Analysis: Offense Still Not Clicking
The Green Bay Packers are
2-1 1-2. That puts the defending NFC North champions one game behind the division leading Vikings and Bears and tied with the Lions. Here’s my analysis of the offense after three games:
QUARTERBACK: Aaron Rodgers‘ passer rating is down nearly 35 points from last season, and while numbers can sometimes be deceiving, they’re spot on in this instance. The reigning league MVP was spectacular a year ago, but he’s been pretty ordinary through three games. He hasn’t been helped by questionable playcalling, shaky protection, a weak running game and receivers who haven’t been able to get separation, but he’s also made his share of poor decisions and throws. Rodgers hasn’t looked particularly sharp since the start of camp. If he doesn’t get a lot better in a hurry, this season will end in December.
RUNNING BACK: Cedric Benson‘s numbers are pedestrian, but that’s more a result of below-average blocking by the offensive line. The nine-year veteran is still a good runner who almost always picks up the yards that are there and sometimes finds yards that aren’t there. What he doesn’t do, however, is scare opposing defenses. Benson no longer has the speed to threaten on the second level, so most coordinators aren’t going to feel the need to bring up a safety. That’s why the offense misses James Starks (turf toe). He’s not as instinctive as Benson, but he’s more explosive. John Kuhn has been OK as a lead blocker, but having to use the slow-footed fullback on third downs really limits the passing game.
RECEIVER: Jordy Nelson has been a disappointment through three games. The offense really needed him to step up with Pro Bowler Greg Jennings slowed by a groin injury. That didn’t happen. Last season’s breakthrough star has been unable to get much separation, and even worse, he has allowed himself to get outmuscled by much smaller defenders. Nelson should be better once the real officials return, but it’s pretty obvious that he’s not a legitimate No. 1. Jennings missed the first game and wasn’t much of a factor in the next two. The best receiver so far has been James Jones. The much-maligned veteran hasn’t let grabby corners slow him down. Randall Cobb was very productive against the 49ers in the opener, but he’s barely played on offense since then. Tight end Jermichael Finley has caught a lot of passes (15), but he’s averaging only 8.9 yards. Ed West laughs at that number.
OFFENSIVE LINE: The guards, T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton, have played extremely well. Center Jeff Saturday is about what I expected. He’s certainly not Scott Wells, but he’s been more than adequate. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the tackles. After playing at a Pro Bowl level in 2011, Bryan Bulaga has taken a step back. He opened the season with a pair of mediocre performances, and then was embarrassingly bad in the first half against the Seahawks. The Packers desperately need him to pick up his game. Marshall Newhouse hasn’t been a disaster on the left side, but he simply gets beat too often. The days of not worrying about pressure coming from the QB’s blind side are long gone – at least until Derek Sherrod (PUP/leg) gets totally healthy. His skill set is much better suited for the position.
SPECIALISTS: Tim Masthay is one of the team’s MVPs through three games. That says it all. Other than his last punt on Monday night, he’s been excellent. Mason Crosby is 5 for 5 on field goals and his kickoffs have been high and deep. Long snapper Brett Goode continues to be great at his often underappreciated job. Cobb has one long punt return for a touchdown, but otherwise, he’s been pretty quiet.