Record this quarter
2-2 (tied for 2nd in the NFC North)
Stock up: Aaron Rodgers
Pretty easy one here. After a so-so start by his lofty standards and some rumbling from fans as to why his accuracy seemed off on some throws, Rodgers put together a big game in a big spot at Chicago to ease any concerns. The performance was reminiscent of a Sunday night game at Houston in 2012, when Rodgers threw six touchdowns to quiet the critics and start a five-game winning streak for the Packers after a 2-3 start to the season. With a 151.2 passer rating against the Bears, Rodgers registered the second best single-game performance of his career. It could have been even better had not a questionable holding penalty on Corey Linsley wiped out a 34-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams that set Twitter abuzz.
Stock down: Eddie Lacy
Remember the offseason and preseason talk about Lacy running with a lower pad level and being more involved in the passing game? Neither of those proposed changes has been evident. Instead, Lacy has looked like a shell of the player he transformed into over the second half of last season when, despite facing overloaded defenses looking to stop him, he still produced. Of the 31 running backs in the league with at least 40 rushing attempts this season, Lacy’s 3.0 yards per carry average is fourth-worst in the league. And coming out of the backfield as a receiver, he has just seven catches for 49 yards.
Buy: Corey Linsley
The Packers’ succession plan at center after Evan Dietrich-Smith departed via free agency hit a snag when anointed J.C. Tretter injured his knee in the third preseason game. Now it may face another snag when Tretter is eligible return to game action off the short-term injured reserve list in four weeks. Why? Because Linsley, a fifth-round pick, has hardly looked out of place along the Packers’ offensive line. Sure, he has made some mistakes and incurred a few penalties (including two questionable holding calls on Sunday), but he has shown the strength and headiness to stand up to the game’s top interior linemen. According to Pro Football Focus, Linsley has allowed four hurries but no sacks or quarterback hits.
Sell: Brad Jones
Even as a regular starter at linebacker over the past three seasons, Jones would appear to be on his way out of the lineup. Not only has he missed the last three games with a quadriceps injury, but his replacement, Jamari Lattimore, has looked much more the part. Lattimore is more impactful and an aggressive tackler besides bringing some attitude to the middle of the Packers’ defense. In the only game Jones played this season — the opener in Seattle — he drew the ire of fans for having one of the worst games of his career. With a dropped interception, three missed tackles and two penalties, he graded out the worst among Packers’ defenders according to Pro Football Focus metrics.
Buy: The NFC North
Any questions this division has established itself as the most competitive after the first four games? If not, just ask the New York Jets, who have lost three consecutive games to NFC North opponents after winning their opener. Through the first quarter of the season, the division is the only without a losing team. And against another great division, the NFC West, the North has won two of three games. More than any of the past three years, the Packers will be in a fight to win their fourth straight division crown. The Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings appear to be taking favorably to their new coaches and the Bears have plenty of weapons on offense to remain a contender despite some of Jay Cutler’s mistakes in the passing game.
Sell: The run defense
The new philosophy of “less scheme, more personnel” has done little to help the Packers’ run defense. In fact, it might have made things worse. Allowing a whopping 176 yards per game (albeit on a league-leading 153 attempts against), the Packers are worst in the NFL. The unit has made no progress on yards per attempt either, allowing 4.6 yards per rush. Teams have taken notice of the Packers’ vulnerability, too. Opponents are trying to jam it down the Packers’ throats with 38.3 rushing attempts per game vs. 32.3 passing attempts. And while the addition of Julius Peppers has added spice to the Packers’ pass rush, Peppers has done little to make an impact against the run. Coach Mike McCarthy can talk about working on fundamentals and tackling, but the Packers have not been stout against the run for any type of stretch dating back to Week 7 of last season.
Player of the Quarter: Jordy Nelson
Who else could it be? Nelson has been everything to the Packers offense through the first four games. Talk about bang for the buck? Nelson’s new $39 million contract looks like a bargain. He leads the NFL in catches (33), receiving yards (459), targets (49) and receiving first downs (24) and has had three games with at least nine catches. His 33 catches are a franchise record for the first four games of the season.
Play(s) of the Quarter: Tramon Williams vs. Jets and Bears
At 31, Williams is showing Charles Woodson-like playmaking skills as he gets up in his veteran years. He was the central figure in two plays that turned the tide in the two games the Packers won and well could have lost. The first was an interception against the Jets in Week 2. With the Jets looking to pad a 21-9 lead just before halftime, Williams took advantage of a big hit by Mike Daniels that forced an errant Geno Smith throw inside the 5-yard line. The Packers’ offense then went 97 yards with under 2 minutes to cut into the Jets’ lead, eventually going on to a 31-24 victory. Then, in a road win at Chicago, Williams interrupted an otherwise-strong offensive performance by the Bears when he read a formation on a third-quarter play and cut in front of a Josh Morgan slant route to deflect the ball high into the air and into the hands of Clay Matthews. After a 40-yard return, the Packers converted the turnover into a touchdown to open up a back-and-forth game.
Forecast for the second quarter of the season:
With two losses to teams with a combined 5-2 record, the Packers are not yet elite in the NFC. But McCarthy’s teams have looked uneven to start the first quarter of the past two seasons before rebounding to put themselves in contention. With Thursday night’s game at home vs. the Vikings, then games at Miami, at home vs. the Carolina Panthers and at New Orleans, there is a chance to get on a run. The guess here is that the Packers go 3-1 over the next quarter of the season.
Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org