Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers

After the Green Bay Packers' 28-27 victory over the New Orleans Saints, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Receiver Greg Jennings didn't play after re-injuring his groin on a touchdown reception 45 seconds into the second quarter. And you know what? The Packers didn't miss him nearly as much as we all might have feared. Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb caught 20 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns between them. Nelson's 11-yard touchdown won the game, and Jones' acrobatic 8-yard reception on a key third down sealed it. Afterwards, some players offered a cold but accurate NFL analysis. Tight end Jermichael Finley (four catches, 54 yards) said: "Not talking down on Greg or what not, but in this league it's the next man up." It's almost as if the Packers have already begun the mental process of bidding Jennings farewell in free agency this winter. By the way, quarterback Aaron Rodgers confirmed that Jones' first touchdown reception was intended for Finley but Jones got to it first. Take that, fantasy players.

  2. Watching the Packers' daring fake punt in the second quarter via our NFL Countdown Live chat, I assumed coaches had identified a specific Saints alignment before the game that they felt certain could be exploited if they saw it. That appears to be the case, although coach Mike McCarthy wouldn't be specific. "We had a punt earlier where they gave us a look where they played heavy to the protection in the box," McCarthy said. "Based on that particular down and distance, we were able to take advantage." Indeed, upback John Kuhn only needed to get 1 yard to convert the first down, but a failure would have given the Saints the ball at the 17-yard line. A review of the play shows the Saints made it easier by stunting defensive tackle Akiem Hicks away from the hole that Kuhn attacked for his 5-yard gain. Isa Abdul-Quddus rotated behind Hicks but was off the line of scrimmage and had no chance to tackle Kuhn before he gained the necessary yardage.

  3. I'm going to take a wild guess and suggest that Rodgers is quite sensitive on the subject of fourth-quarter comebacks, and the relative few he has on his NFL résumé. Sunday was the fourth of his career, according to pro-football-reference.com, and the seventh-game winning drive overall. For comparison, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has 12 and 16, respectively. Asked about the satisfaction he gained from adding another to his list Sunday, Rodgers sarcastically said: "Yeah, it was great." And that's it. In the end, I really think it's more important whether a quarterback wins, not when his team takes the lead. Since taking over as the Packers' starter, Rodgers is 43-23 in the regular season and 4-2 in the playoffs. That's an overall winning percentage of .653. For comparison, Cutler's is .530. As he himself noted recently on his ESPN 540 radio show: "I've had plenty of game-winning drives in the second and third quarters."

And here is one issue I still don't get:

Rodgers was sacked eight times in the first half of the Week 3 game at Seattle. In six quarters since, he has been sacked once, and it was on a play Rodgers was unofficially scrambling on. Overall, Rodgers has not been sacked in his last 67 drop backs. Have the Packers fixed their issues that quickly? The Saints have the NFL’s lowest-ranked defense, so we have to consider the context. But coincidence or otherwise, Rodgers was kept clean Sunday and had, by far, his best game of the season. “We’re figuring something out,” Rodgers said. Said guard T.J. Lang: “We knew there was going to be a lot of people watching us this week after last week’s performance, so we definitely had some more urgency to our play. We kept Aaron clean and that says a lot about the group of guys we’ve got. When we keep him clean, he can make a lot of big plays.”