The Packers are 2-0, following a convincing 34-7 victory over the hapless Buffalo Bills on Sunday, and the only thing that has to make that smile on Packer fans' faces even bigger is seeing both the Minnesota Favres and the Dallas Cowboys each fall to 0-2 in ugly fashions today. It is a good day to be a Packer fan.
With that, here are the TundraVision QuickHits:
* Aaron Rodgers had another week of inconsistent play. No, he didn't throw interceptions like he did last week, but particularly in the first half, he seemed to be "off" again. On one play where he nearly had the ball intercepted on the goal line, while trying to force the ball into Jermichael Finley, he didn't look anywhere else but at his favorite tight end, allowing a not-all-that-bad secondary to get a jump on the ball and potentially take it back for a long, demoralizing touchdown.
Rodgers' patience returned in the second half, but it is a heck of a lot easier to be patient when you are getting 4-5 seconds in the pocket to look for receivers. Am I worried about Rodgers? No. He's going to be fine. But it is amusing to look at the incredibly high standard we have set for him after only two seasons as a starter (and really, only one highly successful season). It is pretty clear that Rodgers has very high standards for himself, too, and he has to make sure he does what he did over the latter part of last seasons: slow down, go through all his progressions, buy time with his feet, and continue to look or receivers or get rid of the ball and avoid the sack.
* Jordy Nelson has extinguished all concerns we've had with our kick return game. Most importantly, he is catching the ball securely. That would be enough for me right there, but he's moving the ball up the field, and against both the Bills and the Eagles, helping the Packers win the field position battle. Personally, I find that to simply be gravy, as I would be happy with the ball being field cleanly and brought back to the 20 yard line after the debacles of the preseason.
Nelson doesn't have the range of moves that CJ Spiller or Dez White has, but he's trustworthy....and when you have an offense like the Packers, giving them a 60 yard field is all you need to set the table for at least a field goal.
* Mason Crosby continues to impress on field goals, including a 44-yarder from the right hashmark that just grazed the right goalpost. He's kicking 100% on the season and that is a refreshing outcome after all the gloom and doom this season.
The next test is to see how Crosby is going to handle adversity. He will miss a field goal at some point this year, and that's when the mental overcompensation tempts a kicker to starting changing what he does.
* Clay Matthews, simply put, is already my vote not only for the Packers MVP this year, but for this year's Defensive Player of the Year. Yes, it was against Trent Edwards and a pathetic Bills offense, but Matthews wreaked havok, piling up another three sacks and five hits on the quarterback.
In my mind, Matthews has become as important to this defense as Aaron Rodgers is to the offense. Let's all rub out lucky green-and-gold rabbits feet that his hamstring stays nice and healthy. I proposed (first) on Twitter that Matthews may soon earn some legitimate discussion to threaten the Packer and NFL single-season sack records. John Rehor noted that with the Bears and Lions next on tap, it should be ready to be talked about very soon.
* Chad Clifton, the newest over-the-hill million dollar man for the Packers this offseason, was benched based on a "coaching decision" and replaced with Bryan Bulaga. If he wasn't hurt, this decision kind of bothers me. If you're going to replace an aging player that you just signed to an extension this early with a promising rookie, why did you re-sign him in the first place....at least for that kind of coin? I have nothing against Clifton, but to give up on him this early in the season seems a bit quick unless there's more to the story than what we are seeing. Don't get me wrong....the Bulaga Era was going to start on either side of the line before the season was up, but you are now putting a tackle-only player on the bench instead of Bulaga, who had been backing up several positions.
I don't know....maybe I'm just babbling a bit here, and there's no reason to root against Bulaga. Just seems that if Clifton was that impaired so quickly in the season, this is something we should have seen in the preseason, or training camp, or even the offseason.
* Morgan Burnett has take some lumps from critics the past two weeks, and much of it deservedly so. In particular, an end-around by the Bills ended up going from a no-gain to a big gainer because Burnett fell own on the juke.
So, it was refreshing to see Burnett channel Charles Woodson and make a fantastic pass break-up and interception in the third quarter. It was really just an excellent strip of the ball, but it showed some pretty veteran awareness of the ball and body control. Nicely done.
* While much of the team seemed to get back on track after a rough second quarter, I still find myself concerned with the running game. No one was happier to see Quinn Johnson make the active roster and start this game than me, and I thought he acquitted himself well. He caught a nice WCO-style pass out of the backfield for a good gain down the left sideline (punishing a tackler with a wicked stiffarm on the way), was like a bowling ball on special teams, and made some good blocks during the game.
However, the guy we've been ballyhooing as the guy finally getting his chance with Ryan Grant out for the season fizzled in his debut. Brandon Jackson only 29 yards on 11 carries and only had a long run of 6 yards. Coach McCarthy didn't seem too settled on Jackson, either, substituting him early and often with both fullback John Kuhn (9/36) and newcomer Dimitri Nance (2/6), both of whom had a better per-rush average than Jackson.
To Jackson's credit, the offensive line did not give him (or any of the backs) much help. Since I was watching Johnson so closely, I noted on several occasions that, while he (and Kuhn) hit their blocks solidly, there was still no hole for the back to run through. The Packers didn't break the 100-yard mark rushing in a game against the lowly Bills, and eventually, they are going to need to control the game on the ground.
Looking at several of their runs, there's almost a sense of confusion on running plays. The Packers run the ZBS with Grant in the game, who does fit that one-cut-and-go mold that you need in the scheme. But Jackson isn't that kind of runner, and Johnson isn't that kind of blocker. From there, you saw elements of the West Coast Offense, the Zone Blocking Scheme, and straight ahead I-formation dives that you seemed to wonder if everyone was on the same page with from play-to-play.
Obviously, any NFL offense is going to vary their formations and plays, but the impact of Grant's injury may be more profound than we think. This offense may have to adjust the way they play, and that may take a few weeks for everyone to get on the same page.
* On the season, Greg Jennings is now averaging 4 catches and 59 yards per game. He's been noticeably absent from early gameplanning the past few weeks, and even today, his three catches seemed forced at the end of the game to keep him involved.
Jennings shouldn't have to be looking for passes thrown his way late in games against the lowly Bills. Yes, both the Eagles and Bills have decent secondaries, but Jennings is a pretty special talent that should be involved early and often. When going against playoff-caliber teams (which the Packers are going to end up doing eventually), you can't afford to have Jennings be an afterthought.
* One guy who certainly is no afterthought is Jermichael Finley, who had a 100-yard receiving day and caught one of the prettiest balls you'll see for a thirty yard pickup in the second quarter. Once again, he seemed to disappear in the second half of the game, much as he did last week, but you have to think that McCarthy and Rodgers had a talk about not forcing the ball too much to Mr. TGIF. As I mentioned earlier, on the one play that Rodgers seemed to stare at Finley throughout the play, it was almost picked off.
* Beginning of the game saw the Bills start their third-string running back, Marshawn Lynch, against a linebacker that was in on only one play last week, AJ Hawk. Anyone thinking that the Hawk-for-Lynch trade talks are not happening right now need not look much further than both teams showcasing their offerings for one another in the game.
In the end, Hawk finished with a tie for the team lead in tackles (9) and had two hits on the quarterback. He also got pushed around at times and looked like he was running in quicksand on Fred Jackson's touchdown run. Lynch took 17 carries today and finished with 64 yards....only a 3.8 ypc average, but better than Brandon Jackson's 2.6 ypc.
In the end, both players appear to have value to their teams, but both teams also have depth at the position those players would come from. The trade may happen, and it may not, but their play today did nothing to make the other team close up the trading block.
* Nick Barnett's new celebration is apparently a bowhunter stalking a buffalo, shooting it, and then chasing after it. It's probably better than the samurai, but not by much. On the other hand, Rodgers appears to have retired the wrestling championship belt celebration. As I said earlier, it is a good day to be a Packer fan.
* The Packers appeared dead-set on getting James Jones involved in the offense today, and he did not fare well overall. While covered well at times, Jones simply didn't go out and "get the ball" as you might see Greg Jennings do. He had a fumble and overall, simply looked like he was having a rough day. He had a late touchdown on what was probably Rodgers' best throw of the day, and he made a nice reception and scamper in the end zone.
While I understand the importance of trying to involve everyone (especially in a relatively easy game), I would rather see Rodgers trying to get the ball to Driver and Jennings more, rather than trying to force it to Jones. Those are the guys who are going to make the clutch catches, and it doesn't serve to keep targeting Jones and going three-and-out, as happened several times in the second quarter.
Overall, this was a convincing win against a team the Packers are supposed to beat. The second quarter made many a Packer fan's heart sink, but again, the Packers came out of the locker room and corrected what they needed to to bury the inferior talent they were playing against.
Next week, the Packers will play a nationally televised game against the team that just beat the Dallas Cowboys and always has them circled on the calendar. Lovie Smith loves to beat the Packers and is going to see this as a defining game for his season with the Bears. While the Packers should run away with this game, you can never count the Bears out...and remembering the second quarter of the Bills game (and how the Packers struggled to contain Michael Vick), our team has to come in ready to play ball.