Sunday at M&T Bank should be interesting, when the Green Bay Packers arrive to face the Baltimore Ravens.
Both of these organizations have been fixtures in the Playoffs in recent years (5 consecutive seasons for the Ravens, 4 straight years for Green Bay). On this Sunday though, you will have a 3-2 team vs. a 2-2 team. Two teams with questions, and unclear identities. Two organizations with the pride and swagger that comes with consistent past success; and the air of mystery that exists with two teams that don’t currently know exactly what they are.
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1) Like Flacco, Rodgers had a large contract extension this past off-season. The former League MVP, and 2x All-Pro is in his 9th year in the NFL – a starter since 2008. In his 5 full years as a starter, Rodgers has had 1 year where he averaged over 300 yards per game. That was his MVP year of 2011, where he averaged 309.5 per game. In ’13, he is averaging 332.8 over his first 4 games. His completion % of 66.4 is just above his career average. He has 9 TD’s against 3 picks, and 1 fumble. Rodgers will enter Sunday ranked 10th overall in ESPN’s QBR metric. According to Sports Illustrated, Rodgers led the NFL in Win Percentage Added last year. (Flacco was 5th overall.)
2) Mike McCarthy has been the Head Coach of Green Bay since the 2006 season. Prior to joining the Packers, he was the Offensive Coordinator for New Orleans during the 2000-04 seasons, and with San Francisco in ’05. With Green Bay, he has done a lot of winning – going to the Playoffs in 5 of his 7 seasons. The captured sideline spat between McCarthy and Rodgers got a lot of attention a few weeks ago, but seems to have been nothing more than in-game frustration from two competitive people. That said, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recently stated, “Both (Rodgers and McCarthy) led the Packers to a Super Bowl championship in 2010 and their résumés are solid, but there has always been that nagging question about a McCarthy/Rodgers team that either seems to blow out an opponent or lose close down the stretch. The Packers are 5-24 (.172) in games in which Rodgers has had the ball in the fourth quarter with deficits from one to eight points.
The comeback kids, they aren’t. McCarthy is keenly aware of the numbers. “You can throw a bunch of numbers into a can and believe what you want to believe,” he said.”
3) With a QB as talented as Rodgers, there is always a question of how much credit does the surrounding positional talent deserve? While fair to wonder how such players might perform with another team, they deserve to be recognized for fitting into the system being run and producing. Such players are starting WR’s Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and James Jones. Nelson had a huge 2011 season with nearly 1,300 yards (18.6 ypc), and 15 TD’s. After playing in just 12 games last year, he is averaging 93 yards per game so far this season. Cobb is a guy that can be moved around (he had a 67 yard run vs. Detroit last Sunday), and has been a weapon as a KR and PR. Last year Cobb had 80 receptions, and 8 TD’s. This year, he is averaging 81.3 yards per game receiving. Green Bay’s 3rd WR is James Jones, who had 14 TD’s (and nearly 800 yards) of his own last year. Last year Jones averaged 49 yards per game. That has jumped to 84.8 here in ’13. Defending this trio is going to be an extremely difficult task for the Ravens.
4) TE Jermichael Finley has 3 seasons (including the last 2) of 55+ catches. Playing in 3 of the first 4 GB games, Finley has 17 receptions this year. When the GB receivers pull the defense outside, and stretch the field; Finley has a lot of room to operate within the seams.
5) Looking for better balance in their offense, the Packers selected Eddie Lacy out of Alabama with their 2nd Rd pick this past April. The Rookie RB is coming off of his best week as a pro, having gained 99 yards on 23 attempts vs. Detroit. The other 3 games aren’t even really fair to look at as he missed one game completely, and had 15 carries combined in the other two. Like most Rookie RB’s, he will be tested in blitz pick-up most weeks by opposing teams. He had 22 receptions for Alabama last year, so I’m guessing his hands are at-least okay. Lacy is not the only Rookie RB on the roster, as the Packers also used a 4th round pick on Jonathan Franklin out of UCLA. While Lacy is downhill power runner, who will make his living between the tackles; Franklin is the shifty guy who makes plays in space. Franklin had a big week vs. Cincinnati with 103 yards on just 13 carries. He also scored and had 3 receptions. For the year though, he has 2 fumbles his first 19 touches overall and had just 3 touches vs. Detroit. He is dealing with a foot injury. James Starks, who had 34 combined carries against the Redskins, and Bengals – missed the Detroit game with a knee injury. Starks will also be out vs. the Ravens.
5a) FB John Kuhn was a 2nd team All-Pro in 2011.
6) The Offensive Line from left to right is David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, Dietrich-Smith, T.J. Lang, and Don Barclay. Bakhtiari is a 2013 4th round pick. Sitton was a Pro Bowler last year. Lang signed a 4 year extension ($20.8M, $5.5M signing bonus) prior to last year. Barclay was signed as an Undrafted Free Agent before last year. The Packers have allowed just 11 sacks on the year.
7) The Packers run a 3-4 defense. C.J. Wilson is LDE. Ryan Pickett, a Rams 1st round pick in ’01, is the starting NT. At RDE is B.J. Raji, who was a Pro Bowler in 2011. Rookie 5th rounder Josh Boyd backs up Pickett. 2012 4th rounder Mike Daniels backs up Raji. Green Bay used their 2012 1st round pick on Datone Jones, a DE out of UCLA. He was expected to begin the year as a starter, but does not appear to have played much so far.
8) 2012 1st rounder Nick Perry starts at LOLB. Perry was placed on IR after 6 games last year with a wrist injury. He has 2 sacks so far this year. Next to Perry is AJ Hawk, the Packers 1st round pick in ’06. Hawk was a Pro Bowler in 2010. Last year he had 81 solo tackles. Brad Jones is inside next to Hawk, and was held out the 2nd half of Sunday vs. Detroit with a leg injury. His status for Sunday vs. Baltimore is unknown. Green Bay also lost ROLB Clay Matthews to a broken-thumb Sunday, and unfortunately for the Packers, Matthews is going to miss some time. With a defensive line that doesn’t get much pressure, losing Matthews is a real blow to the Packers defense. Green Bay has just 12 sacks on the year (22nd in the league). Mike Neal got his first start last week, and figures to continue to play with Matthews out. Vs. Detroit he had 6 tackles, including 1 sack.
9) Tramon Williams starts at LCB, and was a 2010 Pro Bowler. The SS is M.D. Jennings, who is in his 3rd year. FS Morgan Burnett was one of two NFL players to play every defensive snap last year. He had been dealing with a hamstring injury, and made his ’13 season debut vs. Detroit. At RCB is yet another former undrafted Packer – Sam Shields – who is in his 4th year with the Packers. 2nd year CB Casey Hayward (a 2012 2nd rounder) has not played so far this year with a hamstring injury. It is possible he might play Sunday.
10) Green Bay is 3rd in Total Offense (4th in Passing, 5th in Rushing). The Packers are 19th in Total Defense (26th against the Pass, 5th against the Run).
Acme Packaging Company: Lions vs. Packers Performance Grades
Acme Packaging Company: How Pro Football Focus graded the Packers
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Packers Offensive Line played well vs. Detroit
PackersNews.com: Neal, Perry turn up pressure