Report Card: Packers at Bye

With Aaron Rodgers posting a banner season, the Packers' passing game earned high marks through seven games. The running game, even while not statistically great, and the special teams, with Mason Crosby breaking records, also earned good grades.

PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus - If Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers stays on the electric pace he set from the outset of the season until the bye, he should be a near-unanimous pick as NFL MVP for the first time. Rodgers comes out of the bye leading the league in completion percentage (71.5), touchdown passes (20) and passer rating (125.7), while throwing for 2,372 yards with only three interceptions. The beauty of Rodgers' superb production, which includes passing for at least 300 yards in all but one game, has been he's an equal-opportunity thrower by completing passes to 12 players. Green Bay's talented and deep receiving corps has provided plenty of fuel to Rodgers' numbers by making plays after the catch, highlighted by four touchdown receptions of at least 70 yards - one in each of the last three games, including a career-long 93-yard completion for Rodgers to Jordy Nelson in the Week 6 win over the St. Louis Rams. Greg Jennings is on pace for career highs in catches, receiving yards and touchdown receptions with 42, 677 and five in those respective categories to this point. Nelson (24 catches, 465 yards, four TDs) has emerged as the No. 2 wideout, although veteran Donald Driver generally gets the starting nod with Jennings. The 36-year-old Driver's playing time has diminished greatly, and he has only 13 catches, also giving way to James Jones (19 catches, 326 yards, three TDs) for making significant contributions. Tight end Jermichael Finley (25 catches, 334 yards, four TDs) has held up after missing most of last season with a knee injury, but his production has waned because of more coverage rolled to him after he had a three-touchdown game in the Week 3 win at the Chicago Bears. As much as they have helped him on many an occasion, the pass catchers have let Rodgers down with a total of 12 drops in the last three games, according to STATS. Rodgers has been sacked 16 times, but the offensive line has done a solid, if not good, job in the wake of first losing right tackle Bryan Bulaga for two games because of a knee injury and then veteran left tackle Chad Clifton the last two outings because of a hamstring injury - second-year Marshall Newhouse has been an unsung fill-in at both spots.

James Starks clinches the victory as Aaron Rodgers celebrates in the backfield.
Tom Dahlin/Getty Images
RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus - The Packers rank 24th in the 32-team league for running the football, but the cumulative output has been decent considering how infrequently they rely on it in the pass-first offense. Green Bay is just a shade short of the century mark, averaging 99.9 rushing yards per game. Veteran Ryan Grant and second-year James Starks have been functioning in a platoon at halfback since the start of the season. Starks, the would-be understudy with Grant as the starter, has provided a bigger jolt - 83 carries for 374 yards for an average of 4.5 yards per rush. The last time out before the bye, Starks busted loose for 55 yards in six straight runs in a 2 1/2-minute drive that chewed up the rest of the clock and preserved the Packers' six-point win at the Minnesota Vikings. That was a defining moment for Green Bay's run-blocking unit, which hasn't been consistent, perhaps due in part to the injuries to the starting tackles. Grant, meanwhile, has been woeful the last three games - running for all of 72 yards in 25 carries (2.9 average) - after he missed a game because of a bruised kidney.

PASS DEFENSE: C - The Packers are the league's only unbeaten team in spite of pass coverage that has left a lot to be desired as the team shifts into the second half of the season. Green Bay ranks second from the bottom, giving up an average of 288.9 yards per game through the air. The first two games, New Orleans' Drew Brees and Carolina rookie Cam Newton shredded the Packers for 419 and 432 passing yards, respectively. A few weeks later, St. Louis' Sam Bradford made it three opposing quarterbacks to throw for 300 yards with 321. Even Minnesota rookie Christian Ponder had some big moments in exploiting the back end of Green Bay's defense in his starting debut. Newton and Ponder, however, have something else in common - each having two passes intercepted by crafty veteran cornerback Charles Woodson, who has a league-high five picks. The Packers' penchant for series-stopping plays - they ranked second with 13 interceptions - has allowed them to soften the blow from giving up huge chunks of passing yardage. The opponent passer rating is a negligible 79.3. Insufficient results from the pass rush - 17 sacks, only three from All-Pro outside linebacker Clay Matthews - has factored into the high passing numbers. Green Bay hasn't been able to replace Cullen Jenkins (left in free agency) at right end since Mike Neal has been out since August because of a knee injury, and it needs a spark of some sort at the other outside linebacker spot. The loss of Pro Bowl free safety Nick Collins to a career-threatening neck injury may prove to be significant, although second-year Morgan Burnett has excelled with three interceptions and two forced fumbles.

RUSH DEFENSE: C - Green Bay's reign as the top-ranked run defense in the league lasted all of the first three weeks. After holding Chicago's Matt Forte to 2 yards in nine carries, the Packers have allowed 550 rushing yards in the last four games. The likes of Denver's Willis McGahee (103 yards, 6.9 average), St. Louis' Steven Jackson (96 yards, 5.3 average) and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson (175 yards, 7.3 average) capitalized on tackling breakdowns by the defense. The Packers are a respectable No. 10 in the league rankings, giving up an average of 102.1 yards per game, but their per-carry clip of 4.6 yards is tied for ninth-worst. Inside linebacker Desmond Bishop has been active in run support and has a team-high 84 tackles. Matthews has been a menace, as well, dropping ball-carriers in the backfield more than he's been able to sack quarterbacks.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus - The first part of the season was all about team records falling by the wayside. Rookie receiver Randall Cobb started his pro career with a bang, tying a league record with a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the season-opening win over the Saints. Mason Crosby equaled the club record he set on opening day 2010 with a 56-yard field goal in the Week 5 victory at the Atlanta Falcons, then shattered it two weeks later with a 58-yard boot in Minnesota's Metrodome. Crosby in that latter game claimed the outright all-time team lead for most field goals made in a row during the regular season with 21, buoyed by a 14-for-14 effort this season. He has provided the only mark of consistency on Green Bay's special-teams units this season. Cobb hasn't generated much in the return game since his smashing debut - averaging 8.1 yards on punts and a pedestrian 24 yards in his other 12 kickoff runbacks - and he has lost two fumbles. Second-year punter Tim Masthay managed to bounce back the last two games after a tough start but has averages of only 43.7 gross yards and 33.5 net yards. The seemingly annual problems for the coverage units resurfaced with a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown by the Saints' Darren Sproles in the opener.

COACHING: B - Mike McCarthy and staff have done a tremendous job in keeping Green Bay from experiencing a letdown as the defending Super Bowl champion and carried it a step further by directing the Packers to their first 7-0 start since 1962. Their franchise-best 13-game winning streak, extending back to the final two games of the 2010 regular season, hasn't been by accident and reflects well on the team that seems to be in the driver's seat to play for a second straight league title. Quarterbacks guru McCarthy has allowed Rodgers to perform at an unbelievable level, playing to the strengths of the pass game and frequently putting considerable trust in the young and smart quarterback to read the defense and correctly react when run-pass options are called. So far, McCarthy, who had plenty of experience in this area last season, is pushing the right buttons in getting the Packers to overcome injuries to key players - Collins, Grant, Clifton, nickel back Sam Shields. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has his work cut out the rest of the season to get the defense back to performing close to the top-five status his Green Bay teams attained in 2009 and 2010. The Packers have been gouged for at least 400 total yards in four games and are allowing an average of 391 yards per game, ranking them a dreadful 28th.

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