John Crist: Statistically, Aaron Rodgers is having a great year taking over for Brett Favre. Nevertheless, the Packers are 5-9 and won't make the playoffs. Rodgers hasn't been able to orchestrate any comeback wins. What's he doing wrong in the fourth quarter?
Bill Huber: As offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said several times on Monday, itís a combination of a number of things. Sometimes, itís the blocking. Sometimes, itís a key penalty. Sometimes, the receiver runs a poor route. And sometimes, like on Sunday at Jacksonville, Rodgers makes a bad throw.
Of course, we might not be talking about this had Mason Crosby made a field goal at the gun against Minnesota, had the special teams and defense not let him down against Carolina and had the officials and defense not let him down against Houston. Thereís a lot of things at play, but Rodgers is the quarterback. The blame falls on him.
JC: While Ryan Grant is a solid tailback and has played well after a miserable start, I've always wondered why Brandon Jackson hasn't gotten more of a chance. Doesn't this ground game need a change-of-pace option? And should Jackson be that guy?
BH: Good question. Two weeks ago against Houston, after Jackson was coming off a productive game against Carolina, he was nursing a leg injury. Last week, it was a sprained wrist. So that has something to do with it.
Jackson is hard to peg. You watch him for several games, and he has no moves, no burst, no wiggle and suspect hands as a receiver. But then heíll break loose, be a real bear to tackle and really make things happen. This will be a make-or-break offseason for him.
JC: Aaron Kampman has 9.5 sacks and continues to be a great player, but the pass rush has been lacking in Green Bay all year long. How much of this can be pinned on the loss of Cullen Jenkins? And did Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila just have nothing left in the tank?
BH: Injuries arenít an excuse, the players and coaches are always quick to say. Thatís because they canít let it be an excuse. But letís be real. Jenkins was the Packersí top defensive player for the first month. He was a force against the run and a terror rushing the passer, either at end or when they moved him inside on running downs. And you know all too well how important defensive linemen are in making the linebackers look like all-stars.
As for KGB, he had nothing left. Offseason knee surgery took away his burst, and thatís what made him an elite pass rusher. Thereís a reason why heís unemployed in a league thatís starved of sackmasters.
JC: If Charles Woodson and Al Harris are indeed one of the better corner combos in football, why has the Pack been lit up through the air in recent weeks? I can understand the Texans throwing it well, but the Jaguars? What gives in the secondary?
BH: Boy, isnít that the million-dollar question? And donít forget about safety Nick Collins, who will join Woodson in Honolulu for the Pro Bowl. The biggest problem has been lack of pass rush. You could put Henry Burris or Rick Mirer in the pocket, and heíd put up big numbers if he didnít fear getting sacked (JC's Note: Will Furrer or Peter Tom Willis maybe, but not Burris or Mirer). Plus, all season the Packers have been killed by tight ends and running backs because their linebackers canít cover.
Even the indomitable Woodson, who has played safety the last three games because starter Atari Bigby has been injured and top backup Aaron Rouse has been hobbled and inconsistent, has been beaten a few times lately because heís been gambling more in an effort to rescue a failing defense.
JC: Since Mike McCarthy and Co. are only playing for pride the rest of the way, let's take a look at 2009. What are some of the free-agent decisions that will have to be made? What is this team's top priority on both sides of the ball in the NFL Draft?
BH: Because of GM Ted Thompsonís proactive approach, the Packers have only one free agent of note: veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher, who will be coming off knee reconstruction.
The priority is easy: linemen on both sides of the ball. The Packersí problem is all of their starting linemen, whether itís offense or defense, are OK. Thereís nothing wrong with OK, but average guys get beat on occasion. The Packers donít have a stud blocker who they can count on to get movement on third-and-1, and they donít have a stud defensive lineman who makes his linemates better and forces opposing teams to have to game-plan for him.
Be on the lookout for Part II of this three-part series, where John answers five questions from Bill, on Thursday.
Behind Enemy Lines: Part I
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