PHILADELPHIA — The Packers escaped the City of Brotherly love with a gutsy 27-20 victory. It wasn’t pretty, but any win on the road is impressive – especially when you consider that quarterback Aaron Rodgers had a rare off day and the defense was forced to play most of the game with just two healthy linemen. Here’s a position-by-position review:
Quarterback – After a nearly perfect preseason, Rodgers struggled against Philly. He wasn’t helped by shaky protection, but many of his troubles were self-inflicted. He made some bad throws and some even worse decisions. The good news is that Rodgers may not play this poorly again. The even better news is that the Packers still found a way to win.
Running backs – Ryan Grant‘s sprained ankle looked pretty bad. It’s hard to imagine him not missing at least a few weeks. Brandon Jackson did a solid job in his place. He ran hard, protected the ball and kept defenders away from Rodgers on third down. Jackson will need to make the Bills pay next Sunday if they only keep seven in the box (which they will). John Kuhn ran hard – as always – from the fullback position, but his lack of quickness will be a problem if he has to play some halfback next week.
Tight ends – There’s little doubt that Jermichael Finley is the receiver every defensive coordinator will game plan to shut down. Sean McDermott and the Eagles did about as good a job as possible by mixing coverages and being very physical. Still, the budding star caught 4 passes for 47 yards – not bad for an off day. Tom Crabtree played quite a bit and did OK as a blocker. He should be much more effective once the cast comes off his injured wrist.
Wide receivers – Greg Jennings‘ spectacular one-handed catch on third-and-8 led to Green Bay’s first touchdown of the season. He’s as smooth as they come. Donald Driver caught five passes and scored a short touchdown, but he had some trouble getting separation down the field. The four talented wide receivers combined for only 129 yards – a total that in many weeks is achieved by halftime.
Offensive linemen – Things settled down a bit after a rough start, but this group has to play better. The veteran tackles looked old at times. Mark Tauscher‘s below-average performance is especially concerning because he was going up against a journeyman (Juqua Parker) and a rookie (Brandon Graham). At least Chad Clifton‘s struggles came against a Pro Bowler (Trent Cole). The interior guys were generally solid – although Daryn Colledge had his perfunctory two or three head-scratching plays.
Defensive linemen – Give B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett all the credit in the world. The big guys were forced to play way too much after Justin Harrell and Cullen Jenkins got hurt. Both were gassed in the fourth quarter, but they never stopped working. Jenkins also deserves a pat on the back. He played the final 45 minutes with a cast on his fractured left hand. It remains to be seen how effective he’ll be going forward. He should still be able to provide pressure, but getting the QB to the ground will be much more difficult. Green Bay will have to add a player at this position. Jarvis Green and Damione Lewis are out there.
Linebackers – Give Dom Capers credit for moving Clay Matthews all over the place. The Eagles had a difficult time locating the Pro Bowler, and even when they did, they couldn’t block him. Matthews is extremely athletic and unbelievably relentless – two traits that will keep offensive coordinators up at night. Brad Jones didn’t have much success rushing against Jason Peters. Whether that’s a harbinger of things to come remains to be seen. An optimist will say that Jones was rusty after missing most of training camp. A pessimist will say that he’s simply not talented enough to beat quality left tackles. Brandon Chillar and Nick Barnett were active and rookie Frank Zombo recorded a sack when the Birds forgot to block him.
Defensive backs – Tramon Williams played very well. He looked like a solid starting cornerback. Sam Shields wasn’t a liability in the nickel, but that had more to do with the circumstances than his actual performance. The undrafted free agent had all kinds of trouble in coverage. Fortunately, a nervous Kevin Kolb couldn’t take advantage and Mike Vick was more interested in running the ball than throwing it downfield. Morgan Burnett also benefitted from playing against Kolb and Vick. The rookie from Georgia Tech wasn’t really challenged in his pro debut. Charles Woodson‘s forced fumble in the third quarter was a huge play.
Specialists – Mason Crosby‘s 56-yard field goal would’ve been good from 65. He was on fire at the end of training camp and the rain in Philly didn’t cool him off. Perhaps this will be the season that Crosby blossoms into one of the league’s best kickers. Tim Masthay‘s poor final punt marred an otherwise solid debut. Jordy Nelson took advantage of unusually good blocking to average over 30 yards on five kick returns. In fact, the blocking was so good that a more explosive returner might’ve scored a pair of touchdowns. The coverage units also performed well. For one of the few times in recent memeory, the special teams actually helped the team win.
Etc. – Why in the world did Mike McCarthy wait an extra 20 seconds before calling a time out late in the first half? His gaffe cost the offense a chance to go for a TD… McCarthy got extremely conservative in the fourth quarter. With a great quarterback and so many quality receivers, it just doesn’t make sense to rely on a backup running back when the game is on the line… Green Bay had only seven offensive linemen on the active roster. With T.J. Lang not dressed, rookie Bryan Bulaga was apparently the backup right tackle… A.J. Hawk didn’t break a sweat because the Packers were in nickel all game. This won’t be the only week when the former fifth overall pick in the draft does a lot more sitting than running.