Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers

After the Green Bay Packers' 23-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Coach Mike McCarthy didn't rule out the possibility of keeping rookie Don Barclay at right tackle even if veteran T.J. Lang's ankle injury isn't serious to keep him out of Sunday night's game against the Detroit Lions. As we discussed Sunday, Barclay held his own as an emergency replacement, thanks in part to McCarthy's realistic playcalling. Lang's time at right tackle, which has included three penalties in less than 2 1/2 games, has left no confusion about his best position. So if Barclay can be serviceable at right tackle, the Packers would be better served having Lang at his natural left guard position. Again, that might not happen if Lang needs a week or two to heal. But if he's ready to play this week, it would make some sense to make the switch.

  2. Packers safety Jerron McMillian played Sunday with the knowledge that one of his college teammates had died in a stunning murder-suicide in Kansas City. McMillian played with Kansas City linebacker Jovan Belcher for two seasons at Maine and said he spoke with him as recently as this summer after the Packers' preseason game against the Chiefs. He didn't claim to be close friends with Belcher but said they had a "little bond" because McMillian sought him out for advice on the field. Off the field, McMillian said: "He was a real good person. He always let you know what you needed to do better, he always communicated. The words he used to give you, they were inspiring, to make you work even harder. Finding out something like this, it's so tragic. It really hurts."

  3. Assuming we all look back and laugh at the little hiccup in place-kicker Mason Crosby's season, I wonder if we'll view his 47-yarder in the third quarter Sunday as the turning point. The Packers faced a fourth-down-and-7 at the Vikings' 29-yard line, an obvious kicking down on an unseasonably mild day. Initially, however, McCarthy kept his offense on the field as if he was considering going for it. I know that going for it on fourth down is increasingly accepted among the analysts who study such things, but normally this type of situation doesn't apply. At that moment, I wondered why Crosby was on the roster if McCarthy wasn't going to use him for a 47-yard attempt. The Vikings were as surprised as anyone and took a timeout to regroup, giving McCarthy time to reconsider. He then sent out Crosby, who drilled the kick, and then was so pumped he booted the ensuing kickoff nine yards deep in the end zone. Later, Crosby nailed a 31-yarder. So we'll call him two-for-two since the Turning Point and see where that takes us.

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

Why is the Packers defense tackling so poorly and what, if anything, can be done about it? McCarthy's film review noted more than 10 missed tackles Sunday, mostly of tailback Adrian Peterson. There is no shame in missing against Peterson, who leads the NFL in yards after contact, but this is an issue we've seen with other ball carriers as well this season. One explanation could be the absence of linebacker Clay Matthews, who is obviously the Packers' best pass rusher but also one of their most fundamentally sound tacklers. You don't see many running backs or receivers elude him in the open field. Pro Football Focus has Matthews with 18 missed tackles in four seasons. That's a pretty low number for someone who plays every down. But I'm willing to consider other explanations as well.