Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers

After the Green Bay Packers' 21-13 victory over the Chicago Bears, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Defensive back Charles Woodson said Sunday that team officials thought the Packers could beat the Bears without him, thus agreeing with the decision to give his healing collarbone one more week of rest. Woodson is a versatile player who can help near the line of scrimmage, but there is no doubt the Packers are playing excellent downfield defense in his absence. Over their past three games, the Packers have allowed only three completions in 25 attempts on passes that traveled at least 15 yards past the line of scrimmage. They have three interceptions in those situations and have not allowed a touchdown. Cornerback Sam Shields' return from a shin injury has given the Packers three really good cover men between him, Tramon Williams and rookie Casey Hayward. On Sunday, they limited Bears receiver Brandon Marshall to six receptions for 56 yards and no other receiver caught a pass. One of the reasons rookie Alshon Jeffery was flagged three times for offensive pass interference was that Shields had such tight coverage on him.

  2. Bob McGinn's analysis of tight end Jermichael Finley's future created a hubbub Sunday morning, enough so that several readers wanted to know why the Packers would release Finley during the season. That's not what McGinn wrote, of course. What he did suggest, however, is that the Packers no longer view Finley's talent and potential to be worth his 2013 salary (a total of $8.25 million), his drops (five in his first 13 games, via ESPN Stats & Information) and the mild but frequent off-field headaches he creates. I wouldn't rule out the possibility of the Packers renegotiating Finley's contract and keeping him on the roster. He is still only 25 years old, and in the fourth quarter Sunday we were reminded of his ability to stretch defenses with a 31-yard reception. But such plays have been infrequent -- the catch tied his second-longest of the season -- and when the Packers needed touchdowns Sunday, they turned to receiver James Jones. Finley told ESPN's Josina Anderson that the team hasn't "shown me any signs" that it is ready to move on, but their on-field strategy confirms McGinn's basic theory: Finley is in no way the offensive centerpiece the Packers once envisioned.

  3. The Packers have crossed the line of no return on place-kicker Mason Crosby. If they aren't going to cut him now, after he missed from 42 and 43 yards and prompted them to pass on a 45-yard attempt, what would prompt it? Would he have to lose a game on a chip-shot field goal? Maybe so. But that's not really a proactive way of operating. It would be silly to wait for a loss before moving on. It's not as if his misses haven't impacted the games he's played. His teammates have picked him up. Wins and losses shouldn't affect the Packers' analysis of Crosby. It's only by the efforts of others that his misses haven't been more costly. So the guess here is the Packers are committed to Crosby no matter what.

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

To his credit, Packers coach Mike McCarthy attempted to explain his decision to use a trick punt return midway deep in his territory through the fourth quarter while protecting a 21-10 lead. McCarthy said that quarterback Aaron Rodgers was one of several players who were dealing with mild injuries and that he saw "the potential for the big play on special teams" that would take the pressure off Rodgers and the offense. But there is really no adequate explanation for the play, and the Packers are fortunate it did not impact the outcome of the game. We always push for coaches to be aggressive and unconventional, but McCarthy's risk simply wasn't necessary. First, it was a high-risk design -- a non-quarterback (Randall Cobb) throwing across the field to a little-used young receiver (Jeremy Ross). After midway through the second quarter, the Bears had demonstrated absolutely no ability to move the ball. The only way they were a scoring threat was on a short field. McCarthy just coached his team to its second consecutive NFC North championship, so he gets a break here. But he and the Packers were fortunate a Bears special-teams player didn't scoop up the ensuing fumble and run for a touchdown.