Behind Enemy Lines: Part 2

We continue our lookahead to Sunday's game, with five questions from Roar Report's Nate Caminata. Come back Saturday for Part 3, which will include our takes on the key matchups.

Nate Caminata: I think everyone (especially division fans) is interested to know how the team and the fan base handled the loss to Brett Favre and Minnesota. Did it stir up any of the animosities from a year ago? Do you believe Green Bay is still in better hands with Aaron Rodgers?

Bill Huber: Stirred up would be an understatement. The Packers' Ted Thompson has never been the most popular general manager among fans. So, whatever good feelings he gained in building a team that reached the NFC championship game following the 2007 season were gone among a large percentage of fans when he traded the iconic Favre. When Favre and the Vikings beat Thompson's Packers a couple weeks ago, it certainly amplified those bad feelings toward Thompson, though much of the anger was correctly pointed at Thompson's failure to build a credible offensive line rather than his trade of Favre. It's hard to argue that Thompson didn't make the right choice back in August 2008, though. Favre retired. It's really as simple as that. Were the Packers supposed to keep a roster spot open for him, just in case? Were the Packers supposed to just welcome him back, even though he had missed the entire offseason program and they had drafted two quarterbacks? Do that, and whatever coach Mike McCarthy would say about the importance of being at voluntary workouts would have gone in one ear and out the other of a lot of players. And had the Packers bowed at the feet of Favre, Rodgers would have been out the door as a free agent at the end of this season. Then what? Leaders have to make unpopular decisions, and that's what Thompson did. Clearly, the Packers are better in the long run, because Rodgers is the real deal.

Nate Caminata: Speaking of Rodgers, he's been beaten up and battered all year (20 sacks through four games). What has been the problem, and what is Green Bay's solution coming out of the bye to deal with it?

Bill Huber: The problem is the offensive line isn't very good, and it got exponentially worse when veteran left tackle Chad Clifton went down with a sprained ankle early in the third quarter of the Week 2 loss to Cincinnati. First-year starting right tackle Allen Barbre wasn't playing very well to begin with, and that problem was amplified when left guard Daryn Colledge struggled in replacing Clifton. Add in Rodgers' desire to make plays — his health be damned — and you've got the recipe for a ridiculous number of sacks. The solution is the return of Clifton. And if Barbre doesn't quickly step up his game, he'll be replaced by veteran Mark Tauscher, who was brought back on Monday, about 10 months after suffering a season-ending knee injury. The Packers turned to a lot more quick-hitting passes against Minnesota — although you might not have guessed it with Rodgers taking eight sacks in that game — and they'll have to continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Nate Caminata: The Packers have two first-round rookies in B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews, two players that Lions fans had expressed an interest in. How are those two performing in Green Bay, and how important are their roles to the success of the Packers defense?

Clay Matthews III made his first big play with a touchdown against Minnesota.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Bill Huber: Certainly, the Packers aren't getting as much bang for their bucks as the Lions are with their rookie starters. Raji held out for much of training camp and sprained an ankle during the preseason, so that's been a setback. At times, it's pretty clear why he was a top prospect. He's big, athletic and strong, so he's got the tools to overwhelm linemen. At other times, though, he's just a tick slow in fighting off blocks or diagnosing a play. Matthews has been only OK, too. As an outside linebacker in a 3-4, you'd certainly like more than one sack, but he's been good in coverage and his nose for making plays became apparent when he stole the ball from Adrian Peterson and ran it back for a touchdown. At this point, both are reserves, though Matthews plays at least half of the snaps as he replaces Brady Poppinga in the nickel package.

Nate Caminata: It seems Ryan Grant, who many believed had a load of potential, is off to a slow start (3.8 yards per carry) and hasn't registered a 100-yard game. Is he still a threat out of the backfield? What is the cause for Grant's struggles?

Bill Huber: Grant just hasn't been that dynamic back that we saw down the stretch in 2007. More and more, it looks like Grant took advantage of defenses who were scared to death of Favre. Some of it, of course, has to do with the offensive line, but Grant just doesn't play to his combination of size, strength and speed. He'll break a tackle occasionally and he'll make a defender miss once in a while, but for the most part, if the play is blocked well enough to get 4 yards, he'll get 4 yards. It certainly has nothing to do with hard work or desire. He's got those traits in abundance. He just doesn't have the vision and balance that the elite backs possess. I think you can win with him, because there always will be a place in the league for a back who can get the ball 25 times a game. He's just a guy who needs a good offensive line, and he doesn't have that at the moment.

Nate Caminata: To throw a question back at you: What is the perception of the Stafford-Johnson led Detroit Lions, especially from a divisional standpoint? Are they still viewed as a cellar-dwellar until they can prove otherwise, or are they perceived as a ball club on the rise?

Bill Huber: Maybe somewhere in between. It's pretty obvious that these Lions are infinitely better than last year's version. If the victory over Washington didn't prove it, then pushing Pittsburgh to the limit last week certainly did. But are they on the rise? I guess I need to see more out of Stafford. Unfortunately, the track record of quarterbacks taken No. 1 overall is pretty dismal. Whether Stafford is better than the Jets' Mark Sanchez is a good topic to debate around a couple mugs of suds, but there's no denying which quarterback landed in the better situation. Quarterbacks get the credit for winning and the blame for losing, and rightfully so, but only to a point. You can't make chicken salad out of chicken feathers. While the Lions have more talent this year, that their defense is starting three Packers castoffs speaks volumes. But at least there's a starting point on offense. If Stafford is as good as you and a lot of others think he is, then Stafford-to-Johnson could be the stimulus the franchise needs to reverse years of losing.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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