By Thomas Silverstein, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
~GREEN BAY – It’s not as if Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers will have a mutiny on their hands if they don’t commit to running the ball more, but if they remain pass-happy they better be prepared for frustration to boil over as it did after the Green Bay Packers’ 30-27 loss to Indianapolis Sunday.
Both guards, T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton, made sharp comments after the game questioning the scarcity of run plays called in a game the Packers led, 21-3, at halftime.
They felt Colts pass rushers were able to keep their engines revved the entire second half, knowing there wouldn’t be any reason to throttle down for a run play. In all, McCarthy and Rodgers – the quarterback often has freedom to change McCarthy’s call from pass to run or vice versa at the line of scrimmage – called 25 pass plays to just six runs in the second half.
The result was a sack-fest that saw Rodgers go down five times and the Packers manage six points.
“I think we were both definitely frustrated after the game,” Lang said. “I think we both probably said some things that we didn’t really mean. I think we have to just take more advantage of the (run) opportunities when they’re called.
“Coach always talks about practice (performance); I agree with him. I think we have to give him that confidence in the run game. There’s been times in practice that it really hasn’t looked the way it’s supposed to.”
On Sunday, McCarthy and Rodgers didn’t give the line very many opportunities to prove itself after starter Cedric Benson left with a foot injury. The Packers didn’t run the ball until their third possession of the second half when the Colts had crawled back into the game, 21-13.
Green gained minus-2 yards on three carries during the eight-play drive. He had two more carries before busting off a 41-yard run with 4 minutes 44 seconds left, setting up the Packers for a go-ahead touchdown.
“That’s a tough situation to get into and I think that’s where the frustration came out of,” center Jeff Saturday said. “But ultimately, as an offense, whatever the play is we have to make the best of it.”
Three years ago, a similar thing happened with the line after an embarrassing loss against winless Tampa. During an offensive meeting, players were allowed to clear the air and Rodgers and the linemen expressed their expectations of each other.
The Packers won seven of their last eight to make the playoffs.
None of the offensive linemen interviewed Wednesday said anything like that happened this week. They said their job is to carry out the play given to them and that there was no need for a gripe session.
“It’s not really in our place to say anything,” Sitton said. “We’re just kind of the worker bees; do what we’re told and try to do the best we can.”
Benson was put on injured reserve Wednesday, which raises doubt whether McCarthy will trust Green and oft-injured James Starks to carry the ball against a hard-to-crack Houston Texans defense that ranks ninth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed.
But how much success can he have throwing the ball 70% of the time against a defense that also ranks fourth in sacks. The one thing the linemen would prefer not to see is a bunch of Texans pass rushers tearing loose every play as the indoor crowd makes it next to impossible to hear anything.
“We have to go back to what makes us good and I think offensive line-wise you always feel better when you’re balanced,” Saturday said. “I think that’s where the frustration came.
“It puts a ton of pressure on you up front when everybody in the building knows: This is what you got. I mean, everybody criticizes you for giving up pressures and sacks, but when everybody in the building knows (what you’re going to do), it’s tough.”
The Packers rank 31st in sacks allowed per play. Some of the sacks are their fault, some are the receivers’ fault for not getting open and some are Rodgers’ fault for holding on to the ball too long.
Somehow, they have to figure out a solution or the 2-3 start to the season is going to be 2-5 by the time their three-game road stand is complete.
“I’m going to try to find ways to get us in good situations on Sunday and make the smart plays,” Rodgers said. “I think as a whole, we just need to be entering the game on Sunday with a greater urgency of how badly we need to play well this week.”
McCarthy has not given anyone – at least publicly – any assurances that he’ll run the ball more than he did against Colts, but Rodgers said he understands what balance means not only to the line but the entire offense.
Like McCarthy, Rodgers has to have trust in Green and Starks, so that if the Texans are leaning too much toward defending a particular pass play, he’s willing to check out of it and give the ball to his back. It was easier to do when an eighth-year veteran like Benson was behind him.
“Obviously, with Ced in there, we wanted to give him some opportunities – 15 to 20 rushes, bare minimum,” Rodgers said. “I think it (his absence) makes the backfield more of a running back by committee with Alex and James and Brandon (Saine).
“But we’re still going to try to have balance – probably more than we have in the past.”
Lang said that the linemen talked about their frustration and decided that they have to prove to McCarthy that they can consistently create movement up front so Green and Starks can be successful. He said it would start with practice Thursday, the only day the team is in pads.
Full story here
By Jason Wilde, ESPN Wisconsin
~GREEN BAY – Maybe Cedric Benson plays again this year, maybe he doesn’t. Maybe the injured Green Bay Packers running back returns in time to help with a playoff push, maybe he doesn’t. He’ll at least have that chance after the team placed him on injured reserve with the designation of possible return later in the year.
In the interim, however, this much is certain: The Packers will need Alex Green, James Starks or Brandon Saine to step up and help the scuffling offense by being a legitimate threat running the ball. And coach Mike McCarthy doesn’t care which one it is – he’s just hoping one of them comes through.
After announcing that Benson had been placed on the new IR list – which will allow him to return to practice in six weeks and play after eight weeks, if he’s cleared medically – the coach said Green will start Sunday night against the Houston Texans because he is the only one of the three running backs to have taken a regular-season snap from scrimmage this season. Starks hasn’t been active since suffering a turf toe injury at San Diego in the Aug. 9 preseason opener, and Saine has been limited only to special teams duty.
“I have no time for competition. We’re going to take the hot hand,” McCarthy said after practice Wednesday. “Alex and James both got reps today (with the starters) and so did Brandon Saine. The first carry will be Alex Green. He’s a little farther ahead than James is right now and that’s the way we’ll go. But we have three halfbacks and we’ll utilize all three of them.”
Green hasn’t played a ton – according to ProFootballFocus.com, Benson has taken 200 offensive snaps this season, compared to Green’s 29, all but two of which came against the Colts after Benson’s injury – but he knows this is his chance after missing most of his rookie season last year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
“It’s definitely an exciting opportunity for me. Not always good when somebody else gets hurt, but the opportunity presented itself and I understand that,” said Green, who carried nine times for 55 yards against the Colts, with 41 yards coming on a late explosive run that set up the Packers’ go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. “(I’m) not really nervous. I just feel comfortable, coming in with the offense. Come in here, try to get a win and get this thing going.
“I feel good. I feel confident. That’s the most important thing about being a running back is confidence.”
It’s unclear how committed the Packers will be to the ground game without Benson, who carried 71 times for 248 yards (3.5-yard average) before suffering a Lisfranc injury in his left foot against the Colts. When McCarthy fed Benson the ball, he delivered with 81 yards on 20 carries against Chicago on Sept. 13 and 84 yards on 18 carries against New Orleans on Sept. 30. He’d carried seven times for 20 yards against the Colts before the injury.
Given that McCarthy struck an optimistic chord about Benson returning later in the season, it’s unlikely that the injury will require surgery.
“We’re definitely optimistic. We feel that he can come back,” McCarthy said. “A foot sprain is definitely a tough injury to come back from, but within that time frame we feel that he definitely has a chance. His history would tell you that he is going to come back and just with my time being around him, he’s a true pro. He’s been excellent. He spends a lot of time in the weight room. I could see him being one of those guys that comes back and plays the last four weeks of the season.”
In the interim, the Packers are down to the three backs they appeared comfortable with throughout the offseason, when the team opted not to draft a running back or re-sign veteran Ryan Grant, who split time with Starks last season and was on the street until signing with Washington last month.
“It’s tough. Ced’s been great for us. He’s been a leader, he’s had a great attitude, he’s been a great example for those young guys about what a professional looks like,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
“With him on the shelf for a while, James Starks hops back in the mix, Alex Green ran the ball well when he had opportunities, and Brandon Saine has a lot of fans in the locker room and on the third floor and everybody’s excited about him and his opportunity. Those three guys will get some chances and we expect them to play well.
“Obviously, with Ced in there, we wanted to give him some opportunities – 15 to 20 rushes, bare minimum. I think it makes the backfield more of a running-back-by-committee with Alex and James and Brandon, but we’re still going to try to have balance — probably more than we have in the past.”
By Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk/NBC Sports
~Buried at the very bottom of an article regarding the problem with yellow flags that’s plaguing a team whose fans wear large yellow foam hats is a contention that borders on the outlandish.
“It’s definitely on us as players,” an unnamed Packer told Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “But I think the refs are out to get us this year.”
Making that over-the-top remark even more over the top is the fact that there have been two completely different sets of refs this year. And the real refs, who have been back for two weeks after the lockout ended, have no reason to be “out to get” the Packers, for two major reasons.
First, it was a game-deciding call against the Packers that paved the way for the real refs to get paid. Second, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was one of the few voices loudly complaining about the replacement officials, which if anything would make the real officials less inclined to stick it to the Packers.
So those nine penalties for 89 yards against the Colts, including a roughing-the-passer call on linebacker Nick Perry that was despite objections a great call, surely were deserved. As were the seven penalties for 43 yards against the Saints.
Bottom line? We’ll never cease to be amazed by the extent to which some folks will warp reality in the hopes of blaming someone else for things that are their own fault. The Packers, so far, are a shadow of the team they were last year. And they’re not going to get any better if players actually believe their struggles trace not to the men in green and gold but to the men in black and white.
Florio’s ignorant garbage here
By Kareem Copeland, NFL.com
~Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was brutally honest about the issues slowing down the Green Bay offense. The reigning MVP took responsibility for his own play on his radio show with Jason Wilde on 540 AM in Milwaukee.
“I haven’t played as well as the expectations are, obviously,” Rodgers said. “The ones I put on myself, I like to think are as high or higher than the ones people outside put on me. It’s interesting to look at the stats for what they are and think I’m not playing my best football right now.
“I set the bar high and I expect to play at a higher level. Been making just some mistakes I’m not used to making. Throwing the ball to the other team, I’ve done that four times already. … Uncharacteristic of the way I’ve played. … Missed some throws I’m accustomed to hitting. Haven’t played the way of the standard I’ve set.
“My solemn promise is I’m gong to work every day to get better. I’m going to clean up some of the things I’m not doing as well as I should. But, the proof is in the pudding. Right now I’m not getting it done. I’ve got to look at myself first.
“I can tell you nothing has slipped in the way of preparation or the way that I practice or the energy and leadership that I take to it. Which is probably the most frustrating thing. You can’t really point to one thing. I just haven’t performed as well on Sundays as I’m used to performing.”
Coach Mike McCarthy told reporters he hasn’t been happy with practices, and Rodgers agreed “in some respects.”
“For whatever reason, the rookies have not picked up what the practice tempo looks like or the importance to the scout-team looks as well as maybe it’s been in the past,” Rodgers said. “I know my role at practice is I’ve got to bring energy and I’ve got to bring life to that practice and I have to be moving around well. It’s tough some days when you’re tired … but there’s really no excuses when it comes to the quarterback position and making sure you’re doing every role you’re called on to the best of your ability.
“That being said, there needs to be a level of professionalism that’s current through the whole team from the veterans to the rookies.”
The gist is: There’s not one thing to point to with Packers‘ struggles. There’s a lot of smaller issues that have led to the larger problem and a 2-3 record. Those issues just weren’t present in 2010 and 2011.
Full story here
By Pete Dougherty, Green Bay Press-Gazette
~Five years into Jermichael Finley’s NFL career, there’s still no telling whether he’ll end up more like Jackie Harris or Keith Jackson.
For those too young to know, Harris was a gifted tight end with the Packers in the early 1990s. He could stretch the field and make rare plays. He signed a lucrative contract when he left the Packers in free agency in 1994 and overall had a productive and long (12-year) NFL career. Yet, he never became the consistently game-changing player his talent suggested he might.
Jackson was another gifted tight end who had a decorated career with Philadelphia, Miami and, after Harris left, with the Packers. He was first-team All-Pro three times and a Pro Bowler five times. He didn’t put up the staggering numbers premier tight ends routinely do today, but he was a difference maker whose addition was a big factor in getting the Packers over the hump in their Super Bowl title season of 1996. There’s also a convincing case that had Jackson not retired after that championship, the Packers might have been better than Denver in the Super Bowl the next season.
Now there’s Finley, the team’s latest gifted tight end. Late in 2009 and early 2010, his second and third seasons in the NFL, he appeared on his way to becoming one of the game’s elite players at his position and the keystone of the Packers’ offense. But after a Week 5 cartilage injury and subsequent infection in his knee in 2010, he’s had good but not great production, a surprising problem with drops, and an inconsistent impact on opposing defenses.
The question is, why in his fifth season isn’t the 25-year-old Finley in the discussion with Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis and Dan Gronkowski for best tight end in the NFL?
For starters, we have to note that a game-changing receiver or tight end can impact a game not just by making plays, but by changing defensive game plans. Finley has occupied defenses more than the average starting tight end, and that has opened the game for other players.
One scout this week said teams still have been paying extra attention to Finley this season, though not as much as in the past. Defenses have have been doubling him with a safety in the red zone but less so on the rest of the field.
Big statistics don’t tell the whole story either. Finley plays on a team with quality depth at receiver, so his chances of catching, say, 85 or 90 passes aren’t as good as some tight ends. But it’s also worth noting that Graham caught 99 passes last season, and it’s hard to argue the Packers’ receiving corps is any better than the Saints’ was in 2011.
In any event, Finley last season had 55 receptions, a 13.9-yard average per catch, eight touchdowns and, depending on who’s counting, either 11 or 12 drops. Through four games this year, he has 19 catches, a 9.8-yard average, one touchdown and four drops. That’s a pace of 76 receptions, 748 yards, four touchdowns and 16 drops over a full season.
Those numbers are fine but not great. He’s affecting game plans, but not like last season and definitely not like in ‘10. Scouts say the ability is there, but good luck finding one who will rank him near Graham, Gronkowski and Davis, among others.
Finley’s main problem has been drops. He’s had an astonishing number (15) over the last 20 regular-season games for a player who appears to have such natural hands. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Finley’s 17.9 percent drop rate last season was twice Gronkowski’s (8.2 percent) and three times Davis’ (6.9 percent) and Graham’s (5.4 percent).
Coaches and quarterbacks place the highest of priorities on reliability, and drops are a sure way to erode their confidence in you.
Several factors can affect a player’s performance, anything from lingering physical or psychological issues from the knee injury to maturity issues to off-field strains.
At the top of the list, though, it might be as simple as this: He’s pressing.
The take here is that Finley has been undermining himself since 2010 with his ongoing public campaign of Year of the Takeover (YOTTO) and the like. He’s a major presence on Twitter, where he has 150,000 followers and often uses a #YOTTO hash tag. He sells YOTTO t-shirts on his website. He’s usually willing to tweet or talk publicly about how well he expects to play, and he’s often demonstrative when he makes a catch.
So when the drops started, it can’t have played well in the locker room, where teammates are aware of his high profile, as are the fans at Lambeau Field, who turn on him more and more quickly. He surely can sense the reactions, so with each error the pressure escalates.
Finley insists he’s naturally confident and outgoing, and that he engages regularly in Twitter because he enjoys interacting with fans.
“Not pressing, not at all,” he said this week. “I’ve been doing me, that’s something I always did. It’s just the game of football. I’m not always going to have eight catches for 150 yards, some days I’m going to have zero catches. I’m playing a game I love, and I’m not pressing.”
The Packers’ coaching staff always has supported Finley publicly to the hilt, and tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said he doesn’t think Finley is pressing, either.
“My perception is that you have a young kid who’s very enthusiastic and energetic and wants to play well,” Fontenot said this week. “I’ll take a player like that each and every day. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to get better.”
But the feeling here is that Finley is undermining himself by continuing the high profile, that he is pressing, and that it’s a factor in his drops, including the pass he bobbled and then had dislodged by a defender in the end zone last week against New Orleans.
“He needs to get off Twitter and all that stuff for a while and just play,” said a high-profile former NFL player.
As for other factors, this week a couple of scouts and former players suggested that with some talented players, it’s whether “the light goes on.”
The light can be different things for different players.
In Harris’ case, it never went on because he never acquired the toughness to be at his best in the NFL. He never came to grips with the mental and physical sacrifices he might have to make to be great.
For T.J. Lang, the Packers’ starting left guard, it was realizing he couldn’t go out to the bars two or three nights a week and play his best football.
Rest of story here
By Tom Silverstein, Journal-Sentinel
~GREEN BAY – When he arrives with the Green Bay Packers to Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday in Indianapolis, center Jeff Saturday should feel right at home.
The 37-year-old Saturday played 13 seasons with the Colts, the last four under the roof of the 63,000-seat domed palace he and former teammates helped build. The 70 or so friends and family for whom he has bought tickets should provide even more comfort.
Back at his new home, the one for which he planted roots last March after signing a two-year, $7.75 million free agent contract, Saturday is still a visitor of sorts. Personally, it took no time for him to blend into the fabric of a Packers team one year removed from a Super Bowl championship, but professionally the assimilation is still going on.
Saturday played in a completely different offensive system in Indianapolis. It had different terminology and different ways of adjusting to defensive looks. It featured a different quarterback using a different system of communication.
“Football-wise, it’s taken some getting used to,” Saturday said as the Packers prepared to play the Colts Sunday. “I’m still learning. Each and every week you’re still piecing the thing together. It was interesting how that kind of plays out.”
The next three weeks are going to be critical because the Packers are going on a three-game road trip with two of the games – Indianapolis and St. Louis – played in a dome and the other – Houston – played in an indoor/outdoor venue where game-time weather conditions determine whether the roof will be closed.
One thing is for sure: The Packers can’t perform in those places as they did in Seattle two weeks ago.
Coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers pride themselves on being able to go into a loud, hostile environment and function almost as though they were at home. They stormed to a Super Bowl two years ago with victories at Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago in the playoffs.
They are 16-9 in their last 25 road games, including 7-2 in their last nine. They are 9-4 in dome games since 2009.
To go to Seattle and be as affected as they were by the noise is out of character, even if they were playing in arguably the loudest venue in the NFL. Giving up eight sacks in the first half made it seem as though they hadn’t ever played in front of a crowd.
Rodgers said a few days after the loss: “I think half of it had to be the noise. There was miscommunication on two or three of the sacks where half the line thinks it’s a four-man slide and the other half thinks it’s a three-man slide.”
Pinning the offense’s futility against the Seahawks on Saturday wouldn’t be fair or accurate.
However, it does reflect the transition the Packers are going through after six years with Scott Wells at center. Wells became a starter in 2006, two years before Rodgers took over the offense, and by the time the two came together they were already well-schooled in coach Mike McCarthy’s system.
Despite experience playing a fast-tempo, no-huddle offense like the Packers’, Saturday just doesn’t have the same time in with Rodgers and the offense. So when he identifies certain looks before the snap, his take on how to adjust the protection might not be the same as Rodgers’.
The same goes for the offensive linemen, who rely on him to make line calls as well as communicate with them when nobody can hear a thing.
“Things are a lot different,” right guard Josh Sitton said. “I think there’s a little more going on maybe than he was used to over there (in Indianapolis). All that is part of growing as a line together.
“We’ve made it a point of emphasis: Get better at communication. A lot of that is on the guards. If he has his head between his legs, he can’t see when there are adjustments and things like that. It puts a lot of stress on the guards to make those calls.”
Nevertheless, the center is the conductor and he has to make sure the line blocks the way Rodgers wants it. Saturday said he simply does not have the catalog of plays with Rodgers to react naturally when a defense gives a look that wasn’t covered much in practice.
“You can’t give (someone) five years of experience no matter who it is,” Saturday said. “It just doesn’t work like that. You can’t go, ‘Remember when we played Baltimore in ’07 and they did this look?’
“That’s what offensive linemen and quarterbacks can do so often. That’s the experience. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve played, you can’t go back to when you weren’t there.”
What’s more, with a silent count, there is a timing and rhythm to the center snap that everyone must get used to, especially since they can’t hear any signals. The Packers don’t divulge exactly how their silent count works, but it’s clear they developed a comfort zone with Wells and are still getting used to Saturday.
The Seattle game was the Packers’ first this season using the silent count with Saturday, so it’s not surprising there were some miscommunications. As a result and the fact the Colts have two fast outside rushers in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, McCarthy has adjusted practice this week.
“You’re playing in a dome on a fast surface with crowd noise,” McCarthy said. “Those are all the things that we’re preparing for. In the past, we really used to not get into crowd noise until Thursday and Friday, but we’re doing it from Wednesday all the way through because these guys definitely are special on the edge.
“It’s something that we are focused on.”
For Saturday, the Colts game will be a nice ride down memory lane, but hearing the cheers of appreciation from the crowd won’t be acknowledged until after the game. During it, he’ll be busy trying to communicate with his new friends.
Full story here
By Jude Wilbers FOX 11 Sports
~GREEN BAY – Last year the Packers defense led the league in takeaways, and the Packers offense routinely had long-scoring touchdowns. This year, those explosive plays have been in short supply.
Through four games the defense has four interceptions, all against Chicago, and hasn’t recovered a fumble yet, something that doesn’t sit well with the defensive players.
When asked whether opponents’ schemes had led to the lack of turnovers B.J. Raji said the fault lies within the defensive huddle.
“That’s on us,” said Raji. “You know especially with how the coaches stress turnovers and ball security. We’re obviously not doing a good enough job in that category.”
Rookie teammate Jerel Worthy agreed with as much as the team talks about takeaways the unit must be better.
“It has to be a point of emphasis,” said Worthy. “Any time you get two or three guys on the ball somebody’s got to be stripping at the ball. We’re a team that thrives on turnovers so we have to be big at those.”
The defense has also had its share of missed opportunities, like last Sunday when Tramon Williams and Morgan Burnett collided, likely costing the team an interception.
Williams addressed the issue after the game and said he wants to see his team remain aggressive.
“I would rather have two guys that are going for the ball rather than look at each other and have it fall between us,” he said.
“You don’t want to go out there guessing trying to force it to get interceptions”, said Burnett. “You need to trust your defense and if you’re in the right spot the interceptions will come.”
The 2011 Packers offense was defined by the big play, so far this year’s unit hasn’t been lacking but Aaron Rodgers says that’s something the unit has to deal with for now.
“We’re going to continue to take what the defense gives us,” said Rodgers.
Opposing defenses have made it a point of emphasis to take away according to Rodgers.
“If that’s a lot of umbrella coverages we’re going to have to take it the distance that’s what some teams are going to try and make us do,” Rodgers said.
“We’re just running what’s called and trying to make something happen with what’s there,” added wide receiver Jordy Nelson. “I think we kind of showed that last week with just running our basic stuff and winning the one-on-one battles.”
After four weeks of the regular season, punter Tim Masthay still owns the team’s longest touchdown pass of the season.
Full story here
By Thomas Silverstein, Journal-Sentinel
~ GREEN BAY – Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers isn’t as concerned about the number of yards his group is giving up as he is about its inability to get off the field.
In assessing the first quarter of the season, Capers said the missing link has been turnovers.
In losses to San Francisco and Seattle and a close shave Sunday against New Orleans, the Packers had neither an interception nor a forced fumble. Their only turnovers are the four interceptions they had of Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler in Week 2.
After four games last season, the Packers had forced 11 turnovers, and over Capers’ first three seasons, they had 28 total in the first four games. Part of getting off the field is taking the ball away, which has always been a hallmark of Capers defenses.
“You only get so many opportunities, so when you get them you have to convert them,” Capers said. “I feel good about our guys’ ability to do that. I think they’ll come because based out of the three years I’ve been here, I think we’ve been the leader or one of the leaders for getting the ball taken away, and that’s a big part of the game.”
The Packers gave up 474 yards in a 28-27 victory over the Saints and allowed the Drew Brees-led offense to convert 9 of 17 third downs, including 4 of 6 in the first half. They sacked Brees just twice on 56 passing attempts and hit him only two other times.
But they also had at least two opportunities to intercept passes, including one at the start of the fourth quarter that could have turned the game completely around.
Cornerback Charles Woodson undercut of a route by receiver Marques Colston on the first play of the second half.
Later, the Saints were at their own 9 with a 27-21 lead and just under 11 minutes left.
Brees’ throw to Colston hit linebacker D.J. Smith’s hands and popped in the air where cornerback Tramon Williams was in position to catch it. Safety Morgan Burnett also went for it and knocked it out of Williams’ hand.
“If D.J. catches that ball clean, he’s probably walking into the end zone, but that’s the way this game is,” Capers said.
The week before, safety Jerron McMillian intercepted Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, only to see it nullified when linebacker Erik Walden was called for roughing the passer. The Packers would have had the ball at the Seattle 26 with a chance to add to their 12-7 lead.
On the Seahawks’ game-winning drive, cornerback Sam Shields had a chance to make it so the replacement officials had no role in the final outcome, but on a deep pass to receiver Golden Tate, Shields jumped and had the ball go through his hands.
“As long as you continue to get around the ball,” Capers said. “We could’ve had two in Seattle. We could’ve had two to three yesterday, and we get those, we’re probably one of the leaders in the league. That’s stuff can change around in a real hurry.
“I think the key is as long as you have the elements, guys breaking to the ball and you’re getting consistent pressure on the quarterback, those things fit together. It’s going to change.”
In the meantime, Capers has to figure out how to get his players to perform better in zone coverages. Brees and his receivers seemed to know where every hole in the scheme was and in the second half got first downs on third and 17 and third and 14 on the same drive.
It’s no secret Williams, Shields and Woodson enjoy playing press coverage, but Capers believed he had to mix it up or face eliminating any element of surprise. Having two rookies and two third-year players in his often-used dime package adds to some of the zone principles being misplayed.
“I think a couple times yesterday when we played zones, we weren’t in great position,” Capers said. “Quite frankly through the first four games, we’ve played some zones extremely well. One of the reasons we had gotten off to a really good start on third downs the first three games was because we had people in a lot of third-and-long situations.
“I think you can go back and study the first three games, and maybe we lost once in a third-and-long situation. Yesterday, we lost a time or two in that, and you don’t want to do that.”
It did not help that the pass rush was close to non-existent because the Saints are very stout up the middle and used their backs and tight ends to chip on the linebackers. Combined with Brees getting the ball out in a hurry, it was a long day for Capers’ defense with the exception of a huge goal-line stand in the third quarter.
The question that remains unanswered is whether two ineffective days against Brees and 49ers quarterback Alex Smith are the norm and keeping a rookie like Russell Wilson in check or picking off the erratic Jay Cutler had less to do with the defense and more with the opponent.
Capers is playing five rookies – linebacker Nick Perry, defensive lineman Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels, cornerback Casey Hayward and McMillian – and he’s counting on them to improve as time goes on. It’s on him and his staff to make sure they develop quickly and contribute to the defense getting better.
“As always there’s an awful lot of things to coach off this tape,” Capers said. “You’re going against one of the top quarterbacks in the league, you know it’s a challenge going in.
“And so especially with the number of young guys we have and the speed of the game and the type of matchup issues they create with (Jimmy) Graham, their tight end, and (Darren) Sproles, their running back, and a good group of receivers, there was a lot we can learn from this game.”
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By Tyler Dunne of the Milwuakee Journal Sentinel
~GREEN BAY – Mike McCarthy, Aaron Rodgers and all of the Green Bay Packers’ receivers are getting used to an offense without Greg Jennings. Dating to last December, injuries have hounded the team’s top receiver.
Last year, a knee injury derailed his season. This year, he can’t shake a groin injury.
After Jennings’ groin injury flared up again in Sunday’s 28-27 win over the New Orleans Saints, McCarthy said Monday that shutting the receiver down for a week is “definitely an option.”
“He could not open up all the way into a full stride,” the Packers coach said. “So, I would think we are back where we were a couple weeks ago. We’ll see how he is Wednesday. He’ll go through the rehab process and then we’ll learn more there.
“We feel like the same thing has happened to him now twice.”
Unlike previous games – such as the loss at Kansas City last year and win over Chicago this year – Jennings’ absence wasn’t felt Sunday. Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb played larger roles and combined for 215 yards on 20 receptions with three touchdowns as Jennings sat out the entire second half.
McCarthy’s innovation with Cobb continued, as the second-year receiver took one shovel pass 17 yards. Jones had two touchdown catches and the game-clinching, trapeze-act 8-yarder. And Nelson was prioritized as the go-to weapon, burning cornerback Patrick Robinson throughout his eight-catch, 93-yard day.
After getting bullied in Seattle, McCarthy wanted to see more physical play from his receivers. That was the case Sunday. On his go-ahead score, Nelson bulled through Robinson and safety Corey White after the catch into the end zone.
“I thought the receiver group as a whole played well,” McCarthy said. “I know (wide receivers coach) Edgar Bennett was pleased with the way they responded.
“More importantly, it was the pace and the tempo and the timing that we were looking for. I felt like Aaron and the receivers definitely were clicking.”
So it appears the team will be careful with Jennings after he aggravated his injury.
“You certainly like to have your top guys in there,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. “At least yesterday we were able to continue going and making plays and moving the ball. We want him in there but if he’s not able to be in there for injury reasons, we just have to play our game and go out and do what we can do.”
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By Lori Nickel of the Journal Sentinel
~GREEN BAY – James Jones said that last catch had to be divine intervention.
But in the locker room after the game, quarterback Aaron Rodgers showed nothing but faith in his so-called No. 3 receiver by coming over specifically to congratulate Jones for another standout performance in a game the Green Bay Packers simply had to have to avoid an unthinkable 1-3 record.
Jones caught a 12-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and then a 14-yarder in the second. The sixth-year receiver notched the second two-touchdown game of his career Sunday afternoon in a 28-27 victory against New Orleans. The other was against Chicago on Christmas Day last year.
These two-TD games might have happened more frequently in Jones’ 85-game career with Green Bay were in not for the fact he has played with Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson.
But with Jennings leaving the game once again injured, this time with a groin pull, Jones has had more opportunities. And it looks like the Packers can count on Jones going forward. When one door closes, another opens.
“Greg is one of our biggest playmakers on this team,” Jones said. “When he goes down, we’ve all got to step up; it’s not just one person. The motto never changes: Make the most of your opportunities.”
Jones had five catches in all for 56 yards but maybe none of them was more impressive than his last. After the Saints missed a field goal with about 2 minutes left in the game, Rodgers and the Packers faced a must-have third down. Tight end Jermichael Finley was Rodgers’ first read, but Rodgers said he wanted to give Jones a shot.
So he hit Jones. It should have been an incompletion, since Saints cornerback Jabari Greer was all over him. But not trusting anything about what would or would not be called by the officials, especially after what happened in Seattle last week with the replacement refs, Jones snatched the ball and held on. Greer was flagged for pass interference, but the impressive grab was all Green Bay needed to run out the clock and preserve the victory to raise its record to 2-2.
“The Lord was with me,” Jones said. “I saw it thrown to one side, I just stuck my one hand down in there and it hit my glove, kind of rolled up my elbow and I was able to bring it in to my body. “That’s a difficult catch. That’s probably a once-out-of-10-er right there. If I had to do it again it would probably bounce somewhere.”
On Monday at Seattle, Jones also had five catches for 55 yards.
“James has been very consistent this year and he’s clearly off to his most consistent year in his time here,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “It tells you how the receiving corps works. It’s the only group I’ve ever had and it’s been like that my entire time here. Every receiver plays every position. They’re interchangeable.”
“E.B. is probably going to be on me for my blocking,” Jones said.
And yet Jones said it was Bennett who has harped on him to see the ball in and maintain possession.
“He’s constantly on us on the sideline,” Jones said. “Focus, focus, focus, focus, focus. . . . When you go in the game and he’s on the sideline yelling, ‘Focus!’ Play hungry. That’s all you can do out there.”
As long as Rodgers and Jones have played together, it seems impossible for their chemistry to be better than it is right now. Jones has taken a lot of public criticism for untimely drops, but none from his quarterback. Between their workweek communication in the film room and their non-verbal communication during the game, it’s clear Rodgers is comfortable counting on No. 89.
“I hope he never lost confidence in me,” Jones said. “Aaron throws to the open guy. Me and him have been able to connect on big plays so far this season and I hope we can continue to do that.”
With 16 catches for 191 yards and three touchdowns, Jones is on pace to have his best season. If Jennings continues to be hampered by injuries, the Packers will need everything Jones can offer.
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