Along with middle linebacker Blake Martinez, Fackrell has probably been the best 2016 draft pick for the Packers through the first quarter of the season. Unlike Martinez, Fackrell took some time in training camp to find his way. But in limited action this regular season, Fackrell has made the most of his opportunities. Fifty-one of his 65 defensive snaps this season have come in the last two games. On Sunday night against the Giants, he had a sack-fumble of Eli Manning and also had a hit and a hurry in just 12 pass-rushing snaps. He also sacked the Lions’ Matthew Stafford the game before and adds another full-effort rusher to an already multi-dimensional front seven for the Packers.
Pretty easy one here. The Packers’ 2015 first-round draft pick had a promising rookie season but after great start in Jacksonville — allowing only two catches for 13 yards in six targets — he had two of the roughest outings of his career the next two games. At Minnesota, he allowed 161 yards and a touchdown on seven catches (eight targets). He missed a tackle, too. At home against the Lions, Marvin Jones got him for 115 yards and a touchdown on four catches. Too often, Randall is unable to keep up with speedy receivers, which has the Packers scrambling for answers in the secondary without Sam Shields (concussion). Perhaps most telling was that the Packers secondary actually put together a better performance without Randall (groin) against the Giants. LaDarius Gunter took his starting spot.
Interior offensive line
Josh Sitton’s release was the shocking story coming out of Packers training camp. It hardly causes a ripple now. As good as Sitton was for many years in Green Bay, the play of J.C. Tretter at center and Lane Taylor at guard, along with the three holdover starters, has given the Packers one of the best offensive lines early this season. The Packers inked Taylor to a two-year, $4.2 million dollar contract this offseason in a curious move that has paid dividends. Tretter, along with Lang, is scheduled to become a free agent at the end of this season. He should be in line for a long-term deal based on what the Packers think of him. Complicating matters will be the return of center Corey Linsley from the PUP list later this season. Linsley started 29 regular-season games over the last two seasons.
This could be it for Starks in Green Bay. The seven-year veteran is off to his worst start (24 carries for just 42 yards) and has looked clumsy in the passing game trying to connect with Aaron Rodgers. His indecisiveness behind the line of scrimmage has appeared to rear its ugly head and he nearly had a careless fumble without even getting hit in the fourth quarter against the Giants. Making Starks’ slow start look worse is that Eddie Lacy, with the same offensive line, is tied for third in the league at 5.5 yards per carry.
Tackles for loss
The Packers’ “pursuit and finish” motto has hit home early this season. A key reason for the early dominance against the run? Playing on the other team’s side of the line of scrimmage, as our Bill Huber detailed in a Sept. 27 story. With negative takedowns in the run game by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Jake Ryan against the Giants, the Packers already have an astounding 21 tackles for losses (not counting sacks). They had 42 and 29 in each of the last two ENTIRE seasons. The league’s No. 1-ranked run defense will get its toughest test yet when it faces the Cowboys offensive line and league rushing leader Ezekiel Elliot (546 yards and 5.0 per carry) this Sunday.
Running back catches and yards
Last season, the screen pass was arguably the Packers’ most productive offensive play. This season, they have gotten next to nothing in the passing game from Lacy and Starks (just 9 catches for 72 yards or 8.2 percent of the team’s passing yards; last year it was 15.2 percent). That has forced them to become one-dimensional in the passing game, turning to receivers Randall Cobb or Ty Montgomery in the backfield for a spark. Unlike other dynamic offenses, the Packers have no threat of Lacy or Starks running a legitimate passing route like a slant or a wheel route. So instead, a dumpdown, swing pass, or screen pass seems to be their only options.
Player of the Quarter:
The doubt has always been more about availability than ability for Perry. Fully healthy and a full-time starter this season, the 2012 first-round draft pick has become one of the all-around top outside linebackers in the league. Perry has been a force against the run — setting the edge and disrupting running plays in the backfield — and rushing the passer (his 4.5 sacks lead the team). With 22 pressures in four games, he is third in Pro Football Focus’ pass rushing productivity metric among 3-4 outside linebackers. With a knack for batting down passes and leading all Packers’ front seven defenders in snaps this season (152), Perry is a most deserving Pro Bowl candidate so far.
Play of the Quarter:
Aaron Rodgers’ touchdown pass to Davante Adams at Jacksonville
So many of Rodgers highlight plays and throws have come out of the pocket. This was one of his best in the pocket. Facing a third-and-10 on the Jaguars’ 29 with 20 seconds left in the first half, the Packers line up with three receivers right and one left. Starks is to the left of Rodgers in the shotgun. The Jaguars are showing a blitz and have no deep safety just before the snap. At the snap, the Jaguars end up rushing six but disguise one – linebacker Telvin Smith – who drops into coverage on tight end Jared Cook in the slot. With the Packers’ receivers all running vertical routes, Rodgers steps up in the pocket to try to avoid blitzing cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey grabs him by the back of the jersey but even as Rodgers is pulled backward, he heaves a pass to the goal line where Adams snares a tightly contested ball from cornerback Davon House. The Packers take a 21-17 halftime lead and go on to win the season opener, 27-23.
Forecast for the Second Quarter:
The Packers have started slowly in seven of coach Mike McCarthy’s 10 seasons. The 3-1 start this year would not classify as slow, though the Packers have yet to put together a complete performance (especially on offense). That being said, the second quarter of the season will begin to shape the 2016 team. With three of the next four games at home (including a Thursday night game against the Bears Oct. 20), the Packers should have an advantage. But games this Sunday against the Cowboys (4-1) and Oct. 30 at Atlanta (4-1) look much tougher than they did a month ago. Throw in a home game against the Colts to start November and 3-1 over the next four games will be tough, but doable.
Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org