Stepping away from all things Packers last night, I was curious to see Peyton Manning go to work against the Houston Texans.
While Manning is the best quarterback in the league, Aaron Rodgers is considered one of the top handful of passers in the game.
Rodgers, playing without star tight end Jermichael Finley for most of the last four games and with a hobbled Donald Driver for the past three games, has passer ratings the last four weeks of 75.7 vs. Washington, 84.5 vs. Miami, 84.8 vs. Minnesota and 59.7 vs. the New York Jets, with a combined four touchdowns and four interceptions in those games.
Manning, playing his first game without star tight end Dallas Clark, had a passer rating of 89.9 with two touchdowns and no interceptions against the Texans.
Rodgers has Greg Jennings as his primary threat. Manning has Reggie Wayne. That's pretty comparable. Rodgers has 2008 second-round pick Jordy Nelson (No. 36 overall) and 2007 third-round pick James Jones (No. 78) as his second and third receivers. Manning has 2007 first-round pick Anthony Gonzalez (No. 32) and 2008 sixth-round pick Pierre Garcon (a Division III player taken No. 205) as his second and third receivers. Rodgers doesn't have Driver; Manning doesn't have Austin Collie.
Player for player, Rodgers and Manning are competing with basically the same supporting casts. While Rodgers and the Packers' offense is scuffling, Manning made due and led the Colts to five scores and 23 points (the defense scored a touchdown for the other points). Rodgers loves to look down the field for the big play. Because he generally hits on one or two of those per game, he's averaged an impressive 7.3 yards per attempt in the last four games — even after Sunday's debacle against the Jets. Manning loves to look down the field, too, but he averaged just 6.0 yards per attempt against the Texans.
Based on that important statistic, Rodgers is the more productive quarterback. But there's something to be said about moving the chains. Manning wasn't flashy against the Texans but he allowed his offense to get into a groove with 24 first downs and converting 7-of-15 third downs. Rodgers, meanwhile, led the offense to 13 first downs and converted a woeful 2-of-14 on third down against the Jets.
Manning, clearly, is an elite player. He has been for a decade. Rodgers is considered an elite player, as well. It's time for him to start playing that way.
The defense got all the headlines, and good for reason. But there's a reason why coach Mike McCarthy said he was ready to cry tears of joy after Tim Masthay's performance against the Jets.
The Jets got exactly 0 returns yards on Masthay's eight punts.
"I thought it was extraordinary," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said.
And how's this for a stat? The Jets' average field position on those punts was the 15.7-yard line.
"Well, to me, that's what this game is all about," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "You're going to have close games. It's a game of field position. I've always felt that if you can create field position with your special teams like we were able to yesterday, where when the defense is going on the field, they've got to move the ball the length of the field, then it's a game of percentages. I think against our defense and our ability to take the ball away, hopefully somewhere, if they've got to move the ball 85, 90 yards on us, we'll find a way to make a play to get off the field."
That's just not coach-speak. The Jets' longest drive, with 11 plays, ended in an interception. The Jets' second-longest drive, with 10 plays, ended in an interception. The Jets' third-longest drive, with eight plays, ended with a fumble.
Zombo's statement game
Zombo: Reason to cheer.
Andrew Burton/Getty Images
"Red rover, red rover, we're moving Zombo right over," outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene said on Friday.
Funny line but seriously tough. The Jets ran the ball to their left — behind Ferguson and at Zombo — 13 times for 38 yards, or 2.9 yards per carry. That certainly wasn't all Zombo, but if Zombo was getting blown off the line of scrimmage, the Jets would have been much more productive.
"I thought he played a very good football game," Capers said. "The things we asked him to do, he was where he should be, he made some plays. He caused a fumble on the one Wildcat play. I thought he played physical on the run in terms of fitting where he was supposed to be on the run. Zombo's a good example of the more young guys play like that, the more progress you see out of them. I thought he did a nice job."
Revival of run defense
This is a Super Bowl-caliber defense. Period.
Last year, the Packers led the NFL in run defense but were gutted through the air by top quarterbacks who are equipped with three or more talented pass-catcher.
On Sunday, that top-ranked run defense was back in full force. Never mind the final numbers. Throw out the fake punt and quarterback Mark Sanchez's meaningless scramble to end the game, and the Jets rushed for 82 yards on 27 attempts — 3.0 yards per carry. That's a superb performance by a defense without stalwart Ryan Pickett while facing the NFL's second-ranked run game.
"There were some games where we came out looking at our run defense where we said, ‘OK, we played the run pretty well but the quarterback ran the ball on us,'" defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. "That quarterback from Detroit, (Shaun) Hill, he had a 40-yard run. That just kills you at the end of the day. But there were some games where we needed to play the run better. I think our guys are buying into what we're trying to get done."
Trgovac said Capers' game plan had his defensive linemen on the move and pushing into gaps. Trgovac was proud of how his troops handled their jobs but gushed over the play of the linebackers — calling them "special."
It was Capers 101. Stop the run, then take care of the quarterback.
"One of the things they've done a really good job of this year with Sanchez is, because of their ability to run the ball and play-action pass and he's a very good athlete so they can get him out on the perimeter, so he hasn't been in that many pressure situations where he's just had to drop back and sit in the pocket and throw it. We felt that was going to be important, that we had to try to not let them control the down-and-distance situations."
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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.