After a 15-1 season last year, the Packers were shocked at home by the 49ers last week. What are the areas Green Bay must improve on in a short week?
They have to stop the run. The Packers generally play nickel for three-fourths of the game but, on Sunday against San Francisco, they spent almost all of the first half running their base 3-4 defense. It didn't matter, as Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter ran for 50 yards on 12 rushes. When the Packers played more nickel in the second half to help take away the pass, Gore ran wild and pushed the Niners' total to 186 yards on 32 carries. If they can't stop Matt Forte and Michael Bush, they've got no chance of stopping Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall.
Cedric Benson was supposed to be the savior to the run game yet had nine carries for 18 yards last week. If the offense fails to run the ball consistently, as they did last year, can the passing attack again carry this team to the playoffs?
Sure, because they got to the playoffs last season without a run game. The 49ers are an elite defense. Heck, they might have the NFL's best defense. Rodgers and his gifted receivers couldn't beat San Francisco but they'll have overwhelming advantages in the passing game most weeks.
That said, Benson gives the Packers a threat in bad-weather/bad-field games and the ability to run out the clock in a four-minute situation. It never hurts to have the ability to beat a team in multiple fashions. So far, not so good, though Benson's been here for just a few weeks, so let's see what happens when he gets on the same page with the line and the line gets into more of a midseason groove.
While everyone likes to talk about Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, the biggest threat at wide receiver in my opinion is second-year player Randall Cobb. He was targeted nine times last week and caught all nine balls, while also scoring on a punt return. He has big-play ability every time he touches the ball. Is Cobb the future of Green Bay's offense?
Cobb was a major part of the package last week. He lined up in the backfield on about 20 snaps against the 49ers, motioning into the slot about half of the time. He was a one-man show, whether it was catching the ball and jump-starting a stagnant offense or getting the Packers back into the game with his big punt return. It will be interesting to see if that package will be effective this week now that it's on film.
All of that said, Nelson is still the man over the long haul. He's 6-foot-3, with the speed to go deep and the power to run through a smaller defensive back. He ranked second in the NFL with 18.6 yards per reception and third with 15 touchdown grabs.
The Packers' passing defense was worst in the NFL in 2011. Have there been enough improvements in the secondary, as well as the pass rush, to improve that area of weakness?
So far, no. The defense is going to be a work in progress, as coordinator Dom Capers has said any number of times. There are a lot of young guys in key roles, including first-round pick Nick Perry starting at outside linebacker, second-round pick Jerel Worthy being one of the primary rushers in nickel and fourth-round pick Jerron McMillian probably starting at safety. Plus, they lost Desmond Bishop in the first training camp with a torn hamstring. He's been replaced by second-year player D.J. Smith.
The pass rush was OK last week, with Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson combining for four sacks. They'll need more contributors. In the secondary, Tramon Williams will match up with Marshall. The other cornerback spot is up for grabs between Sam Shields and Jarrett Bush. They rotated in on a situational basis last week and might do the same this week.
Has Woodson's transition from cornerback to safety gone smoothly? Can he be just as effective from that position?
This is the most overblown story. Woodson is playing safety in the base defense. Against the Bears, they might not base more than six or eight or 10 plays. When the Packers are in nickel and dime, Woodson will be lined up in the slot, like always. He's 35 and just played his 200th game.
The Packers had a lot of problems against the Niners but Woodson was not among them. He's smart, tough and has a nose for the ball. Woodson, who tied for the NFL lead with seven interceptions last season, has 54 picks for his career. Only nine players have reached 60.
Jeremy Stoltz is editor of Bear Report magazine and BearReport.com. Bill Huber is editor of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com.