Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers

After the Green Bay Packers' 42-34 victory against the New Orleans Saints, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers finished the game with a Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) of 91.1, which ranked as the seventh-highest in his career. We'll get more comfortable with QBR moving forward, but the easiest way to think of the score is as a growth chart for children. Rodgers finished in the 91.1 percentile, meaning less than one out of every 10 NFL performances will be better. That it ranked seventh in his career means he has had only six other starts in which he has made more contributions to a Packers victory. Among other things, QBR highly valued that nearly two-thirds of his passing yards, 195 of 312, came when the ball was in the air. From a less statistical view, Rodgers proved once again he is comfortable in the Packers' new modified no-huddle and also that he will throw to the target dictated by opponents. He targeted, and completed at least one pass to 10 different receivers. Never did I see him force a throw to a surrounded receiver, and his only big miss was a deep pass to Jordy Nelson. All in all, Rodgers picked up where he left off last season.

  2. The Saints' offense put up some gaudy numbers: 477 total yards, 32 pass completions 27 first downs, among others. Their 79-yard march over the final 1 minute, 8 seconds nearly gave them an opportunity to force overtime. But I didn't leave Lambeau Field with deep concerns about the Packers' defense. It held firm on four of five trips to the red zone, and even though linebacker A.J. Hawk was called for pass interference on what would have been the final play, the fact is he saved a touchdown by leaping over Darren Sproles to break up the play. As cornerback Charles Woodson said, the Packers gave up "way too many points and missed tackles." But to me, the biggest concern will be if cornerback Tramon Williams (right shoulder) misses any game time. Sam Shields would presumably replace him, but there is a big dropoff in the Packers' depth after him.

  3. If the lockout was going to have a big impact on any part of a football team, special teams would be the likeliest target. Many of the players who comprise coverage teams are new, or in different positions, or were late additions based on other late-summer changes to the depth chart. The Packers obviously got a thrilling 108-yard kickoff return from rookie Randall Cobb, but Sproles gashed their coverage teams for a 72-yard punt return and a 57-yard kickoff return. That's an area where the Packers would like to see improvement during the first quarter of the season.

And here is one issue I don't get:

It was obvious last week that Rodgers wasn't interested in discussing the Packers' decision not to gather for offseason workouts, especially in comparison to the Saints' very public practices at Tulane University. I didn't understand the implication myself and felt strongly that the issue wouldn't play a role in Thursday night's outcome. So part of me enjoyed Rodgers' postgame sarcasm, especially when he said: "I've just got to ask myself, 'What would have happened if we had offseason workouts? Could we have started any faster and scored more points tonight?'" Funny stuff. But another part of me thinks it was beneath Rodgers to gloat. I wasn't aware of any mass protests to the offseason approach from media, Packers fans or other NFL observers. But even if there were and I just missed it, didn't Rodgers and the Packers provide all the response necessary in that 202-yard, 21-point first quarter? It's fine to feel personally vindicated. And Rodgers probably thinks that "critics," whomever they were in this instance, should be held publicly accountable. Fair point. But in the end, I think it made Rodgers look petty, which I don't think he is. There's nothing wrong with standing by your convictions, acknowledging an opposing viewpoint and then settling the matter on the field.