Behind Enemy Lines: Part 1

We begin our three-part series, with five Packers-related questions from Bear Report's John Crist. Leading off: How has Aaron Rodgers excelled with poor pass protection while Jay Cutler has struggled badly?

We start our three-part Behind Enemy Lines series with John Crist, the publisher of Bear Report.

John: One of the excuses in Chicago for Jay Cutler's erratic play this season is the fact that the offensive line hasn't done a very good job of protecting him. However, the same can be said for Aaron Rodgers, yet he's having an incredible year under center. How has he been able to survive getting hit so much?

Bill: Pretty simple: Rodgers plays it safe, sometimes to a fault. When Rodgers was getting sacked and hit during the first nine games of the season, the primary criticism was that he held the ball too long and refused to throw the ball away. So, rather than throw the ball out of bounds or try to force the ball into a tight window, he was content to take the sack. That led to some ugly sack numbers — 41 in the first nine games — but it's also a big reason why the Packers boast the NFL's best turnover margin and had a league-low 10 giveaways until turning it over three times against Baltimore.

It's still sort of an odd sight to see after watching Brett Favre play quarterback here forever. But while Rodgers needs to learn that fine line between making a play and throwing it away, facts are facts: Taking a sack and punting is better than an interception. With that said, they've given up four sacks over the last three games. Not coincidentally, Mark Tauscher has started at right tackle in those games rather than Allen Barbre, who Adewale Ogunleye trashed in Week 1.

John: Matt Forte is also getting somewhat of a pass from Bears fans for a down season because his offensive line hasn't been opening holes for him. Now the Packers have a much better passing game to support Ryan Grant, but he's averaging 4.1 yards per carry to Forte's 3.4. How has Grant fared?

RB Ryan Grant
Duane Burleson/AP Images
Bill: The best way to describe Grant is that if the play is blocked for 4 yards, he'll generally wind up with 4 or 5 yards. Not many running backs in the NFL are as durable as Grant. Not may running backs work as hard as Grant. Not many running backs run harder than Grant. But he's just not that nifty of a runner, either one-on-one in the open field or when running through the pile and avoiding the mass of arms and hands trying to trip him up. Nonetheless, Grant ranks eighth in the NFL in rushing and needs 69 yards to reach 1,000. That's not bad. Maybe that blue-collar production needs to be appreciated more by the fans here, who want the rock given to Brandon Jackson or Ahman Green or Jim Taylor or Paul Ott Carruth.

John: I can't figure out why Donald Driver is having such an incredible year and Greg Jennings has been somewhat disappointing. Weren't we starting to see Jennings emerge as the No. 1 and Driver pushed to more of a complementary role a year or two ago? How are these two receivers being used differently?

Bill: I'm not sure they are being used differently, other than Rodgers throwing both of them more short passes to compensate for the pass protection.

Driver is so dangerous with the short routes with his start-and-stop ability and his desire to squeeze every inch out of a play. Jennings excels at going deep, as we evidenced in Week 1. So, if teams are going to play to take away Jennings, then Rodgers is going to Driver — and vice-versa. Rodgers just throws it to who's open, whether it's Driver or Jennings or emerging tight end Jermichael Finley. Maybe part of that is neither Jennings nor Driver are the type of receivers who demand the ball. You know the type of me-first players that populate that position. Without the demands to "give me the ball," Rodgers doesn't feel compelled to force-feed one of his receivers.

It's worked well, with both players averaging more than 15 yards per catch. Of the top 29 receivers in the NFL (Jennings is No. 29 with 53 receptions), only Sidney Rice (16.4) is averaging more than Driver's career-high 15.6 and only five have more than Jennings' 15.1 average.

John: Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has to be given a lot of credit for implementing his 3-4 scheme and making it work in Year 1. And he's done it with Green Bay's best pass rusher, Aaron Kampman, not being a factor. When the Pack is getting after the QB successfully, who is most responsible?

LB Clay Matthews
Jeffrey Phelps/AP Images
Bill: Capers has worked first-year miracles at every one of his stops as a defensive coordinator, so it's not really a surprise what he's accomplished here. Amazingly, the Packers entered the season with the same 11 preferred starters as last year, when they ranked 20th in the NFL in total defense. This year, the Packers rank first. The only changes among the starters are first-round pick Clay Matthews' ascension into the starting lineup in Week 5 and the season-ending injuries to Kampman and cornerback Al Harris.

Matthews has emerged as the Packers' best pass rusher. He's tied for the rookie lead with seven, including two against Baltimore. What's impressive is Matthews is going up against the opponent's left tackle every week, so he's generally getting the best pass blocker. Presumably, he'll start facing some double teams because he's clearly the Packers' best rusher. But he's one of 11 players with at least one sack, which is a tribute to Capers' unpredictability.

John: Most football fans understand the different between a 4-3 and a 3-4 with regard to the front seven, but how much of an effect has the system had on the secondary? Based on what I see, the Packers are playing as aggressively as ever at both cornerback positions. Charles Woodson is ageless out there.

Bill: The big difference is the unpredictability, which this defense lacked last season, when it was bump-and-run snap after snap after snap. Generally, 3-4 teams play zone, but Capers was smart enough to play to the strengths of Woodson, Harris and Tramon Williams. So, you'll see in-your-face man on some snaps but off coverage and zone at times, as well.

Capers has tailored this defense around Woodson, much in the same way he tailored Pittsburgh's defense around Rod Woodson 17 years ago. Woodson has matched up with a towering receiver like Calvin Johnson one week and a big-play tight end like Vernon Davis the next. Woodson blitzes frequently from the slot, and Jarrett Bush, who's assumed the nickel role after everyone was moved up a notch with Harris' injury, blitzes frequently, too. Just a hunch, but I'd guess you'll see Woodson on Greg Olsen quite a bit on Sunday.

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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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