GREEN BAY, Wis. — For a game this early in the season, the Packers’ Thursday night win was important for the team on many levels. It avoided an 0-2 start, didn’t allow the division-rival Chicago Bears (now also 1-1) to get a decisive lead in the NFC North standings and kept the Packers from losing their third consecutive meaningful game at Lambeau Field.
Handing out grades following the Packers’ 23-10 win over the Bears:
Passing Offense: B-
Something is just a bit off with Aaron Rodgers and the passing game so far this season. Rodgers was nearly unstoppable in 2011 on his way to being named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, so expectations for his weekly performances have perhaps been raised to an unrealistic level. Rodgers was good against the Bears, just not MVP good.
Rodgers completed 22 of his 32 passes with one touchdown and one interception for a passer rating of 85.3. Rodgers narrowly missed a couple of relatively open receivers throughout the game, and even if one of those had been completed, it could have been a turning point for the offense. But it didn’t happen.
With Greg Jennings out with a groin injury, it presented more opportunities for other receivers. Jordy Nelson was the most-targeted player, with Rodgers throwing his way nine times and completing six of them for 84 yards. Donald Driver had his first catch of the season, a 26-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers, and tight end Jermichael Finley had four catches for 26 yards, but had a critical fumble.
When Rodgers threw his interception on a pass intended for James Jones, the Packers QB was visibly upset on the field. That was very un-Rodgers-like, who rarely lets any of his negative emotions show in that way.
“We had some balls that were dropped,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “Yeah, maybe we weren’t on the same page, receiver and quarterback, and clearly the interception was a reflection of that.”
Rushing Offense: B
This was the type of game that shows why the Packers signed Cedric Benson and why he’s going to be very important to the team’s success this season. Benson had 20 carries for 81 yards (4.1 average) and did a good job of picking up solid gains on a consistent basis. He didn’t have any breakout runs (his longest was 11 yards), but it was just what Green Bay’s offense needed from him. With the Bears defense playing back and seemingly daring the Packers to run the ball, Benson delivered.
“We ran it better tonight,” Rodgers said. “Cedric did a good job of making plays when there was a hole and making plays when there wasn’t. It’s good to have him out there, good to get him 20 carries tonight. He did a good job finishing the game for us.”
Randall Cobb had the Packers’ longest run of the game for 28 yards. Against San Francisco, Cobb frequently lined up in the backfield but never carried the ball. But in this game, McCarthy showed a new wrinkle to that formation by giving Cobb an opportunity to run.
Also of note is that Rodgers didn’t lead the team in rushing yards in this game, something that happened in Week 1 due to Benson’s struggles.
Rushing Defense: B+
Matt Forte and Michael Bush are one of the NFL’s best one-two-punch running back duos. After Green Bay’s defense struggled to stop San Francisco’s Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter four days earlier, this was a big challenge for the Packers, and they passed.
Forte had seven carries for 31 yards (4.4 average) before leaving the game with an ankle injury, and Bush finished with 54 yards on 14 carries (3.9 average). Green Bay has had problems in recent seasons with bigger running backs like Bush, so to contain him like this was a nice accomplishment.
A.J. Hawk and Ryan Pickett both recorded tackles for a loss.
Considering that the Packers only had 96 hours of rest between games, the big defensive linemen are usually the most susceptible to fatigue, and as a result, poor play. But that was not the case in this game.
Passing Defense: A+
This was one of the most dominating performances for the Packers passing defense against a good team in a long time. Clay Matthews had 3.5 sacks — no, that is not a typo — and Green Bay’s defense finished with a total of 7.0 sacks as a team. Matthews now has as many sacks this season (6.0) as he had during the entire 2011 season.
“Nobody can block Clay,” Charles Woodson said. “That’s a fact. I wish he could just have free rush every time. Nobody can block him. But when him and the rest of the guys are getting through and have an offensive line on their heels like they did tonight, and having the quarterback moving around in the pocket, it makes a huge difference for us.”
As Woodson mentioned, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had very little time to throw. The most encouraging part of that for the Packers is that defensive coordinator Dom Capers did not blitz as often as he usually does. And yet, even though Green Bay usually only sent four players after Cutler, it still worked.
When Cutler was able to get rid of the ball, the secondary group of Woodson, Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Jerron McMillian and Morgan Burnett was all over it. Cutler threw four interceptions, with Williams picking off two, Woodson with one and McMillian getting the first of his career. Williams had the difficult task of being matched up with Bears star receiver Brandon Marshall, and he shut him down. Marshall, after having nine catches for 119 yards in Week 1, had just two catches for 24 yards in this game.
“I thought they did an excellent job,” McCarthy said of the secondary. “(Marshall) was the focus. I think that was definitely obvious to everybody watching the game. I know our (defensive backs) were excited, were fired up to play in this game.”
Special Teams: A+
It could end up being the Packers’ most memorable play of the year. On fourth and 26 (yes, the infamous fourth and 26), with the ball lined up 27 yards from the end zone, McCarthy decided to run a fake field-goal play. The snap went to holder Tim Masthay who flipped the ball to Tom Crabtree. Then, with the Bears clearly fooled, Crabtree ran all the way for a touchdown without anyone getting near him.
“It was a big play for us,” Rodgers said. “I was watching up on the Jumbotron and something just looked a little off at first. I thought somebody got bowled over right away or it was going to get blocked or we didn’t catch it right. And then I saw Crabby running out the back side. I couldn’t believe it.
“That’s a gutsy call – a gutsy call. You’ve got to score on that – fourth-and-26 from the 27.”
Aside from that, Cobb had a 21-yard kickoff return and a 16-yard punt return, Mason Crosby made both of his field-goal attempts and Masthay continued performing like an absolutely dominant punter.
All the talk about the Packers potentially beginning their season on a losing streak at home can officially end. The team insisted that they were not at all in a panic over their Week 1 loss, even though certain sections of the team’s fan base seemed to be.
This was a win over a very good Bears team that Green Bay made look like a very bad team. Matthews playing like he could be the best defensive player in the NFL sure helped make it appear as if the Packers are not so one-dimensional this season. If Green Bay’s defense can win them a few games this season, which never happened in 2011, the Packers will have much better balance as a team and don’t have to put so much pressure on Rodgers to be great every week.
“It feels good to win,” Rodgers said. “It feels good to win again. The interviews this week had a lot of worry in them in the questions they were asked – not necessarily my weekly at my locker but a couple of the other interviews were, shall we say, a little negative about our team.
“We played a real good team in Week 1, played a good team in Week 2. We’re going to keep trying to improve. It’s good to be 1-1.”