What now without Grant?
No team leans on a single running back more than the Packers have leaned on Ryan Grant. Without Grant for this week's home opener against Buffalo — and quite possibly without him for the next several weeks — the Packers are going to learn whether Brandon Jackson is merely a role player of if he's the three-down back that coach Mike McCarthy has been touting over the last few months.
The results were mixed on Sunday, with Jackson averaging 3.5 yards on 18 carries. For what it's worth, though, he averaged 4.6 yards per carry heading into the fourth quarter, when the Eagles knew the Packers were trying to burn the clock.
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"I see it differently," running back coach Edgar Bennett said. "The way we have been doing things as far as giving our featured runner opportunities so that he can get into the rhythm of the game — it has nothing to do with lack of confidence in Brandon. We feel like we can put either one out there and still be productive."
And don't forget about John Kuhn. Yes, that sounds laughable but several teams have turned to their fullbacks in recent years. Last year, the Eagles turned to 250-pound Leonard Weaver, who carried 70 times for a 4.6-yard average. In 2008, Baltimore's 260-pound Le'Ron McClain carried for 902 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"I don't want to minimize Ryan's contributions," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "I think our running game was pretty solid. I wish it was a little more consistent. We have to be careful about using Kuhn. We don't want to ruin his yard-per-carry average or his touchdown ratio. He probably is off-limits, I won't be able to use him. We'll see."
What happened in the fourth quarter?
From there, the offense's next three possessions took barely more than 4 minutes, picked up one first down and gained just 16 yards.
Did coach Mike McCarthy start running a prevent offense?
On third-and-6 on the possession spanning the third and fourth quarters, Rodgers threw a rushed pass to James Jones, even though Jermichael Finley and the offensive line expertly picked up the Eagles' middle blitz. With the score cut to 27-17, the ball slipped out of Rodgers' hand for an interception. Had the ball not sailed, Rodgers probably would have hit Donald Driver, who was streaking open on a crossing route, for a first down and potential big gainer. With the score cut to 27-20, the Eagles dialed up a blitz and Rodgers had to unload the ball before getting hit. With an extra split-second, he would have hit Jennings for the first down. Even without that extra split-scond, he could have dumped it to Finley, who was open but would have had to beat a linebacker to get the first down.
"You look at the four positive drives we had in the game, the blocking was pretty solid, we had runners breaking tackles, in the passing game we had good protection, we had a quarterback who was really decisive with the ball and accurate when he was throwing it," Philbin said. "So, all the good elements of the good, sound football that you know and we know, we just didn't do it consistently well enough. At times, it was one thing here, one thing there, a protection breakdown, maybe not as accurate a throw as we're used to. Maybe one time a lineman missed a block, maybe another time a receiver missed a block. Those type of things that kind of bit us in the tail a little bit yesterday."
Misfortune follows Harrell
There probably isn't a lot of sympathy for Justin Harrell, the 2007 first-round pick with the prodigious injury history and the nonexistent production.
Harrell's chronic back problems probably would have prevented him from ever living up to those expectations from a few years ago, but at least he made the team and was healthy this summer. He had a role as a run-stopper at defensive end.
But his season ended after playing just two snaps on defense. This time, it's a torn ACL. He'll go on injured reserve, which is where it seems like he's lived during his four years in the league.
"Justin won't say it: I went up to him after the game in the locker room and I sat down with him and I just gave him a big hug," defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. "You could see he was really dejected. I just talked to him about making sure he's keeping his head up and asked him if he's talked to his family and stuff like that because I'm sure on TV when your wife is home watching that stuff, it's hard for her to understand why, too."
As unlikely as it sounds, Trgovac isn't giving up on Harrell, who is scheduled to make a base salary of $650,000 next season with roster and workout bonuses adding up to $685,000, according to salary data provided to Packer Report.
"It means a lot to him," Trgovac said, "and I know sometimes he takes a lot of flak around here for being injured, but the kid has not had a broken toe, a broken finger. He's had back surgery, he'll have knee surgery now. He's had significant injuries. He's a strong-minded kid. He'll come back because it means a lot to him."
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"It's fun to have success," Slocum said.
Jordy Nelson gave the offense excellent field position on three kickoffs. The coverage units kept DeSean Jackson and Ellis Hobbs bottled up. Mason Crosby went 2-for-2 on field goals, including a team-record 56-yarder. The most-penalized special teams in the NFL last year didn't draw a single flag.
Keeping Jackson under control fell mostly on first-year punter Tim Masthay. Three of his four punts were placed near the sideline to keep Jackson bottled up. His fourth punt was low and down the middle, but Korey Hall made a great play in coverage.
"I thought he was very good," Slocum said of Masthay's directional punting. "Part of Tim's thing is he is very good with his straight-line mechanics, which allows him to hit the ball on the line that he aims on. Now, the NFL's a tough process because sometimes they can bring an overload rush into the face of that punter. So, you're kicking it right into the rush. You have to be smart about that in terms of the distance the punter covers and how wide he gets. That kind of indicates how far the ball's going to go toward the sideline."
Nelson's first return went for just 16 yards but he averaged 35.0 the rest of the game. That on the heels of last year, when he ranked 11th in the NFL with a 25.4-yard average.
"Jordy's got some ability," Slocum said. "He's got a unique ability that's a little bit different: He can pick his knees up high and cover a lot of ground. He's a little bit deceptive with his speed. He sees the field well and normally makes good decisions on his cuts. I think as we move forward, he fits what we're doing really well."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.