QBs Feeling Defenses' Wrath

Injuries are starting to ravage the position league-wide, with potentially three new starters this week. Aaron Rodgers and Josh Freeman will start on Sunday, but the Packers are concerned with Rodgers' punishment and the Bucs are worried about Freeman's thumb.

When the Green Bay Packers host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, starting quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Josh Freeman will be under center, as usual, for their teams.

That's noteworthy, with both teams having concerns over the health of their triggermen and the annual war of attrition starting to take its toll on the position across the league.

Through the first six weeks of the season, there were only three switches of starting quarterbacks, never more than one in a week. In Weeks 7 through 10, there were 11 changes, with seven in Week 7 and four in Week 9. There figure to be three more this weekend as injured have claimed the Chiefs' Matt Cassel, the Texans' Matt Schaub and, potentially, the Eagles' Michael Vick.

There have been 43 different starters through Week 10, and Sunday will bring at least two more, in Tyler Palko (Kansas City) and Matt Leinart (Houston), with the possibility of Vince Young in Philadelphia. The body count doesn't figure to reach the 64 different starters it did in 2007, but could exceed the 52 from last season.

Said one veteran quarterback to The Sports Xchange this week: "You feel like one of those clay pigeons in a skeet-shooting tournament. There's a bull's eye on you, and (defenses) are gunning for you. It's like a shooting gallery, you know?"

Freeman has insisted several times that his play isn't affected by the thumb injury with which he is dealing.

But some Bucs players to whom The Sports Xchange spoke this week disagree.

Freeman, regarded as a real up-and-comer, has thrown 13 interceptions and simply isn't throwing the ball with the same kind of accuracy he displayed a year ago.

People who have watched the disappointing Bucs also note that Freeman isn't getting a whole lot of help from his receivers. Mike Williams is on pace for 69 receptions, which would put him above last year's rookie total of 65, but he's lacked explosiveness, and has even been critical of his own level of play.

After averaging 14.8 yards per reception in 2010, Williams is down to 10.4 yards per catch, and he has just one touchdown after scoring 11 last year.

Fellow second-year wideout Arrelious Benn has started all nine games, but has just 19 catches coming off of a torn ACL that ended his rookie season.

Williams and Benn were selected in 2010 with the idea they would "grow up" with Freeman, but they haven't yet developed the way Tampa Bay executives hoped they would. In fact, Benn probably has regressed a bit.

As for Green Bay, there's nothing wrong with Rodgers — at least nothing that showed up on this week's injury report. But after getting sacked 12 times in the first six games, Rodgers has been sacked 11 times in the last three. Moreover, Rodgers ran the ball 20 times in the first five games but 23 times in the last four.

That's got to make the coaches at least a little apprehensive heading into Sunday's game. Green Bay is in the midst of a stretch of three games in 11 days that will be capped at Detroit, which knocked out Rodgers with a concussion last year.

"I'm not concerned about the protection," Rodgers said. "I think we just need to do a better job when we communicate and have the right call down, we need to execute the call. It's not a matter of miscommunication, it's just a matter of not being as assignment-sound. In those times when we had the right call on, you've got to win your one on one matchup."

Only five quarterbacks have been sacked more than Rodgers' nine-game total of 23, which puts him on pace for 41. That's worse than his three-year average of 38.3 sacks and much, much more than offensive coordinator Joe Philbin's preseason goal of cutting the total to 24.

According to ProFootballFocus.com, six of the sacks are Rodgers' fault. Only Vick (seven) has been responsible for more of his team's sacks. In Rodgers' case, some of that is accepted because of his ability to make big plays by keeping plays alive and his near-elimination of turnovers from his game.

"Teams have exposed us a couple of times, whether it be schematically, whether it be technique issues, whether we didn't make the proper blitz adjustment, whether seven guys made the right adjustment but one didn't, know what I mean?" Philbin said.

"We've had a little of everything, and I've said it to the offense, I'll say it to you guys: If it was one person or one guy or one problem that continually manifested itself, I think we would have been smart enough to figure that out and eliminate it by now. But it hasn't been. So, it's been something we've got to work on. We've got to get it right. I think our guys are committed to doing that. We bring things to the table that we're open about that we've got to improve on and those guys typically respond. We've got to just keep pounding away."

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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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