Clifton rises to occasion
The Giants' Osi Umenyiora entered the game with 10 sacks and a league-leading eight forced fumbles. You have to look hard to find Umenyiora on the stat sheet, though. He finished with one assisted tackle. No sacks, no quarterback hits, no forced fumbles — no impact, whatsoever.
"I kidded him around in the locker room and said, ‘Geez, I didn't even know …' I'm not going to say that," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said, stopping short of perhaps finishing his sentence with ‘Umenyiora was even on the field.'
"We've talked about as a staff, I think we had 17 sacks in our first nine games and we've had 17 in the last five. That's a concern when you're giving up three-and-a-half sacks a game and 14 in the last three. We certainly had some concerns going into the game against a real quality defensive team."
Clifton's played better games in his career but probably not too many. While it appears Clifton struggles against speed rushers on artificial turf — recall Turk McBride's two sacks at Detroit a couple weeks ago — Clifton is in his element on grass.
Coach Mike McCarthy said teams have been challenging Clifton frequently with bull rushes but Clifton countered that with active hands and a strong punch to repeatedly thwart Umenyiora.
"They'll keep doing it (bull-rushing) until you stop it," offensive line coach James Campen said on Monday. "He did a real good job of setting that line and making sure that the bull rush would be stopped. It's a common thing to overset sometimes on the edge like that because you're so worried about speed, speed, speed. He did a real nice job of changing his sets and making the defender adjust off of him and instead of him adjusting off of the defender."
In Jones they trust
Jones celebrates with the fans.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
But for all of Jones' good deeds, his misdeeds are confounding. In Week 3 at Chicago, his fumble set up the Bears for the winning field goal. Against Miami in Week 6, he didn't compete for the ball in what turned out to be an interception. Officially, he's dropped five balls, including two on Sunday — one of which probably would have been a 71-yard touchdown. He dropped a potential long touchdown pass against the Jets in Week 8, too.
But Jones has the unequivocal support of his position coach.
"Oh, absolutely, I trust James, no question," Jimmy Robinson said. "James has played a lot of great football and James played great football yesterday. He had a couple he'd like to have back but he did a good job in the end zone on his route, getting open on the scramble. He did a great job on third-and-10 with catching that ball and splitting the defenders and getting the first down. James did a lot of good things. He just had a couple that stood out that he'd like to have back. Yeah, I trust James. James has made too many big plays for us to say I'm not going to trust him. I trust him just as well as I trust all of them."
With Driver's sporadic production, Jordy Nelson's fumbling problems any time he's hit by a defender and the lack of a threat at tight end, the Packers have no choice.
In his first four seasons, McCarthy's teams were synonymous with lack of discipline. How else can you put it? In the long, proud history of the Packers, the 2009 team ranks second in penalty yards (1,057), the 2007 team ranks fourth (1,006) and the 2008 team ranks fifth (984).
So, the Packers' single-game record 18 penalties in the Week 3 game at Chicago — while appalling — wasn't necessarily a shock.
Here's what's shocking — so shocking that Philbin didn't even know about it: The Packers enter the final week of the season with the third-fewest penalty yards (587) and tied for the fourth-fewest accepted penalties (74).
"We've been making a big issue of it," Philbin said on Monday. "We've been together now for awhile and we looked at all the things from last year when we came together in May. We said, ‘Guys, sacks really don't fit what we're all about. The penalties don't really fit what we're all about. We've got to nip this thing in bud.' Believe it or not, we've been making a big deal out of it since May. It's like anything else, you roll up your sleeves and buckle up your chin strap and go back to work."
In that Chicago game, the penalties cost the Packers 152 yards — not to mention a touchdown and two interceptions (which the Bears turned into the tying and winning field goals). The offensive line alone was penalized eight times, including four false starts and three holding, Campen rattled off as if they happened yesterday.
Since those first three games, the Packers are averaging 3.7 penalties and 28.6 penalty yards. They were hit with three flags for 31 yards against the Giants, including none on offense for the second consecutive game.
"You always learn when you've been in coaching for a long time, your players are a reflection of you," Philbin said. "If you're making a lot of penalties, that's a facet of discipline. We like to think we're a disciplined group. Certainly that night, we were far from it."
Kuhn and Rodgers
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
"Let me tell you: The thing about John Kuhn is when he runs in the game, all the fans know he's getting the ball, defense knows he's getting the ball but he never disappoints," Jennings joked after the game. "That's the beauty of John Kuhn. I love him. I tell him, he's going to be here for a long time. He better be."
With four touchdowns in the last two games, as ridiculous as it sounds, defenses are going to have to spend time game-planning for Kuhn when the ball's inside the 10-yard line. Against New England, he was leaping Patriots in a single bound. Against the Giants, he was a 250-pound bulldozer on his emphatic 8-yard touchdown run from the fullback position.
On Sunday, fans yelled "Kuuuuhn!" even when he wasn't in the game, in a subtle-as-a-sledgehammer message to McCarthy to get No. 30 into the game. Really, the only mystery is why Kuhn disappeared from the offense for a recent span of four games.
"He's got versatility and that knack that's hard to quantify," Philbin said. "It's hard to say, ‘It's his blazing speed' or ‘It's his incredible elusiveness.' He's just kind of a football player. It's probably hard to give you a great answer but seems to make plays. He's opportunistic when his number's called. It's that saying, ‘Luck favors the prepared mind' or whatever. He works hard at it. When his opportunities come, he takes advantage."
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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 email@example.com, 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.