Stock Up: Rookie Cornerbacks
After witnessing one of his most productive first-year draft classes a season ago, general manager Ted Thompson has hit an early home run with at least his first two picks this year. Sure, cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins have taken their lumps, but neither seems too overwhelmed playing in the NFL. Rollins, who sat out last Sunday with a neck injury, came up with a pick-six and a game-sealing interception in a win over the St. Louis Rams on Oct. 11. Randall made his first NFL start against the Rams and picked off Peyton Manning and Cam Newton in consecutive weeks. He also made a goal line deflection of a Philip Rivers pass on fourth down to preserve a victory over the San Diego Chargers. With Sam Shields battling a shoulder injury and Casey Hayward struggling (and also going through the concussion protocol this week) the contributions of Randall and Rollins have been much needed.
Stock Down: Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers playing scared? After not seeing an open Randall Cobb for a potential game-tying touchdown last Sunday at Carolina, the MVP’s comments regarding the missed opportunity were startling. But they did cap off a curious second quarter of the season for Rodgers that saw his Lambeau Field interception-free streak end and just 77 passing yards at Denver (his career low as a starter in a game he started and did not leave because of injury). After drawing comparisons to Michael Jordan early in the season by coaxing opponents into big plays, Rodgers has some work to do to lift his offense out of a prolonged funk. Over the last four games he has thrown three interceptions and completed 57.4 percent of his passes, good for a passer rating of 91.3, well below his career mark.
Buy: Datone Jones
With limited snaps along the front-line rotation for the Packers, Datone Jones is making the most of his opportunities. The former first-round pick from UCLA might be playing his best since flashing early in his rookie training camp (2013). Jones has beaten defenders one-on-one in run defense from an interior spot (ask the Chargers’ D.J. Fluker and Broncos’ Louis Vasquez) and as an outside edge rusher (sacking Rivers). He also came from an interior pass rushing spot to pressure the Rams’ Nick Foles into throwing an interception that Rollins returned for a touchdown. In just 22 snaps against the Rams, Jones had four quarterback pressures and four hits. He also partially blocked a Greg Zuerlein field goal attempt from 50 yards.
Sell: A Bigger Eddie Lacy
Will somebody please find the running back formerly known as Eddie Lacy? Fumbles. Getting benched. Lack of production. Injuries. Lacy has been perhaps the most disappointing player for the Packers over this stretch. Though he claims his early-season ankle injury is no longer an issue, he suffered a groin injury at Carolina. But clearly, Lacy, listed at 234 pounds, is a bigger back this season. That may not affect his bruising style but it might contribute to him leaving yards on the field. He does appear to be slower getting to the line of scrimmage which limits his strength – getting to the second level of the defense. James Starks got the start against the Chargers and is getting more snaps. At this point, he appears to be the better option out of the backfield. Lacy has just 78 yards rushing at 2.4 yards per carry over the past four games.
High Volume: Passing Yards
After smothering Foles (four interceptions, three sacks, just 141 yards passing), the Packers were blitzed by Rivers (career-high 503 passing yards) and Manning (season-high 340 passing yards). In just three games they have plummeted 19 spots in the league’s pass defense rankings, all the way to 23rd. It could have been worse, too, had Newton been a little more accurate last Sunday. He missed several throws in his pedestrian 15-of-30 performance but more than made up for it by averaging 19.8 yards per completion. There seems to be games or stretches like this for the Packers defense just about every season under defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
Low Volume: Offensive Plays
Against Carolina, the Packers finally got to their goal of 70 plays (they actually had 72). But prior to that, they fell way short. They ran 59 plays against the Rams, 49 against the Chargers and just 46 against the Broncos. The latter was the lowest since a Thanksgiving Day game in 2013 that Matt Flynn started (42 plays). The Packers have talked about needing to find their rhythm on offense and it would help to convert some third downs (5-of-22 the last two games and just 34.1 percent on the season). But it would also help to be better on first down as our Bill Huber pointed out earlier this week.
Player of the Quarter: Mike Daniels
With few standouts to choose from, the calm among the storm this quarter has been Mike Daniels. Whether the fourth-year defensive lineman makes a play or not, he most often beats his man and has an impact on the play. He always grades out highly, as he did against Chargers and Rams, a game in which he posted a career-high 10 tackles (two for loss) based on the coaches’ tally. With six quarterback hits over the last four games, he leads all defensive linemen for the Packers.
Play of the Quarter: James Jones’ 65-yard touchdown against the Rams
Randall’s pass deflection to preserve the win against the Chargers provided a dramatic ending. Starks’ career long 65-yard touchdown run in the same game featured a spin move and a burst to the end zone that few probably thought Starks had. But the nod here goes to another 65-yarder, this one made by the human highlight reel James Jones. Against the Rams, he ran a deep in, catching the ball near midfield before sprinting towards the end zone. Defensive back Rodney McLeod ran stride-for-stride with Jones eventually tripping him up inside the 5-yard line where Jones kept his balance just long enough to reach for the goal line. Said CBS commentator Dan Fouts after seeing the replay, “You will not see a better effort than that.” The throw from Rodgers was one of the best of the season as well with defensive back Lamarcus Joyner in tight coverage.
Forecast for the Third Quarter:
The Packers face a defining time in their season. Is their current funk on both sides of the ball a phase or legitimate sign of trouble? For the first time since division realignment (2002), they will play four straight NFC North games. Up first is the ultimate elixir - the Detroit Lions, who have gone nearly 24 years without a win against the Packers in Wisconsin. But a battle at Minnesota, also 6-2, the week after will be pivotal in the standings. Then an improving Chicago Bears team on Thanksgiving and another Thursday nighter following at Detroit. The thinking here is that the Packers start to figure some things out and go 3-1. If not, they could be playing for a wild-card berth with a potentially tough stretch ahead the final month.
Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org