With that in mind, TheRanchReport.com caught up with Bill Huber of Scout.com's Packer Report for a little insight on this week's opponent.
RanchReport.com: What has been the biggest development you've seen from Aaron Rodgers over the last year, and when — if ever — will his name stand alone, rather than always having his name followed by "the guy who replaced Brett Favre"?
Bill Huber: I'm not sure if it ranks as an improvement, because he was pretty good in this regard last season, but Rodgers' decision-making is such a huge asset. Until getting picked off three times at Tampa Bay last week, he had thrown only two interceptions this season.
How many strong-armed quarterbacks get themselves in trouble because they think they can make every throw? How many athletic quarterbacks scramble their way out of pressure, only to throw a hair-brained pass late across the middle to a waiting safety? Rodgers has a strong arm and he's a tremendous athlete, but he has mostly avoided throwing bad interceptions. He's a coach's dream in that regard.
As for Favre, about the only thing Rodgers can do to escape his shadow is to win a lot of games. So far, however, Rodgers just isn't winning games. His stats are pretty, but he's 10-14 in his year-and-a-half as the starter. Quarterbacks get too much credit for winning and too much blame for losing — as you know with Tony Romo's lack of playoff success. Fairly or not — Rodgers is taking a lot of blame.
RanchReport.com: So much has been made this year of the physical beating Rodgers has taken from opposing defenses. What have been the primary causes for the inconsistent protection? Injuries? Flawed protection schemes? Lack of talent/size/strength up front? Rodgers holding on to the ball too long? (And will he live through the season?) Have you seen the team altering play calling to get the ball out of Rodgers' hand more quickly (or any other kind of schematic changes) to help keep him in one piece?
Huber: The protection has been atrocious, plain and simple.
They entered the season hoping left tackle Chad Clifton could stay healthy and hoping and praying that Allen Barbre would be ready to replace the veteran Mark Tauscher at right tackle. Well, so much for that plan. Clifton has started and finished just two games this season, and Barbre has been a turnstile on the way to the quarterback. Minnesota's Jared Allen leads the NFL in sacks with 10.5. An incredible seven came in the two matchups against Green Bay, which was without Clifton in both games. Cincinnati's Antwan Odom, who suffered a season-ending injury three weeks ago, is still tied for fourth in the league with eight sacks. He got five against Barbre in Week 2.
Tauscher started last week for the first time since suffering a season-ending torn ACL in December, only to be lost early in the third quarter with a knee sprain. There's a good chance that the Packers will be using their sixth starting combination up front on Sunday, with rookie T.J. Lang replacing Barbre.
The problems, however, come in many forms. Rodgers seems to be getting more tentative, and his job is getting tougher with opposing defenses playing tight coverage, knowing that if they can cover for just a couple seconds, a conventional four-man rush will be putting the heat on Rodgers. The coaches have called more quick-hitting passes, but that's obviously the first thing defenses try to take away when there are protection issues.
RanchReport.com: Writers and analysts have had a lot of positive things to say about the two rookies Green Bay added at the top of their draft: DT B.J. Raji and LB Clay Matthews. Are they as good as advertised, and have they possibly even exceeded the coaches' and front office's expectations?
Huber: Raji is sort of struggling through his rookie season. The No. 9 pick in the draft held out for the first couple weeks of training camp and sprained an ankle in the preseason. Raji has aggravated that injury a couple of times and has fought through the pain to keep himself in the rotation, but he clearly hasn't been himself. Raji plays a power game, and as you can imagine, the injury has sapped him of some of that power.
In a very un-(GM) Ted Thompson-like move, the Packers gave up three draft picks to move back into the first round to get Matthews. He's been a starter for the past four games and has made some eye-opening plays. He's been good, but not much more than that. He hasn't had a sack in three weeks and was practically invisible last week against Tampa Bay. For a team struggling to rush the passer, the Packers need more out of Matthews.
RanchReport.com: When the Packers switched from a 4-3 defense to the 3-4, there were a lot of reports suggesting that Aaron Kampman was none too thrilled about the idea of moving from his DE spot back to a standup OLB spot in the new alignment. How does he like the system now, and how have his pass-rushing skills translated to the new position? Is he fully comfortable in his new role?
Huber: Kampman says that was much ado about nothing, and that he just wasn't comfortable being made the focal point of the transition. What he really thinks about the change will be apparent this offseason, when he's a free agent. If he really prefers being a 4-3 defensive end, then he'll be on the first flight out of Green Bay.
That's neither here nor there at the moment, though. Kampman has only 2.5 sacks — his fewest at this point of the season since 2005, when he was just becoming a top performer. He's been allowed to play with his hand down on occasion since the bye week, and he responded with 1.5 sacks in his next two games, but he was a nonfactor against Minnesota and Tampa Bay the last two weeks.
Kampman, who remains solid against the run and has been better than expected in coverage, suffered a concussion last week against the Buccaneers. He's probably not going to play on Sunday, and there's a good chance that rookie seventh-round pick Brad Jones will be starting.
RanchReport.com: Does Ahman Green have anything left, or was his signing merely a nostalgia trip by the front office, or perhaps a way to appease fans who are still bitter about Favre's exit from Green Bay? Will he ever play? Who are they going to dig up next? Sterling Sharpe? Don Majkowski? Bart Starr? Jim Taylor? The great Forrest Gregg?
Huber: If Gregg can play right tackle ...
As for Green, that was a curious signing, but he carried the ball six times for 45 yards last week against Tampa Bay, with a long run of 26 yards. In his two games, he's been fairly effective returning kickoffs and has added two catches for 22 yards.
The Packers' backs have been abysmal as receiving threats out of the backfield for the last couple of years. I think the coaches will be thrilled if Green can provide four or five quality runs and move the chains a time or two in the passing game each week. So far, so good, and you'd think he'd continue to get better as he works off the rust after not competing in a training camp during the summer.
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