Stock Up: Jacob Schum
Remember when Schum was on the ropes early in the season? Not anymore. The first-year Packers punter handled his first poor-weather Lambeau Field game well on Sunday. He dropped three punts inside the 13-yard line and posted a 43.0-yard average in the snow, outdueling longtime veteran Shane Lechler. Schum also battled the winds well at Washington and put up a career-high 50.5 yards per punt on four punts at Tennessee. If Schum can only get his punt coverage team to be more controlled downing punts inside the 5, the Packers will have a solid unit.
Stock Down: Jeff Janis on Special Teams
Last season, Janis had a “hell of a year” on special teams, according to coach Mike McCarthy. This season, his impact has been limited as a gunner and as a return man. Perhaps teams have figured out ways to game plan for him after he flashed Pro Bowl potential in 2015. Janis misplayed a kickoff on a windy night in Washington that put the Packers in a hole at their 2-yard line. He also drew a holding penalty at Philadelphia. After posting 15 tackles on special teams a year ago, he has just two this year.
Buy: Randall Cobb at Punt Returner
It took one play on a snowy field on Sunday to really appreciate Cobb, the punt returner. Perhaps his dynamic talents in that role have been lost through the past successes of Micah Hyde and the promise of rookie Trevor Davis, who has essentially been benched after a fumble at Tennessee. Against the Texans, though, Cobb was undeterred by running into teammate Kentrell Brice before bouncing off two other tackle attempts for a 23-yard return he nearly broke for more. He also had a 21-yard return. Signs point to Cobb snatching that job for the rest of the season and possibly giving the Packers a game-changing touchdown.
Sell: Mike Pennel
On the field, Pennel always seems to find a way to make a play – like he did on Sunday, when he stuffed running back Lamar Miller for a 4-yard loss. Off the field, Pennel has had his problems. On Tuesday, an NFL spokesperson released a statement saying Pennel “has been suspended without pay for the team’s next four games for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse.” The promising young defensive lineman also was suspended for the first four games of the season.
High Volume: Penalties
Since 2010, the Packers have been one of the least penalized teams in the league. This year, they are tied for eighth-fewest in the league with 90 (74 accepted). The third quarter of the season was the high mark for the team, however, with 29 penalties. Particularly disturbing was a 12-penalty embarrassment in a 47-25 loss at Tennessee that featured three pre-snap penalties, a defensive delay of game (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix) and two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties (Mike Daniels, Kyler Fackrell). Datone Jones is in the running for worst penalty of the year after stepping on fallen Redskins tackle Ty Nsekhe. McCarthy said of Jones’ actions, “There’s no excuse for it. I mean, that’s nonsense.”
Low Volume: Forced Turnovers
Playmakers force turnovers. The Packers have far too few playmakers on defense. With Sam Shields basically missing the entire season and Clay Matthews dealing with injuries, there is a big void. Over the last four games, the Packers have created just two fumbles and one interception (Clinton-Dix). That combined total of three is lower than either of the first two quarters of the season, which were bad, too (six and eight). The Packers are tied for 24th in the league in turnover differential (minus-5).
Player(s) of the Quarter:
Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams
The Packers really have two candidates worthy of comeback player of the year. While 2015 was depressing for Nelson and Adams — albeit for different reasons — 2016 has gone about as good as or better than expected. That was on display in the third quarter of the season, when Nelson led the team in catches (31), receiving yards (363) and touchdowns (three). Adams had a career-best 156 receiving yards against the Titans and led the team at 21.9 yards per catch. While Adams’ seemingly unstoppable release off the line of scrimmage has been on display all season, Nelson is finding more subtle ways other than “the shot play” to make big plays in his return from ACL surgery.
Play of the Quarter:
Adams’ 20-Yard Touchdown Reception at Philadelphia
A long pass. A small window. A great throw by Rodgers and a great catch by Adams. So good was this play that ESPN took a “Sports Science” look at it. In layman’s terms, Rodgers uncorked a pass from the 28-yard line that ended up in the arms of a sliding Adams in the back left corner of the end zone. Adams’ view of the pass was partially blocked on the play by cornerback Nolan Carroll. Carroll got his arms in the way but turned around a fraction too late to locate the ball. After a chuckle of amazement, “Monday Night Football” commentator Jon Gruden said, “You can’t throw the ball any better than that.”
Forecast for the Third Quarter:
The Packers are alive for a playoff spot, but barely. At 6-6 and tied for eighth with the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC standings, they need help. The silver lining is that the Packers are 2-1 in division games with a win over the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions and games against the Vikings and Lions to close out the regular season. For this team, running the table seems highly unlikely — especially with the 8-3-1 Seattle Seahawks coming to Lambeau Field this Sunday. The prospects are slim and the thinking here is that the Packers finish up 2-2 to post an 8-8 season, missing out on the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.
Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org