GREEN BAY, Wis. — When Tramon Williams saw the first two games on the Green Bay Packers’ 2013 regular-season schedule, he knew what it meant and he was happy about it. Colin Kaepernick was followed by Robert Griffin III, giving the Packers an opportunity to face two of the NFL’s best dual-threat quarterbacks in consecutive weeks.
“I think if you ask anybody in here, they’d say, ‘Thank God that it is that way, that we play two quarterbacks of that nature back to back,'” Williams said Friday in the locker room. “It’ll definitely help out.”
Green Bay’s defense didn’t look prepared in Week 1 for Kaepernick, at least not for the San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback to be so dominant with his passing ability. It was Kaepernick’s scrambling and read-option runs that beat the Packers eight months earlier in the playoffs.
Just as there were lessons for Green Bay to learn in trying to stop a mobile quarterback from its divisional-round postseason loss, the Packers picked up more tips this past weekend and hope to apply it when Griffin leads the Washington Redskins into Lambeau Field on Sunday.
“I think every quarterback, whether they’re young or a veteran or whatever, if they get comfortable, these quarterbacks are too good nowadays when they get in a rhythm and they get comfortable, they’re going to make it awful hard on you,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “Yeah, you’d like to be able to give them different things, make them have to read and react on the run as opposed to being able to come up and know what you’re going to do. I think that’s an advantage for them if that’s the case. That’s what a lot of these people do when they run the ball. They try to vanilla you up to where it makes it easier for their quarterback.”
The version of Griffin who played Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles didn’t look like the RGIII who was named the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year last season. Offseason knee surgery to repair a torn ACL and LCL forced Griffin to not play at all during preseason, and several Green Bay players admitted that they thought he looked rusty early on in Washington’s season-opener.
“He still presents himself as a good player,” nose tackle B.J. Raji said. “Obviously, he’s not the same as he was last year, but he’s pretty effective still.”
Though Griffin performed much better in the second half of that game than he did in the first half, he still finished with a 77.7 passer rating and 24 rushing yards. There were only three games last season in which Griffin posted a lower passer rating than that and just three games in which he had fewer rushing yards.
“As the game went on, you saw the true RGIII,” Williams said. “Getting into a rhythm, making plays, getting outside the pocket and getting to see him back in the game. That’s the team that we’re going to come in expecting to play. Anything else we’d be fooling ourselves.”
If the Packers do see ‘the true RGIII’ in this Week 2 matchup, it will be seeing a quarterback who rushed for 815 yards last season, which was tops among quarterbacks and 20th overall in the NFL.
“We absolutely look at him as a running threat,” outside linebacker Clay Matthews said. “You see what he’s been capable of doing. It’s no different. Obviously, when he’s healthy, he’s healthy; you treat him as such. Having zero preseason reps and being injured coming back in here, he’s got to ease into it, as with any injury.
“We’ll be ready for him and we’ll be ready for the fact that he can make plays with his feet.”
Capers described Griffin as “a rare guy who can run as fast as he does and throw the ball vertically the way he can.”
Griffin led the NFL last season with 8.14 passing yards per attempt, was third in passer rating and threw fewer interceptions than any other starting quarterback.
Like Kaepernick proved in Week 1, Griffin showed last season that taking away his running room doesn’t stop him from being efficient through the air.
“He can do both,” Capers said. “You can’t ever relax. They’ll test your discipline off the play-action pass. You can’t get too nosy playing the run. You go take care of your responsibility and depend on the guys upfront to play the run. If he’s going to pull it out of there and try to throw that ball vertical, you’ve got to make sure you’re playing overtop of it.”
For as good as Green Bay was in stuffing the run against San Francisco (2.6 yards per carry average), the Packers really struggled in stopping the pass. Kaepernick threw for 412 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
“You could make a case that we aren’t a very good pass defense team right now based off of the first game,” Capers said when asked if Green Bay was a good zone defense team.
After Washington got down 33-7 early in the third quarter Monday night, Griffin nearly completed a huge second-half comeback with two touchdown passes and a third scoring drive that was capped off by an Alfred Morris touchdown run. For everything that Griffin did poorly to get his team in a huge hole, he did a lot of things well in the final 30 minutes of that game.
“It took them awhile to get their rhythm, but you really want to focus on the second half of that game,” defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. “I think the quarterback got in rhythm, the offense got in a good rhythm. That was the Redskins that we had come used to seeing last year. That’s what we really focused on (because) the first half last week was weird.”
It’s obviously very early in the season to be thinking about Green Bay’s playoff chances, but if the Packers can’t stop Griffin and lose Sunday, it could be a long year. Since 1990, only 10.4 percent of NFL teams have made the postseason after starting 0-2. Green Bay has never been part of the playoffs in the franchise’s 93-year history when beginning the season 0-2.
“Obviously, these are two teams that are 0-1 who really want this win,” Matthews said.