Take that, Chicago Bears. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers celebrates after connecting with Randall Cobb for the winning touchdown.
Since Packers fans at Soldier Field were too nervous to do it during the game, let’s honor Packers fullback John Kuhn right now with the signature yell:
Why are we staring at our computer screens and yelling KUUUUUUHHHHHNNNNNN!!!!? Because without John Kuhn, the Packers probably don’t beat the Bears and win the NFC North for the third season in a row.
Facing 4th and 8 with the season on the line, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers hit Randall Cobb for a 48-yard touchdown with 38 seconds to play. Guard T.J. Lang described the pass protection on the play as a “clusterf***”, and he was right.
When rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari didn’t hear Kuhn’s protection adjustment, future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers came unblocked and had Rodgers locked into his sights. Green Bay’s season looked like it was about to end because they forgot to block one of the best pass rushers of the last 10 years.
Then Kuhn dashed over and cut Peppers down at the last minute, allowing Rodgers to roll left, connect with Cobb, and strike the greatest celebration pose of all time (see picture in upper right).
Maybe James Starks or Eddie Lacy is able to make that block, but I doubt it. We’ve seen Rodgers chew out Starks for missing blocking assignments several times and Lacy is still a rookie learning the ins and outs of pass protection.
Kuhn is on the team for his pass blocking and he showed why on that play. Not only did he recognize that Peppers was coming free, but he also made the block. And it was anything but an easy block.
Earlier in the drive, the Packers faced 4th and 1 from their own 22-yard line. Instead of punting, coach Mike McCarthy went for it and Kuhn crashed ahead on the fullback dive, picking up the first down with about 10 inches to spare.
The fullback dive to Kuhn is easily my least favorite play in the Packers playbook. Kuhn isn’t a good runner and when he gets it from the fullback position, he usually doesn’t have enough momentum to surge ahead and pick up the yards he needs. Well, it worked this time and Kuhn deserves a ton of the credit.
I wondered out loud if the Packers should cut Kuhn during training camp. With Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin on the team, did the Packers really need a one-dimensional back like Kuhn? When Kuhn messed up a blocked field goal against the Ravens in week six, the calls for Kuhn’s dismissal got louder.
Thankfully, McCarthy and Ted Thompson ignore us armchair general managers. If the Packers had given up on Kuhn, Green Bay’s season would be over, and instead of yelling KUUUUUUUUUUHHHHHHHHHNNNNNNN!!!!! at our computer screens, we’d be reading 2014 NFL draft previews and trying to figure out which prospect the Packers should select in April.
If the Green Bay Packers beat the Chicago Bears on Sunday, they will be NFC North Champions.
Yes, the Packers might make the playoffs despite:
- Playing the second half of the season without Aaron Rodgers.
- Using four different quarterbacks.
- Clay Matthews missing a stretch of games, then returning and playing with one thumb.
- Randall Cobb being out most of the season.
- Jermichael Finley almost breaking his neck.
- Bryan Bulaga tearing his ACL in a scrimmage.
- Andy Mulumba and MD Jennings playing prominent roles on defense.
- Eddie Lacy missing two games early with a concussion and gimping around on a bum ankle the last couple of weeks.
- B.J. Raji deciding to take a vacation after week eight.
- 16 players on injured reserve (possibly with more to be added this week)
- Marshall Newhouse still being on the team.
And that’s just all the stuff I can think of off the top of my head. It’s late at night, so I’m sure I’m missing a few things that should be on the list.
It hasn’t been pretty. Often, it’s been downright ugly and frustrating as hell. But the Packers still have a shot at the playoffs. Win and they’re in.
Welcome to the NFC North in 2013.
The 2013 Packers won’t go down as one of the best teams in franchise history, but they will go down as one of the most unique. They’ll also go down as one of the most resilient. It’s been a frustrating season, but it’s also been a whole lot of fun.
Here’s hoping the fun extends at least into Wild Card weekend.
Where have you gone, B.J. Raji?
The Green Bay Packers have desperately missed Aaron Rodgers ever since he went down with a broken collarbone in week eight. Over that same stretch, the Packers have also desperately missed B.J. Raji, even though the 337-pound defensive lineman played in every game.
Through the season’s first eight games, Raji was a force. He was energetic and explosive and spent a good amount of time in the opposing team’s backfield. It looked like the Raji of 2010 had returned and he was finally establishing himself as one of those elite defensive lineman who doesn’t put up big stats, but makes a world of difference each and every week beyond the box score.
Then Raji fell off the face of the Earth. He didn’t just regress, he disappeared.
It’s weird because there were no warning signs that Raji was about to go in the tank. He was one of the few players on the team that hasn’t battled injuries (as far as we know, anyway). He’s still young and he’s a free agent this offseason. All signs pointed to a good season becoming great for the former No. 9 overall pick out of Boston College.
Raji was credited for 11 solo defensive stops through the first eight games, according to Pro Football Focus. He only has two in the last six games. Also according to Pro Football Focus, Raji has finished with a negative run defense rating in every game since the Bears loss.
Even if you’re not into Pro Football Focus metrics, it’s painfully obvious that Raji has fallen off a cliff. He’s always been susceptible to getting completely wiped out of running plays, but it’s gone from happening every now and then to happening on a regular basis. Watch the Vikings tie or the final drive of the Eagles game. When the Packers desperately needed a run-stuffing play up front, there was Raji getting washed down the line or blown off the ball.
Rumor has it that Raji turned down an $8 million per season contract extension from the Packers earlier this season. At the time, the offer made sense. Raji is a big and athletic lineman who played well inside and was able to hold his own outside. He’s also durable, a rarity on the modern-day Packers. He wasn’t a superstar, but $8 million per year for the type of player that Raji was matched the market rate.
Now, after Raji’s disappearing act, $8 million per season seems like about $7.5 million too much.
We’re all waiting desperately for Rodgers to make his triumphant return. It’d be nice if he brings the good version of B.J. Raji with him. If Raji continues getting bowled backwards and running backs are allowed to run free on the Packers defense, this late-season run could end in a hurry.
Packers QB Matt Flynn all fired up after learning he made it in this week’s rising category.
The Packers win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday was their best victory since winning Super Bowl XLV.
Sure, the Packers won 15 games and lit up scoreboards all over the NFL in 2011, but none of the 15 triumphs was as fulfilling as Sunday’s comeback over America’s (Most Annoying) Team.
Yes, the Packers persevered through a bunch of injuries and won a playoff game in 2012, but even the postseason win wasn’t as awesome as what happened in the Jerry Dome on Sunday.
Now that Justin “Robo Leg” Tucker connected on a 61-yard field goal that put the Packers back in control of their own destiny, the Frozen Tundra is buzzing about a possible repeat of 2010’s late-season magic. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered before that happens, though.
Can the defense get it together for a full game? As the Packers offense goes, so goes the defense. If the offense sputters for more than a half, can the defense pick up the slack?
Will Dr. Pat McKenzie clear Aaron Rodgers? C’mon, Doc. Rub some dirt on the QB’s collarbone and let him play.
What’s wrong with Clay Matthews? The team’s second highest paid player can’t win a one-on-one matchup to save his life right now. He showed some burst when he rushed from the middle linebacker slot on Sunday. Perhaps that will get him going.
Who made this week’s Packers Stock report? That’s the most important question of them all. Let’s find out:
I was convinced that it was Tolzien Time at halftime on Sunday. Flynn’s release is so slow and everything he does seems to be a half-second behind where it needs to be. I thought McCarthy might give Tolzien and his stronger arm with a quicker trigger another shot after the first half debacle, but he stuck with Flynn, changed the gameplan around, and pulled out a victory.
Lacy might not be able to run away from defenders, but he makes defenders want to run away from him with how hard and physical he runs.
Week in and week out, with Rodgers, Flynn, Tolzein or whomever at QB, Boykin contributes. Over the course of a year, he’s gone from a slow-footed longshot to a dependable receiver. And he’s tough to bring down. Once he gets a head of steam, would-be tacklers are flying backwards after contact.
He never did become the shutdown corner we thought he would, but there’s nothing wrong with “only” being a dependable corner. What has impressed me most about Williams over the last six weeks is his sudden desire to play physical. He’s still not a great tackler, but he at least brings it now. No more half-assing it by diving at the feet of running backs or retreating in fear when a strong back comes barreling around the edge.
Kind of a younger and faster version of what Williams has become. Shields won’t shut down anyone for a whole game, but he makes plays and has developed a physical streak to him that wasn’t there earlier in his career.
Whenever I see Lang pulling and heading upfield at a linebacker or a frightened defensive back, I know something good is about to happen. On Sunday, Lang showed his speed by getting to the second level on the Starks’ screen that went for a TD. He also held Jason Hatcher (nine sacks) without a pressure all game.
I am completely baffled by Raji’s disappearance over the last six weeks. He was a little bit better against the Cowboys, but still got outplayed by the more active and energetic Josh Boyd, in my opinion. If the Packers run defense is going to turn things around, Raji will need to awaken from his slumber.
You could easily put M.D. Jennings in this slot, but Burnett just got paid, so he gets the honors. Burnett isn’t fast enough to close on balls that hang in the air and he’s not physical enough to tackle or scare anybody crossing over the middle. Ted Thompson should demand a refund.
For as much grief as we give McCarthy for his playcalling, imagine if Garrett coached in Green Bay? The Packers often put eight defenders in the box to stop the run in the first half and DeMarco Murray still rattled off long gains. For some inexplicable reason, Garrett decided to ditch the ground game with a big lead in the second half and it cost his team a victory.
I am not a doctor. I haven’t seen any scans of Packers QB Aaron Rodgers’ damaged collarbone. I don’t know Packers team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie or coach Mike McCarthy. I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
In other words, I am completely unqualified to determine whether Rodgers should be allowed to play Sunday when the Packers play the Dallas Cowboys.
But being unqualified has never stopped me before, and it’s not going to stop me on this issue. I believe if Rodgers thinks he can play, he should be allowed to play. From Jason Wilde’s Friday column on the topic:
“Frankly, I think if Aaron was asked the question, he wants to play. He feels he’s ready to play,” McCarthy told reporters Friday in his usual, end-of-the-week post-practice news conference. “Based on what he’s accomplished physically and what he was able to do at practice on Wednesday and Thursday, he’s ready to go.”
So even the coach sounds confident that Rodgers could play. Unless scans show Rodgers’ collarbone to be so fragile that it might crack in half if someone pats his shoulder pads after a touchdown pass, let him play. Why hold him back?
I get that increased risk of re-injury is probably the main concern. I’ve also heard Rodgers speak eloquently about injury risks that come with playing in the NFL. He has a good understanding of the risks he and other players take every time they step on the field. I don’t think he would play if he thought the risk/reward balance of re-injuring his collarbone was totally out of whack.
I applaud the Packers organization for its long-term outlook and putting a player’s safety first when handling injuries. Obviously, you don’t want to put Rodgers out there if the risk of re-injury is off the charts. But in this instance, based on what we know and what has been said publicly, the re-injury risk has declined dramatically and the team sounds like it’s being a little too cautious.
Rodgers took snaps with the first team in practice this week and apparently feels good physically. Also from Wilde’s column:
“The hurdle that I know Aaron wanted to get over, he achieved it this week. He feels really good,” McCarthy said.
So why is he going to carry a clipboard and wear a headset on Sunday?
Rodgers just turned 30 years old. He’s seen teammates Terrance Murphy and Nick Collins have their careers ended after neck injuries. He saw Jermichael Finley suffer a neck injury this year that could end his career. He’s seen countless other teammates have entire seasons and careers cut down after one play resulted in a major injury.
Rodgers has also seen Tom Brady miss an entire season after a blow to his knee. He’s seen Peyton Manning miss a year with a neck injury and numerous other QBs miss significant time.
Even if Rodgers sits until the risk of re-injuring the collarbone is zero, it only takes one fluke play to suffer another major injury to a different part of his body and be back on the sideline. That’s life in the NFL and Rodgers realizes that. Why live in fear of re-injuring the collarbone and not play games you’re capable of playing when the risk of suffering some other type of major injury is always out there no matter when you come back?
It sounds like Rodgers is fine with taking a little extra risk because he knows he takes a risk every time he steps on the field, fully healthy collarbone or not. The Packers should feel the same way, but unfortunately, they don’t.
I get that McCarthy and company are thinking long-term on this issue, but I guarantee Rodgers is thinking long term as well and it sounds like he thinks playing is the best decision for both him, his current team and the long-term future of the Packers.
Perhaps scans show that the collarbone is worse than the Packers and Rodgers are letting on. If that’s the case, the Packers need to tell us that. Because right now, it appears that the team is living in fear of one specific injury when any number of injuries could happen whenever Rodgers returns.
This isn’t an issue of toughness. Rodgers has already proven he’s tough. This isn’t an issue of organizational ineptitude. The Packers have already proven they are one of the best organizations in the NFL. This isn’t an issue of unqualified fans (like me) ranting and raving about either Rodgers’ toughness or how the Packers handle injuries.
This is about a specific injury to the Packers best player and whether he is ready to return or not. Based on everything that has been said, it sounds like Rodgers is ready to go. For some reason, McCarthy and the Packers don’t agree.
Maybe the shades are one way Packers GM Ted Thompson is trying to snap out of his slump
If Packers general manager Ted Thompson was a baseball player, he’d pull up his socks higher, hop over the foul line whenever he ran onto the field, put his hat on backwards, take four warm-up swings before each at-bat instead of three — anything to help change his luck and snap him out of this nasty slump.
Slumps are a combination of human ineptitude and a streak of poor luck. Good players eventually snap out of them, but every now and then, a long, nasty, confidence-killing slump can wreck a once promising career.
Thompson will snap out of the rut he’s currently in. It’s been a rough one, though, marked by a slew of injuries, questionable draft decisions and ill-timed contract extensions. Here’s who and what Thompson can blame for his slump
Thompson did nothing to upgrade the safety and backup quarterback position this offseason, both obvious positions of need. Instead of drafting a safety or dipping into free agency, Thompson stuck with his current players and the results have been dismal. It got so bad that Thompson cut Jerron McMillian last week, a fourth-round pick a season ago.
As far as backup quarterback, I usually don’t get all wound up about that position because, in my opinion, if Rodgers goes down for an extended stretch, the Packers are screwed. Well, Rodgers went down and the Packers fell flat on their face. Where I fault Thompson here is for not recognizing just how bad B.J. Coleman and Graham Harrell were. The time to cut bait with both of them was the offseason, not training camp after all the other decent backup QBs were off the market and it was too late to draft another one.
The football Gods
I know every team deals with injuries, but what the Packers go through every season is ridiculous. It’d be easy to pick at Thompson’s recent draft classes coming up short, but it’s hard because most of the players have been injured.
Thompson has drafted 36 players since 2010. Of that group, 18 have suffered significant injuries at some point during their career. That list of 18 includes guys like Bryan Bulaga, Nick Perry, Derek Sherrod, Randall Cobb, Casey Hayward, and Jerel Worthy.
I’d like to declare Bulaga and Perry good players, but can’t because they’re hurt so often. Cobb and Hayward also established track records of success, but they’ve gone down this season. Sherrod and Worthy have both been cut down with serious injuries right about the time we were going to find out if they actually could play or not.
This list could go on and on.
I suppose you could say Thompson needs to do a better job researching the medical history of his draft choices, but I don’t think that’s a very fair criticism. The injuries are the bad luck portion of his slump.
Contract extension timing
Thompson opens up his wallet, clears away the cobwebs, and gives out giant contracts to Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and Morgan Burnett. Rodgers gets hurt, Matthews gets hurt, returns, and is nowhere near the same player, and Burnett gets hurt, returns, and is suddenly the second worst safety in the NFL (behind M.D. Jennings).
The Rodgers and Matthews contracts are poor luck. The jury is still out on Burnett, but it looks like Thompson may have misjudged how good he is.
Imagine if B.J. Raji would have signed Thompson’s offer for $8 million per season….
Seriously, you know you’re in a slump when you cut Jeremy freaking Ross and he suddenly morphs into the second coming of Devin Hester.
Hopefully Ross coming back to haunt the Packers is the peak of Thompson’s slump and it will only get better from here. With a little better injury luck and a fresh draft class, hopefully we’ll get back to saying “In Ted we trust” instead of “Dammit Ted, what were you thinking?”
What role had lack of conditioning played in the Packers plummeting run defense?
Remember when the Packers actually had a good run defense? It seems like forever ago, but as recently as October, the Packers turned into a brick wall against the likes of Frank Gore, Reggie Bush and others.
Those days are long gone now, and there are many reasons why the Packers run defense has gone from good to abysmal: Middle linebackers A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones are slow. The safeties don’t provide much for run support even when they play up on the line. Tackling, once again, is atrocious.
The Packers defensive line is also very fat. B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly all weigh in at over 325 pounds, and that’s listed weight. If I had to guess, I’d guess that Jolly is at least 15 pounds heavier than his listed weight of 325.
Remember back in the summer when reports came out that Raji and Pickett reported to minicamp overweight? I laughed it off because Raji and Pickett are fat guys and fat football players tend to get a little fatter during the offseason. No big deal. There was plenty of time to get back in shape before the season.
Jolly also had been out of football for three seasons and admitted that his weight climbed well above his playing weight before working to bring it back down and make the team.
Early in the season, it looked like I was right to just laugh off the reports of Raji, Pickett and Jolly being out of shape.
Led by the aforementioned three, the Packers only allowed one 100-yard rusher (Washington’s Alfred Morris in week 2) through the season’s first eight weeks. Since then, they’ve allowed a 100-yard rusher in four of the last five and have nearly allowed two players on the same team to top the century mark in the same game in consecutive weeks.
Are a few too many trips through the buffet line impacting the Packers run defense? Has the run defense slipped because Raji, Pickett and Jolly are wearing down due to poor conditioning after a strong start?
Only the Packers coaches and front office personnel can answer that question for sure. But as a fan watching the bottom fall out of this run defense, you can’t help but wonder if being out of shape in July is costing the Packers in November.
Of course, being out of shape isn’t the only possible reason for the diminished play of Raji, Pickett and Jolly.
Pickett is 34 and has been battling a knee injury. Father time is just as likely a cause for Pickett’s decline as his waistline.
Jolly was out of football for three years and is also 30 years old. Should we really be surprised that he’s wearing down?
Raji has no excuse. I have no idea what’s going on with him. He’s in a contract year and seems to think he deserves to be paid like a top-tier defensive lineman. The way he’s played over the last month, I wouldn’t give him the league minimum.
If you watch Raji, Pickett and Jolly recently, they don’t get off blocks and they display no athleticism whatsoever. Instead of being explosive and immovable, they look lethargic and plodding.
I know that the Packers ask these three to control gaps and occupy blockers instead of jetting upfield, but controlling gaps means more than just standing there and taking up space. You need energy and mobility. Just being a fat guy doesn’t cut it.
Packers fans and the rest of the NFL world were worried about running back Eddie Lacy being too fat as the 2013 season approached. Instead, we probably should have worried about the ballooning Raji, Pickett and Jolly.