2012 November : Packers Insider

Vikings vs. Packers: Leslie Frazier offers up a history lesson

November 29, 2012 by  
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By Benji Goessling, Pioneer Press

~As the Vikings returned from a day off and gathered for a team meeting Wednesday, Nov. 28, coach Leslie Frazier asked his players if he should make a speech to explain the importance of this week’s game.

None was needed.

The Vikings know they can invigorate their playoff hopes with a win at Lambeau Field on Sunday. They can pull even with the Green Bay Packers for second place in the NFC North. But while a win would mean plenty to the Vikings’ chances of extending a surprise season, Frazier also has made sure they know it would turn around a rivalry that means more to their fans than any other. 

Minnesota Vikings Jared Allen sacks Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers during the first quarter of the Minnesota Vikings game against the Green Bay Packers on November 14, 2011 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Pioneer Press: Sherri LaRose-Chiglo)

“(When) you’ve got so many new guys on your team, like we do, and so many young players, they don’t know the implications of the rivalry,” said Frazier, who also took part in a heated rivalry with the Packers while he played for the Bears from 1981-85. “They don’t know the passion that our fans have for getting a win against Green Bay. I wanted them also to understand where we are in the standings and the importance of the game from that point of view, but also, the border rivalry. I think it’s important they understand the history of the rivalry.”

Lately, that history hasn’t been good to the Vikings. They’ve lost nine of 12 games against the Packers since Mike McCarthy took over as Green Bay’s coach in 2006, with their only wins coming on a missed Mason Crosby field goal in 2008 and a full steam of Brett Favre vengeance in 2009.

The rest of the recent ledger has been ugly. The Vikings lost 34-0 the last time they faced Favre in 2007, failed to beat Aaron Rodgers in his debut as a starter in 2008, fell 31-3 at the Metrodome in Brad Childress’ last game in 2010 and got pummeled 45-7 on “Monday Night Football” in their 2011 trip to Lambeau.

As the Packers battled the Bears for the 2011 NFC title and the Vikings sunk to the bottom of the division last year, the Packers-Vikings matchup lost some of its meaning. But the Vikings are competitive for the first time since 2009, and there’s real postseason significance attached to their meeting with the Packers on Sunday.

For the Vikings, a win would put some juice back into the rivalry.

“We know what this means to the state of Minnesota, what it means to this organization and what’s at stake for this season right now,” quarterback Christian Ponder said. “We’re excited. We’re 6-5 right now. We’re in a great position. We’re going into one of the biggest games of the year. We’re ready.”

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder is sacked by Green Bay Packers Clay Matthews during the third quarter of the Minnesota Vikings game against the Green Bay Packers on November 14, 2011 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Pioneer Press: Sherri LaRose-Chiglo)

Like they did in Chicago last week, the Vikings will face a Packers team that’s returning home after an embarrassing loss on national TV. They were beaten 38-10 on Sunday night by the New York Giants, who sacked Rodgers five times while taking away many of the reigning NFL MVP’s deep throws with the Cover-2 scheme many teams have used against the Packers this season.

The Vikings make extensive use of Cover-2 and will get a boost with safety Harrison Smith being cleared to return from a concussion. They typically have been able to generate pressure with a four-man rush against the Packers, as the Giants did last week, and they’ll face a battered offensive line that has given up more sacks than any in the league.

The Packers will get Pro Bowl receiver Greg Jennings back from abdominal surgery, and when they can group him with James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, they could spread out defenses that want to keep both safeties back.

But none of that works if Rodgers can’t get time to throw.

“There’s been some success with that method, so I wouldn’t expect a big change or deviation from that kind of strategy,” Rodgers said. “Because of that, we’ve got to shore up some of the protection issues, but adding Greg back into the mix would definitely give the defenses something else to think about.”

The Vikings have won just once at Lambeau Field since 2005, but with the Packers’ offensive line reeling and their defense still likely to be missing defensive back Charles Woodson and linebacker Clay Matthews this weekend, they could be vulnerable in a key division matchup.

And while the Vikings would be tied for the NFC’s top wild-card spot with a win, Frazier wants to make sure they take advantage of the chance to liven up a rivalry that’s been missing something lately.

“Just like the fans get fired up, we do, too,” linebacker Jasper Brinkley said. “We know how storied this rivalry is. We definitely want to go out there and get the win.”   Full story here

“Guys are open” says James Jones

November 29, 2012 by  
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By Tyler Dunne, Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay – The message was simple, direct. Tom Clements once told Aaron Rodgers that every possession should end in a kick. An extra point. A field goal. A punt.

Those should be the only options. At all costs, avoid turnovers.

“There are a lot worse things that can happen than ending a possession in a kick,” Rodgers said of his offensive coordinator’s old lesson. “That’s the mind-set I like to take into most games.”

"You look at the film and you see a lot of yards that were out there. But we couldn't quite get to some of them. It's frustrating." - Aaron Rodgers

And that mind-set will not be changing any time soon. In back-to-back weeks, the Green Bay Packers quarterback has been tarred and feathered by opposing defenses. The Bryan Bulaga-less offensive line is caving. In New York, Rodgers was sacked five times and pressured often in an embarrassing 38-10 loss.

There will be no change in philosophy. To rebound, Rodgers is sticking to his principles, what got him here. He abhors interceptions. More than anything, it’s about rediscovering a comfort in the pocket. A clear, open pocket that allows Rodgers to be decisive and dangerous.

“There’s really no way around it. Guys are open,” wide receiver James Jones said. “It’s just a fact of us protecting Aaron, keeping him in the pocket. Keeping him confident in the pocket where he doesn’t have to run every other play and then try to make a throw on the run.”

This is all a delicate balance. Against effective Cover-2 schemes – defenses eliminating wide receivers on the perimeter and maintaining pressure underneath without blitzing – Rodgers’ decision-making process becomes more difficult. He must straddle the line of being cautious and pulling the trigger. It’s a line the quarterback before him, for better or worse, didn’t pay as close attention to.

The last time Rodgers threw two interceptions in a game was 40 games ago. Brett Favre’s longest streak in 16 seasons with the Packers? Nine games.

Behind a shaky line, the calm, cool, calculated approach is tested. Plays are breaking down. Defenders are closing in to his left, to his right. Rodgers admits there is a “tendency to want to take those chances” at receivers in tighter quarters.

But he has no plans to cave in to that temptation.

“Being smart with the football is a way of playing the game I think more than just a decision each play,” said Rodgers, who has 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions on the season. “It’s a mind-set with how you want to play out each game. . . . I have the ball in my hands every play. I have an impact on every play. I have a decision to make with the football and I usually try to make the highest-percentage play each time and hope it works out.”

At New York, there were times Rodgers waited too long for plays to develop downfield. On the third and 3 before Mason Crosby’s 55-yard field goal miss, Rodgers had Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson open to his right and John Kuhn open to his left. He waited, waited, began to scramble and was tripped up for a 2-yard sack by Chris Canty.

The pass protection might be brittle, but Rodgers hasn’t helped out his offensive line, either. At times, he has been too cautious and/or too reliant on his playmaking ability as a runner.

Against the Minnesota Vikings, who will almost certainly field two high safeties, the Packers plan to make adjustments. This week, expect an extra blocker on defensive end Jared Allen. A short passing game could help, too.

“We can do some things protection-wise that will be a little bit more conducive to getting the ball out quicker,” Rodgers said. “But we just have to find that balance again between getting open, running deeper stuff and getting the ball out of my hands and holding it trying to make a play.”

Jones insists receivers are open downfield. He doesn’t blame his quarterback, either. Jones wouldn’t gripe about his zero targets, saying that “at least 10 times” Rodgers was scrambling one way while he was running his route the other way.

As the pressure rose, so did Rodgers’ propensity to leave the pocket prematurely. He was quick to escape.

“It’s him not being comfortable back there,” Jones said. “When you’re running for your life dang near the whole game and trying to make a play, it doesn’t matter who you are – you roll out sometimes when you shouldn’t roll out. That’s just common.”

Jones uses himself as an example. If he was drilled by a defensive back six, seven times across the middle, naturally his approach would change. It’s human nature, he says.

“When I come in on No. 8, I’m not going to come in like I haven’t been hit,” Jones said. “I’m going to come in a little scared.”

And that’s what defenses have rendered the Packers’ offense for stretches this season – “scared.” The Detroit Lions’ M*A*S*H unit of a secondary nearly contained Rodgers the whole game. New York shut him down. There’s been minimal rhythm.

Running a series of crosses and digs and drags, Jones said he felt “hopeless.” The commotion in the backfield T-boned timing. Still, Jones stood by Rodgers’ turnover-free style. He doesn’t believe Rodgers needs to force the issue.

“Nine times out of 10, when the passing game goes our quarterback is protected,” Jones said. “That’s the bottom line. Yeah, we’ve seen Aaron make some phenomenal throws. But some phenomenal throws we’ve seen him make, he’s been standing up in the pocket, stepping into the throw.”

The schedule does not soften. More pass rushers await.

Somehow, the Packers need to pick the lock on Cover-2 defenses, on the hemorrhaging pressure. Part of it is on the line forming a consistent pocket. Part of it is Rodgers staying in that pocket and being decisive. Rodgers and Jones both see big plays left on the field. When the reigning MVP watched film from Sunday’s game, he cringed.

All these weapons and nothing… full story here

Class of NFC North: Green Bay Packers or Chicago Bears?

November 27, 2012 by  
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By Bucky Brooks, NFL.com

~The battle for supremacy in the NFC North should be one of the most compelling to watch over the final five weeks of the 2012 season. The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers are not only legitimate contenders in the NFC, but each squad has displayed the potential to make a serious run at the Super Bowl title.

I took a little time to study each team’s strengths and weakness. Here’s my breakdown of which squad is superior:

Rush offense

The Packers have built their offense around the talents of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, so the running game typically takes a back seat. The Packers rank 23rd in rushing yards per game (100.7) and average just 26.3 rushing attempts per contest. Part of their disappointing production on the ground can be attributed to injuries major and minor to running backs Cedric Benson, Alex Green and James Starks. In particular, the loss of Benson, who was placed on injured reserve in early October, has robbed the team of a power running game between the tackles. The eighth-year pro is a big, physical runner with great vision and sneaky cutback skills. Although he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry in the Packers’ first five games, Benson’s presence in the backfield alleviated the pressure on Rodgers in the pocket, creating big-play opportunities off of play-action.

Although the Packers have usually done a great job against Matt Forte, the RB is very dangerous both as a runner and a pass receiver. Defenses are forced to account for him, which is not something you can say opposing defenses are forced to do against this Green Bay offense.

With Matt Forte and Michael Bush, the Bears boast what is arguably the best 1-2 running-back combo in the league. The duo poses serious problems for opponents with their collective size, strength and athleticism. Forte, who leads the team with 683 rushing yards, is a sensational perimeter runner with a smooth running style. He excels at turning the corner on off-tackle runs, and also displays the patience and grittiness to attack downhill seams when the defense overruns the play. Bush, a fifth-year pro with 366 rushing yards and five touchdowns in 2012, is the Bears’ designated sledgehammer between the tackles. He shines in short-yardage and goal-line situations, but he’s also capable of handling the workload as a feature runner. Forte is prone to nagging injuries; Bush ensures that the Bears’ running game will remain potent in every situation. Edge: Bears

Pass offense

Rodgers is unquestionably one of the top passers in the NFL, but he is playing with his hand behind his back, thanks to a host of injuries. Greg Jennings, the Packers’ No. 1 receiver, has been out with a groin injury, and Rodgers has missed the presence of the Pro Bowler over the middle of the field. Rodgers has also been hindered by the leaky pass protection provided by the Packers’ injury-riddled frontline. The Packers have surrendered a league-worst 37 sacks; Rodgers has been running for his life in the pocket, leaving him unable to attack the vulnerable areas of coverage. In spite of these issues, Rodgers is still completing 66.5 percent of his passes and sports a 28:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio, revealing just how explosive the Packers’ offense can be when he is in rhythm.

In the screengrab below, taken from a Week 11 win over the Detroit Lions, the Packers are running Y-Stick to get the ball out of Rodgers’ hands quickly. This protects him from taking hits in the pocket and puts the ball in the hands of his top playmakers in space:

Rodgers zips the ball to tight end Jermichael Finley, resulting in a 40-yard completion.

Click here to see video of the full play.
http://www.nfl.com/videos/auto/0ap2000000097556/QB-Rodgers-to-TE-Finley-40-yd-pass

Jay Cutler doesn’t receive the kind of recognition he deserves, likely because of his seemingly surly personality and sideline demeanor, but opponents certainly understand the talent he brings to the table. Few NFL passers can rival his arm strength, talent and ability to make pinpoint throws from awkward positions in the pocket. With a true No. 1 receiver in Brandon Marshall, Cutler has made the Bears’ aerial attack one of the most feared in the league. However, he also plays behind a leaky offensive line that prevents him from routinely setting up and delivering from a clean pocket. Although offensive coordinator Mike Tice has attempted to tweak his play calls and schemes to give Cutler more protection, the Bears have still allowed 35 sacks, and remain a disaster along the frontline. Edge: Packers

Run defense

Defending the run remains the top priority of every defensive coordinator in the league. In Green Bay, Dom Capers adheres to that premise by utilizing an exotic zone-blitz scheme to overwhelm opponents with constant movement after the snap. Using a scheme built on deception and confusion, the Packers have been able to befuddle their opponents, limiting runners to minimal gains; they’ve given up just three runs of 20-plus yards, and rank 11th in rushing yards allowed. Considering the numerous injuries to key defensive players (like linebackers Desmond Bishop and Clay Matthews and safety Charles Woodson), the Packers’ solid play against the run is a testament to their gap-discipline and hustle.

Both defenses have fared well, usually, in this matchup. Health will be a big factor, but the Packers are currently missing 2 of their 4 starting DB's in Woodson and Shields, and 4 starting LB's in Matthews, Perry, Bishop, and D.J. Smith. Only A.J. Hawk has proven to be durable. On the Bears side, Peppers, Urlacher, Briggs are all still there ticking.

The Bears’ defense has ranked among the NFL’s best since coach Lovie Smith’s arrival. The unit excels at playing an aggressive one-gap scheme that encourages the defensive linemen to aggressively run up the field in their assigned gaps, with the linebackers flying fast to the ball from the second level. What makes the Bears so effective is their combination of speed, athleticism and experience. Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are all over 30, but they’re still able to play fast, thanks to their instincts and awareness. With a host of younger players also flying to the ball with reckless abandon, the Bears routinely stuff runners at the line of scrimmage, and have held opponents to fewer than 97 rushing yards per game. The Bears’ turnover advantage is a byproduct of winning against the run on early downs, illustrating the importance of forcing long-yardage situations on third down. Edge: Bears

Pass rush

Capers is one of the best tacticians in the business. He uses an aggressive scheme, built on exotic blitz pressure from various personnel groupings, to blow up blocking schemes and confuse quarterbacks. When Capers’ complex schemes are executed properly, the Packers harass and pummel quarterbacks with rushers attacking from various angles. This season, the Packers rank third in sacks (34) despite having been without their top pass rusher, Clay Matthews, for the past few weeks. With several players, including Jerel Worthy, Mike Neal and Erik Walden, contributing along the frontline, the Packers’ pass rush is far more dangerous than it has been in recent years.

The Bears’ approach is simple, but it’s hard to find a team that’s better at pressuring the quarterback with just four defenders. Led by Peppers (6.0 sacks), Israel Idonije (5.0) and Corey Wootton (4.5), the Bears have amassed 30 sacks, wreaking havoc on opponents utilizing an assortment of stunts, twists and games at the line of scrimmage. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will occasionally sprinkle in some double-A gap blitzes to confuse opponents, but the Bears’ “win with four” philosophy has routinely overwhelmed opponents, creating turnovers and negative plays. Edge: Bears

Coverage

The Packers have played well on defense, but the performance of the secondary remains a concern. The unit has been victimized by big plays (having given up 41 passes of 20-plus yards and six completions over 40 yards), and the coverage has been suspect on the perimeter. While some of those woes can be attributed to the loss of Woodson in the back end, the communication and discipline of the group has been inconsistent at times, leading to blown assignments. On the flip side, the Packers have picked off 12 passes and have come up with a few key knockdowns in critical moments. Casey Hayward in particular has been sensational on the corner; his emergence could fortify the secondary when Woodson returns to the lineup in a few weeks.

On paper, the Bears’ secondary wouldn’t rate highly, but the unit has performed better than any other in the league. Cornerbacks Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman have been exceptional at taking the ball away, and their ability to generate turnovers has created hesitation in the minds of quarterbacks. With safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright also snagging errant throws in the back end, the Bears have recorded seven pick-sixes, becoming the unit opposing passers fear the most. Edge: Bears

In the screengrab below, taken from a Week 9 win over the Tennessee Titans, the Bears are in Cover 1 robber, with Urchaler assigned to float in the middle of the field:

Click here to see video of the full play
http://www.nfl.com/videos/auto/0ap2000000090552/Bears-defense-INT-TD

Coaching

Mike McCarthy has done a great job getting the Packers to move past that famously disappointing Week 3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks and numerous injury issues to remain legitimate title contenders. With a no-nonsense approach, McCarthy has helped his team focus on improving down the stretch to obtain prime position heading into the postseason. From a tactical standpoint, McCarthy has been able to constantly adjust his offensive approach to compensate for a porous offensive line and the absence of his No. 1 receiver. Given that the Packers still have explosive offensive potential, McCarthy deserves credit for his adaptability.

Mike McCarthy and Lovie Smith have both done fine jobs overall.

Smith has quietly molded his squad into one of the favorites in the NFC behind an opportunistic defense and sneaky, explosive offense. His work with the defense in particular has been impressive to watch, with the unit producing eight defensive scores this season. While some luck is certainly involved in generating “scoop and scores” and pick-sixes, the fact that the Bears have been able to come up with big plays each week is a testament to his leadership. Edge: Even

Schedule

The Packers finish with four divisional games in the month of December. With the home-and-home dates with the Minnesota Vikings, a tough road test against the Bears and a prime-time matchup with the Detroit Lions, the Packers face an uphill climb with regard to winning the NFC North. Throw in a home contest against the Tennessee Titans, and it’s clear that the Packers will need to be at their best to finish 4-1 down the stretch.

The Bears also have a difficult slate over the final month of the season, including four contests against legitimate playoff contenders. Although home dates against the Seattle Seahawks and Packers will certainly test Chicago, the division crown will ultimately be decided by the Bears’ ability to win road games against the Lions, Arizona Cardinals and Vikings. If Cutler remains healthy, the Bears certainly have a chance, but the state of the offensive line could make that prospect a long shot. Edge: Bears

Conclusion

The NFC North race draws its must-watch status from the outstanding talent on both the Packers’ and Bears’ rosters. While each team has issues that could prevent it from making a legitimate run at the title, both have also played well enough to be considered front-runners in the NFC, which is indicative of their potential. Weighing the strengths and weaknesses of each team, I end up leaning toward the Bears, based on their defense and running game. Those traits represent the blueprint for winning in the postseason; I believe that will carry the Bears to the NFC North crown this year.

Full story here

Line of demarcation

November 27, 2012 by  
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By Jason Wilde, ESPN Wisconsin

~GREEN BAY – No quarterback in the NFL this season has endured a game like Aaron Rodgers did during the Green Bay Packers’ 38-10 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday night. 

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rodgers was under duress – sacked, hurried or hit – on 17 of his 33 dropbacks against the Giants, a whopping 51.5 percent of the time. That’s the highest percentage of any qualifying quarterback in the NFL this season.

Here’s the problem: The way this year has gone – both before right tackle Bryan Bulaga suffered a season-ending hip injury Nov. 4 against Arizona, and since the resulting reshuffling of the line – it’s hardly out of the norm.

Per ESPN Stats & Info, Rodgers has been under the 10th-highest amount of duress on the season of 34 quarterback qualifiers, having been sacked, hurried or hit on 26 percent of his dropbacks for the season. Philadelphia’s Michael Vick has the highest percentage at 38 percent; Denver’s Peyton Manning has the lowest percentage at 15 percent.

With the Giants’ five sacks on Sunday night, Rodgers has now been sacked an NFL-high 37 times. That puts him on pace for 53, which would break the team record of 50 sacks he absorbed during the 2009 season. The franchise record for total sacks allowed in a single season is 62, set in 1990 when Don Majkowski, Anthony Dilweg and Blair Kiel were the victims. Houston’s David Carr holds the record for most sacks absorbed in a single season by one quarterback – 76 in 2002.

Only the Arizona Cardinals have allowed more sacks than the 37 yielded by the Packers.

“Any time you’re playing against a good defense that has good pass rushers, going into a game that’s a concern. We try to plan appropriately each game. Hopefully we can execute the plan as well as we need to,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said Monday afternoon. “Each plan that we have, we have a seven-man protection, a six-man protection and a five-man protection. And we utilized all of those last night. And we also utilized an eight-man protection at one point. So we just have to try to mix it up and see what we can do to shore it up a little bit.”

Bulaga’s injury left the Packers, already thin on the line, with limited options. Left guard T.J. Lang shifted to right tackle to replace Bulaga, and Evan Dietrich-Smith entered at left guard to replace Lang. That’s how the Packers have started each of the last two games, and the only other offensive linemen on the roster are undrafted rookie free agents Greg Van Roten and Don Barclay.

New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora (72) knocks the ball away from Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers (12) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

While Rodgers has been guilty at times of holding onto the ball too long, resulting in sacks, ESPN NFL analyst Trent Dilfer said on ESPN Radio’s The Herd with Colin Cowherd that the reigning NFL MVP’s level of play has masked the Packers’ other deficiencies, including on the line.

“When you watch the Green Bay Packers, what you see on many of their good pass plays are runners coming through – rushers beating offensive linemen who are going to get a hit on Aaron Rodgers if the ball isn’t out so quick,” Dilfer said.

“You start adding those up, eventually teams are going to be able to play a secondary look where they can reroute the receivers a little bit, take away the quick throw, take away the quick reads and give their defensive line a little extra time to get there and actually get home.

“That’s what you saw with the Giants (Sunday) night, and the book gets written on every single team in this league, and the book on the Green Bay Packers is they’re thin at a couple spots on the roster, especially the offensive line. And your quarterback can only save you from so much.

“The year they won the Super Bowl, I still can’t believe they did. That’s why I still think it’s the single greatest stretch of quarterbacking we’ve ever seen in this league, what Aaron Rodgers did, because he just masked so many other flaws the last couple years in key games. Now you’re really starting to see how people have gotten to that chapter of the book on the Green Bay Packers and exposed it and nobody’s good enough to overcome it.”

The line with Bulaga was hardly perfect – remember that eight-sacks-in-the-first-half debacle in Seattle, before the controversial finish? – but now it’s not unreasonable to wonder if the Packers’ protection problems could prove to be their undoing. Four of their final five games are against division foes – vs. Minnesota at Lambeau Field on Sunday, vs. Detroit on Dec. 9, at Chicago on Dec. 16 and at Minnesota on Dec. 30 – all of whom have solid pass-rushing defensive lines.

New York Giants middle linebacker Chase Blackburn (93) sacks Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

“When your quarterback is under pressure, I thought it affected me (as a play-caller),” McCarthy admitted after Sunday night’s game. (McCarthy did not hold his usual day-after-the-game press briefing on Monday, pushing it back to Tuesday instead.)

“And with that, I probably didn’t call the best game I’ve called in my time doing this. You have to protect your quarterback. It’s the No. 1 responsibility of our offense. You’d be hypocritical to sit here and say that we built our offense around making the quarterback successful, starting with the runs, protection and into the passing game, and then we’re going to go out and he’s going to take that many hits. That’s not what we’re looking for.

“The New York Giants have an outstanding defensive line. We knew that coming in. We’ve really known that for the last couple years. We had a plan. We didn’t execute it very well. We got away from it. We went to some spread things and that wasn’t the answer. That was probably poor play selection on my part. But they did a hell of a job. They were dynamic, very talented and very productive.”

And the Packers’ reshuffled offensive line was not. The unit will have to be appreciably better down the stretch if the team is going to reach its goals.

“I don’t call them reshuffled. The starting group? They’ve had moments when things looked very, very good,” offensive line coach James Campen said last week. “Sometimes, it takes a little while for things to click in, getting familiar with people.”

Full story here

Out-Muscled and Out-Manned in New York

November 25, 2012 by  
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By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior editor

~Missing Pro-Bowler Greg Jennings, starters Sam Shields, Desmond Bishop, DJ Smith, and six first-round draft picks, the Packers were out-manned and out-muscled Sunday night on NBC’s Football Night in America for all the world to see.

New York Giants middle linebacker Chase Blackburn (93) waltes through the left side of the Packers offensive line, and sacks Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

On the offensive line, both edges were beaten routinely by the Giants talented defensive ends.
Aaron Rodgers rarely had time to progress through his reads beyond the initial target as Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, Chase Blackburn, and many others took turns exploiting numerous holes in the Packers offensive line and blitz pickups.

On the defensive side, another guy, CJ Wilson, went out early injured. Missing both starting OLBers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, and two starting ILBers in Bishop and Smith, the Packers were welcome medicine for what had been a slumping Eli Manning and Giants offense overall.

Aaron Rodgers was, again, too often fixated on #18 Randall Cobb. Like last week, he zeroed on on Cobb while a nearbye receiver was wide open, only to have it intercepted. Last week it was a 4th down play where Jermichael Finley was wide open, but he went to Cobb and had it intercepted.

Tonight it was James Jones who was left uncovered by Jason Webster, who saw Cobb and left his guy Jones, and stepped in front of Cobb for the interception.

The Packers really could use Jennings back. Not only to get Rodgers un-addicted from going to Cobb no matter what the defense presents, but also to add another playmaker to the offense.

Brett Favre used to have his mind made up that he was throwing it to Sterling Sharpe, no matter what happened when the ball was snapped. I have noticed some of this with Rodgers to Cobb the past few games. Of course, a five-game winning streak masked it to most eyes.

But what made Rodgers so great up until the recent interceptions was that nobody knew who he was going to. He had Jennings, Finley, Nelson, Jones, Cobb, and he found the open guy. 

New York Giants cornerback Corey Webster (23) runs back an interception as Green Bay Packers' Josh Sitton (71) chases him during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, in East Rutherford, N.J. Aaron Rodgers missed the uncovered James Jones as Webster read Rodgers' eyes and he left Jones to double Randall Cobb. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

It might be true that with the performance of the offensive line, that he doesn’t have time to go to a second read. But that’s not always the case. And it wasn’t the case with his first quarter interception when the game was still close and expected to be a track meet, shootout.

With the blowout loss, the Packers fell back into second place in the NFC Norris, behind the Bears. Chicago had Jay Cutler back today, and welcomed the Percy Harvin-less Vikings into Soldier Field. The loss left the Vikings at 6-5, a game back of the Packers. Next week, the Packers will get a visit from the Vikings. A win by the Vikings would knock the Packers out of wildcard range.

A win by the Packers and they will stay within range of the Bears and winning the division.

First things first though. This team needs to get guys healthy, start finding a way to toughen up, and find a way to block and tackle.

Rodgers, Manning prepare for intellectual battle

November 22, 2012 by  
Filed under News

By Thomas Silverstein, Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay – They won’t be seated face-to-face at a table full of game pieces in the middle of MetLife Stadium, but Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning will be pitted in a duel of intellectual gamesmanship when the Green Bay Packers visit the New York Giants Sunday night. 

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, left, and Giants quarterback Eli Manning meet Sunday night at MetLife Stadium in New York. Both QBs have a lot of freedom to direct the course of plays.

The two quarterbacks have as much freedom as any in the National Football League to determine the course of each play once it is relayed to them, and they are continually engaged in a game of hide-and-seek with opposing defenses.

They are trying to seek what the defense plans to do at the snap of the ball and hide what they plan to do after it is snapped.

“I think there has to be some gamesmanship on both sides,” Rodgers said Wednesday. “We’ve played each other a couple times in the past year. They’re a very well-coached team on defense. They don’t want to just line up and play; they have to move around a little bit and that’s what they do in their packages, trying to disguise some coverages.

“And we need to disguise some of the stuff we do as well. We have to do what we do, but we have to make it look a little different.”

Manning would probably say the same thing, especially knowing he’ll be facing a blitzing defense like the one coordinator Dom Capers will be throwing at him. Manning has started three games in two years against Capers and has showed since a four-interception debacle at Lambeau Field in 2010 that he can match wits with him.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 04: (L-R) Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants congratulates Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers after the Packers won 38-35 at MetLife Stadium on December 4, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

The Giants scored 35 points in a three-point regular-season loss to Green Bay Dec. 4 at MetLife, then thrashed the defense in a 37-20 divisional playoff victory at Lambeau Field. Manning has thrown for six touchdowns and two interceptions in the last two games vs. Green Bay.

“He’s real good,” safety Morgan Burnett said. “He’s one of those veteran quarterbacks you can’t show your hand too early. You show your hand early he’s smart enough to pick it up and audible right at the line of scrimmage.”

In the 38-35 Packers victory at MetLife, the two quarterbacks put on an offensive show that wasn’t fair to the two battered defenses that had to defend against them. Nowhere was their ability to get their team into the right play better than in the final minute.

After Manning led a drive that made it, 35-33, the Giants lined up for a 2-point conversion in a passing formation and waited to see how the Packers would defend it. Just before the snap, Manning made an “alert” call and instead of throwing it, handed off to D.J. Ware, who walked in to the end zone for the tying points.

On the ensuing drive, Rodgers came to the line on first and 10 at his own 44 with 51 seconds left and read that the Giants were going to blitz. Anticipating man-to-man coverage on the outside, he made a hand signal to the left to receiver Jordy Nelson and then lofted a pass that landed in Nelson’s arms for a 27-yard gain.

Two plays later, kicker Mason Crosby won it with a 31-yard field goal.

“It gives you the best chance to win, I believe, if you have a quarterback who can get you in the right play at all times,” receiver James Jones said. “This day and age the way people scout you and how much film they watch, they know which plays you’re running in certain formations.

“If you’re not able to audible and adjust, then you’re not going to be too good. You even have audibles in Madden, so you’re going to need them in real life.” 

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 04: Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants fumbles the ball as he is upended by Clay Matthews #52 and Erik Walden #93 of the Green Bay Packers in the second quarter at MetLife Stadium on December 4, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

According to Jones, Rodgers has the freedom to change any play at any time. The options he can go to are determined in game-planning meetings during the week, but it is up to Rodgers to decode whether he needs to change the play.

The Giants’ defensive coordinator, Perry Fewell, comes from the Tony Dungy coaching tree that specializes in the Tampa-2 defense. The Giants can sit back in zone and rush the quarterback with their outstanding front line or they can pressure and play man-to-man.

What the Packers are going to get Sunday is a bit of a mystery because the Giants are coming off a bye and have had two weeks to plan for this game. At 6-4 and losers of two straight, they may feel they need to push the envelope to make sure they don’t lose this one.

“They’re doing less schematically this year defensively,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’s not Week 1, Week 2, Week 3 as far as unscouted looks, but I’m sure there’s going to be a wrinkle or two that we have not seen on video that will probably show up Sunday night.”

On the other side of the ball, the Packers are fortunate Manning is in a slump, having played poorly for four straight games. But they also know that the two-time Super Bowl champion is capable of coming out of it at any time.

The prospect of playing the Packers without linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring), safety Charles Woodson (collarbone) and cornerback Sam Shields (ankle) might have Manning and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride feeling much better about this game, especially given the rookies and second-year players the Packers are using to replace those starters.

For guys like Casey Hayward, Davon House, Jerron McMillian and Dezman Moses, this will the first time they’ve matched wits with Manning.

“He’s a sharp quarterback,” Capers said earlier this week. “He’ll call a lot at the line of scrimmage. You have to do a good job of disguising, try not to give him a lot of pre-snap reads because he is smart.”

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Packers DB Casey Hayward Current Favorite For 2012 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year?

November 20, 2012 by  
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By Michael Terrill, Rant Sports

~GREEN BAY – Green Bay Packers (7-3) rookie defensive back Casey Hayward is coming off a dominant performance in the team’s 24-20 win against the Detroit Lions (4-6) on Sunday afternoon. Hayward has been phenomenal through the first 10 games this season and as of right now has to be considered the favorite to win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.

The second-round draft pick out of Vanderbilt leads all NFL rookies in interceptions (5), passes defended (19) and is sixth among defensive backs in tackles (37). He also has one forced fumble and a multi-interception game to go along with his already great statistics. 

Casey Hayward has basically filled in for Charles Woodson at CB. Woodson was moved to safety, now Hayward starts at CB along with Tramon Williams. Sam Shields was the other starter before suffering his little leg injury.

Hayward received the award for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for October. In those four games he recorded 13 tackles, six passes defended and four interceptions for 37 return yards.

The Packers moved up in the second round to select Hayward, and clearly the decision to do so has paid off. Hayward was brought in ultimately to replace veteran leader Charles Woodson down the road, but no one could have anticipated that he would have such an immediate impact on the team. With several defensive backs down with injuries, including Woodson, it is good to know players such as Hayward have the skill set to step up and keep Green Bay afloat.

Hayward is a part of a young group of defensive backs on the Packers roster that have plenty to offer in the years to come. SafetyJerron McMillian recovered a fumble, safety M.D. Jennings returned an interception 72 yards for a touchdown, defensive back Davon House recorded a sack plus a tackle for loss and Hayward broke up five passes and recorded an interception in Sunday’s victory over the Lions. The average age of those four players is 23.25 years.

Green Bay also can add Sam Shields, Tramon Williams and Morgan Burnett to that list, plus the legend that is Woodson, and the Packers have a solid group of defensive backs ready to take on the league’s best receivers.

As far as Defensive Rookie of the Year is concerned, the only true competition Hayward has is New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones. The first-round pick has 34 tackles, six sacks and leads all rookies with three forced fumbles. However, I still believe Hayward’s overall numbers are more impressive. There is still plenty of time for the competition to become fiercer, but if Hayward continues to play at a high level, the award should go to him.

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Right or wrong: McCarthy stands by struggling kicker Crosby

November 20, 2012 by  
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By Pete Dougherty, Green Bay Press-Gazette

~The Green Bay Packers are facing an unexpected midseason crisis at kicker.

Mason Crosby, who appeared to be hitting the peak of his powers coming into his sixth NFL season, had another in a tough stretch of games Sunday. In the Packers’ 24-20 win over Detroit on Sunday, Crosby missed two key field goals — three counting the first of two 50-yard misses, which was nullified when the Detroit Lions called a timeout to ice him at the end of the first half.

Crosby has made only six of his last 13 official attempts, though he did hit an important 39-yarder with 19 seconds left that gave the Packers a four-point lead.

The misses were such an obvious issue that coach Mike McCarthy addressed them at the end of his opening statement to reporters after the game.

“I’ll address the field goal situation,” McCarthy said. “Mason’s got to put the ball through the uprights. That’s something that we’ve got to do a better job of. I thought Mason had a very good week of work; didn’t hit it today the way he needs to hit it, but we’ll continue with Mason. We will not blink as far as our commitment to him.” 

Coach McCarthy chews out kicker Mason Crosby after he shanked another field goal inside the dome in Detroit.

The 28-year-old Crosby had so won over the Packers’ coaching and scouting staffs in his first four seasons that after last year’s NFL lockout, the team signed him to a five-year contract that included a $3 million signing bonus and averages $2.95 million a season. Then he had his best season in the NFL and made 85.7 percent of his field-goal attempts.

But McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson have to be deeply concerned with his erratic kicking of late and the Packers starting the home stretch of the season.

In such circumstances, many teams bring in kickers for workouts, and others even will make a midseason change, depending on their history with the kicker and who’s available on the street.

There’s at least one accomplished kicker available in Nate Kaeding, who was released by San Diego off injured reserve in late October. Kaeding had a groin injury but said at the time of his release he was ready to play. The 30-year-old has made an outstanding 87.0 percent of his career field goal attempts, but he was only 8-for-15 in eight playoff games, including three misses in a 17-14 loss to the New York Jets in 2010 and a 40-yarder that would have won the game against the Jets in 2004.

Kaeding missed last season because of knee-reconstruction surgery.

McCarthy, though, was firm in his support for Crosby, who went through a rough stretch in 2009 in which he missed six of 16 field goals late in the year.

“I thought that probably the best part about that dip (in ’09) was we supported him,” McCarthy said. “It’s just like anything in life professionally: You have the opportunity to work with an individual every day and you see what they’re about — their mentality, their commitment, their preparation leading up to it. I have no reasons not to believe in him. Now, I can see your pens are all writing and I understand he’s missing kicks in games. The bottom line is this is about performance on Sundays, and I have all of the confidence that Mason’s going to get that back, because we need him.”

On Crosby’s misses on two 50-yarders, the first was wide right, though it didn’t count because of the timeout, and the second was wide left. The Packers trailed 10-7 at the time.

The 38-yarder, which was in the fourth quarter with the Packers up 14-13, started out just inside the left upright and hooked wide.

When asked what he thinks is going wrong, Crosby said: “I don’t know, each year is different. I have to kind of work through it, I guess. Last year I started off really hot and ended up with a great percentage. Have to keep making kicks, grind through the weeks and focus on hitting the ball and putting it on line and giving myself the opportunity to put it through the uprights. That’s my job and what I intend to do.”

After Crosby missed the 38-yarder, McCarthy approached his kicker for a quick conversation. From a distance it looked like the coach was getting on his kicker, but Crosby said McCarthy’s main message was to move on.

“It was anything but rough, no,” Crosby said. “He expects me to make the kick, I expect it. That was pretty much the gist of that conversation, ‘You have to make that kick, you’re going to have another opportunity.’ For me it was him reaffirming what I was already saying, I have to move on and get ready for another opportunity to kick, because our team was battling.”

When Crosby made the 39-yarder with 19 seconds left, he wore none of the smiles that usually go with a made kick. Instead he accepted his teammates’ congratulations with a stern face.

“I’m upset in a game where I felt good in warm-ups,” he said. “Struck the ball well (in the game), just offline a little bit. It was a game (in a dome) we could have gone 3-for-3, should have gone 3-for-3, but I didn’t. I hit the last kick there, have to kind of build off that and move forward.”

McCarthy also made a couple of curious decisions on field-goal attempts, one that might suggest a lack of confidence in Crosby, another that showed extreme confidence.

On a fourth-and-4 from Detroit’s 31 in the first quarter, McCarthy went for the first down rather than try a 49-yard field goal. Then early in the fourth quarter, trailing 17-14, he had Crosby line up for a 58-yard attempt that if he missed would have given the Lions great field position at their 48.

The kick didn’t come off because tight end Tom Crabtree was called for illegal motion — the Packers motioned him from the wing to the middle of the formation to simulate a fake they’d run successfully earlier in the season against Chicago in hopes they could draw Detroit offside and get a first down. Crabtree was set to motion in and then return to his spot as the outside blocker on the left side, but the 5-yard penalty took the Packers out of field-goal range.

Crosby said he was going to try the 58-yarder if not for the penalty.

“(The officials) said (Crabtree) simulated a play, that was ………. Full story HERE

No better options than Crosby out there?

November 20, 2012 by  
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By Jason Wilde, ESPN Wisconsin

~DETROIT – Mike McCarthy left no room for interpretation. Mason Crosby is the Green Bay Packers kicker, despite missing two more field goals Sunday – three, if you count the fact that he missed his 50-yard attempt twice – in the team’s 24-20 victory over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

“I’ll address the field goal situation: Mason’s got to put the ball through the uprights. That’s something that we’ve got to do a better job of,” McCarthy said early in his post-game press conference, preempting questions about Crosby, who came into the game having missed five of his last 10 field goal attempts and is now 11 of 18 on the season. “I thought Mason had a very good week of work. (He) didn’t hit it today the way he needs to hit it, but we’ll continue with Mason. We will not blink as far as our commitment to him.” 

Mason Crosby watches as one of his 3 missed kicks (one shank was nullified due to a timeout) sails wide of the post.

Perhaps, but Crosby’s difficult day began with McCarthy deciding on the team’s second offensive possession to eschew a 49-yard field-goal attempt on fourth-and-4 from the Detroit 31-yard line and go for it instead. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw incomplete to Randall Cobb, and while the decision might’ve just been an example of McCarthy being aggressive as he’s been in the past, it at least made one wonder if a statement was being made about his confidence in his kicker.

Crosby’s first opportunity to attempt a field goal then came at the end of the half and he missed – twice. First he missed wide right from 50 yards out, but because Lions coach Jim Schwartz had called timeout, the miss didn’t count. Crosby then promptly missed again, overcompensating and missing wide left.

“Obviously I missed right on the first one and then I pulled it left a little bit. I hit a solid ball, just had a little too much right-to-left movement and didn’t keep it on the right side,” Crosby said. “From that distance, I’ve got to dial it in and make sure I stay smooth and hit a good ball.”

Despite those misses, McCarthy trotted him back out early in the fourth quarter to apparently attempt a 58-yarder, but when tight end Tom Crabtree went in motion as if the Packers were running a fake, Crabtree was flagged for an illegal shift and the 5-yard penalty led to a punt instead.

He would another chance – and miss again – midway through the fourth quarter, sailing a 38-yarder wide left with 8:37 left to play and the Packers trailing 17-14. And while he did make the go-ahead extra point after Cobb’s touchdown catch and tacked on a 39-yard field goal with 24 seconds left to make sure the Lions couldn’t win the game with a field goal.

But his misses were certainly the story, not his successes.

“With how the day had been going, those were definitely big kicks. That’s where I look back and my last two kicks today were good. That’s how I want it to be. I just have to do that every time,” said Crosby, who went 24 for 28 on field-goal attempts last season. “Each year is different. You just have to work through it I guess. Last year I started off really hot and ended up with a great percentage, but I’ve got to keep making kicks. Just grind through the week and focus on hitting a good ball and putting it on line and giving myself an opportunity at putting it through the uprights. That’s my job, and that’s what I intend to do.

“It’s a day inside where we could’ve gone 3-for-3, should’ve gone 3-for-3. But I didn’t, and I hit the last kick there and I have to kind of build off that kick there and move forward.” 

During the game, coach McCarthy and the bench clearly has no confidence in Crosby. But after the game is over, McCarthy shows tremendous loyalty in Crosby, who has been a subpar kicker in his 6-year career, statistically, especially in clutch situations late.

McCarthy later reiterated his support of Crosby, saying: “It’s just like anything in life professionally: You have the opportunity to work with an individual every day and you see what they’re about, their mentality, their commitment, their preparation leading up to it. I have no reasons not to believe in him. Now, I can see your pens are all writing and I understand he’s missing kicks in games. The bottom line is this is about performance on Sundays and I have all of the confidence that Mason’s going to get that back because we need him.”

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Saturday night special as Aaron Rodgers and Jermichael Finley connect

November 20, 2012 by  
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By Jason Wilde, ESPN Wisconsin

~DETROIT – Jermichael Finley and Aaron Rodgers’ Saturday night dates paid off in a big way Sunday.

The Green Bay Packers tight end and quarterback started meeting the night before games a few weeks ago, and when the Packers needed a big play against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field – down six points with 3 minutes 43 seconds to play – a subtle change Rodgers and Finley had discussed the night before came to fruition.

On the play – second and 10 at the Packers’ 29-yard line – Finley lined up on the line of scrimmage, alongside right tackle T.J. Lang. Pre-snap, Rodgers stepped forward out of the shotgun, called out to Finley and told him to move to his right, detached from the line, and standing up in a two-point stance. 

Rodgers and Finley celebrate their touchdown pass with a high bump.

“He says, ‘Stand up, big guy,’” Finley said after the Packers’ 24-20 victory over the Lions. “He gave me the route and what-not, and said, ‘Make sure you get the depth.’ All in one sentence. And it happened.”

That it did. Rodgers told Finley to run a short drag route, on which he was wide open, and hit him quickly. Finley turned and ran behind blocks by Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, then ran through attempted tackles by linebacker Stephen Tulloch and cornerback Chris Houston along the right sideline near midfield before finally being dragged down after a 40-yard gain at the Lions’ 31. Three plays later, Rodgers hit Cobb for the go-ahead touchdown.

“It was a subtle little adjustment we had there we talked about. We didn’t talk about it maybe against that defense, but I kind of wanted to get something going there after missing Jordy,” Rodgers said, referring to an incompletion he’d thrown to Nelson on the previous play. “I wanted to put us in third and a reasonable (distance). I didn’t expect to get, what, 40 yards out of that. I’ve got to give J-Mike credit for making a big play like that.”

Asked if the Saturday night talk was a factor in the play, Finley replied: “Dead serious, it is. It was one of the plays we went over last night. Just dug into it, he said, ‘It’s going to work, I guarantee you.’ And it did. We were going over that play repeatedly.”

Finley, who finished with three receptions for 66 yards, also delivered a 20-yard touchdown in the second quarter on a rare play. The call was for a screen, but when Rodgers recognized that the Lions defense had diagnosed it, he spotted Finley wide open in the middle of the field. Again, Finley caught the ball, turned upfield and then burst through would-be tacklers at the goal line.

“We never, ever pass the ball (to the tight end there). Five years I’ve been here, we run that play repeatedly, never got to me,” Finley said. “So I took my eye off of A-Rod, and I saw the ball coming out of the side of my eye, so I had to turn and lean. I thought I was going to get smacked, and stumbled a little and caught my balance and dove into the (end) zone.”

Said Rodgers: “That’s a play that we haven’t run in awhile, probably weeks. And I haven’t hit him on that in probably over a year, even counting practice. So for him to still be awake on that play and understand he’s … although he’s kind of an alert, meaning he’s not in the progression, that if things happen a certain way, he could get it. The ball was low, he made a nice catch and was able to get that in the end zone. So I give him a lot of credit.”

Those two big plays came on the heels of five straight unproductive games for Finley, who caught only three passes for 11 yards at Indianapolis on Oct. 7, two passes for 12 yards at Houston on Oct. 14, two passes for 31 yards at St. Louis on Oct. 21, two passes for 24 yards against Jacksonville on Oct. 28 and one pass for 6 yards against Arizona on Nov. 4, the Packers’ last game before the bye week.

“I think his head’s really been in it the last couple of weeks. He and I have been spending time together and I’m excited about him moving forward,” Rodgers said.

“His game is so much about confidence and you’ve just got to keep trying to create as many opportunities as possible,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “In fairness to Jermichael, we don’t go out and specifically target opportunities. It’s a quarterback-driven offense that’s conceptually built to attack a defense.”

And now, that quarterback’s confidence in Finley is growing again. 

Finley celebrated with Cobb following a Rodgers to Cobb touchdown pass in the second half.

“It’s big, man,” Finley said. “It gets Aaron looking at me for one; it slows my head down for two, and it’s big for the team to get me and ‘12’ on the same page for this last stretch to the playoffs. I’m excited. I feel like a rookie right now.

“I see it happening now. We have a big big-time playmaker now in Cobb, it’s going to be hard to shuffle the ball around between me and him. It’s going to be awesome right now. I feel it.”

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