Fun­da­men­tals re­main elu­sive

Packer Plus - - Rating The Packers - Bob McGinn

Green Bay — Run the foot­ball. Stop the run. Make big plays. Pre­vent big plays. Pro­tect the quar­ter­back. Rush the quar­ter­back.

The most im­por­tant el­e­ments in a foot­ball game con­tin­ued to elude the Green Bay Pack­ers on Sun­day in their 37-29 loss to the Car­olina Pan­thers in Char­lotte, N.C.

Here is a rat­ing of the Pack­ers, with their 1 to 5 foot­ball to­tals in paren­the­ses:

RE­CEIVERS (1)

It’s prob­a­bly safe to say that Da­vante Adams (75 of a pos­si­ble 77 snaps) isn’t all the way back from a bad an­kle in­jury. Still, his seven-catch, 93yard per­for­mance was far su­pe­rior to his re­turn a week ago against Den­ver and of­fered some hope for a some­what stag­nant re­ceiv­ing corps. Adams showed the abil­ity to tightrope the side­line and the hands to scoop low throws. He’s not sep­a­rat­ing like nor­mal, but that’s not his game. Maybe he ran some of those side­line stops, come­backs and hitches that Jordy Nel­son pro­vided as a com­fort zone for the of­fense. James Jones (71) doesn’t have the fire­power to beat man cov­er­age from a ter­rific young cor­ner­back like Josh Nor­man. Thus, for most of the game, he ran clearouts for Ran­dall Cobb (68 at WR, four at RB). Jones did beat clingy old pro Charles Till­man on a skinny post for 21 yards. Plus, on the play of the game, he took the ball away from a leap­ing Nor­man for 36 on fourth and 14. Cobb’s ef­fort level was re­mark­able. Boy, that man plays hard. It was an eye­opener to see Cobb flank right and run by Nor­man on a 60yard take-off that was just over­thrown. Fear­lessly, he laid out for the ball. Cobb’s 53yard TD on an out-and-up from the left slot against nickel Bene Be­newikere was spec­tac­u­lar. He also dropped two or three passes, which can­not hap­pen. With Ty Mont­gomery (an­kle) miss­ing a sec­ond straight game, the coaches gave three snaps each to Jeff Ja­nis and Jared Ab­bred­eris. Richard Rodgers (67) posted his first two-TD game. He’s valu­able in­side the 5 be­cause teams tend to ig­nore him. On the fourth-quar­ter TD, de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Sean McDer­mott blitzed seven leav­ing DE Kony Ealy to drop off and try to cover Rodgers. He couldn’t. His sure hands come in handy when the quar­ter­back ri­fles the ball at point-blank range. Of course, Rodgers’ lim­i­ta­tions dog the of­fense. McDer­mott was able to hide slow-footed SS Ro­man Harper on him. The first half of the sea­son ended with Justin Per­illo play­ing 19 snaps and Ken­nard Back­man play­ing six.

OF­FEN­SIVE LINE (1½)

The best player, prob­a­bly for the sec­ond game in a row, was T.J. Lang. Play­ing much of the day against Star Lo­tulelei, he was able to match up phys­i­cally against the mus­cu­lar nose tackle and stop him from pen­e­trat­ing. Lang wasn’t re­spon­si­ble for a pres­sure or a “bad” run. Even in his sev­enth sea­son, he still looks like an ath­lete with re­spectable speed when op­er­at­ing down­field on screens. Corey Linsley and Josh Sit­ton had the more quick-twitched op­po­nent in DT Kawann Short, and the re­sults weren’t nearly as good. Linsley is hav­ing as­sign­ment and pro- tec­tion is­sues. On one of the sacks, Linsley was too pre­oc­cu­pied with the rusher to his right and was late get­ting over. He had sev­eral low shot­gun snaps. His hold­ing penalty was le­git­i­mate be­cause he had Short’s arm on a run­ning play. He was re­spon­si­ble for a de­lay penalty and wasted a time­out by not snap­ping the ball on time. He was re­spon­si­ble for 1½ “bad” runs when he failed to get MLB Luke Kuechly blocked. Fi­nally, on the de­ci­sive fourth down at the 3, Short knocked him back be­fore pres­sur­ing Aaron Rodgers. It was also a bad day for Bryan Bu­laga: one sack, two knock­downs, 2½ hur­ries and 1½ “bad” runs. DE Kony Ealy, an im­prov­ing sec­ond-year man, knocked Bu­laga’s hands down and turned the cor­ner for a strip­sack in 2.6 sec­onds. Bu­laga con­tin­ues to strug­gle on back­side cut­offs. On the other side, David Bakhtiari con­tin­ues to be tested weekly by an abun­dance of bull rushes. The book on beat­ing Bakhtiari must be em­ploy­ing power. An­other Bakhtiari-Jared Allen bat­tle prob­a­bly was a draw. DE Mario Ad­di­son ac­counted for the 1½ pres­sures against Bakhtiari.

QUAR­TER­BACKS (1½)

Credit Rodgers for ac­cept­ing blame on his de­ci­sion not to get the ball im­me­di­ately to an open Cobb on the most mean­ing­ful play of the game. That doesn’t min­i­mize the cost­li­ness of his in­abil­ity to pull the trig­ger. The coaches had the in­ter­minably long 2minute warn­ing and a sub­se­quent Pan­thers time­out to pound home their ex­pec­ta­tion that the catch by Jones would be suc­cess­ful and that Cobb would walk in from the flat. Rodgers feared Till­man would slough off onto Cobb, which he didn’t. Just throw the damn foot­ball. In­stead, Rodgers held the ball, as he did in the first se­ries on Lo­tulelei’s sack that came af­ter 6.6 sec­onds, and when the pro­tec­tion broke down had to fling up a lob hope pass that was in­ter­cepted. The only way the Pack­ers could have won would have been through su­perla­tive play at quar­ter­back. In­stead, Rodgers’ ac­cu­racy was al­most on a par with Cam New­ton’s. OK, that’s

some­what of an ex­ag­ger­a­tion, but he had about seven passes in which re­ceivers had sep­a­ra­tion but the ball wasn’t on tar­get. When the game was be­ing won, Rodgers re­mained out of sync. He has to be aware of the safety blitz, but when Kurt Cole­man came down late Rodgers didn’t see him and was sacked. He caught a break when a re­play re­vealed Cole­man trapped an in­ter­cep­tion. When the sec­ond half be­came a 30-minute last re­sort, Rodgers was much more ef­fec­tive lead­ing three TD drives. His blind es­cape to the left against a free run­ner and sub­se­quent heave to Jones was mem­o­rable stuff.

RUN­NING BACKS (3)

The first three car­ries by James Starks (55, the sec­ond high­est snap count of his ca­reer) were big time. NT Kyle Love beats Lang in­side, Starks makes him miss and gains 4. He makes LB Thomas Davis miss, gain­ing 9. He makes Nor­man miss, gain­ing 15. In all, Starks broke five tack­les in 16 touches, gain­ing 122 to­tal yards (76 on three screens). He even caught an out­side-break­ing route from the slot. As usual, Starks’ work in pass pro­tec­tion was an ad­ven­ture. John Kuhn (10) might have been a bet­ter op­tion on a play or two late. How­ever, Kuhn’s block­ing wasn’t good in this game, ei­ther. In truth, the Pack­ers would have been bet­ter off if Ed­die Lacy (19) had been in­ac­tive. He isn’t tak­ing care of the foot­ball. He’s not run­ning hard. If he’s miffed by Starks’ play­ing time, he shouldn’t be. Yes, Till­man sur­prised Lacy on McDer­mott’s cor­ner blitz, but the ease with which the art­ful ex-Bear poked it out from un­der Lacy’s arm was j ar­ring. Two games in a row he has lost the foot­ball at the goal line but was saved fur­ther em­bar­rass­ment by barely be­ing down by con­tact. When Lacy stood next to Linsley at one point, their lower bod­ies didn’t seem all that much dif­fer­ent. In five touches, he didn’t break a tackle. Rookie FB Aaron Rip­kowski (six) ran a clever boot­leg route against Allen and then gained five of his 18 yards af­ter re­sound­ing con­tact with Ben­wikere.

DE­FEN­SIVE LINE (1½)

Car­olina’s vast im­prove­ment in the of­fen­sive line is at the heart of their un­de­feated start. The Pack­ers’ front seven is mas­sive and ex­pe­ri­enced. Gen­er­ally, the Pack­ers’ front seven gets af­ter peo­ple, but they weren’t get­ting af­ter the Pan­thers. RG Trai Turner, a rough­hous­ing sec­ond-year man, took shots and played well. The other four play­ers went for the throat, too, and maul­ing LG An­drew Nor­well (ham­string) didn’t play. Mike Daniels (56 of a pos­si­ble 67 snaps) prob­a­bly had the eas­i­est matchup against backup Amini Si­la­tolu, a brutish vet­eran with short­com­ings. Play­ing with high in­ten­sity, Daniels was the best man against the run and reg­is­tered the only knock­down by a D-line­man. B.J. Raji (32) won some and lost some in a great matchup with nine-year vet­eran C Ryan Kalil, who still might be Car­olina’s lead­ing blocker. Raji gen­er­ally didn’t budge against the Pan­thers’ power run game, but he was un­able to do any­thing in the back­field, ei­ther. Letroy Guion (39) shoved Turner deep on a carry for mi­nus-7, his finest play since re­turn­ing from sus­pen­sion Oct. 4. Oth­er­wise, he wasn’t sharp. When the Pack­ers played 27 snaps in the 3-4, Mike Pen­nel (16) was the backup NT 11 times. Da­tone Jones (16) had one hurry.

LINEBACK­ERS (1)

Here’s the ex­tent of the pass rush: a knock­down and one-half pres­sure for Julius Pep­pers (37). Every­one else was shut out by a team that ranked 18th in per­cent­age of sacks al­lowed. Dom Capers threw every­thing that he had at New­ton. He blitzed five or more on 62.9% of passes, the third high­est to­tal in his seven-year ten­ure. His 25.7% blitz rate of six or more was a record for Capers in Green Bay. Clay Matthews (60 at ILB, seven at OLB) leaped to chuck a shal­low cross­ing re­ceiver and got out of po­si­tion, en­abling New­ton to steam through the va­cated mid­dle for 23. Af­ter that, Capers blitzed as much to plug lanes against New­ton’s runs as to gen­er­ate rush. Play­ing on a sore leg, Matthews was strangely in­vis­i­ble. His 11 in­te­rior pass blitzes, mostly through the A gaps, were sti­fled by RB Jonathan Stew­art, a rugged pro­tec­tor. When Nate Palmer (23) started slowly, Jake Ryan (38) came on late in the sec­ond quar­ter and fin­ished. There were flashes of Ryan strik­ing a blow against line­men, dis­en­gag­ing and pre­vent­ing backs from bleed­ing runs. He made a ter­rific read and tackle to foil a naked pitch. His speed to the out­side wasn’t bad. On the out­side, Mike Neal (59), Nick Perry (38) and Pep­pers of­fered noth­ing as rush­ers against the tackle tan­dem of Michael Oher and Mike Rem­mers. Pep­pers en­coun­tered more dou­ble-team­ing on rushes by his old team (31.8%) than he has seen since Week 3. He just didn’t have any suc­cess. At least Perry was hard to move in the run game, in­clud­ing a won­der­ful read to turn a re­verse into mi­nus-10. The other two weren’t con­sis­tent in the run de­fense. Jay­rone El­liott didn’t take a scrim­mage snap for the first time, pre­sum­ably be­cause the Pack­ers wanted mus­cle play­ers against a mus­cle op­po­nent.

SEC­ONDARY (1)

Ha Ha Clin­ton-Dix (67) re­verted to some of his poor first-year show­ings. When New­ton spied him squat­ting in a sin­gle-high look, he threw the ball over his head to Devin Funchess for 52 yards. Da­mar­i­ous Ran­dall (67), who started for Sam Shields (shoul­der), had per­fect cov­er­age. How­ever, Clin­ton-Dix should re­al­ize he isn’t fast enough to turn and run with Funchess. He’s got to be deeper. On the too-easy 7-yard TD pass to TE Greg Olsen, Clin­ton-Dix has to as­sume the in­side lineback­ers must re­spect New­ton’s play fake and there­fore be­come much more ag­gres­sive in his cov­er­age. Some­times, Clin- ton-Dix flies around and shows ex­treme hus­tle. On the 59-yard over route to Jer­ri­cho Cotch­ery, he didn’t show much hus­tle at all. Mor­gan Bur­nett (66) and oth­ers should have been look­ing for some­one to cover in that eight-deep zone on third and 16 that Cotch­ery skated through. That play epit­o­mized wretched de­fense. Bur­nett’s play speed has di­min­ished, pre­sum­ably be­cause of his on­go­ing calf prob­lem. Capers’ heavy blitz­ing put the onus on the young cor­ner­backs, and the re­sults were about what you’d ex­pect. Demetri Good­son (49), who played ex­ten­sively af­ter Casey Hay­ward (concussion) de­parted early (41), is a tough com­peti­tor. But when he failed to get his hands on Corey Brown in the bump zone, it was over on Brown’s 39yard TD. That’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween Good­son (4.52 speed) and Shields (4.30). Ran­dall bat­tled, too. This is his school of hard knocks. He made a great pick, gave up a slew of slants and never cried un­cle. Play­ing time for Micah Hyde (19) was cut dra­mat­i­cally.

KICK­ERS (2)

Ma­son Crosby contributed to the team’s aw­ful start when he mishit the open­ing kick­off and the Pan­thers started from the 30. His four kick­offs for dis­tance av­er­aged 69.8 yards and 3.44 sec­onds of hang time. Tim Masthay did a mag­nif­i­cent job get­ting a punt off when CB Teddy Wil­liams, a world-class sprinter, charged in off the edge look­ing for a block. His eight-punt av­er­ages were 44.6 (gross), 40.3 (net) and 4.04 (hang time).

SPE­CIAL TEAMS (2)

Each week, Hyde shows why he’s an elite kick re­turner. He makes coach-like de­ci­sions, is slip­pery and clever with the ball, and shows no fear. Rookie CB Ladar­ius Gunter had two penal­ties in 18 snaps, in­clud­ing a bla­tant il­le­gal block in the fi­nal minute to shorten Hyde’s punt re­turn. Gunter’s short­com­ings in speed were ev­i­dent in some mid­field chase si­t­u­a­tions. Steady, dis­ci­plined cov­er­age con­tained Ted Ginn. El­liott led the way with 35 snaps.

RICK WOOD / RWOOD@JOUR­NALSEN­TINEL.COM

Pack­ers tight end Richard Rodgers hauls in a touch­down pass from Aaron Rodgers in the fourth quar­ter against the Pan­thers.

RICK WOOD / RWOOD@JOUR­NALSEN­TINEL.COM

Green Bay Pack­ers run­ning back James Starks scores a touch­down in the fourth quar­ter against Car­olina.

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