Behind Enemy Lines: Part 2

Our series continues with Steel City Insider's Jim Wexell. Why has the Packers' offensive line started to play like professionals? Is the receiving corps overrated? Why is Pickett starting ahead of Raji? And why isn't former Steelers legend Kevin Greene in the Hall of Fame.

We continue our three-part Behind Enemy Lines series with Jim Wexell, the publisher of Steel City Insider. If you missed Part 1 click here.

Jim: Bill, my questions won't be nearly as intelligent and thought out as yours because our focus in Pittsburgh has turned within of late. In fact, many people are now rooting for better draft position since they believe the Steelers have no playoff hope. So let me first ask about your offensive line. I watched early in the year, I think against Minnesota, and the protection was the worst I've seen west of early-2008 Pittsburgh. How have they been able to fix it?

Bill: First off, I generally think playing for draft position is stupid. But in the Steelers' case, I can see where there's logic to that. That's not a team that needs to "learn how to win." Shoot, it was the same thing here last year, when the Packers went 6-10. Sometimes, it just comes down to the ball not bouncing your way or some hard-to-quantify factor. A little luck, some refocusing on the important things and a good draft pick or two, and all will be solved.

To the question about Aaron Rodgers having the dirtiest jersey in football, that the problems persisted for so long was, I think, a case of extreme stubbornness by the coaching staff. Finally, after losing to Tampa Bay of all teams to fall to 4-4, adjustments were made. Rodgers is throwing more quick-hitting passes, and on the longer-developing plays, his internal clock has sped up. But there's not much reason to look too far beyond the obvious, and that's better play by the linemen. The Packers got Mark Tauscher back from a torn ACL suffered in December 2008 and he's solidified the right tackle position. Another graybeard up front, left tackle Chad Clifton, has been healthy enough to not only play but to practice. It took until about Week 12 to even have the same quintet on the field for three consecutive games. So I think it's all tied together.

Jim: I read one of the geniuses, I think it might've been Greg Cosell, and he (or whoever) said the Packers' wide receivers are vastly overrated. Since this is a potentially huge mismatch, could you give me your assessment?


Greg Jennings loses the ball against Charles Tillman in the end zone.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Bill: I'm not sure I can speak to Cosell's claim because I just don't see enough of anyone else. The group led the league in yards after the catch a couple years ago and is among the leaders this year. Donald Driver is about 100 but he remains a matchup nightmare because he's so good at turning a short catch into a first down and he's still got enough deep speed to make the big play. Greg Jennings looked like a potential superstar after scoring 21 touchdowns in 2007 and 2008 but he's been relatively silent this year. James Jones and Jordy Nelson are decent role players and are good with the underneath stuff. I can see Cosell being right in the sense that there isn't a really elite guy in the bunch. I can quibble with him when I see the Packers ranked among the third-down leaders despite facing a ton of third-and-8s this year. Because those four are so good with the ball, it's a pretty amazing thing that you feel confident that the offense can convert any manageable third-down situation.

Jim: My assumption is that if Ryan Pickett can't play, B.J. Raji will step in and do an even better job, that this rookie is on the bench only because some coach feels the need to justify his existence. Is this assumption correct? Or do you even want to give an honest assessment about a man or men who might snap you in half during the next open locker room? (Brief and honest answers are acceptable, and even humorous.)

Bill: I think Raji is going to be a beast, and he's shown it as the year's progressed and he's gotten more comfortable with life in the NFL. A time or two a game, you'll see Raji just obliterate a lineman – and I'm not talking about some scrub. Baltimore's Ben Grubbs is a good player, and Raji had pushed him 3 yards into the backfield, shed the block and made the tackle down the line of scrimmage. With that said, Pickett has been great, regardless of what the stats say. The Packers don't run much base 3-4, so at the end of the day, Raji generally gets more snaps anyway, because Pickett is as much a threat to sack the quarterback as I am while sitting in the press box and gobbling down popcorn like I haven't been fed in a week. But Pickett is probably the biggest reason why the Packers trail only the Steelers in run defense. For what it's worth, Pickett practiced on Thursday and, at this point in the week, is a decent bet to play on Sunday.

Jim: Before I finish with a question of hope for the Steelers, let me ask something off the wall: With all of these good-but-not-great receivers such as Cris Carter and Tim Brown and Art Monk and Shannon Sharpe getting Hall of Fame support (even acceptance, as in the case of Monk) because of swollen numbers in the gilded age of passing, why isn't your new assistant coach, Kevin Greene, afforded the same luxury with his incredible sack numbers? (I promise, if you do this story and ask Kevin about it, you'll have a new and valued team source.)


Kevin Greene leads all NFL linebackers in sacks.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Bill: I don't know about that! Greene has zero interest in talking about his playing days or the Hall of Fame. He's totally focused on becoming a good coach – and so far, he's been darned good while working with a pair of rookie starters. I did a Hall of Fame story in one of the recent magazines and asked that question to a bunch of voters. It was pretty much unanimous that Greene is worthy of being enshrined in Canton. About the worst thing I was told is that Greene was basically a one-trick pony, but that one trick was flat-out dominant. I'm not sure it's going to happen this year with Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice on the ballot, but Greene's time is going to come. You're right though: The Hall of Fame is about the best players. Greene is the all-time leader in sacks among linebackers. What am I missing?

Jim: And finally, doesn't Green Bay really need to rest its injured players and take a break from the weekly grind this week here in Pittsburgh? I mean, you only need one more win and wouldn't you rather clinch that wild-card berth at home by clocking the Seattle Cryhawks?

Bill: I think there's time to rest, and that will be the regular-season finale against Arizona. That game isn't going to mean anything to the Cardinals. It's not going to mean anything to the Packers. And better yet, they're on course to play each other in the playoffs the following week. That'll be must-see TV in Week 17! Neither team needs to win, neither team wants to get anyone hurt, both teams want to rest key players and neither team will want to show anything that should be saved for the playoffs. About the only thing worthwhile will be if your fantasy football team is in the Super Bowl. On that note, I have to run. I need to sign Matt Leinart.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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