Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers

After the Green Bay Packers’ 49-23 victory aganist the Denver Broncos, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. NFL teams divide the 16-game regular-season into quarters. That means we just completed the first quarter of 2011. And at this moment, I think we can agree that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been the best player in the NFL through four games. (With all due respect to Detroit LIons receiver Calvin Johnson.) Rodgers has accounted for an NFL-high 14 touchdowns, leads the league in passer rating, is tops in QBR and could have been even better if he had worked out this offseason with his teammates. (Ha!) It won’t always be as easy as it was against the Broncos, when he threw eight passes that traveled longer than 14 yards in the air and completed six of them for 205 yards and three touchdowns. Rodgers isn’t playing yet at the level he was in the 2010 playoffs, but like the rest of the Packers, he is significantly ahead of where he was through the first four games of the 2010 regular season.

  2. The Broncos devoted considerable defensive attention to tight end Jermichael Finley. Rodgers targeted him on six of 38 passes, connecting for three completions that totaled 28 yards. Afterwards, Finley told reporters that “hopefully we can go back and dial up something for the double teams. We’ve got to have something for it.” Actually, the Packers do have “something for it.” It’s called Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, James Jones, Randall Cobb, James Starks and Ryan Grant. Generally I’m not in favor of sitting back and allowing a defense to take away a top weapon. But when you have as many weapons as the Packers do, it makes perfect sense. Look at it this way: The Broncos largely shut down one of the Packers’ top players and still gave up seven touchdowns. How can you argue with that?

  3. The Packers' offense appears to be a finely tuned machine. But if I was looking for something to be worried about, it would be their personnel situation on the offensive line. We already know that Marshall Newhouse is playing for right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee). Broncos linebacker Von Miller beat him for a pair of sacks. At one point Sunday, rookie Derek Sherrod replaced left tackle Chad Clifton. The Packers weren’t bad along the line Sunday, nor have they been sub-par at any point this season. But their margin of error is smaller than at some of their other more-stocked positions.

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

So I lied. I get what coach Mike McCarthy was trying to do at the end of the Packers’ first scoring drive. In trying to convert a fourth-and-1 at the Broncos’ 12, he was trying to put away a struggling team as early as possible. Typically at the start of a game, you’re just trying to get points. Given how the game turned out, it’s hard to second-guess McCarthy’s methods. What’s most amazing is that the possession was probably the difference between a 49-point game and the Packers' first 50-plus point game in six seasons. It would have been just the ninth in franchise history.