1.) Add A-Rod's feet to the list of offensive weapons
Against St. Louis, quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasn't fleeing the pocket so much as vacating by strategic design. Green Bay's No. 12 never will be mistaken for Randall Cunningham, but Rodgers is an athletic quarterback who can make teams pay if they're going to rush four defenders and drop seven. On Sunday, he rushed eight times for 38 yards. His second-quarter run around the right end for 12 yards set up the first touchdown and a 16-0 lead. He ran for another 12 in the fourth quarter, then scored on a 4-yard draw two plays later to put Green Bay ahead 29-17.
"We were moving the pocket a little bit because they were dropping seven guys into coverage," Rodgers said. "Any time I can stretch the pocket a little bit, I feel it gives me more time for those receivers to work, and it opens holes for me as well so I can get down and get out of bounds."
2.) Jolly and the Packers should feel lucky
There was reason to think Johnny Jolly wouldn't be where he is today. That doesn't mean in the Packers' starting lineup, or even necessarily in Green Bay. It means that Jolly is a free man and not facing the same daily routine as Giants receiver Plaxico Burress, who's serving a two-year stint in jail.
Jolly was arrested on July 8, 2008, in his hometown of Houston for possession of at least 200 grams of codeine, an opiate often used as a recreational drug. Charges were dismissed this past July 16, but could be refiled by next summer, making the future of the 6-foot-3, 325-pounder uncertain.
What is certain is Jolly is making an impact as the starting left end and doing more than just keeping the spot warm for first-round pick B.J. Raji. Against the Rams, Jolly planted Steven Jackson for a 1-yard loss on the game's opening play, recovered a fumble when Marc Bulger was sacked by Aaron Kampman and was bearing down on backup quarterback Kyle Boller when Boller was intercepted by Charles Woodson midway through the fourth quarter. If that wasn't enough, Jolly blocked a 48-yard field goal attempt by Rams kicker Josh Brown on the game's opening drive.
Donald Driver makes a superb catch against Bradley Fletcher.
3.) Green Bay digs the long ball, but ...
A week ago, Rodgers' longest pass was 26 yards as he got chased and harassed and sacked six times by the team formerly known as the Cincinnati "Bungles." Adding insult to injury, receiver Greg Jennings was shut out for the first time in his career. But in downing the Rams, it's fair to say Rodgers helped put the words "big play" back into his receivers' official title. Jennings hauled in 50- and 53-yard bombs against a secondary that took its chances with press coverage.
Of course, Jennings wasn't the only guy getting in on the action. The ageless wonder known as Donald Driver made a David Tyree-esque one-handed grab that he held against his helmet as he fell to the ground for a 46-yard gain.
While none of the three were scoring plays, they loomed large in Rodgers' 269 passing yards. But as exciting and integral to the victory as those plays were, the Packers' receiving corps has been one of the league leaders in all-important yards after the catch. Given the dicey performance of the offensive line after three games, you hope that looking downfield for the big play doesn't supplant the essential quick slant that keeps Rodgers upright and healthy. Which leads into our next key learning …
4.) Barbre is on a long leash
In the span of less than 5 minutes in the first quarter, Rodgers was sacked twice by defensive end Leonard Little. All that was missing was a head slap and it would've looked like Little was channeling Rams great Deacon Jones. On both plays, Little went past right tackle Allen Barbre. In Barbre's defense, the second takedown was a coverage sack. But after getting worked over by Chicago's Adewale Ogunleye in the season opener and forcing the Packers to keep extra blockers in for help during the next two games, you wonder at what point the Packers will be forced to look at other options, rather than stifle their offense.
Growing pains are one thing, but it's Rodgers that's going to be in pain if he keeps taking these hits. If Barbre's learning curve doesn't level off fast, Breno Giacomini may yet find his way into the lineup. But Giacomini, the one-time Louisville tight end, would have to prove he's better than another college tight-end-turned tackle named Tony Moll. It took Green Bay three years to decide that wasn't working.
5.) Capers can innovate with the best of them
What do you do when you have trouble stopping the run, injuries at safety and more talent at linebacker than you can fit on the field in a traditional 3-4 scheme? You put five linebackers on the field, as Packer defensive coordinator Dom Capers did in his untraditional "Big Okie" package.
With the group's best cover man, Brandon Chillar, playing a hybrid safety/linebacker position, the thought was they could have extra bulk against the bruising 6-foot-2, 236-pound battering (St. Louis) Ram that is Steven Jackson without getting exploited in the passing game. Together, they held Jackson to 117 yards — though 11 carries went for 1 yard or less. Chillar also got beat by Rams tight end Daniel Fells on two scores. But the scoreboard says the scheme, which Green Bay was in for roughly half of their snaps, accomplished the goal.
That the package debuted in this game carried a bit of irony. Fritz Shurmur, the late, great former Packers defensive coordinator and uncle of current Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, created the "Eagle 5 Linebacker" defense back in 1989, when injuries left his then-Los Angeles Rams team with just two healthy defensive tackles. That incarnation gave up just three 100-yard rushing performances and helped the Rams reach the NFC title game. Green Bay would love to have that kind of success. The big test for the "Big Okie" could be Monday against the Vikings, if Capers is willing to roll the dice on Chillar in coverage.
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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.