Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers

After the Green Bay Packers' 42-24 victory over the Houston Texans, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. As we noted Sunday night, quarterback Aaron Rodgers had some fun with external suggestions that the Packers' offense had lost its way. "We haven't gone anywhere," he said. Well, the Packers' big-play offense had at least been hiding. Sunday night, Rodgers completed nearly as many passes that traveled at least 15 yards past the line of scrimmage (six) as he had in the Packers' first five games combined (eight). Four went for touchdowns, Rodgers' highest total of downfield scoring passes in a regular-season game since 2008, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In short, it was one of the most effective downfield days in Rodgers' career. The Texans' signature press coverage was simply no match when Rodgers got the kind of protection he received Sunday night. Oh, and it's worth noting that in the first half, the Packers ran on about 30 percent of their snaps in building a 21-10 lead. As we discussed last week, that figure has been an important threshold for the Packers in keeping opposing pass rushes at bay.

  2. When they resume practicing Wednesday, the Packers likely will be without three linebackers who have been starters this season. Coach Mike McCarthy was not optimistic about a knee injury suffered by inside linebacker D.J. Smith, who replaced Desmond Bishop after a season-ending injury in the preseason. Outside linebacker Nick Perry also didn't return after suffering a first-half knee injury. Sunday night, that left Brad Jones playing for Smith and Erik Walden playing full-time in place of Perry. For me, what it really means is the Packers will need to rely on veteran A.J. Hawk more than ever to team with Clay Matthews as both a leader and a playmaker. Sunday night, Hawk had a sack among his game-high 10 tackles. I'll be curious to see if there is any discussion of the grass at Reliant Stadium, where four Packers players -- Perry, Smith, Brandon Saine and cornerback Sam Shields -- suffered leg injuries.

  3. The Packers seemed to make a clear effort to feature receiver Jordy Nelson against the Texans' physical coverage tactics, and Nelson responded by catching nine of the 12 passes thrown his way for 121 yards and three touchdowns. Receiver Randall Cobb also had a big game, catching seven passes for 102 yards. But to me, the most lasting impression by a Packers receiver was made by James Jones, who caught a pair of touchdowns for the third consecutive game. After seeing him drop so many potential scores in recent years, I haven't really associated Jones with the likelihood for making catches with a high degree of difficulty. But both scores Sunday night were really hard, especially the 18-yarder for which he extended, tipped toward himself with his right hand and only then corralled. As of Monday morning, Jones led all NFL players with seven touchdowns.

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

Watching the game live, it felt like tailback Alex Green was having a productive and efficient game. Then I looked at the final game book: 65 yards on 22 carries. Is that going to be enough to continue as the Packers' exclusive runner in Cedric Benson's absence? I don't know. Former starter James Starks got only eight snaps in his 2012 debut, most of which came in garbage time during the fourth quarter. Clearly, McCarthy didn't see anything Sunday night that compelled him to take Green off the field, or give Starks more of an opportunity. But that could have been because Starks was facing his first contact since the preseason opener two months ago. We'll see if McCarthy moves toward more of a shared tailback role or if Green will continue to get the majority of snaps.