Gameday Notebook: Ranking High in YAC, Drops

Packer Report publisher Bill Huber empties his tape recorder and notebook in time for today's game. Big plays and big mistakes have been hallmarks for the receivers. Plus, in this must-read feature: the last word on Pittsburgh; stand-pat Matt; and much, much more.

The Green Bay Packers' receiving corps is near the top of the leaderboard in two disparate categories.

On the down side, Donald Driver is tied for 12th in the NFC with six drops, and James Jones and Greg Jennings are tied for 16th with five. Those drop totals are compiled by STATS. According to the researchers at ProFootballReference.com, Rodgers has been victimized by an NFL-high 41 drops. That's eight more than second-place Tom Brady and 11 more than Matt Cassel.

On the plus side, Jennings ranks fourth in the NFC in yards after catch with 413, with Driver ranking 14th with 350 yards. With quarterback Aaron Rodgers closing in on 4,000 passing yards this season, 1,925 of those yards have come after the catch. That ranks third in the NFL among quarterbacks, only 61 yards behind league-leading Peyton Manning.

"Yards after the catch, it starts once you catch the ball, and sometimes we do take off a little quick," coach Mike McCarthy said. "They do have good hands. If you watch them in the drill work, they all have exceptional hand-eye coordination. But there is a major emphasis on yards after the catch, and that sometimes has bit them a little bit, taking their eye off the ball."

The Packers, of course, were plagued by drops last week at Pittsburgh. But in the second half, when the Packers needed to rally, the receivers regained their focus. Jones, who dropped an easy pass on third down late in the first half, made a leaping, fingertip catch on the touchdown that put Green Bay in front with about 2 minutes remaining.

"That's just us doing our job," Jones said. "Trust me, as a receiver, when we drop a ball, it goes with us a long way. We don't like to drop the ball. It will eat us up for a long time, even if we make a play. Then we've got to come in on the film and watch it, and then we've got to answer questions from you guys about dropping balls, and you guys never talk about all the plays we make. But, at the same time, it does stick with us for a long time. We know we've got to make the play. It's part of our job. We're receivers. Our job is to block when we're supposed to block and catch and run when we're supposed to run, and we didn't catch and run too good last week."

The receivers battled a case of the dropsies early in the season, and that problem had been mostly eradicated until last week.

Catch them or not, Rodgers is going to keep throwing it to his playmakers, who are a big reason for his league-leading performance on third downs because of their ability to run the ball past the first-down chains.

"It's not like they're intentionally trying to drop the ball," Rodgers said. "I don't think personally I would want them to get on me (when) I threw a bad ball. There's plenty of balls I'd like to have back and I'm sure they'd like to have some of those catch opportunities back, as well. But they do such a good job of catching the ball and making plays after the catch. Both Greg and Donald had big-time plays after the catch, Jordy (Nelson) made some nice plays after the catch and James had the big play at the end to give us the lead again. Those guys have done a great job for me. I'm not going to get on them. I'm just going to keep throwing them the ball and I know those guys are going to fix that."

Jones refused to blame a couple of torn ligaments in his right hand or a dislocated finger. And while the Packers rank third in YAC, that's not good enough to offset the drops.

"Out of 32 teams, being top 10 (in YAC), I would say is pretty good," Jones said. "But we hold ourselves to high standards and third ain't good enough. Five, eight drops ain't good enough. We've got to get better if we want to go where we're trying to go."

Last word on Pittsburgh


Bush got burned on the first play of the game.
Gene Puskar/AP Images
During his conference call with Packers beat reporters, Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck compared Pittsburgh's prolific passing performance against Green Bay to a basketball team banking in a bunch of 3-pointers.

Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers doesn't think he's got a major problem on his hands after Ben Roethlisberger's 503-yard performance last week, but he wouldn't buy into Hasselbeck's theory, either.

"They made some plays and we didn't make plays," Capers said on Saturday. "As I go back and critique our performance, compared to where we've been the last nine weeks, we've made a lot of those plays. The other thing we did is we gave up too many big plays where they got behind us for a 60-yard touchdown, a 54-yarder in a zone where (Roethlisberger) moved around."

Capers listed four times on the last drive when he thought the Packers should have closed out the Steelers: Tramon Williams' chance at an interceptions, Jarrett Bush's interception that was nullified by a penalty, Cullen Jenkins' missed sack in the final seconds and Roethlisberger's last-play touchdown that barely beat Josh Bell.

It's those missed opportunities that provide solace for Capers when he analyzed his decision to not blitz Roethlisberger on that last drive.

"Through the course of the season, we make those plays," he said. "It didn't work, so obviously you don't look very smart. If we would have gone out there and we would have pressured, and they would have thrown the ball over the top like they did the whole game, we wouldn't look very smart there, either."

Confidence in Bush

McCarthy and Capers continue to defend their embattled third cornerback, Bush. Then again, with Al Harris, Will Blackmon and Pat Lee on injured reserve, and the only other options being Bell (signed last month), Brandon Underwood (sixth-round rookie) and Trevor Ford (undrafted rookie), what choice do they have?

"I know how it is in terms of the fans," Capers said. "They see a guy get beat a couple times and then he can't play. Well, there's not many guys in the league that over the course of the season aren't going to get beat some. It just stands out a lot more. You see Jarrett on the first play last week, they go over the top for a 60-yard touchdown, that stands out in everyone's mind."

Bush's job would be easier if he could just line up in one spot every down, but because Capers moves Woodson around like he's a king on a checkerboard, that means Bush and Williams have to be on the move, as well. The other alternative is to line up Woodson in one spot, but that would handcuff one of the leading candidates to be defensive player of the year.

"I don't like the idea that they can trade one for one with Woodson and just run him up the field," Capers said.

Stand-pat Matt


Matt Hasselbeck airs it out in 2000.
Rodolfo Gonzalez/Getty Images
In March 2001, the Packers traded their backup quarterback, Hasselbeck, to Seattle. While the trade gave Hasselbeck a chance to escape Brett Favre's shadow and his first chance to start, it was a bittersweet day, he recalled.

"If we had not been losing or if the guy in front of me had been playing poorly, it might have been a little frustrating (to be stuck behind Favre)," Hasselbeck said. "But it was so much fun to be in that locker room and to be coached by the guys I got coached by, to be teammates with the guys I got to be teammates with and to play behind one of the great quarterbacks of all-time. Even especially in my second and third year, (Favre) would throw me bones, he would give me reps in practice or let me take some stuff in pregame or not play in the preseason some. So my relationships with the guys in the locker room, that was great; with the coaching staff, that was great. I really couldn't have imagined a better situation and truthfully, I was a little bit sad to leave when I got traded. It was exciting, but at the same time, Green Bay was a lot of fun."

So much fun that Hasselbeck said he would have considered staying in Green Bay if he had been offered a long-term contract to be Steve Young to Favre's Joe Montana.

"When I first left, I thought, 'I'm really happy here, it's a great team, it's a great organization, I really like the system,'" Hasselbeck said. "I would have been willing, had they approached me, to do something like that. Now, looking back, that would have been a really stupid and foolish decision because obviously Brett is still playing and I would probably still be on the bench."

Foolish indeed. Given the reins of the offense by Mike Holmgren, Hasselbeck flourished to become a three-time Pro Bowl selection and propelled the Seahawks to a Super Bowl.

None of which surprised McCarthy. Hasselbeck was in his second year with the Packers in 1999 when McCarthy spent a year as quarterbacks coach.

"I'll say this: Matt, 10 years ago, was probably as ambitious as of a young quarterback that I have had the opportunity to work with," McCarthy said. "He was here every day during the offseason. I thought we made huge strides from his first year to his second year, which in my opinion in the NFL is where you need to see the biggest improvement in player development. He took full advantage of the opportunity that he had and then went on to Seattle. I'm not surprised at all by his success, and he is definitely someone that you root for because of the type of person he is. He is a class act. He has earned everything that he has achieved, and he is still a damn good quarterback, so we need to make sure that we are ready to go."

Brohm and Flynn

Hasselbeck's story provides an interesting juxtaposition as Brian Brohm gets his first start on Sunday for Buffalo.

Brohm was the second of the Packers' second-round picks in 2008. Rather than challenge Rodgers for the starting gig, he was passed by seventh-rounder Matt Flynn for the backup job during the 2008 preseason and never provided much of a challenge to Flynn this past summer. Brohm was cut at the end of training camp, was signed off the practice squad by Buffalo last month, and will make his starting debut against Atlanta.

So, while Brohm is sort of "lucking into" his big opportunity because of injuries, Flynn is stuck behind Rodgers for the foreseeable future. There are more than a few observers around the league who believe Flynn has starting potential — not unlike that of the young Hasselbeck a decade ago.

"I think Matt Flynn has clearly improved, just to watch the way he throws with the anticipation that he throws with now compared to last year, really compared to earlier in the year," McCarthy said. "His velocity improved. I saw that maturation throughout the quarterback school. He's throwing with more velocity than he did last year. His time clock is quicker, which it has to be from Year 1 to Year 2. That's the biggest improvement that I've seen in quarterbacks when they go from their first to second year. Just the anticipation that he's playing with, and really running the opponent squad week in and week out against our defense is extremely helpful, because he's seen every pressure look that's in football, and the ability to have quality reps like that, I think he's really improved."

Four-point stance

— The Packers are a league-best plus-18 in turnovers while Seattle is tied for 22nd at minus-5. A big reason for that is the play of Rodgers, whose seven interceptions give him a league-best 1.4 interception percentage. Only Bart Starr (1.2 in 1966, 1.5 in 1964) has posted a sub-2.0 percentage in Packers history. Starr also holds the record with 11 games without an interception. Rodgers has 10.

— A win would give the Packers a final home record of 6-2. Last year, they went 4-4 at home. With the exception of 7-1 at home in 2007, the Packers haven't won at least six games at Lambeau since going 8-0 in 2002.

"It's OK," McCarthy said. "We have a great home-field advantage. We got stung there early in the season with Cincinnati and then obviously Minnesota came in here and beat us. 6-2 is better than it has been last year, but it's something that we'll continue to emphasize. We're just so fortunate to have the unique home-field advantage that we do, and our fans are definitely there every week."

— Seattle will be without two of its three dynamic linebackers — stud middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu and No. 4 overall pick Aaron Curry — but the defense has "some very good personnel," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said.

"(Patrick) Kerney's been an excellent player in the league for a long time. We think a lot of their three-technique, (Brandon) Mebane. He's a very, very good player. This kid who took over for Tatupu (David Hawthorne) is a pretty instinctive guy. He's really moving around and playing well. Colin Cole we know is a talented individual, and (Darryl) Tapp's got very good explosiveness off the one edge."

— Capers was asked about outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene as part of a feature for the upcoming Packer Report Magazine. Greene is a rookie coach, and starting outside linebackers Clay Matthews III and Brad Jones are rookies, too.

"There's a great advantage because Kevin played this position with the same techniques that we're playing and played it at a high level," Capers said. "To me, those guys, I couldn't think of a better guy to coach those guys because you've got a guy who played there for an awful lot of years and knows all the little nuances of the position."


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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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