Packers report card: Defense steps up yet again
OCT 14, 2013 8:42a ET
Handing out grades following the Green Bay Packers' 19-17 road win over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6:
Passing Offense: C
It's a surprise given that Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback of this team, but the passing game was the weakest aspect for the Packers in Baltimore. While the first-half injuries to wide receivers James Jones (leg) and Randall Cobb (knee) certainly didn't help matters, there were some struggles in this area even before those two went down.
For the third consecutive game, Rodgers threw only one touchdown pass. If Rodgers hadn't earned himself the reputation as one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks, expectations would be different. But for a former league MVP and Super Bowl MVP, three one-touchdown games in a row is a bit alarming. Rodgers also fumbled twice (though neither resulted in a turnover), threw an interception and completed a season-low 53.1 percent of his passes.
Green Bay's receivers and offensive line didn't do Rodgers many favors, though. Jordy Nelson and tight end Jermichael Finley both dropped passes on the opening drive, while Jarrett Boykin dropped two balls in relief of Jones and Cobb. Rodgers was also under pressure fairly often, being sacked three times and being hurried on several other dropbacks.
Three huge passing plays saved the game for the Packers. Nelson's 64-yard touchdown, Finley's 52-yard reception on the final drive and Boykin's 43-yard play that he made entirely happen after the catch.
Rushing Offense: A-
Green Bay's running game is for real. After Eddie Lacy was just one yard away from the 100-yard mark in Week 5, he crossed it in this game and finished with 120 yards on 23 carries (5.2 average). Lacy, James Starks and Johnathan Franklin are now all part of the 100-yard club this season.
That the Packers were able to have that amount of success on the ground against a stellar Ravens defense makes it even more impressive. Even after giving up 140 total rushing yards to Green Bay, Baltimore is still ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in run defense.
The Packers are ranked second in the league in rushing yards per carry, but one thing holding this grade back from being an "A" as opposed to an "A-minus" is not getting in the end zone in the run game. Green Bay is stuck on three rushing touchdowns this season.
Rushing Defense: A
Baltimore entered this game ranked 27th in the NFL in rushing. Despite Ray Rice's reputation as a top running back, he's not been performing like the player he once was. But it was important (and was noted as No. 3 in my 5 Things to Watch) that the Packers didn't let Rice and the Ravens' rushing offense wake up in this game. Well, Green Bay delivered.
Rice was held to 34 yards on 14 carries (2.4 average) and backup running back Bernard Pierce had just nine yards on six attempts (1.5 average) as the Packers dominated the battles at the line of scrimmage. A six-yard rush by quarterback Joe Flacco saved Baltimore from a sub-2.0 yard run average.
A.J. Hawk, Mike Daniels, B.J. Raji and Jamari Lattimore all had at least one tackle for loss against Rice or Pierce. There were also several runs that ended with no gain.
Passing Defense: B-
There was some good and some bad for Green Bay's pass defense.
Sacking Flacco five times during a game in which Clay Matthews didn't step on the field was definitely one of the positives for the Packers. Hawk played the best game of his career and picked up three of those sacks by himself. Micah Hyde also had a sack, as did Nick Perry -- who stripped the ball that was recovered by Datone Jones to set up a field goal right before halftime.
Another positive for Green Bay was shutting down the Ravens' top receiver, Torrey Smith. Coming off two games in which he combined for 287 receiving yards, Smith was held to one catch for 12 yards.
One negative, though, was that the Packers allowed a group of inferior receivers behind Smith to push Baltimore's passing offense to 342 yards through the air. Tandon Doss had a career-high 99 yards and undrafted rookie Marlon Brown had a career-high 71 yards. Flacco had a 112.6 passer rating, which was significantly better than Rodgers.
Flacco threw eight interceptions in the Ravens' first five games, but Green Bay was unable to pick him off even once -- and there were a couple chances. The Packers, with only two interceptions in five games, are ranked 26th in the NFL in this category.
Special Teams: B-
If there was one player who could seemingly be counted on to not make a major mistake, John Kuhn would be near the top of the list. Yet, it was Kuhn who tried to scoop up a ball that had been blocked on a punt by Ryan Taylor. Kuhn touched it and was unable to grab the ball, allowing Baltimore to regain possession and have a new set of downs. Instead of Green Bay getting the ball 30 yards from the end zone in a 3-0 game, the Ravens took over and marched down the field on a long drive.
Mason Crosby continued his early season success, connecting on field-goal attempts from 45 yards, 50 yards and twice from 31 yards. Though Crosby missed from 44 yards out, he's now 13-for-14 on field-goal attempts this season. That's a huge improvement from Crosby's worst-in-the-NFL field-goal percentage in 2012.
Hyde may have secured the punt return job with 68 yards on five attempts (13.6 average), including one for 23 yards. Michael Hill joined Franklin on kick return and the recent practice-squad callup had one return for 19 yards.
Tim Masthay's first two punts sailed into the end zone for touchbacks but he was better on his final four punts.
A road win for the Packers -- their first this season -- against the defending Super Bowl champions while playing without Matthews and not having Jones and Cobb in the second half is a quality way to show their ability to battle through adversity.
Green Bay's rushing offense and run defense both continue to be stellar, but the Packers' offense overall is a little off right now. Green Bay started the game 1-for-11 on third-down conversions and finished 6-for-17.
If not for the big plays keeping them alive, the Packers would have been in some trouble the past two games. The only touchdown Green Bay scored against Detroit in Week 5 was an 83-yard pass to Jones. The only touchdown for the Packers in this game was a 64-yard pass to Nelson.
It should be encouraging, though, that Green Bay's defense proved itself to be capable of winning a tough game when the offense wasn't finishing off many drives in the end zone.
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