Welcome back to PackerReport.com's "Sunday School." Each week, we'll take a look back on the Packers' most recent matchup and give you five key lessons. Today, we get inside Green Bay's season-opening victory over Chicago.
1.) Capers' 3-4 scheme is going to give offenses fits
Remember a few months back when Jay Cutler was being hailed as the best Bears quarterback since Sid Luckman and questions swirled about how the Packers' personnel would adjust to Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme? Yes, I'm laughing, too. On Sunday, Green Bay went ‘Full Monty' with its bringing-pressure-from-everywhere-but-your-living-room 3-4 defense and the results were dramatic. Green Bay registered sacks from defensive end Cullen Jenkins and linebacker Brandon Chillar. Playing nickel for much of the evening to contain tight end Greg Olsen, Green Bay unleashed a variety of blitzes from defensive backs and linebackers. Chillar's sack was ridiculous, as he hurdled running back Garrett Wolfe, landed in stride and chased down Cutler from behind. He led the defense with seven solo stops, and despite not starting, might be playing better than any linebacker on the team.
Cutler was harassed into four interceptions — and Packers cornerback Tramon Williams dropped the first two balls to hit him in the hands. Of course, he cashed in later by returning a badly thrown pass 67 yards to the Bears' 1-yard line to set up Green Bay's first touchdown of the year. As impressive as that was, the best theft came from lineman Johnny Jolly, who dropped back on a screen pass intended for Bears running back Matt Forte and snatched the ball with a massive left paw on third-and-goal from the 8. Forte almost certainly would've scored on the play. Jenkins, Chillar and Jolly were awarded game balls on defense.
While they won't get the luxury of playing Cutler every week, if they keep this up, it won't matter who's lined up across from them. And it wasn't just the quarterback they were ganging up on. Forte — one of the league's top young backs — managed just 55 yards on 22 carries with a long gain of 10 yards.
2.) Barbre is not ready for prime time, and maybe not a starting spot
If you had to describe Allen Barbre's first start at right tackle in two words, they might be, ‘Look out!' It was reasonable to expect some growing pains in replacing nine-year veteran Mark Tauscher in the starting lineup. But giving up two sacks, three tackles for losses and five quarterback hits, along with a couple more pressures, put quarterback Aaron Rodgers in danger of some serious physical pain. Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, a nine-year vet, feasted on the inexperienced lineman like a pregame meal and kept a Packers offense predicated on rhythm and timing out of sync. It got so bad that coach Mike McCarthy considered benching him.
All of the damage occurred in the first half, and Barbre thankfully pulled things together in the final two quarters. He also had a great seal-off block on a 17-yard run by Ryan Grant. But Barbre's performance will have to make a dramatic improvement against Cincinnati if he's going to keep Breno Giacomini, who was injured during training camp and lost out on the starting bid, out of the lineup.
3.) Sometimes the best play is the one you don't run
On third-and-1 from the 50-yard line, Green Bay lined up with a full-house backfield and planned to feed the rock to Ryan Grant for a fresh set of downs and a chance to go down and score. But when receiver Greg Jennings lined up on the wrong side, Rodgers was forced to burn a timeout. Of course, the call was changed to a play-action pass that resulted in the game-winning toss to Jennings, who blew by a stumbling Nathan Vasher on a post route and cruised into the end zone.
When practicing that play, the ball most often went to tight end Donald Lee, but when Bears cornerback Charles Tillman didn't buy the play fake and began to backpedal, Rodgers went to Jennings on the other side. It was the play of the game and, just a game into the season, may be one for the highlight reel. Given the result, it was one that Grant could have a little fun with.
"Yeah, I was supposed to get the ball, but it was a great call and we got the touchdown. In hindsight, I probably would've scored, as well, but I let Greg get the touchdown on that play," Grant joked. "We called timeout ... we lined up in the wrong place. I think Greg did it on purpose, but that's OK because I got the first touchdown of the season."
4.) Nelson has some skills in the return game
Just because he's not the shifty, slippery returner that cornerback Will Blackmon is, it doesn't mean Jordy Nelson can't be a threat when he gets the ball. Nelson got the nod with thoughts of ball security, but he showed a scorer's mentality that was looking for open green after making the catch. With Blackmon sidelined by injury, the Packers' 6-foot-3, 217-pound receiver returned the opening kickoff 46 yards — though the Packers were unable to capitalize on their starting field position when kicker Mason Crosby missed a 49-yard field goal wide left. Nelson showed a knack for getting upfield in decisive fashion and making his cuts with a head of steam that made him hard to bring down. He finished the evening with four kickoff returns for 124 yards, a 31-yard average. Bears punter Brad Maynard's sideline boots made yardage harder to come by, as Nelson had two for just 14 yards. Even when Blackmon is back on the field, Nelson can be an effective style change on special teams.
5.) Take all preseason results with a bottle of salt
Some things need to be taken with a grain of salt. When it comes to the preseason, use the whole bottle. No matter how many times we tell ourselves not to draw any conclusions based on a four-week schedule of teams evaluating talent and playing vanilla, scaled-down versions of offensive and defensive schemes, we still do. A Packers offense that overpowered opponents and scored with ease was on their heels and out of sync against a Lovie Smith-directed Bears defense out for blood. Of course, no salt was needed for a Packers defense that made a seamless transition into the regular season.
And for those of you that read check this space weekly, you'll recall that I offered up astute preseason observations such as: "Brian Brohm earned another year" (I didn't think it would be on the practice squad); "Don't be shocked if Anthony Smith unseats Atari Bigby" (Smith got cut); and "Running back Tyrell Sutton is forcing his way onto the roster" (that turned out to be the Carolina Panthers' roster after he was cut). Contact editor and publisher Bill Huber for a credit on your account. But in all seriousness, no one expected the Packers to keep all three fullbacks or cut Ruvell Martin in favor of Brett Swain, but that just proves that general manager Ted Thompson and his staff are watching with a different set of criteria. But the ending of Sunday night's game should give everyone confidence that big things remain on the horizon.
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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.