After running only 59 plays in seven possessions during the teams' Week 12 meeting, the Packers were determined to increase their opportunities Saturday night. Coach Mike McCarthy stuck with his playoff plan of deferring the kickoff until the second half, putting faith in his defense to get an early stop and set up the rest of the game for his offense. After a first-drive hiccup caused by a Greg Jennings fumble, the Packers accomplished that goal. Their offense ran 69 plays over 10 possessions, scoring five touchdowns and falling short of the 50-point barrier only because Mason Crosby's 50-yard field goal bounced off the left upright. And, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers pointed out, they never punted. "It was a special day," Rodgers said. "We kind of did what we wanted to do. We wanted to attack the middle of the field early, and once they started to take that away, we wanted to attack the stuff outside." Said guard Josh Sitton: "We just sustained those drives this time ... so they had to start doing something different. They couldn't stop us. Obviously, their [expletive] didn't work."
If the playoffs are where reputations are made, you can make quite sure that Tramon Williams is the big winner of this postseason for the Packers. He's made three interceptions in two games. Two of them have been in the end zone. The third was the turning point of Saturday night's game in Atlanta, the result of a smart break on the ball that he ultimately returned 70 yards for a touchdown. Williams said he hasn't been motivated by his Pro Bowl snub but added: "That's one way to shut people up: Go to the Super Bowl instead of the Pro Bowl."
We've discussed the Packers' running game often this season, and I've felt for a while that the biggest issue has been the limited options it gives them at the goal line. I liked the solution the Packers came up with Saturday: Pretty much the biggest formation you could possibly imagine. First you had 318-pound offensive lineman T.J. Lang as a second tight end. Then you had a wishbone alignment with 340-pound nose tackle B.J. Raji as one fullback and Quinn Johnson (263 pounds) as the other. The "tailback" in this arrangement was the 250-pound John Kuhn. That's what it took to ensure a 1-yard plunge for a touchdown on first-and-goal in the second quarter. An open offer to the Packers: I would pay straight cash to see a play-action pass out of that alignment.
And here is one issue I don't get:
It's been fun to watch James Starks' emergence as the Packers' tailback, and I'm fully supportive of using him extensively in the backfield despite his relative inexperience. But as a kickoff returner? I'm not so sure. I'm not as worried about exposure to injury as I am convinced that experience is more valuable as a kick returner than as a running back. Starks' fumble out of bounds in the second quarter was particularly worrisome. Given the issues the Packers have had on special teams this season, I would be awfully tempted to identify the most reliable, surest-handed returner and just stick him out there for the remainder of the playoffs -- regardless of his potential for a long return. Avoiding mistakes should be the key for the Packers' special-teams group at this point.