lifted his team and the crowd.

Driver shrugged off a tackle by late-arriving safety Reggie Smith at the 49ers’ 35, then ducked hits by Spencer and cornerback Nate Clements as he made his way down field, before bulling through three players for the final few yards into the end zone.

“I thought it ignited our football team,” McCarthy said. “We needed that.”

Starks also gave the Packers some hope they might run the ball better in December and January than they have thus far. He ended up with 18 carries as opposed to Brandon Jackson’s four.

Though Starks’ 73 yards rushing and 4.1-yard average were hardly jaw-dropping, the 6-foot-2, 218 pounder showed some strength pushing through tackles that Jackson doesn’t have. In the Packers’ clock-killing 8½-minute drive in the fourth quarter, the 49ers knew the run was coming, yet Starks pounded out 35 yards on nine carries.

“Big guy athletic, fell forward a lot today,” Rodgers said. “He held onto the football, that’s the most important thing you worry about with a guy getting his first extended action. Lot of carries. Did a great job that last drive.”

Full story HERE

Offense’s big plays turn game into rout

December 6, 2010 by  
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From the great Bob McGinn, Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay — Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!

Those were the sounds on Sunday for the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field when what began as a promising afternoon turned to hopeless helplessness after the big guns of the Green Bay Packers got through with them.

Four long pass plays begot four touchdowns, turning a dicey start into a routine finish. Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings and Co. can add another notch on their belt.

Can't fault this coverage: "We're still not where we want to be," Jennings said. "But we have a new kid on the block who's trying to step up and give us that power back."

The Packers showed last Sunday in Atlanta that the lack of a running game can beat them. Against the 49ers, they demonstrated that big passes can beat anyone.

Coach Mike McCarthy hasn’t lost as a touchdown-or-more favorite since Tampa Bay last season, and he certainly couldn’t afford a misstep in the suddenly torrid race for the NFC North championship and two wild-card berths.

The 34-16 pasting of San Francisco (4-8) enabled the Packers (8-4) to stay one game behind Chicago (9-3) in the division. At this point, New Orleans (9-3) is in possession of one wild-card slot and the other would go to the New York Giants (8-4) over Green Bay on the basis of better NFC record, 6-2 to 6-3.

Philadelphia (8-4) owns the tie-breaking edge on the Giants in the NFC East because of its victory in their lone head-to-head meeting.

All of the above will be settled on the field in December and January, months when the Packers are 13-6 in the regular season under McCarthy.

“This is December football, and we’re playing good football now,” said McCarthy, praising his team for improving its turnover differential to plus-9 in the last five games. “But good isn’t good enough, as we know. We want to be playing our best football.”

Certainly, the Packers’ bombs-away passing game could hardly be more lethal.

The quarterback, Rodgers, was on fire again, pushing his marks in the last four games to 73.9% marksmanship (96 of 130), average per pass of 9.48 yards and an other-worldly passer rating of 131.3.

In the eight games before that, Rodgers was eminently human at 61.3%, 7.48 and 85.3.

“He would not allow them to lose,” said Takeo Spikes, the 49ers’ 13-year inside linebacker. “He was calm, cool and collected.”

His ace receiver, Jennings, has been equally as dominant over the last three games with 18 receptions for 393 yards (21.8) and five touchdowns. After a slow start, Jennings has 43 receptions, 761 yards and eight touchdowns in Weeks 6-12.

“When Aaron gets protection, our receivers are so good at getting open, and Aaron can just pick people apart,” tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “When you get that, big plays happen.”

One of the Packers’ worst deficiencies early was the scarcity of big plays. From Weeks 1-6, they had just four gains of 35 yards or more, and through nine games, they still had only six.

Green Bay then popped the Vikings for three long ones at the Metrodome in Week 10 and picked up one in Atlanta before assaulting the 49ers with four totaling 203 yards. The fifth, a 54-yard sideline streak to James Jones, was curiously whistled dead by referee Bill Leavy after 49ers linebacker Travis LaBoy was flagged for being in the neutral zone.

Joe Philbin, the offensive coordinator, preferred to downplay the display of offensive might.

“Half the time we had guys lining up in the wrong spot,” said Philbin. “We had to use two timeouts. I wouldn’t call us deadly.”

Besides blowing the timeouts, Rodgers also overthrew Donald Driver in the end-zone corner and was guilty of an intentional-grounding penalty. That first possession ended when Mason Crosby’s hooked a 29-yard attempt off the left upright, the first miss of his career inside the 30 after 38 makes.

“Our protection wasn’t good,” special teams coach Shawn Slocum said. “We were poor in the B gap, and Mason pulled the ball as a result.”

Early in the second quarter, Jarrett Bush was charged with the special teams’ first holding penalty of the season. Rodgers was sacked for the second time on the next play of another three and out as bad was turning to worse.

Ever-resourceful, Rodgers then used something as simple as the snap count to his advantage. Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin jumped offside, helping set up a third and 1.

Again Rodgers came with a hard count and linebacker Ahmad Brooks moved into the neutral zone, the third of five times the 49ers jumped. This time, play continued, and the well-drilled team of Rodgers and Jennings took full advantage of the “free” play for a 57-yard touchdown behind cornerback Shawntae Spencer.

“We knew coming in they had problems with jumping,” guard Josh Sitton said. “We exploited them with that.”

It was still just a 7-6 game with 2 minutes left in the half when the Packers’ longest screen pass of the season resulted in a 37-yard gain by Brandon Jackson to the 1. John Kuhn powered over on the next play.

A 66-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis, by 18 yards the longest against Green Bay in 2010, kept the 49ers within a point until early in the third quarter. Then two more killer plays finished them off.

The first, a 61-yard touchdown to Driver, was called “clearly the biggest play in the game” by McCarthy. The 49ers pressured with five men, safety Dashon Goldson short-circuited in coverage and Driver made him pay with a spinning, tackle-breaking dash of 38 yards after the catch.

“I thought it ignited our football team,” said McCarthy. “We needed that.”

The second, a 48-yard take-off route to Jennings, set up Jennings’ 1-yard touchdown. The play came off bootleg action, which McCarthy has been unable to use more partially because his run game largely has been impotent.

On the previous play, James Starks bulled 5 yards on first down. That was exactly the type of play that the Packers were so desperately seeking, and the rookie provided several more in an eye-opening 18-carry, 73-yard debut.

“He wasn’t jumping and dancing, reversing field,” said Philbin. “He was relatively decisive. He dragged a guy here and there. Looked like he fell forward a couple times.”

The high point was a 17-play, 74-yard, fourth-quarter drive in which the running backs slammed 12 times for 45 yards and drained all but the final 3 minutes.

Driver’s big play results in first TD since October

December 6, 2010 by  
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From Gary D’Amato, Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay — It had been a long time – more than two months – since Donald Driver scored a touchdown.

It had been a lot longer since Driver, or any other member of the Green Bay Packers, for that matter, scored on a more sensational play.

Displaying extraordinary effort and some shake-and-bake moves, the 35-year-old Driver drove a stake in the hearts of the San Francisco 49ers with his 61-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter of a game that was still very much in doubt.

"I know how good I can play," he said. "It's just getting opportunities. When you get opportunities, you make the best of them. That was an opportunity I wasn't going to let slip away."

The touchdown gave the Packers a 21-13 lead and they went on to win, 34-16.

“I thought Donald Driver’s touchdown was the biggest play in the game,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. “I thought it ignited our football team. We needed that.”

On second and 16 from the Packers’ 39, the 49ers blitzed and the line picked it up. Driver was wide open when he caught Aaron Rodgers’ pass at about the 49ers’ 38-yard line.

He turned toward the end zone, broke tackles by safeties Reggie Smith and Dashon Goldson, eluded a tackle attempt by cornerback Nate Clements and carried two more defenders the final few yards into the end zone.

“I don’t know what happened,” Driver said. “All I know is that when I caught it, I just started making moves. You don’t know the kind of moves you’re making until you watch the film.

“Everybody said it was a great play. After it’s all said and done, I was just trying to get in the end zone.”

Said offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, “Real nice play. Excellent play. I think we caught them in a blitz. I’m sure they wanted to cover it a little bit differently, obviously.

“But we threw a vertical route to him and he made some guys miss. He did a great job finishing the play.”

The touchdown was the talk of the Packers’ locker room.

“That was phenomenal,” said tackle Bryan Bulaga. “That’s got to be SportsCenter’s No. 1 play this week. If it’s not, then something incredible must have happened somewhere else around the league today. It was phenomenal.”

The touchdown was the fourth of the season for Driver but his first since Oct. 3. He has struggled with a quadriceps injury and had his left hand and wrist wrapped after the game.

Asked the extent of the latest injury, Driver said, “I don’t know.” Later, he said his hand was fine.

He finished with four catches for 73 yards. It was his second-highest yardage total of the season (89 vs. Detroit on Oct. 3).

“I know how good I can play,” he said. “It’s just getting opportunities. When you get opportunities, you make the best of them. That was an opportunity I wasn’t going to let slip away.”

Driver said he was stricken with food poisoning on Saturday night and still felt ill during the game.

“I ate some wings that made me sick,” he said. “I didn’t think it was that bad. Most people that have a stomachache think it’s just gas. I realized about 5:30 in the morning it wasn’t gas. I came over to the stadium early and got some treatment, and I was OK. I was able to play.

“Greg (Jennings) looked at me all day and was like, ‘You OK? You OK?’ I was like, ‘I’m here.’ Now, I get an opportunity to go home and lay on the couch.”

Full story HERE

Starks hits the ground running in his NFL debut

December 6, 2010 by  
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From Gary D’Amato, Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay — James Starks sported a big, white bandage on his forehead and a big, wide grin on his face Sunday afternoon.

Not only had he just suited up for his first NFL game, but he had played a key role in the Green Bay Packers’ 34-16 victory over the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field.

Said tackle Bryan Bulaga, "Starks is a good player and he's only going to improve week to week as he gets more reps."

Starks, 24, a rookie sixth-round draft pick from Buffalo, had 18 carries for 73 yards. It was a surprising workload, considering he hadn’t played since Jan. 3, 2009, in what turned out to be his final collegiate game.

He missed his senior season after undergoing shoulder surgery and started his professional career on Green Bay’s physically unable to perform list with a hamstring injury. He was activated from the PUP list Nov. 9 but was inactive the last two games.

Asked if he thought he’d get 18 carries in his NFL debut, Starks said, “I had no clue. Hey, if they give me carries, I’ll accept them with open arms.”

According to Elias, Starks’ 73 rushing yards were the most by a Packers rookie running back in his first game since Ralph Earhart had 78 at Boston on Sept. 17, 1948.

“I was just anxious to get out there and play with my teammates, play with ‘A-Rod’ (Aaron Rodgers), play for the fans here at Lambeau,” Starks said. “It was an exciting moment for me. I just took it all in. I was like an excited little kid out there.”

Whether Starks breathed some life into a struggling running game or the offensive line blocked better after a tough loss in Atlanta, the result was 136 yards on the ground for the Packers.

“We established the run today,” said receiver Greg Jennings. “I thought we ran the ball really well. We’re still not where we want to be. We’ve got a new kid on the block who is trying to step up and give us that power back.

“Our offensive line did an outstanding job opening holes for him, and he did a good job reading them.”

With Starks shouldering most of the load, starter and Packers leading rusher Brandon Jackson got just four carries and gained 13 yards. He did catch four passes for 63 yards, including 37 on a beautifully executed screen.

Starks is a big back at 6 foot 2 and 218 pounds. He might be more powerful than the 5-10, 216-pound Jackson, and he’s faster than backup John Kuhn (six carries for 13 yards).

“I don’t want to get into different styles,” Jackson said. “Starks, he did great today.”

Starks said he figured he’d be activated when he worked with special teams in practice Wednesday. But he had no idea he’d get his first carry on the Packers’ third play from scrimmage. He gained 2 yards.

“The first run, that’s why I just ran straight,” he said. “I just wanted to get hit just to see how it is, test the NFL a little bit. You’ve got to get the rust off. The first carry, I just tried to keep the ball high and tight, hit the hole and get what they gave me.”

Starks was impressive on the Packers’ clock-eating 17-play, 74-yard drive in the fourth quarter that ended with Mason Crosby’s 24-yard field goal with 3:10 left.

He carried nine times on the drive for gains of 0, 16, 1, 3, 7, 4, 1, 3 and 0. He broke two tackles on the 16-yard run and might have gained a lot more on the 7-yarder had he not been tripped up.

“I’ve got to keep my feet up,” he said. “Those opportunities don’t come often. I saw the hole, and I hit it good. The guy next to me kind of bumped me, and I was like ‘Oh, man.’ That kind of tripped me up.”

Packers coach Mike McCarthy was pleased with Starks’ debut.

“I thought he performed very well and was very impressed, particularly the way he fell forward for one or two yards on a number of his carries,” McCarthy said. “He’s off to a good start.”

His teammates were impressed, too.

“That’s a good running back,” said Donald Driver. “He showed what he could do. I just want to see more of it. He’ll get his opportunity once again next week (at Detroit).”

Said tackle Bryan Bulaga, “Starks is a good player and he’s only going to improve week to week as he gets more reps.”

Starks even got to return two second-half kicks when the 49ers kicked away from Sam Shields. He returned the first 8 yards to the Packers’ 31 and the second 17 yards to the 44.

He said he never returned kicks in college and last did it in high school.

“It’s been awhile,” he said. “The first kickoff I could have caught it and ran. I thought Sam was saying, ‘I got it, I got it,’ so I looked back and he was just waiting for me to get it. It was my fault. The second time they did it again, so I tried to capitalize on that opportunity.”

Starks seemed to relish getting hit for the first time in live action in 23 months. The bandage on his forehead covered a gash that occurred in practice recently. Otherwise, he was none the worse for wear.

“I feel good,” he said, beaming at the knot of reporters around his locker. “I feel very good.”

Full story HERE

Packers beat 49ers 34-16, move to 8-4

December 6, 2010 by  
Filed under News

From Gary D’Amato, Journal Sentinel

~PLAYER OF THE GAME

It’s hard to imagine Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers playing much better than he has played the last four games. He was superb against San Francisco, completing 21 of 30 attempts for 298 yards and three touchdowns.

After a sluggish start, the Packers' offense finally found it's form midway through the second quarter and proceeded to dust off the 49ers, 34-16, Sunday at Lambeau Field. Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdown passes.

Time and again, he extended plays by escaping a collapsing pocket. He also tucked the ball and took off when nobody was open, gaining 39 yards in four attempts. His running probably demoralized the 49ers as much as anything. Rodgers’ touchdown passes of 57 yards to Greg Jennings and 61 to Donald Driver marked the first time in his career he threw two TDs of at least 55 yards in the same game. He finished with a 110-plus rating (135.1) for the fourth consecutive game, only the third time in franchise history that has happened.

MISSING IN ACTION

It’s a good thing the Packers’ offense is rolling or more would be made of the lack of production from their tight ends. Since playmaker Jermichael Finley went down Oct. 10, Rodgers has focused his attention on Jennings and the other wide receivers. Rookie Andrew Quarless was targeted just twice Sunday and caught one for 4 yards. No tight end has scored a touchdown since Quarless had one Oct. 24 against Minnesota. Over the last four games, Quarless, Donald Lee and Tom Crabtree have combined for just eight receptions for 62 yards.

WHAT IF . . .

San Francisco led, 6-0, when 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks jumped offside on a third-and-1 play from the Packers’ 43. Green Bay was in its no-huddle offense, and Rodgers hadn’t yet called a play at the line of scrimmage when Brooks jumped. The Packers’ receivers are coached to go deep on a “free play” and when Jennings got behind cornerback Shawntae Spencer and safety Reggie Smith was late in support, the result was a 57-yard touchdown. Until that point, the Packers had struggled to get going on offense. If Brooks had stayed on his side of the line of scrimmage, who knows how the game would have unfolded?

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

• Fullback Quinn Johnson got an earful from Rodgers when Johnson didn’t know where to line up and Rodgers had to burn a time out with 6 minutes 45 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

• In the third quarter, Rodgers completed all six of his pass attempts for 129 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown to Driver. Rodgers’ passer rating was a perfect 158.3 in the quarter.

• On the Packers’ third play from scrimmage, James Starks rushed for 2 yards. It was an unremarkable play, other than the fact that it was the first time Starks touched the ball in a game since Jan. 3, 2009.

• The Packers had a big advantage in time of possession, controlling the ball for 37 minutes 11 seconds compared with San Francisco’s 22:49.

BY THE NUMBERS

5 Consecutive games without an interception thrown by Rodgers. The last Packers quarterback to go five starts without an interception was Bart Starr in 1966.

7 Sacks by Cullen Jenkins this season, surpassing his previous career high of 6½ in 2006.

9 Consecutive times Green Bay has beaten San Francisco in the regular season.

1 7 Plays in Green Bay’s 69-yard drive that ended with Mason Crosby’s 24-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.

1 1 7 Passes Rodgers must throw without an interception to tie Starr for the franchise record (294). Rodgers has not thrown an interception in his last 177 attempts.

NEXT UP

Packers (8-4) at Detroit Lions (2-10), noon Sunday (Fox)

Once again, the Lions are reeling. Their 24-20 defeat at the hands of the Chicago Bears on Sunday was their 19th consecutive loss within the division, the longest such skid since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. On Oct. 3, the Packers built a 28-14 lead over the Lions at Lambeau Field and hung on for a 28-26 victory. “This is not a pushover team,” said Packers tackle Bryan Bulaga.

Full story HERE

ESPN: A Drive for the Ages, Forgotten

December 2, 2010 by  
Filed under News

Dec 2, 2010 ~ by Kevin Seifert, ESPN

~Sixteen plays.

Ninety yards.

The touchdown on fourth-and-goal with 56 seconds remaining.

Had the Green Bay Packers won Sunday’s game at the Georgia Dome, we would still be discussing the absolutely epic drive that pulled them into a tie with the Atlanta Falcons in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers masterfully guided the Packers downfield, earning the highest praise imaginable from his coach. He bought himself seven seconds on the final play before firing toward receiver Jordy Nelson in the end zone.

“I have never seen a quarterback in my time here play to that level in the passing game,” said coach Mike McCarthy, who employed Brett Favre for his first two seasons in Green Bay.

The drive was soon rendered moot by Atlanta place-kicker Matt Bryant‘s 47-yard field goal. But while we have a break in the action this week, let’s take a moment to relive each play and record it for posterity.

Down and distance: First-and-10 from the GB 10-yard line
Packers personnel set: 3 WR, 1 TE (in backfield), 1 RB
Falcons rush: Four pass-rushers
The play: Packers tailback Brandon Jackson takes a shotgun handoff and follows tight end Andrew Quarless through the left side of the line for a 5-yard gain. A run play to start it off is smart not only because of field position, but also to remind the Falcons’ defense that another could come at any time.

Down and distance: Second-and-5 from the GB 15
Packers personnel set: 3 WR, 1 TE (in slot), 1 RB
Falcons rush: Four
The play: Rodgers throws 11 yards to Quarless.

Down and distance: First-and-10 from GB 26
Packers personnel set: 3 WR, 1 TE (in slot), 1 RB
Falcons rush: Four
The play: Jackson catches a screen pass but is tackled for no gain by Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson, whom Packers receiver James Jones failed to block.

Down and distance: Second-and-15 from GB 21 (after a false start on left guard Daryn Colledge)
Packers personnel set: 3 WR, 1 TE (in slot), 1 RB
Falcons rush: Five, including blitzing safety William Moore
The play: Rodgers hits Quarless in the seam for 19 yards. Falcons left end Kroy Biermann broke free on the pass rush, but Jackson nudged him just as Rodgers released the ball.

Down and distance: First-and-10 from GB 40
Packers personnel set: 3 WR, 1 TE (as an H-back), 1 RB
Falcons rush: Four
The play: Jackson takes another shotgun handoff and finds an 8-yard crease after right guard Josh Sitton turns out Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux.

When he needed to come up big in the end, Aaron Rodgers was gigantic. That could be a turning point in Rodgers' career, despite the loss.


Down and distance:
Second-and-2 from GB 48
Packers personnel set: 3 WR, 1 TE (in slot), 1 RB
Falcons rush: Four
The play: Rodgers scrambles around right end for 7 yards and a first down.

Down and distance: First-and-10 from ATL 45
Packers personnel set: 3 WR, 1 TE (Tom Crabtree on the line), 1 RB
Falcons rush: Three
The play: With eight men in coverage, Rodgers tries to thread a needle to receiver Greg Jennings. Falcons cornerback Thomas DeCoud nearly intercepts.

Down and distance: Second-and-10 from ATL 45
Packers personnel set: 3 WR (Jordy Nelson replaces Donald Driver), 1 TE (Crabtree in slot), 1 RB
Falcons rush: Four (after bluffing a blitz)
The play: Rodgers throws 15 yards to Jennings on the right sideline.

Down and distance: First-and-10 from ATL 30
Packers personnel set: 3 WR, 1 TE (Quarless back in slot), 1 RB
Falcons rush: Three
The play: Rodgers dumps off the ball to Jackson for a 9-yard reception.

Down and distance: Second-and-1 from ATL 21
Packers personnel set: 3 WR, 1 TE (in slot), 1 RB
Falcons rush: Three
The play: Rodgers escapes pressure and throws to Jones in the corner of the end zone, but DeCoud pushes him out of bounds. It’s Rodgers’ longest attempt of the drive.

Down and distance: Third-and-1 from ATL 21
Packers personnel set: 3 WR, 1 TE (in slot), 1 RB
Falcons rush: Five on a zone blitz
The play: Center Scott Wells appears to snap the ball before Rodgers is ready. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon comes free up the middle, and Rodgers basically throws the ball away. Jackson’s back is turned when the ball hits the turf.

Down and distance: Fourth-and-1 from ATL 21
Packers personnel set: Empty (5 WR)
Falcons rush: Three
The play: Rodgers can’t find an open receiver at first. He buys more time and eventually improvises a shovel pass to Jones, who turns it into a 18-yard play.

Down and distance: First-and-goal from ATL 3
Packers personnel set: Empty
Falcons rush: Three
The play: Rodgers holds the ball for six seconds, looking for a receiver. Falcons defensive lineman John Abraham strip-sacks him, but Rodgers recovers the fumble.

Down and distance: Second-and-goal from ATL 6 (after the two-minute warning)
Packers personnel set: 4 WR, 1 RB
Falcons rush: Seven on a heavy blitz.
The play: Rodgers throws quickly and incomplete toward Jones.

Down and distance: Third-and-goal from ATL 6
Packers personnel set: 4 WR, 1 RB
Falcons rush: Three
The play: Weatherspoon sniffs out a screen pass to Jackson, limiting it to a 1-yard gain.

Down and distance: Fourth-and-goal from ATL 10 (After a Bryan Bulaga false start)
Packers personnel set: Empty
Falcons rush: Three
The play: Rodgers buys himself seven seconds by drifting toward the left sideline. Nelson, who began the play in the left slot, streaks to the sideline. Rodgers later said he kept his eyes off Nelson for as long as possible to prevent a second Falcons defender from chasing him. As it was, Nelson had a step on DeCoud and got both feet in bounds before falling to the ground.

Rodgers operated out of the no-huddle throughout the drive, calling many of the plays and benefiting from McCarthy’s personnel usage. For 10 of the 16 plays, McCarthy used three receivers, one tight end and one running back. That ambiguous set, which offers opportunities to run or pass, kept the Falcons off balance.

The Falcons also played back in coverage for most of the series, sending four or fewer pass-rushers on 14 of the 16 plays. But Rodgers refused to force anything downfield, and all eight of his completions went for fewer than 20 yards. He scrambled for one first down, bought himself as much time as possible in the red zone and made a safe but creative play to convert the first fourth down.

“We enjoyed the heck out of that drive,” Rodgers said. “It was nice. Mike [McCarthy] gave me some freedom in that drive and we made some good plays. We were all tired. I think every person on the field was tired, both sides of the ball, but to get that in for a touchdown and have that high of tying it up was pretty special. But we lost the game.”

Yes, they did. And that’s the only reason we haven’t spent more time discussing that drive. So let’s put it in our back pocket and see whether the Packers can build from it as they attempt to catch the Chicago Bears in a five-week race for the NFC North title.

Full story HERE

Special circumstances: the injury factor

December 2, 2010 by  
Filed under News

Dec 2, 2010 ~ by Tom Silverstein, Journal Sentinel

~Green Bay — The Packers’ most recent additions to the injured reserve list are yet another example of how much damage the missing players have meant to the special teams units.

Both Spencer Havner (hamstring) and Brandon Chillar (shoulder) were on the starting kickoff return unit Sunday against Atlanta. They had practiced all week at their positions and were prepared for the game plan assistant coach Shawn Slocum had prepared.

On the very same kickoff to the Falcons at the end of the first quarter, Havner and Chillar were knocked out of the game. Havner’s hamstring gave out, making it look like he had been shot in the leg, and Chillar was slumped over holding his left shoulder after a collision with a blocker.

Two plays earlier, running back Dimitri Nance was knocked out of the game with a concussion. He was also on the starting kickoff cover team. Havner was replacing cornerback Pat Lee, who aggravated an ankle injury and left for good midway through the first quarter.

Compared to the opening day kick coverage unit: On the final kickoff failure in Atlanta, Nick Collins was in the place of Desmond Bishop. That's how thin the Packers have become from injuries. That's a position, unit, that requires cohesion, and when 3 of them get hurt in the same game, it spells trouble.

On the two first-half kickoffs, the Falcons got no further than the 28-yard line. On the following one, kicker Mason Crosby hit it deep for a touchback. When the final fateful Packers kickoff occurred, the unit was without three starters and one top backup.

The three new guys on the cover team were Nick Collins, Sam Shields and Tom Crabtree.

Collins was one of the players Slocum identified as not playing the kickoff correctly.

To give you an idea of how much the special teams units have changed let’s look at the kickoff coverage unit in the season opener (Philadelphia), six games in (Miami) and Sunday (Atlanta). The fourth column is the coverage unit on the final kickoff Sunday when Eric Weems returned it 40 yards and an additional 15 were added on for Matt Wilhelm’s facemask.

PHILADELPHIA MIAMI ATLANTA ATLANTA II
B. Swain B. Swain B. Swain S. Shields
J. Bush F. Zombo M. Whilhelm J. Bush
D. Bishop P. Lee B. Underwood N. Collins
T. Williams B. Poppinga P. Lee T. Crabtree
T. Crabtree T. Williams K. Hall E. Walden
M. Crosby M. Crosby M. Crosby M. Crosby
B. Jackson Q. Johnson D. Nance Q. Johnson
D. Martin M. Simpkins Q. Johnson K. Hall
K. Hall K. Hall E. Walden M. Wilhelm
N. Collins J. Bush J. Bush B. Underwood
B. Underwood B. Underwood B. Chillar B. Swain

This isn’t to make excuses for the Packers, but rather to show how much change they’ve gone through over 11 games and how alert the coaches need to be to this. The lesson the players learned Sunday was that no matter who is out, his replacement has to find a way to get the job done. The coaches should have learned that you better have the right guys on the field regardless of injury or status.

Players in backup roles need to assume they’ll be playing.

Recently added players Robert Francois and Josh Gordy are two who could see action Sunday. Francois, as you probably remember, made the fateful formation error on a punt that gave Miami new life and allowed them to score a touchdown instead of giving up the ball.

Both better be ready Sunday.

“Injuries happen, that’s why you always have to be ready, no matter what,” cornerback Jarrett Bush said. “Guys might not have much playing time, but you have to keep us rolling.”

Getting their turn in Packers’ receiving line

December 2, 2010 by  
Filed under News

Dec 2, 2010 ~ by Gary D’Amato, Journal Sentinel

~Green Bay — Whether Donald Driver’s thigh injury is bothering him more than he’s letting on or whether the inevitable erosion of athletic skills has begun at age 35, the Green Bay Packers’ passing attack hasn’t missed a beat.

Driver hasn’t been the same dynamic receiver who posted his sixth consecutive 1,000-yard season last year, but No. 3 receiver James Jones and No. 4 Jordy Nelson have picked up the slack.

And then some.

Jordy Nelson and James Jones have picked up the slack from an ailing Donald Driver. Here Nelson spikes the ball in Atlanta after making a phenomenal catch late in the game on 4th down to to the ballgame.

In the five games since Driver initially hurt his thigh Oct. 17 against Miami, Jones has 20 receptions for 325 yards and two touchdowns, and Nelson has 21 catches for 203 yards and one touchdown.

Over those same five games, Driver has caught just six passes for 57 yards and no touchdowns, though he was inactive Nov. 7 against Dallas.

“I talked a lot in training camp about how our (Nos.) 3 and 4 would be 1s and 2s in most places,” said quarterback Aaron Rodgers. “That’s a gift that we have, having guys like Jordy Nelson and James Jones.”

It’s a gift that keeps giving. Rodgers’ confidence in the 6-foot-1, 208-pound Jones and the 6-3, 217-pound Nelson – and even in No. 5 Brett Swain – is one reason the Packers’ four- and five-receiver sets have been so productive.

“We feel like we can’t be stopped,” Jones said. “We feel like there are some mismatch problems for any team in the NFL. We’ve got so many weapons out there, with a great quarterback who can run the ball as well.

“There’s a lot of things they’ve got to defend.”

Jones and Nelson have made big plays in recent weeks and have complimented Greg Jennings, who has put together an impressive six-week stretch (37-639-6).

“Me and Jordy, we’re not starters – right now – so we don’t get as many opportunities as Donald and Greg do,” Jones said. “We pride ourselves on making the most of our chances and trying to make some big plays for this ballclub.”

Jones has had two 100-yard games and a pair of touchdowns in the last five games. On Sunday, in a 20-17 loss to Atlanta, it was Nelson’s turn to shine.

The third-year pro kept the Packers’ hopes alive with a difficult fourth-and-10 touchdown grab to tie the score in the final minute. Rodgers had to throw his best fastball into a tiny window, because Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud had good coverage and Nelson, running at full speed across the back of the end zone, was about to go out of bounds.

“Excellent catch,” said offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. “Good job with his feet. It was an impressive play.”

Nelson already has a career-high 34 receptions, and his 362 yards are just four off his previous best of 366 as a rookie in 2008. In fact, his numbers are nearly identical to those of Driver (34-364).

“You look at Jordy, he’s a guy who practices very hard each day and his practice performance carries over into games,” Rodgers said. “He makes plays when we need him to make plays.”

Jones has 35 catches for 502 yards and is on pace to top his previous career bests of 47 and 676 (2007).

“James is as talented as any guy we’ve got,” Rodgers said. “He’s a guy who’s made a lot of plays this year. He got more opportunities when Donald went down with his injury and with (tight end) Jermichael (Finley) being out.”

Swain has even gotten into the act as the fifth receiver in the “Big Five” formation, catching four passes for 54 yards over the last four games after catching none in the first seven.

“If you didn’t have the five guys you have confidence in, maybe you wouldn’t be in that (Big Five) as much,” said receivers coach Jimmy Robinson.

Over the last three games, Rodgers has completed 75 of 100 passes for 934 yards, with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. His quarterback ratings in those games were 131.5, 141.3 and 114.5.

“We have confidence in our passing game,” Philbin said. “I think if you protect your passer well, we’ve got a guy who throws the ball well and we’ve got some good receivers so unless the weather doesn’t cooperate, I think we should be able to throw the football.”

That doesn’t mean coach Mike McCarthy is ready to abandon the run. The Packers have not been good on the ground in recent weeks and it’s something the coaches and players know they must fix.

“I’m not looking to run Big Five 20 plays a game,” McCarthy said. “We’ll make that real clear. It’s nice to have that as part of your offense.”

No matter what kind of personnel groupings McCarthy employs going forward, it’s clear Jones and Nelson will continue to play important roles in the passing game.

“We’ve been getting a lot of opportunities lately and I think we’ve been cashing in,” Jones said. “Hopefully, we can continue to make some plays.”

Full story HERE

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