John Crist: Aaron Rodgers was my pick this season for MVP, and while he's not necessarily off to a blazing start, he's thrown for 443 yards in two games with a TD-to-INT ratio of 4-to-2. We all know he has the weapons around him to succeed, and it appears his protection is better since he has only been sacked three times thus far. But if Rodgers is going to go from great to elite this year, what needs to happen?
Bill Huber: Personally, I think he crossed that bridge last year. With the beating he took and the constant pressure he was under, he threw just seven interceptions. To me, that's astounding. Here's something else that's astounding: His career interception percentage is 1.92 percent. Donovan McNabb is the NFL's all-time leader at 2.08 percent, with Neil O'Donnell at 2.11 percent. So, not only is Rodgers on pace to take that record but obliterate it, once he gets to the requisite 1,500 career passing attempts (he needs 304 more).
As for this season, he played "terrible" (his word) against the Eagles and was frustrated by his first half last week against Buffalo. Then came the second half, when his passer rating was 152.7, with two touchdown passes and a touchdown run against a really good Bills secondary. Defenses had all offseason to come up with something new to throw at Rodgers, so perhaps that explains his somewhat slow start to this year. Like you said, the protection is much better this year than last year, and he's surrounded by weapons in the passing game. The combination of Rodgers' talent and smarts, the quarterback-centric coaching of Mike McCarthy and a sublime supporting cast doesn't come along too often.
JC: The Green Bay running game was dealt a blow after the opener, as blue-collar ball carrier Ryan Grant is now lost for the year to injured reserve. You've been down on backup-now-starter Brandon Jackson in the past, which tells me the coaching staff and/or front office may have to step up and make a move. Is there any truth to the Marshawn Lynch trade rumors, and what would it cost to acquire him?
BH: There's nothing to those Lynch trade rumors other than the logic that the Packers need a running back and the Bills have an abundance of them. It's sort of humorous to hear fans say, "Trade A.J. Hawk for Lynch." Like that would happen in a million years. Hawk can't play pass defense in the Packers' 3-4 scheme, so why would he be able to do it in Buffalo's 3-4? Anyway, the cost for Lynch is off the charts. Maybe the Bills are just playing hardball or they're guilty of wishful thinking, but I had one source tell me they want two first-round picks. In other words, he's not on the block, but they'd listen to a blockbuster offer. Lynch has two 1,000-yard seasons to his credit, he's young and the Bills have paid him most of his $18.9 million contract, so I can understand their lofty wishes.
As for Jackson, he's exceptional in pass protection. McCarthy compared him to Marcus Allen in that regard. So that's nice, but it doesn't exactly fill Grant's shoes in the run game. Who knows? With a steady diet of 15-carry games, maybe Jackson gets into the groove that all running backs desire. And the Broncos, for instance, have had success plugging all sorts of guys you've never heard of into their zone scheme. But last year, the Packers brought in washed-up Ahman Green off the street, and he had more carries in eight games than Jackson had in 12. That says something about a lack of confidence, though running backs coach Edgar Bennett looked at me like I had a third eye when I mentioned my theory. Regardless, last week was not a good debut. The blocking wasn't very good, but he was indecisive and went down too easily.
JC: I thought the Packers got one of the steals of the first round when Chicago native Bryan Bulaga fell to them in the first round, so I expected him to be in the mix to start at tackle as a rookie. But looking at the depth chart, the former Iowa Hawkeye is no better than a second-team guard. Is he going to be needed to replace Chad Clifton or Mark Tauscher any time soon, or are there red flags already?
BH: Well, Bulaga is probably going to start at left tackle this week. Clifton made it through 24 minutes against Buffalo last week until he was replaced. Clifton's achy knees were bothering him and affecting his play. I find it hard to believe that those knees will feel markedly better by Monday night.
Bulaga, who's also been working at left guard and right tackle, played well in his regular-season debut. He was spotless in pass protection, which is the big thing at that position. Before the draft, I heard whispers from NFL personnel people that they wondered whether Bulaga had the nimble feet and long arms to hold up at left tackle. We'll see on Monday, because I'm assuming Bulaga will be spending the night facing Julius Peppers.
JC: While Bulaga is probably getting a spot start this week, one draft pick already in the starting lineup is safety Morgan Burnett. You and I have gone back and forth a few times already about the Bears wanting the Georgia Tech product but the Packers trading up to get him. Chicago can't wait to get Major Wright healthy because he has looked good when healthy, but what are they missing out on with Burnett?
BH: A ballhawk, pure and simple. That was Burnett's MO coming out of college, with 11 picks in two seasons as a starter. On Sunday, he made a brilliant read and play for an interception. The Packers blitzed, Trent Edwards threw hot and Burnett was there in a blur and stole the ball from the receiver. He's so athletic and has a sixth sense for the ball. I'm not an expert on this, but I wonder if there's a faster duo of safeties in the NFL than Burnett and Pro Bowler Nick Collins. So, that's the good news.
The bad news is he's been below average in the run game with some missed tackles. He learned a lesson in the opener, when the Eagles got a long completion up the seam to the tight end. Burnett played for the ball but didn't get there and allowed the completion. Safeties coach Darren Perry's message: When in doubt, play the ball through the receiver. Good safeties are hitters or ballhawks. The great ones do both. Right now, Burnett is only a ballhawk.
JC: Year 2 of the 3-4 scheme under defensive coordinator Dom Capers seems to be going well, especially for outside linebacker Clay Matthews. After recording three sacks in Week 1 at Philadelphia, the third-generation professional football player got three more in Week 2 against Buffalo. What do the Bears need to do so slow him down off the edge, and can he be exploited when asked to cover?
BH: Matthews has no flaws in his game. He excels in every phase. On Monday, we asked outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene about Matthews. As you know, Greene finished his career with 160 sacks — the most ever by a linebacker. Here's what Greene said: "Well, at this point, if Clay continues in this league, then that record will be temporary." He went on to call Matthews "special" and with the potential to be one of the all-time greats. On Monday, I wrote that Matthews fell into the perfect storm to make him a superstar. For one, he's big and fast and strong. He's absolutely relentless. He's smart and puts in the time in the classroom. Then, he got paired with Greene, who is one of the NFL's fast-rising coaches, and Capers, who is a mastermind with a history of making outside linebackers stars. That's a pretty rare thing to have all of that come together.
What can the Bears do? They're fortunate to get an extra day to prepare, because Capers has Matthews lining up everywhere. Against Buffalo, he had sacks from the left side, right side and up the middle. No doubt the Bears spent some extra time on Matthews during the offseason because he's the Packers' only pass rusher. Having a veteran center like Olin Kreutz is a huge asset since he'll know a lot of what's coming. To me, the big question is this, which we'll cover in Part 2: Will Mike Martz sacrifice a receiving option to keep in the backfield to help with Matthews?
To read Part II of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where John answers five questions from Bill, Click Here.
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Behind Enemy Lines: Part I
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