1.) Crosby is officially in a slump
The numbers aren't good. In five of the last six games, Packers kicker Mason Crosby has missed a field goal. For the year, he's missed 4-of-8 in the second half. Fortunately, his 42-yard miss from the right hash mark on Sunday didn't cost Green Bay the victory, but this is hardly a comforting trend. It's no crime to pass on kicking from 50-plus yards (or even 49, as Green Bay did when it went for it on fourth down) in an outdoor December matchup. Especially when your kicker is just 1-for-5 on the season from that range. But more disturbing is that Crosby has connected on just 4-of-7 from the 40 to 49 yards and is making only 75 percent of his kicks overall — the lowest mark in his three-year career.
Unfortunately, there's not much they can do short of some armchair psychology with a position that's far more mental than physical. Clearly, Crosby has a strong enough leg. That makes the problem between his ear holes. Coach Mike McCarthy has remained steadfast in his support of Crosby — probably because he thinks that's what Crosby needs to hear. This week's miss was blamed on poor follow-through. Last week it was a less-than-perfect hold by Matt Flynn.
Green Bay has no plans to try out a kicker — either as a realistic replacement or to light a fire under Crosby. Truth be told, there's not much out there. Then again, Washington cut kicker Shawn Suisham after missing a potential chip-shot game-winner two weeks ago against the Saints and brought in UFL kicker Graham Gano. The former Las Vegas Locomotives kicker booted two field goals for the Skins, including a 46-yarder in their blowout over Oakland. Still, changing kickers in Week 14 on a playoff-bound team is a riskier option than sticking with Crosby and riding this out.
2.) Capers' latest defensive wrinkle is crazy good
When safety Atari Bigby went down prior to the St. Louis game and Green Bay was paper-mache thin in the secondary, defensive coordinator Dom Capers unveiled a five-linebacker "Big Okie" package designed to hold Steven Jackson in check and match Brandon Chillar, the team's best cover linebacker, on the tight end. Jackson had 117 yards, but 11 carries of 1 yard or less, and tight end Daniel Fells had two touchdowns, but Green Bay won 36-17. Overall, it did what it needed to do.
Against Chicago, Capers revealed another five-linebacker alignment, this one devised to cover for injuries on the defensive line. This also served the intended purpose. The "Psycho" package, as it was nicknamed, is a 1-5-5 set that used defensive end Cullen Jenkins as a lone defensive lineman in the middle and used normal starting backers Clay Matthews, Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk, along with Chillar and Desmond Bishop. Rookie Brad Jones, who assumed the starting left outside linebacker spot when Aaron Kampman blew out his knee, came out when this was employed.
Green Bay went "Psycho" on the first three third downs, along with three more times later in the game. The results were impressive, as Chicago converted just once against the scheme and appeared confused about where pressure was coming from. Necessity may have led to this Capers' creation, but opposing offenses will have one more thing to try to prepare for over the next three weeks — and hopefully more.
3.) Collins earning extension one week at a time
Nick Collins' interception turned the tide on Sunday.
Nam Y. Huh/ AP Images
"I think Nick's having an excellent year," McCarthy said. "I'm very happy with the way Nick has dove into the new scheme, and he's progressing and getting better as a communicator back there, and he's very comfortable. You can't say enough about his instincts and his ability to break on the football, especially when he gets his hands on the football. He's such a dangerous returner. Had a big play on special teams in the kickoff cover yesterday. Yeah, I think Nick's having an excellent year."
All that remains is to lock him up with a contract extension. Now that Green Bay has done so with linebacker Brandon Chillar, their attention needs to focus on Collins.
4.) Grant looks like he's hitting his stride
It seems like Ryan Grant is a runner that gets stronger as the year goes on, even if the numbers say otherwise. His rushing yards through the first half of 2008 were nearly identical to the back half of last season. Ditto this season, when his total for the past seven games is on par with the first seven. But the eyeball test says Grant is running harder and with more authority, and based on his 62-yard burst (a term not often associated with Grant) on the Pack's first offensive play at Chicago, we'll believe what we see.
The former Notre Dame back gained 137 yards, and his 6.9-yard average is a career best for a game with 20 or more carries. He also tied a career best with two rushing touchdowns. Grant had great assists from fullback John Kuhn and center Scott Wells on that play, and it set the tone as he had 97 yards at the half and Green Bay led 13-7. Take out that long run, and Grant still averaged nearly 4 yards per run. He was running hard into the fourth quarter, plowing in from 1 yard behind right guard Josh Sitton to start the fourth quarter and ripping off a 17-yard run minutes later. That Grant looks this strong in December is an encouraging sign, and on a day when Aaron Rodgers was less than spectacular, it was much needed.
5.) Woodson is the NFL Defensive Player of the Year
He probably had the hardware locked up with two NFL Defensive Player of the Month awards for a four-month season, but against Chicago, Charles Woodson confirmed that he's playing at an otherworldly level. He intercepted an underthrown deep ball by Cutler intended for Bears wide receiver Devin Aromashodu at the Chicago 48 late in the first quarter. Woodson is tied for second in the NFL with eight interceptions, two of which he returned for scores. He also has four forced fumbles and two sacks.
Just as impressive, however, is Woodson's ability to use his toughness, instincts and lightning speed to be a factor in the run game. On second-and-10 from the Chicago 37 with just less than 4 minutes in the first half, Bears running back Matt Forte took off to his right on a sweep when Woodson came flying to the line of scrimmage and tripped him for a 1-yard gain. Though Chicago would score on that drive, Woodson would have a hand — literally — in preserving the win, when he broke up a pass to Earl Bennett on the game's final play, nearly earning a second pick in the process.
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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at email@example.com.