Packers Midterm Grades are in
By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior analyst
~Eight up, eight down.
The Packers have finished their first half of the regular season, and they are a perfect 8-0. Yeah, stop the presses. You hadn’t heard?
They are only the 3rd Super Bowl winner to start the next season with an 8-0 record. The others were the 1990 49ers, and the 1998 Broncos.
Despite an 8-0 record, there aren’t all straight ‘A’s on the roster from this grader.
Here are my first-half grades for your 2011 Green Bay Packers.
Aaron Rodgers first-half was the best first-half of quarterbacking the NFL has ever seen, so how could it be anything less than a perfect A+?
He’s on pace for 48 TDs /6 Ints, 5,238 yards, 72.5 completion %.
His passer rating is an unreal 129.1.
Drew Brees is 2nd at just 101, and Tom Brady is the only other guy at 100 or higher.
Rodgers is on pace to erase Brett Favre from every single season record in team history, as well as quite a few NFL records.
He’s also had some very timely runs.
Unlike last year when the team never trailed by more than 7 points, Rodgers has dug the Packers out of some holes, as they have come from 14 and 13 down this year to beat Atlanta and Carolina.
RUNNING BACK: B
When the QB is throwing the ball as well as Rodgers is, the runners aren’t going to get an awful lot of touches, unless there’s an Adrian Peterson or Barry Sanders back there.
But looking at it like this, you’ll see that their performance has been above-average.
James Starks is averaging 4.6 yards per carry, and Ryan Grant 4.0. Those are decent. Combine the two guy’s numbers, and you get 157 carries for 665 yards. Duplicate that in the second half of the season, and that would be 314 for 1330 yards, which would be one of the best 10 individual seasons for a Packer running back. It’s just that they share the duty more these days. Starks has also caught 19 passes.
John Kuhn only has 8 carries for 13 yards, and has scored two touchdowns.
Rookie Alex Green most likely would have had a shining moment or two, had he not torn his ACL on the blocking unit on special teams.
TIGHT ENDS: B
Jermichael Finley has not lit it up like he and many others expected. But that’s only because A) teams fear him and opposing defensive coordinators specifically gameplan against him so that what he did to Chicago in week 3 (scored three touchdowns) doesn’t happen against them.
Still, Finley is 2nd on the team in catches, and has scored 5 touchdowns.
The other tight ends have combined for just 4 catches (Crabtree 2, Quarless and DJ Williams one each).
Their blocking has been good overall, with Quarless doing as well as the blocking-specialist Crabtree. Rookie Ryan Taylor has yet to catch a pass as he is entrenched on special teams.
WIDE RECEIVERS: A-
These guys are the most underrated “department” in the whole company, without question. Rodgers has been incredible. But these guys run the best routes of any in the NFL. By these guys I refer to Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and Jordy Nelson. These four have combines for 17 touchdowns over the first half.
Sure there have been a few drops, including one or two that led to Rodgers getting charged with an interception, but they are the best core of receivers in the NFL from top-to-bottom, bar none.
The rookie Randall Cobb has only caught 11 passes, but he’s averaging over 17 yards a reception, and he’s dangerous in the slot, in the flat, or even on screen plays. He’s made some rookie mistakes, but he may have saved the opener against the Saints with his catch and run touchdown catch, in addition to his kick return touchdown.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B
Injuries to left tackle bookend Chad Clifton, and briefly right tackle Bryan Bulaga, have only slightly affected this unit’s performance. Both Marshall Newhouse and Derek Sherrod have had to fill in, and Newhouse has shown some signs he might be the long-term guy to take over for Clifton. Marshall struggled at Minnesota and DE Jared Allen, but many OT’s do against him, especially in the fast and loud Metrodome.
Bulaga is going to become a great one if he stays healthy.
RG Josh Sitton has not played as well as last year, allowing some big plays against the offense.
New starter at LG T.J. Lang has been very solid for the Packers. He’s smart, and works hard.
Center Scott Wells has been a stalwart for the Packers. Fans and media pundits (even the coach) tried to upsize that position away from him a few years ago to Jason Spitz, but Wells simply kept working and improving, and he’s now as good as any center in the league, this season. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King named Wells his All-Pro center.
DEFENSIVE LINE: C+
The only reason I give them the + in the C, to make them slightly above-average, is that when they are told simply stop the running back, they did. Ask Matt Forte of the Bears.
But other than that performance, they’ve been suspect. There’s been no pass rush from anyone there, and they obviously miss Cullen Jenkins very badly. He was extremely underrated by outsiders, and he currently is tied for the NFL lead in QB sacks from DT’s.
Jarius Wynn and C.J. Wilson have tried, but they don’t have the skills that Jenkins had.
Mike Neal might, but it’s all speculation because the 2nd year Boilermaker simply cannot get and stay on the field. He should, could, might return soon. If he can turn it around and stay healthy, he has the ability to turn this overall grade into a B.
BJ Raji is being overused, and the coaches would be wise to spell him more on 1st downs. Howard Green has been fine in run situations, and Big Grease Ryan Pickett has been very good playing the run and tipping passes at the line of scrimmage. But someone needs to get some pass rush.
OLB Clay Matthews’ sack totals are down significantly, which has been debated and broken down locally and nationally. But his play has been outstanding despite that statistic.
Desmond Bishop lead the team in sacks with 4, and he’s 2nd in the NFL in tackles. He’s played well, but his coverage has been challenged. A.J. Hawk has played well for the most part, but not as well as last year.
Frank Zombo has not done anything as he can’t stay healthy, and Erik Walden has had a few good moments, but he’s not provided the pass rush one wants opposite Matthews. In Pittsburgh, James Harrison got LaMar Woodley. This team would benefit greatly with a stud OLB to pair with Matthews.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: C+
Nick Collins was the glue and smarts back in the hole, and the loss of Nick in week two has really hurt the overall defense. Charlie Peprah is a decent player, capable of big plays as he showed in San Diego with the two big interceptions. But his and Morgan Burnett’s lack of experience has resulted in far too many big plays by opposing quarterbacks. As Charles Woodson said after the 45-38 win over the Chargers on Sunday, this defense is the team’s liability.
Woodson’s coverage is not as good as it once was, clearly. He still has come up with some big plays, but he’s allowed too many.
Tramon Williams was bothered by an injury early, and his play has declined compared to a year ago. He’s also come up with timely big plays as well, but he’s been beaten more than last year.
Sam Shields struggled the first month, but he’s played a bit better of late.
Again, the Packers lack of interior pass rush, or from the ROLB position, has affected this unit as they have had to cover longer, and opposing quarterbacks have felt more comfortable picking apart the DB’s with no pressure like before.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
Kicker Mason Crosby has been almost perfect. He even made a nice tackle last week in San Diego. He leads the NFC in touchbacks with 29. He’s had only 25 kickoffs returned.
He’s also a perfect 15-15 on field goals, including a team-record 58-yarder.
Punter Tim Masthay is 20th in the league with a 44.5 average.
The return units have been okay. The Packers have allowed a punt return for a touchdown to Darren Sproles of the Saints. But Randall Cobb has one himself on a kick return in the same game. With the new rule, Crosby has had more touchbacks so fewer chances for returns against a shaky unit. Masthay has only had to punt 26 times and only 13 of them have been returned.
I almost made the overall grade an A- because of the problems on defense for Capers. But I believe that he’s doing as much as he can with what he has to work with. I am of the belief that Cullen Jenkins was great when he was in there, and when an OL would single him up on a passing down, he’d win that battle every time.
Without him, Capers has no interior pass rush, so it allows the offense to focus on containing Clay Matthews.
Also, the loss of Nick Collins has made his job much more difficult.
Mike McCarthy runs this offense, and his play designs and play calls have been as good as any.
People wonder why Rodgers racks up so many great numbers. His arm is part of it, and so are the solid receivers. But the play design and play calls are the underrated part of the whole process. Jennings, Nelson, Jones, Driver, Finley were all 2nd round-or-later draft picks, so it’s not like they are Megatrons like Calvin Johnson, or superheroes like Andre Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald.
McCarthy’s play design is a big part of it. He designs plays that allow these guys to get open. The underrated aspect, and the key sometimes, is the play call. If the defense knows a run is coming, it’s hard to run. If they know a pass is coming, it’s sometimes hard to pass on the defense.
McCarthy is good at disguising his plays.
He’s also good at driving the team part in, which is tricky with so many weapons all wanting the ball. And he seems like the perfect coach for keeping a team focused when there are a lot of distractions.