Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers

After the Green Bay Packers' 35-21 victory against the Chicago Bears, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. It didn't get much attention in the afterglow of clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but cornerback Charles Woodson once again wasn't shy about expressing his disappointment with the Packers' defensive performance. After the Bears hit them for 441 total yards, including 199 on the ground, Woodson said: "Physically, we still have some problems. We just give up way too many things on a consistent basis." He added: "We're just not playing good football at times. … Everybody on this team, to the man, has to look within himself and let's get the job done." The Packers got by Sunday night as they have in most games this season, by creating two turnovers -- interceptions by linebacker Clay Matthews and safety Charlie Peprah -- to limit the damage of the opponent's high yardage totals. Woodson expressed some urgency to get the issues corrected, but at some point you wonder if the Packers are what they are: A team with a defense that, for whatever reason, gives up a lot of yards. I mean, the Bears got 121 yards from their third-string running back, their third-string quarterback completed 62 percent of his passes and previously invisible receiver Roy Williams caught a season-high six passes. The Packers' best hope is that they continue to create turnovers at their current rate. In Week 15, we saw what happens when they don't.

  2. About five minutes into the third quarter, quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw a 55-yard touchdown pass to wide-open receiver Jordy Nelson, giving the Packers a comfortable 21-10 lead. If you think you've seen that play before, you have. It was the 10th touchdown pass Rodgers has thrown on play-action out of a two-back set, most of which have included bootleg-type movement from Rodgers and a deep throw down the middle of the field. The Packers moved away from it after hitting for eight touchdowns in the first seven weeks of the season, according to ace ESPN Stats & Information researcher John McTigue. Overall, the Packers have thrown 85 play-action passes out of that set and tried a total of 97 passing plays (including eight scrambles and four sacks). As we discussed earlier this season, it works in part because the Packers have established a tendency to run out of that formation on the majority of times they use it.

  3. Nelson has been targeted a relatively modest 79 times this season but has caught 59 of them, including 12 touchdowns, making him what ESPN Stats & Information considers the NFL's most efficient receiver. Entering the game, 73 players had been targeted more frequently than Nelson. But he now has more touchdown receptions than all players but New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. Rodgers' passer rating this season on throws to Nelson entering the game was 156 and it was a perfect 158.3 Sunday night.

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

Sunday was the first game all season that Rodgers hasn't been sacked, and it came behind a patchwork group that included left guard T.J. Lang playing right tackle and reserve Evan Dietrich-Smith playing left guard. The Packers were pretty giddy about it, and Rodgers said: "I think a lot of people were questioning even the starters and the way that they've played. We had T.J. at right tackle and we had Evan at left guard and those guys played great. I've got to give them a lot of credit. They're the MVPs tonight. I barely got touched out there. That's always fun." One possible explanation: The Packers used three wide receivers, normally their base formation, on only 37 percent of their plays. That forced the Bears to line up with their base defense for the most part and gave the Packers extra blocking help with tight end and running backs as well. The question now is how the Packers move forward. You would think that right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) won't return this week. Perhaps veteran Chad Clifton will get some work Sunday against the Detroit Lions. But what will the Packers' line look like in their first playoff game? I'm not sure if anyone knows the answer to that question.