Ob­ser­va­tions that re­quire more study

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It’s time to step back and look at what we’ve learned about the Green Bay Pack­ers through their 3-2-1 start.

Here are five ob­ser­va­tions:

1. Ev­ery­body who fol­lows the Pack­ers wants to know whether they’ll even be a play­off team.

The first six games have left good rea­son to doubt. The Pack­ers haven’t played well, and there’s a same ol’, same ol’ feel and sense of stal­e­ness about this team.

But if the Pack­ers’ vibe isn’t good, it still would be stupid to de­clare their sea­son lost.

The odd­s­mak­ers haven’t. The Pack­ers’ odds of win­ning the Su­per Bowl have slipped from sixth-best in in the NFL just be­fore the start of the sea­son (11-to-1), ac­cord­ing to Bo­vada.lv, but they’re still 10th-best (20-to-1).

What the odd­s­mak­ers know is what a front-of­fice ex­ec­u­tive with an­other NFL team told me late this week: With Aaron Rodgers at quar­ter­back and a ros­ter that stays healthy at some other key po­si­tions, the Pack­ers are al­ways a threat to make a late-sea­son run, as they did in 2010 when they won the Su­per Bowl af­ter a 3-3 start, and in 2016, when they ad­vanced to the NFC ti­tle game af­ter be­ing 4-6.

“It’s like ev­ery­one’s try­ing to win the Su­per Bowl ev­ery sin­gle day, and that’s not how it works,” the ex­ec­u­tive said. “I know they’re only 3-2-1, right? But that’s fine right now.”

To il­lus­trate his point, the scout of­fered a thumb­nail com­par­i­son of the Pack­ers now vs. the Su­per Bowl cham­pion Philadel­phia Ea­gles last sea­son. He gave the Pack­ers the edge at quar­ter­back, re­ceiver and cor­ner­back; the Ea­gles the edge at pass rush. The of­fen­sive lines were a push. 2. The Pack­ers’ big­gest prob­lem is their pass rush.

If they don’t get bet­ter there, they won’t have much chance to do any­thing. An­other scout this week won­dered if the Pack­ers still might pull off a deal for a pass rusher be­tween now and the Oct. 30 trade dead­line. Gen­eral man­ager Brian Gutekunst and his staff should be wear­ing out their cell­phone bat­ter­ies try­ing.

Gutekunst can’t let des­per­a­tion make him stupid. That’s when you get swin­dled. But in the next week or two, a team that’s out of con­tention might be will­ing to part with a de­cent, older rusher for a rea­son­able price.

Ari­zona’s Chan­dler Jones has 61⁄ 2 sacks in seven games and at age 28 could have an­other good sea­son left in him. He’s due $7.4 mil­lion in re­main­ing salary this year and $16.5 mil­lion ($11.5 mil­lion guar­an­teed) next year. No clue whether the Car­di­nals (1-6) are will­ing to move him. He might be worth a sec­ond- or third-round pick.

Buf­falo’s Jerry Hughes is older (30) and not as good as Jones, but he has 41⁄ 2 sacks in six games and had a ca­reerbest 10 sacks as a 25-year old in 2013 with Buf­falo for Mike Pet­tine, the Pack­ers’ de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor. Hughes is due $3.7 mil­lion for the rest of this sea­son and $6.35 mil­lion next year. There are no re­ports about whether the Bills (2-4) might be will­ing to trade him, ei­ther. He might be worth a mid- to lat­er­round pick.

3. The Pack­ers traded their best safety for a backup quar­ter­back last March. We’re talk­ing about Da­mar­i­ous Ran­dall, of course.

Ran­dall didn’t play safety with the Pack­ers, but it’s clear now he should have. He’s a pure free safety with speed (4.46 sec­onds) and ball-hawk­ing skills (two in­ter­cep­tions this sea­son), and it looks like he’s a new man as a starter for Cleve­land.

The Pack­ers’ safety play, in the mean­time, has been a prob­lem and Ken­trell Brice is es­pe­cially hav­ing a rough go as a starter. Nei­ther he nor Ha Ha Clin­ton-Dix is a true free safety. If the Pack­ers still had Ran­dall, they could have played him deep, and Clin­ton-Dix closer to the line of scrim­mage.

Ran­dall made it tough for the Pack­ers to keep him. Af­ter coach Mike McCarthy ban­ished Ran­dall to the locker room for pout­ing on the bench in a Week 4 game again­stChicago last sea­son, McCarthy’s com­mit­tee of vet­eran play­ers rec­om­mended cut­ting the de­fen­sive back, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by ESPN.com. Ran­dall also had a rep­u­ta­tion for find­ing in­jury ex­cuses to miss prac­tices and sealed his Pack­ers fate when he sat out the last two games with a mi­nor knee in­jury.

4. No­body can un­der­stand why Aaron Jones isn’t get­ting the ball more.

“I can’t fig­ure it out,” said one of the afore­men­tioned scouts, who’s seen four Pack­ers games on video or live. “It’s not even close (that he’s their best run­ner). Maybe they’re wor­ried he’s go­ing to get hurt. … But I can’t fig­ure that one out. But again, they don’t run the ball any­way.”

Jones is av­er­ag­ing eight car­ries (and 5.5 yards), and had only eight touches against San Fran­cisco, his fourth game back since serv­ing a two-game drug sus­pen­sion to start the sea­son.

5. Gutekunst’s pref­er­ence for tall re­ceivers has landed him a promis­ing later-round draft class.

Even with Ran­dall Cobb and Geron­imo Al­li­son back from ham­string in­juries af­ter the bye, fifth-rounder Mar­quez Valdes-Scantling (6-4) de­serves to stay in the re­ceiv­ing ro­ta­tion. His 17.7 yards per catch is best among all rook­ies with at least 10 re­cep­tions this sea­son.

And Equanimeous St. Brown (6-43⁄ 4) made an im­pres­sive snag on a back­shoul­der throw to con­vert a huge thir­dand-2 in the fi­nal 15 sec­onds against San Fran­cisco. He has only four catches, but the aware­ness and tim­ing he showed on that cru­cial play sug­gests he should get a few snaps a game, too.

Fourth-rounder J’Mon Moore (6-25⁄ 8) has had the same prob­lem he had at Mis­souri: drops. That might prove to be a fa­tal flaw. But the early re­turns on Valdes-Scantling and St. Brown are promis­ing.

“Valdes(-Scantling), that was a great pick,” one of the scouts said. “You saw all the traits with him (at South Florida). He wasn’t su­per pro­duc­tive, but you saw all the traits. The guy’s big and fast.”

Scouts and fans are won­der­ing why run­ning back Aaron Jones isn’t get­ting more touches in the Pack­ers’ of­fense. JEFF HANISCH/USA TO­DAY

Pete Dougherty Colum­nist USA TO­DAY NET­WORK – WIS.

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