September 19, 2012

Evaluating Aaron Rodgers’ Early Season Performance

Even before the 2012 season began fans, media and fellow Green Bay Packers teammates doubted Aaron Rodgers could top his record-breaking 2011 season. Through two games, Rodgers isn’t anywhere near the pace of 2011. Amid the recent criticism from Jermichael Finley’s agent that Rodgers isn’t a leader and given his only average start to the year, let’s examine Rodgers’ play in the first two games of the season. Should Packers fans be worried?

Pocket Presence
Playing against two top five defenses in a row to begin the season certainly didn't help Rodgers, but it has been hard not to notice his decreased awareness in the pocket. Taking sacks is one thing, but against San Francisco and Chicago, Rodgers didn’t seize enough opportunities to escape the pocket. When a team plays a two deep cover defense, there should be openings to run. Especially against Chicago, Aaron Rodgers seemed to hold to ball far too long and almost never sought to run.

Rhythm and timing with receivers
Perhaps the most surprising decline has been how offbeat Rodgers has been with the Green Bay Packers receiving corps, outside of Randall Cobb. How many back-shoulder completions have we seen? None. Plays over 40 yards? None. What we have seen is an unusual amount of missed and off-target throws, sometimes to open receivers. Evidenced by interceptions and sacks, the Packers’ wide receivers simply haven’t found room in the secondary.

Pre-snap demeanor
Number 12 doesn’t seem to have the command of the Packers offensive unit at the line of scrimmage. Fewer audibles, fewer hard-counts have led to less cohesiveness with the offense, especially the offensive line. Granted, the Packers have tried to use the no huddle more, but that hasn’t worked either. Why did Mike McCarthy try to mess with the tempo of a record-setting offense? Perhaps the no huddle actually gives Rodgers less control, not the opposite like previously thought.

The big question with the above inconsistencies that everyone is trying to answer – are they symptoms of playing stingy defenses or a sign that NFL defenses and coaches have figured out the Packers kryptonite? Monday night’s game in Seattle should reveal a little more.

September 7, 2012

Three Matchups That Will Decide Packers/49ers Game

Both the Packers and 49ers were the best in the NFL at protecting the football in 2011, so Sunday’s battle will likely be decided in the trenches – on both sides of the offensive and defensive lines. Everyone expects this to be a physical game, so I expect the big boys to play key roles in deciding the outcome. See below for three key matchups to watch that should decide the outcome of Sunday’s Green Bay Packers game.

RE Justin Smith's high motor will challenge LT Newhouse
In terms of consistent pass rushers in the NFL, Justin Smith ranks near the top of the NFL in sack production and games played in the last 10 season. While Smith has record at least 5.0 sacks in 10 of 111 seasons played, he’s earned the most notoriety the past three seasons in which he’s been elected to the pro bowl.

A win for Newhouse would be zero hits or sacks from Smith, on Aaron Rodgers.  But that’s certainly easier said than done and just one upfront matchup the Packers need to win. While we know Rodgers is a superb out-of-pocket passer, if he’s under fire all day from his blind side, it will negatively impact his ability to make big plays down the field – which the Packers will need to do Sunday.

2. Vernon Davis vs. Packers secondary
The Packers were historically bad at covering tight ends in 2011 and Charles Woodson did a subpar job covering Davis the last time these teams met (Davis had 100+ receiving yards and a TD). Alex Smith constantly looks to Davis as a safety valve and as a deep option up the seam.

If Davis is able to stretch the field, it will open up holes in the Packers secondary and allow the 49ers’ mostly mediocre WRs to make game-changing plays. If the Packers are getting beat by a washed up Randy Moss, undersized Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree – that certainly won’t be a good sign as Green Bay will face much tough WR corps as the season progresses. Point being, the Packers need to lock down Vernon and hold him to less than 5 catches, 50 yards and no TDs.

NT B.J. Raji, on a bum ankle, will need to plug holes vs. 49ers
Raji is perhaps the most underrated and unnoticed playmaker on the Packers. He doesn’t do flashy things (unless he’s shaking his tush after an INT and TD in the NFC Championship game), but he impacts the entire defense. His ability to push back the 49ers offensive line and slow down (not stop) the run, will allow guys like Clay Matthews and Nick Perry to make plays and get after Alex Smith.  Raji will be playing on a bum ankle, but the Packers can’t afford a sub-par performance from him. No one plugs holes like Raji, so it will be painfully obvious for Packers fans Sunday if he’s not performing.

Any other key matchups that will have a big impact on the outcome?