Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers

(We're sprucing up our day-after-game posts here on the NFC North blog, but the structure remains the same.)

After the Green Bay Packers' 27-20 victory Sunday at the Philadelphia Eagles, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. As we noted a few moments ago, coach Mike McCarthy has ruled out tailback Ryan Grant for Sunday's home opener against the Buffalo Bills. McCarthy said Grant's injury is "significant" and that he didn't enough information to answer questions about whether surgery will be needed. I suppose anything could happen, but there are some code words there that suggest Grant could miss an extended period of the season. No matter what you think of backup Brandon Jackson, I think you have to admit the Packers' offense is different without Grant on the field. Having a two-time 1,200-yard runner in the backfield puts certain strains on a defense that starting a four-year backup does not. It's plain and simple. Jackson will have to demonstrate he can produce similar yardage, or defenses will have a relatively easier time ganging up on the Packers' passing game.

  2. The Packers entered the game with only four defensive lineman on their active roster, but they had a good reason. Their game plan called for them to play sub packages the entire game. That's right. According to video analysis by ESPN's Stats & Information, the Packers did not play one down in their base 3-4 defense. They had at least five defensive backs on the field at all times, and they had a traditional set of seven men in the box on only six plays. The scheme worked much better against Eagles starter Kevin Kolb (5-of-10) than it did against backup Michael Vick (103 rushing yards). By the end of the game, the Packers' remaining defensive linemen were gassed. McCarthy estimated nose tackle B.J. Raji played upwards of 60 snaps. He never played as many as 35 snaps last season.

  3. For the most part, I would consider Vick's rushing total a product of a unique individual performance. According to ESPN's Stats & Information, Vick gained 70 of his yards on passing plays that ended in a scramble. On six designed runs, Vick gained 33 yards. The Packers aren't going to run into another quarterback with Vick's skill set this season.

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

How will history view the Packers' decision to draft defensive lineman Justin Harrell with their top pick in the 2007 draft? Harrell had missed all but three games of his senior season at Tennessee because of a torn biceps. Earlier in his college career, Harrell had surgery on his right leg, broke his right ankle in a separate injury and also had back trouble. A general rule of thumb is that players who have a hard time staying on the field in college will repeat that pattern in the NFL, and that has certainly been the case for Harrell. He has played in 14 games over four seasons, and Sunday's might have been his last with the Packers after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Complicating the analysis is that most of the injuries were unrelated. For whatever reason, Harrell could never keep himself out of the trainer's room.