Gameday Notebook: Green Light in Red Zone

The Packers' offense is playing with astounding efficiency inside the 20-yard line. Plus, it's "next man up," Sam Bradford, a dynamic running duo and much, much more in our 21-point game preview that's guaranteed to be the biggest and best in the world.

For the Green Bay Packers, the red zone has been an express lane to the end zone.

The final 20 yards are supposed to be the hardest to gain, but Green Bay has scored touchdowns on 14-of-18 trips to the red zone. That 77.8 percent efficiency leads the NFL by a wide margin, with Denver's 68.4 percent (13-of-19) ranking second. The only other team to score touchdowns two-thirds of the time is New Orleans (66.7 percent; 12-of-18).

The Packers' strength is no surprise. They scored 65.2 percent touchdowns in 2011, good for third in the league. Under coach Mike McCarthy's tenure, Green Bay is the best in the NFL with 61.5 percent touchdowns since the start of 2006.

Green Bay has punched it in on 10 of its last 11 treks inside the 20.

"We've been hot lately," offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. "We work on it quite a bit. We think we have a lot of options down there. Really, when you get in the red zone, your guys have to make plays, that's what it comes down to, because the defense has less field to defend, so things happen quicker. When you have a quick decision-maker at the quarterback position, which we do, and when you have guys who can make plays, you're generally going to have some success."

The key, obviously, is MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Inside the 20-yard line, he boasts a league-best passer rating of 123.1, with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. With things constricted further inside the 10-yard line, he's No. 1 at 127.1, with perfect 7-of-7 accuracy and six touchdowns.

It helps that the Packers don't count on just one playmaker — though all seven of James Jones' touchdowns have come in the red zone. Seven players have been on the receiving end of Rodgers' touchdown passes. Defenses always have to be wary of fullback John Kuhn near the goal line, and Rodgers' legs are another dimension.

"It doesn't allow the defense to focus in on where one particular guy is going to be," Clements said. "What's been one of our traits in the red zone over the last several years is (with) Aaron, a lot of teams have to pick their poison. If they want to pressure us, he can go right now to the receiver. If they want to play more of a zone game and maybe drop an extra guy into coverage, then Aaron has the ability to move around and extend plays. We've gotten a lot of touchdowns with Aaron moving around and extending plays. His ability, No. 1, to make the quick decisions but also with his athletic ability to move when something's not there initially, plus the ability of our perimeter group, those are all reasons why we've had success."

Next men up

When the Packers won the Super Bowl a couple years ago, they did so with a league-high 91 games missed by starters. Counting today's game, the Packers are up to 17 games missed: Desmond Bishop (seven), Greg Jennings (four), Cedric Benson (two), B.J. Raji (two), Nick Perry (one) and Sam Shields (one). (Note: D.J. Smith does not count because he's Bishop's backup so that position would be counted twice.)

Writing about the injuries during the 2010 playoffs, Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin said only three teams had endured more injuries since the 2000 season. The 2004 Titans, 2005 49ers and 2009 Bills not only didn't win the Super Bowl but they didn't qualify for the playoffs.

Who knows if this season will have the same fate, but the Packers looked like a championship-caliber team by routing the Texans with a pretty good starting point to an NFL team out of the lineup.

"There's good depth on this team," outside linebacker Clay Matthews said. "I don't know if you can really call it backups or anything, just because guys are always interchanging. We don't really start 11 guys, we start maybe 15 to 20 out there with guys rotating. So, it just gives those guys a greater opportunity to showcase their skills. With Erik (Walden) and Casey (Hayward), they're really doing a good job of creating impact plays."

For the most part, this year's injuries have come at spots where the Packers have depth. At outside linebacker, Walden started 15 games last season. At cornerback, the depth is so good that Davon House was under no pressure to come back early from his injured shoulder. At nose tackle, Ryan Pickett can slide inside and the Packers have the depth to absorb Raji's reps. The receiving depth finally showed up against the Texans. The big question is at inside linebacker, where the Packers are down their top two guys on the weak side.

"As you prepare for the season, you have to have enough flexibility in your scheme," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "You say, ‘If we don't have this guy, what can we do? If we don't have this guy …' If you base it all on one, two, three guys, all of a sudden you lose a guy or two, you're flat done. You have to have enough flexibility if you lose a guy. There's been games where we had to play without Clay Matthews. Obviously, Clay's a big part of our plan and there's a lot of focus on Clay, but you've got to be ready because you never know. You're always one play away. The good thing is, when you're young like we are and you talk to these young players, when they're fighting to try to get playing time, ‘Get yourself ready because, at some point in time, we're going to ask you to go in, and the key is, when you go in, you've got to go in and produce. You can't go in and be learning.' They understand that's mentality. I think our guys have done an excellent job of that."

The forgotten QB

The NFL, especially at quarterback, is all about the flavor of the day. This year, No. 2 overall pick Robert Griffin III is supposedly the greatest young quarterback in NFL history. And if it's not RGIII, maybe it'll be the No. 1 overall pick, Andrew Luck. Griffin and Luck took that honor from 2011's No. 1 overall pick, Cam Newton.

Lost in the shuffle is Sam Bradford, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft. Right or wrong, quarterbacks are judged on winning. After helping lift the Rams to a 7-9 record as a rookie, the team went 2-14 last year. Bradford went from 60.0 percent accuracy, 3,512 yards and 18 touchdowns in 16 starts in 2010 to 53.5 percent, 2,164 yards and six touchdowns in 10 starts in 2011.

He's rebounded this season, with 59.5 percent accuracy, 1,337 yards and six touchdowns. His passer rating of 81.3 is the best of his career, his 7.2 yards per pass attempt is 1.1 yards better than his previous best in 2011 and he's on pace for 3,565 passing yards. He's coming off the fifth 100-yard game of his career.

"I think this guy, you can see why he was the No. 1 draft pick," Capers said. "He can make all the throws, I think he's a pretty smart player and, you know, he's got better movement than what I thought he had. If you cover up his receivers, he'll pull it down and run and he's making 10, 12 yards when he's running with it. He's a good player, I think. There's a reason why those guys are the first pick in the draft."

Bradford is growing alongside a new receiving corps. With Brandon Lloyd, Greg Salas, Danario Alexander and Mike Sims-Walker jettisoned and Danny Amendola injured, fourth-year pro Brandon Gibson leads the way with 20 catches. Tight end Lance Kendricks (14 catches) is in his second season. Explosive rookie receiver Chris Givens (seven catches, 28.1-yard average) is a fourth-round pick. Veteran Steve Smith (seven catches) was signed away from the Eagles. The 6-foot-3 Austin Pettis (four catches) is in his second season. Brian Quick (two catches), a second-round pick from Appalachian State, has played sparingly.

"It's been a little different," Bradford said in a conference call. "Fortunately this year, we had an offseason, which was nice – OTAs, minicamp and a full training camp with these guys. There are a lot of new faces in this locker room but I think everyone who's here has done a great job of fitting in and stepping up to help us win games. I've really enjoyed working with our new receiving corps. Since I've been here, this is the most explosive and deepest receiving corps that we've had."

Action Jackson

Steven Jackson has rushed for 9,416 yards, putting him a whopping 1,321 yards ahead of Frank Gore among active running backs. Last week, he passed Earl Campbell for 29th place in NFL history and needs 37 yards to pass Shaun Alexander for 28th.

He's not just a one-trick pony, though. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2006, Jackson has caught 317 passes for 2,570 yards. Only Reggie Bush (354 catches, 2,578 yards) has better receiving numbers.

Jackson no longer is a one-man gang. Seventh-round pick Daryl Richardson of Abilene Christian beat out second-round pick Isaiah Pead of Cincinnati to be the No. 2 back. Richardson's averaging 5.2 yards per attempt. Richardson, who ran 4.47 at his pro day, has a long run of 53 yards and a long reception of 26 yards.

"Everybody knows about Steven Jackson," Capers said. "He's a big, strong guy, and if you don't do a good job of tackling, he bleeds you for yards. If he can get running north and south, he's so doggone big, and he finishes runs well. This other kid, this Richardson kid now, to me might be the most impressive guy on tape. He's a different style guy. He's very quick, hits the hole fast, capable of making big plays."

Key numbers

— For the Packers' offense to reach its potential, it needs to catch the ball better. By the count of STATS, which is the league's official statistician, the Packers are tied for fourth with 16 drops, one less than Cleveland, Detroit and New Orleans. Jordy Nelson is tied for second with five and Jermichael Finley and Randall Cobb are tied for eighth with four.

— The red zone is the big difference between these offenses. The Packers, as noted before, lead the league at 77.8 percent touchdowns. The Rams have scored touchdowns on 35.7 percent of red-zone possessions. Only four teams are worse.

— The quarterbacks have had a lot to do with that red-zone play. Inside the 20-yard line, Rodgers has a league-best 123.1 rating. Bradford is just 32nd at 54.2. Rodgers' success is no surprise. Since taking over as the starter in 2008, he boasts a league-best 108.5 rating with 95 touchdowns and two interceptions. Bradford, by comparison, has two interceptions this season alone.

— Both quarterbacks had better have their head on a swivel. Green Bay leads the league in sacks (21) and is second in sacks allowed (23). St. Louis is eighth in sacks (17) and tied for fourth in sacks allowed (18).

History lessons

— The Rams lead the regular-season series 45-43-2 and have outscored the Packers 2,075-2,040 – just 35 points over the course of 90 games. The Rams won 11 straight from 1948 through 1953 and the Packers won seven straight from 1960 through 1963. Green Bay is on a three-game winning streak against St. Louis, including 24-3 at Lambeau Field last year, 36-17 at St. Louis in 2009 and 33-14 at St. Louis in 2007.

— The teams have split two playoff games. The most recent was the 2001 playoffs, with Brett Favre throwing six interceptions as the Rams rolled 45-17. In the 1967 Western Conference Championship at Milwaukee County Stadium, Green Bay spotted the Los Angeles Rams a 7-0 lead but cruised 28-7. Travis Williams scored two touchdowns. The story, however, was the Packers' defense, which held firm despite four turnovers. Rams quarterback Roman Gabriel completed just 11-of-31 passes.

— Rodgers threw six touchdown passes last week against Houston. Only Kansas City's Len Dawson has thrown as many as four touchdown passes as an encore to a six-touchdown performance, with the six coming against Denver on Nov. 1, 1964, and the four coming the following week against Oakland.

— The Rams' Jackson is 584 rushing yards from becoming the 27th player in NFL history to reach the 10,000-yard milestone. Jackson would be just the 15th player to rush for 10,000 yards with one team. Of the other 14, 10 are in the Hall of Fame. His streak of seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons is tops in the league. Only six others have accomplished that in NFL history: Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Curtis Martin, Thurman Thomas, Eric Dickerson and LaDainian Tomlinson.

The other sideline

— The Rams used a sixth-round draft choice on kicker Greg Zuerlein, from that noted football powerhouse Missouri Western. What a find: "Greg the Leg" is 15-of-18 on field goals, including an NFL rookie-record 60-yard field goal. With four successful field goals from 50-plus yards, it took him just five games to establish another rookie record.

Zuerlein started the season 15-of-15 but has missed his last three. Those misses were from 52, 37 and 66 yards, with the 66-yarder having enough leg but going wide left.

"I think he's outstanding," Packers special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. "He had a couple hiccups last week in Miami but I think he is a very technically sound young kicker and his production has shown it. He's got a strong leg, and it shows up on his kickoffs as well as his long field-goal production."

— The Texans' pass rush was a big concern last week and it will be a major challenge this week by a unit that is tied for sixth with 17 sacks. Robert Quinn, the Rams' first-round pick last year, is tied for fourth with six sacks, including three against Arizona. Chris Long, the first-round pick in 2008, has added four sacks. Combined, they've added 24 quarterback hits and 29 pressures, by the team's count. Last season, Long had 13 sacks – matching the career high of his Hall of Fame father, Howie.

— With that pass rush, the pass defense has been excellent. The Rams are tied for first with four touchdown passes allowed, third with 10.21 yards allowed per completion, fifth with eight interceptions and fifth with a passer rating allowed of 72.8.

— Fisher's teams are built on running the ball and stopping the run. In 16 seasons with Tennessee/Houston, the team finished in the top 10 in run defense 11 times and finished a cumulative fourth during that span. Offensively, his clubs ranked in the top 10 in rushing eight times and a cumulative sixth. This year's team ranks 16th in rushing offense and 13th in rushing defense.

Four-point stance

— The Rams signed center Scott Wells away from the Packers. He broke his foot in the season-opening game and was placed on injured reserve/designated for return. Rob Turner, who hasn't allowed a sack or quarterback hit, has proven to be an adequate replacement.

"Obviously, Scott's a great player — you guys know that – he's a Pro Bowl-caliber center," Bradford said. "When we signed him, I was extremely excited — I think everybody in this building was. To have him hurt the first week was really tough because he really was the rock of that offensive line. I think Rob's a great job stepping in and playing center for him."

— The Rams are 3-0 at home: 31-28 over Washington in Week 2, 19-13 over Seattle in Week 4 and 17-3 over Arizona in Week 5. With 14.7 points per game allowed at home, they rank fifth in the NFL. Green Bay, on the other hand, is 16-7 in dome games under McCarthy. They've averaged 26.0 points per game outdoors but 30.7 indoors.

— Rodgers' passer rating in domes is an NFL-record 115.9 but he hasn't done it alone. In McCarthy's 23 dome games, the defense has piled up 50 takeaways and scored nine touchdowns. Combining Rodgers' efficiency and the defense's big-play prowess, Green Bay is plus-22 in turnovers.

— Green Bay's defense has a chance to soar up the rankings. Based on the NFL's official measuring stick, yards, St. Louis ranks 28th. Next week's opponent, Jacksonville, is 32nd. Then it's Arizona, which ranks 31st. Then comes the bye before showdowns at Detroit (No. 2 on offense) and the Giants (No. 3).

Quote of the week

Or the best thing said this week that we didn't work into a story ...

Rodgers, on whether the offense can "stack success" after the big game at Houston: "We haven't won back to back games this season. That's frustrating. It's about consistency. That was a good game for us offensively last week, but it doesn't really mean a whole lot unless we can get on a roll here and put two, three, four, five games in a row where you're playing like you want to on offense. So, it's going to be about doing the things that we've done here in the past to be successful, to be consistent, situational offense and not turning the football over."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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