1.) Protection is a problem that Rodgers will have a hand in fixing
When your quarterback takes more hits than a pinata at a 5-year-old's birthday party, it's not going to be a good day. A week after Chicago's Adewale Ogunleye victimized right tackle Allen Barbre and put a beatdown on Aaron Rodgers, the team formerly known as the Cincinnati Bungles unloaded for six sacks — including five by Antwan Odom. Good thing St. Louis doesn't have anyone on their defense with the initials A.O.
Odom did most of his damage in the second half against Daryn Colledge, who moved from left guard to tackle after starter Chad Clifton sprained an ankle. Colledge had his own foot problems, having to sit out practice earlier in the week. That said, asking him to move out to play tackle, where he'd have to cover more ground against more athletic defenders, was a recipe for disaster. Moving Colledge to tackle also meant that center Jason Spitz would shift to left guard and last year's starting center, Scott Wells, would enter the lineup. This summer, coach Mike McCarthy said the musical chairs on the offensive line had ended, but apparently he changed his tune. At some point, Green Bay needs to find out if it's better off with its "best five lineman" philosophy or if plugging in someone's actual backup — regardless of his experience level — might lead to a better outcome. If that doesn't work, then you have to question the talent the team has drafted, along with its decision to shy away from big-name free agents.
But as bad as the offensive line played, Rodgers didn't do himself any favors. It's great to have confidence in your line, but that should be tempered with a healthy dose of realism. Rodgers can't sit back and scan the field behind this group. If he doesn't get rid of the rock quicker, he's going to be watching games from the sideline on crutches or in a cast. Chances are that even a healthy offensive front five is going to struggle this season, based on early returns, so the onus is on Rodgers to take care of himself. It's amazing how improved the line will look it Rodgers gets rid of the ball a split-second quicker. It's only two weeks, but the season might depend on how well the Packers adjust Rodgers' internal clock and the routes players are running to account for a lack of protection.
2.) Woodson is playing on a higher level — too bad he's mostly alone
Cornerback Charles Woodson and defensive end Cullen Jenkins did everything they could to help Green Bay win. But they could've used a little help from their friends. The 33-year-old Woodson just might be drinking from the same fountain of youth as 38-year-old Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, who went 24-of-26 and set an NFL single-game record for completion percentage with .923.
Woodson didn't have a record-setting day like Warner, but the 12-year veteran continues to set the defensive standard for how to play cornerback in the NFL. Woodson swiped two Carson Palmer passes on Sunday. The first was a 22-yard return on a pass intended for Chad Ochocinco that set up Ryan Grant's 4-yard score and a 14-7 Green Bay lead. Even better was a 37-yard pick-six intended for tight end Daniel Coats that Woodson baited Palmer into throwing. Woodson's theft put Green Bay ahead 21-14. Unfortunately, that was the last time a Packer would find the end zone.
Jenkins got one of only two sacks on Palmer. But what should have been his biggest play came on third-and-34 from the Bengals' 7-yard line, when Palmer connected with Coats on a 23-yard catch and run. The 305-pound Jenkins spun around and not only caught up with Coats, but popped the ball loose. But on a day when few things went right, Cincinnati receiver Laverneous Coles ended up recovering the fumble, which had squirted ahead for enough yards to give it the first down. Still, Jenkins' effort and hustle can't be overstated.
Keep the imaginary Samurai swords sheathed, Nick Barnett. Plays like the ones Woodson and Jenkins made is what fires up a defense. And a fire definitely needs to be lit under some Packer defenders.
3.) Special teams weren't all that special
Bill who? Quan Cosby had a big day returning punts.
Mike Roemer/AP Images
The Bengals' rookie might be carving out a more meaningful reputation as a dangerous return man, after taking a Jeremy Kapinos punt back 60 yards and setting up Palmer's quarterback sneak that tied it up at 14. Green Bay's final roster cutdown was done with special teams in mind, but the kick coverage units looked as bad on Sunday as they did last season, when they ranked among the league's worst. Nothing funny about that, either.
Kapinos continued to underwhelm with his punting and kicker Mason Crosby once again missed from over 50 yards in ideal conditions. Perhaps the coaches should stop basing their decision to dial long distance on the 60-yarders Crosby bangs in pregame warm-ups and put more stock in the misses that occur during the games. On the plus side, Crosby put the team in position to force overtime with a deftly dinked onside kick that was recovered by Tramon Williams. But like the offense and defense, this is a facet of the team with plenty of work to be done.
4.) Benson is a slow starter — as in four years slow
A week after stonewalling Matt Forte, Chicago's talented, young running back, Green Bay helped former Bears back Cedric Benson finally live up to his billing. In rushing for 144 yards on 29 carries, Benson looked less like a bust and more like the player picked No. 4 overall back in 2005. How nice for Cincinnati.
Benson ran with power between the tackles and showed speed in getting to the corner at crucial times. After a while, it seemed like he could trip over his shoe lace and gain positive yards. That kind of unexpected success negated the Packers' blitz packages and allowed Palmer the opportunity to pick and choose his spots to go downfield. Keep in mind that playing a 3-4 defense is nothing new for a team that faces Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cleveland twice a year. As good as the Packers' D played against Chicago, Cincinnati clearly had a plan of how to attack and exploit it and probably welcomed the chance to play a team just learning the scheme rather than one that's perfected it.
On the flipside, Packers running back Ryan Grant couldn't get things going. He mustered just 46 yards on 14 carries and had a critical fumble that defined his day. Aaron Rodgers, ran for 43 yards (and his life) on four carries as the Packers' second-leading rusher. Establishing the run goes hand-in-hand with keeping the heat off of Rodgers. Add that to the list of problems the team will need to address before they play the Rams.
5.) It's not the ending; it's everything leading to it
As hard as the final 2 seconds were to stomach, it was the previous 59 minutes and 58 seconds that really should make you queasy. When you can't pass protect, can't run the ball, can't stop the run and give up big plays in the return game, this is the sort of ending you get. There's also the 11 penalties for 76 yards the team racked up — including two mind-numbing false starts by defensive back Jarrett Bush on a punt. Throw in Grant's fumble, a key drop by Greg Jennings and that Jennings was held without a catch, and it really shouldn't be a surprise at all. In fact, Woodson's interceptions were the only reason this game was close.
When Rodgers found Jennings for a 50-yard strike to beat Chicago, that euphoria masked some of the shortcomings that put them in that position. But there's no mask for the kind of ugliness on display on Sunday. The truth of the matter is that two games into the regular season, this team bares little resemblance to the one that cake-walked through the preseason, and right now, there are more questions than answers all the way around. It's far too early to panic. But it is time to be concerned. And it's time to get things fixed.
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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.