Stock Up: Ty Montgomery
Over the first four games, Montgomery was invisible. Now, he seems indispensible to the Packers’ offense. Montgomery played just 17 offensive snaps through the first quarter of the season but jumped to 126 over the next quarter when injuries hit the Packers hard at the running back spot. The triple-threat, 216-pounder led the Packers with 168 yards on receptions, carries and kickoff returns against the Cowboys and was second to Davante Adams with 126 total yards against the Bears. Despite missing the Falcons game due to issues with sickle cell trait, Montgomery gives the Packers a big-play weapon and matchup problem for opponents when he lines up at running back. On 19 carries in his last three games, he is averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
Stock Down: Clay Matthews
This was the season pegged for Matthews to move back outside full-time and begin to dominate again. But after a solid start, he has gone silent. A hamstring issue — forcing the Pro Bowl linebacker to the sideline the last two games — is partially to blame. But against the Cowboys, he made little impact going up against one of the league’s top offensive lines. He fared slightly better against the Bears — knocking quarterback Brian Hoyer out of the game with a big hit — but has otherwise seen Nick Perry and Julius Peppers upstage him off the edge. Matthews likely will bounce back if and when his hamstring issues go away, but with a salary cap number of $13.75 million this season (second-highest on the team), the Packers need more from him.
Buy: Speed on offense
For the better part of a season and a quarter, the Packers have lacked top-end speed at their skill positions on offense. Not anymore. Long-term injuries to running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks have forced a shift in personnel. Rookie Trevor Davis (4.42 in the 40 at the Scouting Combine) and Jeff Janis (4.42) have seen more snaps at receiver in recent weeks. Receivers Randall Cobb, Adams and Montgomery have taken snaps at running back, giving the Packers more big-play potential out of the backfield. And a new addition, running back Don Jackson (signed to the active roster just before the Cowboys game), is much quicker getting to the line of scrimmage than either Lacy or Starks. Jackson, at 5-10, 208 pounds, reportedly ran a 4.47 at his pro day before going undrafted.
Sell: Inability to close out on defense
Last Sunday, the Colts offense ran out the final 3:29 in a one-score game against the Packers by completing two third-down passes to preserve a victory. And just before halftime, they went 96 yards on 15 plays to take a two-touchdown lead. At Atlanta, the Packers went ahead 32-26 late in the fourth quarter, only to see Matt Ryan orchestrate an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to beat them. The Falcons went 75 yards, too, on seven plays over 3:55 for a touchdown on the final drive of the first half. But maybe the worst close-out effort came against the Cowboys. With rookie quarterback Dak Prescott backed up at his own 3-yard line with 1 minute left in the first half, the Packers’ efforts to get the ball back on offense — calling timeouts after two Ezekiel Elliot runs — backfired. On third-and-1, Lucky Whitehead took a jet sweep 26 yards. Two long passes later, the Cowboys were in the end zone. Five plays, 97 yards in just 33 seconds. The Packers’ defense has been dreadful when the need to rise to the occasion is paramount.
High Volume: Games missed by starters
Cornerback Sam Shields and tight end Jared Cook were already out to begin the second quarter of the season and have yet to return. Added to the list over the last four games were Lacy (three missed starts), cornerback Damarious Randall (three missed starts), Cobb (two missed starts), Matthews (two missed starts) and center JC Tretter (one missed start). That adds up to 19 missed starts among preferred starters during a stretch in which the Packers went 1-3.
Low Volume: Kick and punt returns
No team in the league has had fewer combined kick and punt returns that the Packers, who have just 20 (eight punt and 12 kick) in eight games. Though the number of returns were up minimally over the second quarter, the Packers are still on pace to smash the franchise mark for fewest punt returns (20 in 1961 in 14 games) and kick returns (28 in 1943 and 1941) in a season. Making matters worse is that they have potential game-breakers in Davis (see Play of the Quarter), Janis and Montgomery on the roster. But more often than not those three have been relegated to fair catches and touchbacks.
Player of the Quarter: Bryan Bulaga
The Packers are fortunate to have not one, but two solid offensive tackles locked up for foreseeable future. David Bakhtiari is signed through 2020 and Bulaga through 2019. Either could have been named Player of the Quarter for an offensive line that has been the strength of the offense, but the nod goes to Bulaga. Twice (against the Cowboys and Colts) he graded out as the Packers’ top offensive player by Pro Football Focus metrics. He also graded out second and third in the two other games, including a grueling 87-snap effort against the Bears in which Aaron Rodgers threw 56 times. With no other skill position player showing consistency and only Mike Daniels competing for top honors on defense, it seems fitting Bulaga gets his due.
Play of the Quarter:
Trevor Davis’ 55-yard punt return at Atlanta
High-energy plays have been few for these Packers. Davis gave them a coveted one in an upset bid at Atlanta. Fielding a Matt Bosher punt in the middle of the field at the 30, Davis got upfield quickly. Within the first 10 yards, he eluded Falcons’ gunner C.J. Goodwin, who came free, and long snapper Josh Harris, who came unblocked. From there, Davis turned on the burners through a lane to the right. Two other would-be tacklers missed Davis down the sideline before Kemal Ishmael brought him down on a cut-back. Three plays later, Davis made a tight-rope catch of Rodgers’ pass near the pylon for his first career touchdown to give the Packers a 21-13 lead late in the second quarter.
Forecast for the Third Quarter:
This Packers’ season took a most unsightly turn in the second quarter. A 1-3 record with two home losses puts the Packers in a fight for their playoff lives in a weak NFC. The challenge gets tougher with three straight road games (at Tennessee on Sunday and at Washington and Philadelphia in prime time). If there is a silver lining, all three opponents have stumbled of late. The Redskins have not posted a win in their last two games. The Titans have lost two of three. And the Eagles have gone 1-4 after starting 3-0. Then again, the Packers look lost at the halfway point, too, after an unexpected home loss to the Colts. Capping off the coming quarter with a home game against the Texans, the Packers will go 2-2 and head into the final stretch of the season at 6-6.
Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org