— The Packers have a first-year starter at quarterback.
— Injuries have been a huge problem. Cullen Jenkins is out for the season; Atari Bigby and Al Harris have barely played; A.J. Hawk was at considerably less than full strength for a couple of games; Bigby's replacement, Aaron Rouse, has been sidelined by ankle, knee and head injuries; Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett have played through significant injuries; and Justin Harrell hasn't played. And that's just the defense.
— The schedule has been tough. Throw out Detroit — and the NFL should consider doing just that — and injury-ravaged Seattle, and the Packers haven't exactly been facing the Sisters of the Poor or the second string from Burning Stump University. Minnesota (3-4), Dallas (4-3), Tampa Bay (5-2), Atlanta (4-2) and Indianapolis (3-3) are a combined 19-14 entering play on Sunday.
With that said, Professor Packer Report hands out these midterm grades.
Rushing offense: C-minus
Ryan Grant ranks fourth in the NFL with 137 rushes but 11th with 464 rushing yards. Even with that lack of productivity, the Packers haven't given Brandon Jackson many opportunities (20 rushes; zero last week). What does that say about last year's No. 2 pick? Green Bay ranks 23rd with a per-carry average of 3.7 yards. The only saving grace: The Packers have run it often enough to open up the passing game.
Passing offense: B-plus
First-year quarterback with a bum shoulder? That should lead to Kansas City Chiefs-like futility in the passing game, but not so. Aaron Rodgers has been better than anyone could have expected. Rodgers' 98.8 passer rating ranks fifth — a figure that the great Brett Favre has topped just once in his superlative career. His four interceptions speak volumes to his decision making. Rodgers' rating on make-or-break third downs is a whopping 120.3, and nine of his 12 touchdowns have come on third down. Perhaps the injury was a blessing, since it's forced him to get rid of the ball quicker. Greg Jennings has emerged as one of the NFL's elite receivers, Donald Driver just keeps delivering and tight end Donald Lee has eight catches and two touchdowns in his last two games.
Rushing defense: D-plus
The Packers were absolutely gutted on the ground in four of their first five games (Detroit being the exception), but they stiffened against the Seahawks and Colts. Was that a sign of things to come, or the Packers merely taking advantage of a team without a quarterback (Seattle) and a team without its starting halfback (Indy)? We'll find out after the bye, with the physical Titans next Sunday, followed by Round 2 against Minnesota. Getting Harrell back will help, if only to give Pickett, Johnny Jolly and Colin Cole some rest.
Passing defense: A-minus
The Packers rank ninth in the NFL against the pass and apparently are incapable of putting together a consistent pass rush, even when they blitz. Still, their 13 interceptions are tops in the league, and Woodson and Nick Collins are tied for the NFL lead with four pickoffs apiece. Tramon Williams, playing in place of Harris, has three interceptions. No statistic matters as much as turnovers, and the Packers' pass defense is as good as it gets.
Special teams: C
The Packers' many injuries have taken a toll on the special teams, with standouts like Korey Hall and Jason Hunter missing several games. The Packers rank a woeful 30th on kickoff returns (19.7-yard average), though Will Blackmon is averaging better than 26 a pop the last three games. Blackmon's jitterbug style is better on punt returns, where he averages 11.4 yards per runback. Mason Crosby is 11-of-14 on field goals, though one miss is from 53 yards and he had one blocked. He's tied for fourth in the NFL with 10 touchbacks, and his coverage team is allowing a 13th-ranked 22.2-yard average on returns. Derrick Frost has been so-so as a punter, but his coverage unit has limited returners to 5.8 yards a crack.
The transition from Favre to Rodgers has gone smoothly, which is a credit to coach Mike McCarthy and quarterbacks coach Tom Clements. The play-calling might be a little predictable at times, but it's hard to quibble with a fifth-ranked 27.7 points per game. To get that kind of productivity with a banged-up quarterback and sputtering run game is hard to believe. Defensively, the big-play secondary is the biggest reason why the Packers are 4-3, which is a credit to coaches Kurt Schottenheimer and Lionel Washington. While the fans clamor for more blitzes, the ones dialed up by Bob Sanders have failed miserably.
That the Packers are afloat after all that transpired with the Favre fiasco and the laundry list of injuries, 4-3 isn't bad. The next five games — at Tennessee (6-0) and Minnesota (3-4), home to Chicago (4-3), at New Orleans (3-4) and home to Carolina (5-2) — will determine this team's fate.
E-mail Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org