On Friday, I suggested both the Packers and Ravens were waiting to figure out who they are. Today, the Ravens may still be wondering, but I think the Packers know what they are: a power running, power defense team.
Yes, this is still Aaron Rodgers‘ offense. Yes, the ultimate identity of this team rests in the passing game. But for right now, the offense is predicated on hard-headed running, and the scary things is, it’s working.
Eddie Lacy, now that he’s put his concussion problems behind him, has been exactly as advertised: a crashing, physical back who can work smoothly behind the Packers’ surprisingly solid run blocking, but also bring his own blocker as needed. Lacy churns out tough yards when called upon, and he’s done it at a prodigious rate the last two weeks, earning 219 yards on 46 carries.
Meanwhile, the defense continues to stymie opposing rushing attacks, this time limiting the Ravens’ Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce to a combined 43 yards on 20 carries. The front seven has been excellent, and hopefully they’ll build on this success. We haven’t seen much of rookie first rounder Datone Jones so far, but as he continues to put his preseason ankle injury behind him, he should get better and better.
This week’s injuries are a concern, and we’ll learn more today, but the Packers adapted admirably on the fly on Sunday, and the emerging run game should make it easier to absorb the blows. Losing Randall Cobb and James Jones will definitely hurt, but the Packers have overcome injuries before, and there’s no reason to think they can’t do it again.
A.J. Hawk (8 tackles, 3 sacks) - Though it would be nice to have Clay Matthews back right now, this version of A.J. Hawk is a passable alternative. Where has this guy been hiding for the past seven years? I’m sure someone at Pro Football Focus will try and spin it to show how he was terrible, but you know what? Their opinion doesn’t matter. The coaches believe in Hawk and he’s been durable and dependable his entire career. He’s limited, but this week that didn’t matter. I hope he can bring the same fire until Matthews returns.
Eddie Lacy (23 carries, 120 yards) – Again, Lacy has been everything we hoped he would be: a hard-running, physical back with the grit and body to get tough yards when the team needs them. Lacy’s broad shoulders have carried the load quite admirably the last two weeks.
Micah Hyde (5 tackles, 1 sack; 5 punt returns, 65 yards) – Filling in for Davon House, who was moved exclusively to special teams after a great debut, Hyde was Charles Woodson Lite, blitzing from the slot, making tackles, and generally making a bother of himself for the opposing offense. He’ll be a great addition to this defense for years to come.
4 – Wins, in 13 tries, for the Packers when Aaron Rodgers has a completion percentage of 54% or lower. That counts two games in which Rodgers was a few decimal points above 54%, but that’s not the point. The point is, the Packers got the win in spite of a sub-par performance from Rodgers through the air. He’s been rough at times this year, but it will get straightened out.
3 – Consecutive games in which the Packers have had at least 140 yards rushing (140 this week, 180 last week, 182 the week before the bye). If I’m reading the search results correctly, this is the first time since the 2006 season that the Packers have had 140 or more team rushing yards in at least three straight games. That season, the Packers rushed for 140+ in Games 6-8, so the Packers could match that total with another great game on the ground next week.
2 – Forced fumbles by the Packers, both on sacks. The fact that they only recovered one is less important to me than the fact that the Packers got to the quarterback and made things happen when they got there without any help from Clay Matthews. That’s huge, and it’s going to be even bigger if they can keep playing this week without their best defensive player. Two is also the number of times the Packers allowed a third down conversion, holding the Ravens to 2/14 on third down for the day.
Running it Up – The strong rushing game bodes well for when the passing game begins to click. Having a strong running and throwing threat will only make the team harder to stop, and, like we saw Sunday, it’s easier to run out the clock with a legitimate threat from any down and distance.
Running to Nowhere – As thrilled as I am with the run game, I’m probably even more excited about the run defense. The goal line stand on Sunday probably saved the game, and it’s a joy to watch opposing teams grow more and more frustrated as the game goes on. If the Packers could make teams pay with a more effective pass defense, that would be something to get excited about.
Running Down the Leaders – Don’t look now (seriously, don’t look, I’m about to tell you), but the Packers are only a half game behind 4-2 Detroit and Chicago for the NFC North lead, plus they have the tiebreaker over Detroit! 3-2 is not a bad place to be right now.
Kuuuuuuuuuuhnooooooooooo!!!! – I don’t want to dwell on this too much, but seriously John Kuhn? What were you thinking on that blocked punt? The Packers would have gotten the ball at about the 40 yard line without your amazing contribution to the return game. Did you seriously think you were going to pick up that ball and run with it? What was your plan? Okay, moving on.
Going Low - Let’s talk about Randall Cobb’s injury. I’m going to try and be rational and unbiased about this, because I think it points to a bigger problem in the NFL. Here’s what we know: Cobb was running up the seam. The pass was high, so he had to reach up for it, exposing his legs. Matt Elam went low, presumably because of the NFL’s emphasis on avoiding the head, and struck Cobb in the knee.
Now, if that’s truly what Elam was doing, and he wasn’t actually trying to blow up somebody’s knee, I’m not sure the NFL has actually fixed its problem by penalizing shots to the head. They’re only trying to eliminate the symptoms, not correct the true problem. Consider this: players are taught to target the midsection (specifically the belt buckle, as any coach will tell you) and wrap when they’re tackling, rather than launching with the shoulder and forearm as is common in today’s NFL. If Elam had simply executed a form tackle on Cobb, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Instead, he applied the same terrible fundamentals players had formerly used on shots to the head and just lowered his aiming point. The end result was the same: an injured player. Only a knee injury won’t get a two hour special feature on PBS exposing the supposed evil machinations of a league bent on profits.
Big Plays – The Packers gave up passes of 63, 59, 45, and 31, and while they didn’t lead to many points, the frequency with which the secondary surrendered them was alarming. Jerron McMillian was to blame on the 4th and 21 conversion and the subsequent touchdown, but as a whole, the defense needs to be better at avoiding the big pass play. Maybe once they’re playing with a full deck, things will slow down a bit in that department.
Up Next: The Packers return to Lambeau for an afternoon meeting with the surprisingly successful Cleveland Browns.
BONUS: Mike Daniels jumping very high.