~GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers was having an off day by his own lofty standards, and the Green Bay Packers were getting all they could handle from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
With Green Bay leading by two points and trying to fend off a Tampa Bay rally in the fourth quarter, Rodgers found Jordy Nelson for a clinching 40-yard touchdown with 2:55 remaining to hold on for a 35-26 victory Sunday.
Despite the late-game drama, the Packers ran their record to 10-0, leaving them as the NFL’s lone undefeated team going into a Thanksgiving Day matchup at Detroit.
Josh Freeman threw for 342 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions for the Buccaneers (4-6), who have lost four straight but didn’t back down against one of the NFL’s elite teams.
LeGarrette Blount had 107 yards rushing for Tampa Bay, including a 54-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
The Buccaneers trailed by only four points and seemed to have some momentum when they tried a surprise onside kick before halftime. After a replay review gave the ball to Green Bay at the Tampa Bay 38-yard line, Rodgers drove for a 5-yard touchdown to Nelson that gave the Packers a 21-10 lead going into the half.
Tampa Bay then had a touchdown taken off the board in the third quarter when Kellen Winslow was called for offensive pass interference. The Buccaneers settled for a 32-yard field goal by Connor Barth, cutting Green Bay’s lead to 21-13.
The Buccaneers’ defense got a stop, and Freeman directed an eight-play, 91-yard scoring drive that ended with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams.Tampa Bay tried to tie it with a 2-point conversion, but Winslow — who had a pair of big gains on the drive — dropped a catchable ball in the end zone.
Packers running back James Starks did the majority of the work in an eight-play, 85-yard scoring drive that ended with a 2-yard touchdown run by John Kuhn.
But the Buccaneers got another chance when Rodgers threw an interception to Elbert Mack — only Rodgers’ fourth pick this season — and Freeman threw a 37-yard pass to Arrelious Benn to set up first-and-goal at the 4.Freeman then threw a touchdown to Dezmon Briscoe and the Buccaneers kicked the extra point to cut the Packers’ lead to 28-26 with 4:25 left.
Tampa Bay tried another onside kick, but the Packers recovered and Rodgers found Nelson to put the game away.A late interception gave the Packers’ Mason Crosby a shot at a late 29-yard field goal — but he missed.
The Buccaneers gave the Packers one of their toughest games of the year despite a rough start.Tampa Bay’s defense started off by backing the Packers up near their own end zone where Green Bay faced third-and-16 on its own 6.
Two Tampa Bay players were penalized for neutral zone infractions, but the Bucs still stopped the Packers short on third down.Then the Buccaneers got a big rush up the middle on punter Tim Masthay, who fumbled the ball, picked it back up and ran for a first down — then coughed the ball up again, but got lucky when it bounced out of bounds.
Rodgers made the most of the Packers’ big break, driving Green Bay to the Tampa Bay 12-yard line, where he scrambled to convert a third down. Rodgers kept the ball again on the next play and took a big hit on the shoulder from Ronde Barber, stopping him short of the goal line.Rodgers then handed the ball to big defensive lineman B.J. Raji, who plunged one yard for a touchdown.
By Stephen Holder, TampaBay.com
~The Bucs have for nearly three years been championing their master plan, one which involves scrapping the old and starting anew with young players who can grow together. In the process, they’ve decided to almost completely eschew free agency, choosing instead to go with players they’ve acquired through the draft or via other means.
It makes a lot of sense. The team under former coach Jon Gruden had become old and slow, lacking playmaking on both sides of the ball. It never seemed to be building toward something substantial but, rather, adding spare parts and expecting different results.
As a result, many fans bought in to the new plan. And it certainly struck me as a reasonable approach, too.
But here the Bucs are, two and a half years into the Raheem Morris-Mark Dominik regime, standing a crossroads at 4-5 with a tough slate of games to come. They are playing some of the worst football on this side of 3-13, and things appear to be unraveling.
So, yes, now might be a good time to ask whether their grand plan has gone awry.
Before we go on, a little perspective is in order. The mob mentality is growing in the wake of Sunday’s loss to Houston. People want coaches fired, players cut and heads rolling. It’s been conveniently forgotten, however, that the Bucs just more than a week ago were playing for first place in the NFC South.
But this is the NFL, and the only thing that matters is what you’ve done lately. In that regard, the Bucs are a mess, losing three straight games and four of five. And their choice to build the team in this fashion is a major factor.
There are many reasons why it’s fair to question this plan. Here are just a few:
Reason No. 1: When the Bucs made their talent evaluations during the offseason, they needed to take into account that the first- and second-year players who succeeded last season had not done so over a sustained period of time. You know why NFL people say you need three years to judge a draft? Because you don’t know what you have until then.
Was it wise to expect the same level of play from players who had only excelled for one season? With so many of the Bucs’ key players underperforming right now, that answer seems complicated.
Right now, it is hard not to think the front office overestimated the talent level of this team.
Reason No. 2: This is closely related to my last point. One of the problems with starting so many young players at critical positions is the fact that few of them had to fight for their jobs. There were precious few position battles in training camp, and one of the reasons for that was that most incumbent starters were unchallenged.
When a team’s lineup remains as static as the Bucs’ did, it suggests it was a fairly complete team. The Bucs, despite being 10-6 last season, clearly had weaknesses. Very few of those were addressed. Young players who needed to improve had no incentive to do so, with few having to legitimately earn their jobs.
Reason No. 3: Leadership often is an overrated quality in sports. The overwhelming majority of outcomes are decided by talent, pure and simple. But when a team is at a crisis point, as the Bucs are now, leadership is essential.
The Bucs have a severe lack of leadership, and that was painfully obvious on Sunday. That’s when, of all people, newly-signed defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth admitted to trying to rally players in the defensive huddle who appeared to have checked out mentally. The effort they displayed suggested they had better things to do.
When players don’t play to the whistle or do what’s expected of them, someone needs to set a tone. Someone needs to grab a face mask or two and get teammates in check. That didn’t happen on defense and seems unlikely to happen.
Veteran cornerback Ronde Barber, who is playing well, has never been demonstrative and leads mostly by example. Linebacker Quincy Black doesn’t seem to have fully embraced a leadership role despite his contract extension. Mason Foster, the middle linebacker who is charged with running the defensive huddle, is a rookie and has no real authority.
On offense, the Bucs have a group of receivers comprised almost entirely of players with two years of experience or less. Quarterback Josh Freeman has tried to exert his influence by holding players accountable, but his own recent struggles are likely a hindrance.
Morris might yell and scream this week. Maybe he’ll bench a guy or two. But, sometimes, the best pressure is peer pressure. These players need to be accountable to each other.
So, is the plan a lost cause? Not yet. But is it working? Right now, despite all we’ve heard from the Bucs, that’s a very tough sell.
Full story here
By Chip Scoggins, Star Tribune
~Often overshadowed by its offensive counterpart, Green Bay’s defense got into the act in a big way.
GREEN BAY, WIS. – The Green Bay Packers gained fewer yards of offense than the Vikings in the first half Monday night. They also led 17-0.
That pretty much summed up the cosmic difference between the two teams right now. One is chasing perfection. The other looks as if it’s running in circles.
As expected, the Packers won in a landslide 45-7 to remain perfect at 9-0, but it’s the details — one bigger than the rest — that left them encouraged. Specifically, they showed they also can play some defense.
First, a caveat: The Vikings started a rookie quarterback and made enough blunders to fill a blooper reel. Their performance was beyond hideous. But the Packers defense deserves credit for that, too. For once, Aaron Rodgers and the high-scoring offense had to share center stage with the guys on the other side of the ball.
“We finally feel like we played up to the level that we were capable of,” linebacker Clay Matthews said.
“The offense is going to put up points. It’s just a matter of the defense holding up their end of the bargain. We were able to do that, and we feel real good about it.”
Rodgers stuffed the stat sheet as usual. That’s a given these days. He passed for 250 yards and four touchdowns to finish with a 140.3 passer rating. (The frightening part is that he made it look so routine.)
What happened on the other side of the ball was even more impressive. Matthews turned up the pass-rushing heat and the defense made Christian Ponder’s first trip to Lambeau Field something he would rather forget.
The defense’s resurgence, if only for one night, gives the Packers a shot in the arm, because they already know very few teams can outscore their offense. If they get a consistent performance from their defense, the talk of a perfect season is only going to intensify.
The defense faced some criticism last week after surrendering 38 points against San Diego. Granted, when you’re undefeated, everything is relative. But they just haven’t lived up to their own expectations.
“We understand here we are halfway through the season and the offense has been carrying us,” Matthews said. “It’s time to really take accountability for each and everyone’s actions. Everybody take care of their individual responsibility, and tonight is prime example of that coming to fruition.”
The Packers are a classic bend-but-don’t-break outfit. They entered Monday’s game ranked 30th in the NFL total defense and 31st in pass defense. But they were 18th in scoring defense and tied for second in the league in takeaways with 19, including 16 interceptions.
They like to gamble in the secondary. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Theories abound for why they’ve struggled.
Cornerback Charles Woodson spoke up last week, saying the defense needed to find a way to get Matthews free to the quarterback. Matthews had only three sacks in eight games as opposing offenses accounted for his whereabouts at all times.
Coach Mike McCarthy blamed some of the problems on a breakdown in communication. Whatever the case, the Packers got well against the Vikings, who managed only 266 total yards.
They held Adrian Peterson to only 51 yards rushing and gave Ponder fits with their constant pressure. Ponder completed only 16 of 34 passes for 190 yards with one interception.
The Packers sacked Ponder three times — two by Matthews — hit him six times and broke up eight passes. They swarmed and attacked all game.
The Vikings’ lone touchdown came after Packers punt returner Randall Cobb gift-wrapped a fumble deep in Minnesota territory. That was it.
“You can see how much drastically it makes our team better when the defense is operating on all cylinders and the offense is as well,” Matthews said.
Yes, that’s a formidable 1-2 punch indeed.
By Paul Imig, Fox Sports Wisconsin
~The Green Bay Packers (9-0) swept the season series with the Minnesota Vikings (2-7) for the second consecutive season with a 45-7 Monday Night beatdown at Lambeau Field.
Handing out grades following the Packers’ dominating victory:
Passing Offense: A
Aaron Rodgers was really good, but that’s almost to be expected at this point. Rodgers worked his way closer to NFL history with four touchdowns and no interceptions, extending his season numbers to 28 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
Rodgers completed 23 of 30 throws for 250 yards for an average of 8.33 yards per pass attempt and a passer rating of 140.3.
Rodgers continues to spread the ball around to his talented group of receivers, targeting Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings each five times, plus Jermichael Finley, Donald Driver and James Starks each with four passes. Nelson was on the receiving end of two touchdowns, while Jennings and fullback John Kuhn both had one.
With the game out of hand in the fourth quarter, backup QB Matt Flynn came in and completed both of his pass attempts for 38 yards, including a 31-yard connection with Finley.
Flynn led the offense to as many touchdown drives (one) as the Vikings had the entire game.
Rushing Offense: B-
It’s a good thing the Packers offense has Rodgers because the running game continues to be an average attack.
Even with opposing defenses playing for the pass, the running game averaged less than 3 yards per carry in the game.
James Starks had 63 yards on 13 carries (4.8 average) and has made it apparent he is the team’s most effective running back.
Ryan Grant was given eight running attempts and gained only six yards (0.8 average).
Rodgers also ran six times for 21 yards.
The lone touchdown run was by Flynn in the fourth quarter, who scrambled into the end zone from three yards out.
Rushing Defense: A-
This was a much improved outing against Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson, who Clay Matthews called “the best running back in the league.”
Three weeks ago in the first Packers-Vikings matchup, Peterson ran for 175 yards on 24 carries (7.3 average). In the rematch, Peterson had only 51 yards on 14 attempts (3.6 average).
Minnesota trailed all but the first five minutes of the game and Peterson can’t be nearly as effective with the Vikings playing from behind. But considering his ability to break a huge run at any time, having Peterson’s longest run be for 13 yards is an accomplishment for the Packers’ run defense.
Passing Defense: A-
Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder was kept off balance by an aggressive, blitzing Green Bay attack. Ponder completed 16 of 34 passes for 190 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.
Clay Matthews picked up his fourth and fifth sacks of the season by taking down Ponder, while Tramon Williams intercepted a deep flea-flicker attempt.
Considering that Ponder is a rookie quarterback in only his third career start (two of which came against the Packers), Green Bay came in with the right strategy by making Ponder uncomfortable in the pocket.
Special Teams: B-
Randall Cobb showed the good and the bad in the same night. The rookie took a punt return back 80 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter to give the Packers a 7-0 lead. But then, in the third quarter, Cobb muffed a punt inside the 20 yard line that the Vikings recovered. This led to Minnesota’s only points of the game as Peterson ran in a touchdown on a shortened field.
So, while Cobb became the first rookie in Packers history to return both a kick and punt for a touchdown in the same season, he also fumbled in the return game for the third time this season.
With Rodgers and the offense playing so well, it’s more important for Cobb to avoid turnovers than it is for him to make a spectacular return.
Mason Crosby continued his perfect season with a 25-yard field goal.
The Packers’ defensive performance was inspired and looked like a group that is ready to make a push for a second consecutive Super Bowl.
Rodgers continues at a record-setting pace and Green Bay’s offense continues to be the highest-scoring and most efficient in the NFL.
With the Vikings season pretty much on the line, the Packers buried their division rival at Lambeau Field in embarrassing fashion and looked dominant in doing so. The Packers have now won 15 consecutive games dating back to December 2010.
If the defense continues to play this aggressively, this team could be even better than it was during last season’s remarkable playoff run. That is a scary thought for the rest of the NFL.
The big challenge now will be playing three games in 11 days, with a home game against Tampa Bay on Sunday before the Packers head to Detroit on very short rest to play the Lions.
Original article here
By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider senior editor
• For the fourth time this season, the Packers deferred the ball after winning the coin toss. For the first time, the Packers’ defense stopped the opponent. The first three times, Capers’ defense allowed a touchdown on the opening drive.
• 9 Straight games this season in which Rodgers has thrown at least two touchdown passes, breaking the single-season team record of eight set by Brett Favre in 1994.
• 23 Consecutive regular-season field goals, dating to last season, made by Mason Crosby, who made a 25-yarder in his only attempt against the Vikings.
~GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers was just fine sharing the spotlight with the Green Bay Packers defense. Thrilled, actually.
If the Packers now can field a dependable defense along with their trademark high-octane offense, they just might be unstoppable.
The Packers (9-0) remain the NFL’s lone undefeated team – not that Rodgers is quite ready to ponder the possibility of a perfect season.
“I’m sure there will be, obviously, more pressure, more scrutiny from the outside of this locker room,” Rodgers said. “But we’ve got a good locker room.”
Rodgers threw four touchdown passes against a fierce Vikings pass rush, Randall Cobb returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown and the Packers defense contained Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings in a 45-7 victory on Monday night.
“It’s (our) best game, because of the margin of victory,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “And at the end of the day, it’s about points.”
Green Bay’s defense came into the game giving up nearly 300 yards passing per game, second-most in the NFL. Their last time out, the Packers nearly blew a big lead in the fourth quarter at San Diego, holding on for a 45-38 victory.
The Packers finally played to their potential against the division rival Vikings (2-7), holding rookie quarterback Christian Ponder to 190 yards passing with an interception and limiting Peterson to 51 yards and a touchdown.
“I felt as a defense we owed it to ourselves to play a game like that,” cornerback Charles Woodson said. “Owed it to our fans, our team, especially our offense who’s been playing out of their minds this year. We needed a game like that. It feels good, but it’s still one game.”
Worse yet for the Vikings, they may be without cornerback Antoine Winfield because of a broken clavicle, according to coach Leslie Frazier. Monday’s game was Winfield’s first since sustaining a neck injury.
The Vikings’ defense did its best to rough up Rodgers, sacking him three times and hitting him hard virtually every time he took off running. Defensive end Jared Allen harassed Rodgers at every turn.
The pressure didn’t force any uncharacteristic mistakes from Rodgers, who was 23 of 30 for 250 yards without an interception. Rodgers threw a pair of touchdown passes to Jordy Nelson , and also found Greg Jennings and John Kuhn for scores.
“Our performance tonight was very disappointing,” Frazier said.
Allen didn’t need anybody to recite Rodgers’ gaudy stats.
“I don’t even know what that means,” Allen said. “All I know is he crushed us tonight.”
McCarthy put backup quarterback Matt Flynn in the game with 10:30 left in the fourth quarter – and the Vikings couldn’t keep him out of the end zone, either, as he scrambled 3 yards for a touchdown with 4:27 left.
But it was Cobb, a second-round rookie out of Kentucky, who got it all started for the Packers.
After the Packers’ defense forced the Vikings to go three-and-out on their first possession, Cobb fielded a punt from Chris Kluwe and squeezed through a seam in the middle of the field.
Cobb accelerated down the left sideline and danced the final few steps into the end zone, tossing the ball in the air as if he was shooting a basketball before doing a “Lambeau leap” into the stands.
Cobb also had a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the Packers’ season opener against the New Orleans Saints .
“I guess when the lights come on my tempo and my game speed goes up,” Cobb said. “But I’ve got to get to where I’m doing it every game.”
Rodgers finally got the ball and directed an 11-play, 70-yard drive that included conversions on third-and-8, to Donald Driver , and third-and-7, to running back James Starks . Rodgers then finished the drive with a perfect pass to Jennings in the middle of the field for a touchdown, and the Packers led 14-0.
With the Vikings driving near the end of the first quarter, Woodson wrestled a ball away from Visanthe Shiancoe for what initially was ruled an interception. Frazier challenged the call and it was overturned, giving Ryan Longwell a shot at a 47-yard field goal.
But the Vikings committed a penalty, and Longwell came up just short on a 52-yard attempt.
Rodgers then put together another drive, and Rodgers hit tight end Jermichael Finley for 25 yards on a fourth-and-5 conversion attempt at the Vikings 34-yard line. Allen sacked Rodgers on first-and-goal, and the Packers ended up settling for a 25-yard field goal by Mason Crosby to take a 17-0 lead with 12:04 left before halftime.
Ponder then threw an interception to Packers cornerback Tramon Williams , misfiring on a deep ball after a flea-flicker toss back from Peterson.
Rodgers was sharp on the first possession of the second half, leading an eight-play, 69-yard drive that included a fourth-down conversion to Nelson.
Rodgers found Nelson on the right sideline two plays later, Nelson threw a stiff arm at Vikings cornerback Cedric Griffin and broke free for a touchdown, giving the Packers a commanding 24-0 lead with 10:45 left in the third quarter.
The Packers forced another punt but Cobb fumbled, and the Vikings recovered deep in Packers territory.
Ponder threw to Percy Harvin , then handed to Peterson for a 3-yard touchdown up the middle. The Vikings cut the Packers’ lead to 24-7 with 8:41 left in the third quarter.
Cobb then made up for his mistake with a long kickoff return to give the ball to the Packers at midfield. Rodgers led yet another precision drive, finishing it off with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Kuhn for a 31-7 lead.
Notes: Cobb’s return was the Packers’ first punt return for a touchdown since November 2008. … Including the playoffs, the Packers have won 15 straight games dating back to last season, the longest such streak in team history. … . … Monday’s attendance was 70,519.
Full story here
By Patrick Reussee, Star-Tribune
~The QB’s fire is visible as far away as Israel, where a displaced cheesehead admires how he waited out the Favre drama for his chance.
Garland Green was sitting in his condo in Netanya, Israel, drinking coffee and looking at the Mediterranean Sea, when his cell phone went off early Saturday morning.
Three years earlier, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was getting ready to make his first regular-season start for the Green Bay Packers in a Monday night opener against the Vikings.
There had been months of drama, starting with Brett Favre’s tearful retirement announcement in March 2008, and his affirmation of that retirement when the Packers went to Mississippi to make sure, and his attempt to return to Green Bay, and finally his trade to the New York Jets on Aug. 6.
Rodgers was the man in the middle of this. He was taken with the 24th overall pick in 2005 and waited three years as Favre’s backup. He was the player taking the heat when the Packers decided to put Favre’s machinations behind them and move on.
On that Monday afternoon, in the parking lots across from Lambeau Field, the Packers fans milled — and did so wearing thousands of Favre No. 4 jerseys in green and gold.
There were also several sightings of Jets jerseys bearing Favre’s name and No. 4. And in the tailgating area where I was talking to fans there was a single Packers jersey with Rodgers’ No. 12. It was being worn by Garland Green, then of Menomonie, Wis.
“Wearing this jersey is a statement,” Green said on that afternoon. “It’s a reminder to people that Aaron Rodgers is a young man who doesn’t want anything more than a chance to play.
“He waited for three years behind Brett, and then got caught up in the middle of an unbelievably chaotic situation that was none of his making.
“He’s our quarterback, and I’m going to cheer for him, and I wish the whiners would grow up and do the same.”
Several folks nearby in Favre jerseys heard the “whiners” reference and started hooting at Green. There was widespread ridicule at the idea this Rodgers lad had a chance to be a worthy replacement for Favre — not that night, not ever.
Now, halfway through Rodgers’ fourth season as the quarterback, and talking on cell phone from Israel, Green was asked to recall what it was like to be a Packers fan with a Rodgers jersey in 2008.
“It was ugly,” he said. “The Favre-ians were out of control. It’s too bad what they put that young man through.
“As much of a hard time as some of my Packer friends gave me, I knew I was right about Rodgers. I had seen him play in the preseason. I saw talent, I saw toughness, I saw confidence.”
Green paused. Presumably, he sipped his coffee and took another gaze at the sea.
“You know what I really liked about Rodgers?” Green said. “He had a chip on his shoulder. He had to wait three years to play, and he didn’t like that.
“I spent six years in the Marine Corps. I know what it’s like to look in the eyes of someone with a chip on his shoulder.
“Rodgers plays with that every week. All the great things that have happened for him with the Packers, I think it still motivates him — having to wait to play, and how he was treated by people when he first got the chance to play.
“Oh, yeah. Look at him. There’s something burning inside that guy.”
Green was able to secure tickets with friend Jeff Glessing for the Packers’ Super Bowl victory in Dallas on Feb. 6. They wore sombreros and Packers ponchos, adorned with cheeseheads. A photo of the pair was taken by Reuters and appeared on numerous websites and in newspapers.
The Favre-ians were mute. In three seasons, Rodgers had equaled Favre’s number of Super Bowl championships at one. It was with complete vindication that Green could start a new job in July:
Full story here
By Rob Reischel, Journal-Sentinel
~Green Bay – Jordy Nelson knows it’s there, even if some believe the topic should be taboo.
When Nelson, a Green Bay Packer wide receiver, comes to the line of scrimmage, opposing cornerbacks see a tall, lanky player. A farm kid from Kansas who’s certainly not going to beat you with his initial quickness.
Oh, and one more thing.
“To be honest, guys try me a lot because I’m white,” Nelson said. “I’m definitely not trying to make it a racial thing, but it’s the truth. And they can be fooled all they want, as long as it keeps going.”
Here’s what Nelson has going.
In Nelson’s last 10 regular season games, he’s caught five passes of at least 50 yards and four of those have gone for touchdowns.
He also is averaging 19.7 yards per catch, which is third in the NFL among players with at least 20 receptions and the best mark by a Packer regular since Walter Stanley in 1986 (20.7).
Nelson is third on the Packers in receptions (29), second in yards (570) and tied for second in touchdown catches (five). And to the surprise of many, Nelson has become a dangerous deep threat during a breakout season.
“He’s just a guy that continues to grow, continues to improve and that’s the goal,” Packer receivers coach Edgar Bennett said. “He has very good speed . . . and I think he’s able to take advantage of that and get behind people.”
Nelson’s deep speed is perhaps the most surprising element surrounding this former all-American at Kansas State.
After Nelson’s junior year, he ran the 40-yard dash in a pedestrian 4.60 seconds for NFL scouts. What Nelson didn’t tell most people, though, was he played through that entire season with an injured posterior cruciate ligament and wasn’t healthy when scouts visited campus that year.
Nelson was 100% as a senior and he became an Internet sensation when he ran away from Kansas’ Aqib Talib – the top cornerback in America – on a 68-yard touchdown reception.
And at the NFL combine, Nelson ran a far more respectable 4.50, 40-yard dash.
“Some guys are probably faster more than they are quick,” said the 6-foot-3 Nelson. “That’s probably me.”
Still, the “possession receiver” label seemed to fit Nelson, considering he averaged 13.7 yards per catch at Kansas State and 11.8 yards per catch his first 45 games as a Packer.
But the last 10 regular season games have been a completely different story. Nelson has 35 receptions for 733 yards and an average of 20.9 yards per catch.
“Some of it is right place, right time,” Packer offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “Right coverage, right play call. And obviously he’s doing a very good job.
“He’s got very good breakaway speed; he can finish a play off. Not sure he’s doing anything totally different than what he was doing before.
“He’s always been a high-effort player and a detail-oriented player. Certainly you hope as a player matures he gets better and improves.”
Nelson has done that. And in the past 11 months, here’s how he’s punished defenses with a series of big plays.
Week 16, 2010: Midway through the first quarter of a must-win game against the New York Giants, the nickel back bit on play-action pass and Nelson split the two safeties for an 80-yard TD. The Packers rolled to a 45-17 win.
“I was just able to go right between the safeties,” Nelson said.
Week 2, 2011: Green Bay led, 23-16, at Carolina late in the game and was pinned at its own 16-yard line.
Nelson beat cornerback Captain Munnerlyn on a deep slant, raced to the left sideline, then pulled away from Munnerlyn and safety Sherrod Martin for an 84-yard TD.
The Packers went on to a 30-23 win.
Week 4: Nelson ran a……. Full story here
From Tyler Dunne, Journal-Sentinel
~San Diego – He refused to force a smile and assure that everything would be OK. No damage control here. Charles Woodson wasn’t in the mood for sugarcoating, for putting a bow on the Green Bay Packers’ 45-38 win at San Diego.
After 14 years in the NFL, the Green Bay Packer cornerback realizes problems like this cannot be ignored.
“I’ll always be happy about a win, but the way we went out there and played defense today was disappointing from a lot of different aspects,” Woodson said. “Just a lot of bad football.”
Another win, another day surrendering 400-plus yards. The Packers held off a rally to stay undefeated Sunday. Fresh off the bye week, nothing changed. Death, taxes, Aaron Rodgers’ near-perfect play and a secondary offsetting sloppy stretches with turnovers.
After nearly blowing a 21-point fourth quarter lead, the elephant in the room is louder than ever.
Three plays – a pair of first-quarter interceptions returned for touchdowns and Charlie Peprah’s game-closing pick – were the difference.
Yes, 3 of 46 Philip Rivers passes. Can the Packers realistically continue to give up so many passing yards and return to the Super Bowl? That’s the concern Green Bay must continue to manage.
In San Diego, there were far too many communication breakdowns. Before snaps, arms flailed, players moved. There were plenty of signals, audibles and adjusting. But there were not consistent stops. Rivers threw for 385 yards on 26-of-46 passing with four touchdowns.
“I didn’t like way we responded in adversity times,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “After the onside kick, they went out and scored in three plays. You don’t ever want that.
“Overall, the areas we have to improve on the most, we’ve got to do a better job in communication. You’re on the road; we’re playing a good offensive football team. We knew going in that they were going to be a challenge.”
No Super Bowl team in recent memory has given up this many big plays in the passing game.
The last 10 Super Bowl champions have finished fifth (Green Bay), 26th (New Orleans), first (Pittsburgh), 11th (New York Giants), second (Indianapolis), 16th (Pittsburgh), 17th (New England), 15th (New England), first (Tampa Bay) and 24th (New England) against the pass.
That 2009 Saints team may be the best comparison. Dom Capers and Gregg Williams boast distinctly different schemes, but Williams was able to cloak problems in his secondary with pressure, blitzes and confusion.
New Orleans allowed 236 passing yards per game – 64 less than the Packers’ current average – but compensated with turnovers.
Recall, as joyous as it may be for you, that ’09 NFC title game. Brett Favre was the Shane Mosley to Williams’ Manny Pacquiao. He passed for 310 yards but was pressured nine times and hit seven times.
Favre wasn’t sacked but the pressure eventually took a toll as the future Hall of Famer threw a costly interception at the end of the fourth quarter.
En route to that championship, the Saints knocked off three of the game’s elite quarterbacks – Kurt Warner, Favre and Peyton Manning. A poor pass defense was on the stand weekly, and survived.
So that’s what the Packers are banking on. The Saints didn’t magically cure their pass defense mid-season and it didn’t matter. They found other ways to pester offenses. The Saints had 26 interceptions in the regular season and then stifled Favre and Manning in crunch time. They remained opportunistic all season. In Green Bay, Tracy Porter heroism must continue.
And Capers may need to continue blitzing (a lot) more. The last few weeks, he’s done that.
Linebacker Desmond Bishop leads the team in sacks (four) and said afterward the defense may need to keep pressuring. Don’t be surprised if Capers gets creative against Christian Ponder and the Vikings on Monday night.
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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.