Here are all of the answers to this week’s questions in the latest edition of Packers Mailbag:
Q: What’s up with all the hamstring injuries? Could this fall on the shoulders of Mark Lovat (strength and conditioning coach)? What is going to happen when the weather turns cold? — Doug Payne, Junction City, WI
Q: What’s going on with all the hamstring injuries? Do the Packers have some kind of flaw in their training regime? Seems like a lot of this type of injury among the Packers players. — Dan Crawford, Kalamazoo, Mich.
Q: Why is it that every year the Packers are always bit by the injury bug worse than any other team? What is going on in this club that guys cannot stay healthy during a game? Does the strength and conditioning need to be re-evaluated again? — Ryan Nelson, Pound, Wisconsin
Q: During the Fox broadcast of the Bengals game, both Joe Buck and Troy Aikman commented on all of the hamstring injuries suffered by the Packers. During Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy’s tenure, their teams have been amongst the most injured teams in football. When are they finally going to realize they need to change things up? — Dan K, Madison, WI
Q: It seems that the Packers have an above normal amount of hamstring injuries compared to the rest of the league. It was also a point the TV commentators mentioned. Are they doing something wrong in the pre-game preparations? It is always very important for me as a youth coach to make sure my kids are properly stretched out before the game. Do the Packers need to improve in this area? — Jesse Delaney, Waukon, Iowa
Q: The hamstring injuries is becoming more prevalent with the Packers in the last few years. We don’t see that many with that frequency with other NFL teams. Is this an issue of game speed with the guys not playing fast enough and then overextending to make a play or ineffective stretching on conditioning? This is becoming too frequent to consider it a coincidence.- – Jim Giese, Wisconsin Rapids, WI
A: There’s not an easy answer for this. It’s a significant question among Packers fans right now, and with good reason. But it’s nearly impossible to quantify why the results are what they are.
Going into Week 4 of the season, in which Green Bay is fortunate to have a bye during, the Packers are missing five players just with hamstring injuries alone. Morgan Burnett and Casey Hayward missed the first three games, Jarrett Bush missed the past two, John Kuhn missed one and Clay Matthews left early in Week 3.
What did those five players do wrong that they are dealing with hamstring injuries when the other 48 players on the active roster are not? Possibly nothing. Possibly something. Was it just bad luck? In some cases, maybe.
Even in my discussions with medical professionals who specialize in these areas, it’s not as if they can pinpoint one area and say ‘If Green Bay’s players did this, they wouldn’t suffer hamstring injuries.’ It’s a combination of things. It can be fatigue-related, as tight end Ryan Taylor mentioned in my story this week. Coach Mike McCarthy hoped that creating two-minute music timeouts during training camp — to simulate players stopping and starting again as they do during games — would help, but it obviously hasn’t.
When these type of injuries happen in abundance like this, yes, the Packers’ training staff should be — and almost certainly is — looking into ways to better prepare the players. There is blame to go around, but there’s not a cure-all solution out there. Some of it is going to have to be trial-and-error on the training side, and after what’s happened in just three regular-season games with hamstring injuries, there’s no doubt that more trial is needed.
Q: Who will replace Ross? — Al Neubauer, Oshkosh, WI
A: With Jeremy Ross being released Monday after a rocky start to his regular season, Green Bay has several in-house options. McCarthy could put Randall Cobb on return duties once again, a role which he was successful at. However, there are increased injury risks as a returner, and given how important Cobb is to the offense, that may not be the best choice. Cobb will likely get some returns, just as he did in the first three games when Ross was on the roster.
The most likely person to take over kickoff returns is rookie running back Johnathan Franklin. Now that Franklin has shown his ability to make plays in space (when he ran for 103 yards in 13 carries in Week 3), McCarthy will look for ways to get him more involved. If Eddie Lacy (concussion) and James Starks (knee) are both healthy, the best way to get Franklin on the field with some consistency is on kick returns.
On punt return, the next-best option is probably rookie cornerback Micah Hyde. As Hyde continued to impress the coaching staff in training camp and preseason, McCarthy looked for more ways to get him into the game plan. Hyde looks confident catching punts and seemed more dependable in that role than most rookies would be.
As of Thursday afternoon, the Packers have not signed a 53rd player to their active roster. That will likely not happen until next week. Now that Green Bay is down to just four receivers on the roster (not counting the two — Charles Johnson, Myles White — on practice squad), that could be an area to fill. But McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson could also look at signing a player who specializes in returns.
Q: How many games in his Packers career has Rodgers pulled of a win in the last two minutes of a game? — Mark, Hudson, WI
Q: The Pack seems horribly inconsistent with limited killer instinct when a win is within its grasp. These flaws can be attributed to coaching and lack of leadership. I’m not calling for a coaching change in the least bit, but there are quite a few games in McCarthy’s career that are head-scratchers. As much as we all love Rodgers, I wonder what his winning percentage with 5 or 6 minutes in a game when we need a score vs. Favre. Just a very disappointing loss. — Bob Johnson, Eau Claire, WI
A: After Rodgers failed to lead the Packers on a game-winning drive in Week 3 at Cincinnati, this topic once again comes up. Here’s how some of the statistics break down for Rodgers in the fourth quarter during his career, with some of the numbers crunched by Football Outsiders:
* Rodgers is 5-24 in games when Green Bay trailed by one touchdown or less and had a chance to win or tie in the fourth quarter.
* Rodgers is 9-26 in games in which the score was tied in the fourth quarter or overtime. However, in seven of those 26 losses, Rodgers did lead a scoring drive but the Packers’ defense later lost it.
* Rodgers is 49-5 in games that Green Bay doesn’t have to win the game by scoring in the fourth quarter or overtime.
* Rodgers led two fourth-quarter comebacks and had three game-winning drives during the 2012 season, but he’s 0-for-2 so far in the 2013 season.
Q: I watch again & again on 2nd and third down: McCarthy and Rodgers either throw the long ball when 4-6 yards will give us a first down. Sunday it happened 3 times; twice our running back was in the flat for an easy first down. On a second down, Rodgers could have walked for a first down and instead threw deep. Looking good and winning aren’t always possible. When will we decide to take what we can take & win ugly? — Mike Sciborski, Black River Falls, WI
A: The best I can do in answering this question is to point out third-down conversion percentages. Through three games, the Packers have gained a first down on 12 of their 33 third-down situations (36.4 percent). That ranks Green Bay No. 17 in the NFL. For comparison’s sake, the Denver Broncos are the best in the league right now with a conversion rate of 53.8 percent and the Cleveland Browns are the worst at 25.0 percent.
It’s still early in the season to analyze statistics too much, but it’s safe to conclude that right now the Packers are at the league average in converting third downs. Given that Rodgers is one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, Green Bay should be ranked much closer to the top.
Q: How can Rodgers look so good one week and the next week look totally awful? I know everyone has an off day, but when he has one he really stinks up the place. — Gary G, Hudson, WI
A: Rodgers’ performance against the Bengals in Week 3 was one of the worst in his career. But it’s not like there’s a pattern of Rodgers looking good in one game and then playing poorly in the next. The game in Cincinnati was an aberration for him. Rodgers’ passer rating was 64.5, which was the lowest for him in a regular-season game since Week 14 of 2010 — and he left that game after only 11 passing attempts with a concussion. Rodgers was clearly frustrated with himself and with McCarthy during that loss, but if he goes another two-plus seasons without another game with a passer rating that low, I’m sure most Packers fans would be happy with that.
Q: Is there any chance at all of Mike McCarthy allowing his star QB to play-call in critical moments? The 4th and half-yard call was pitiful and many have written how key that was, regardless of the resulting negative 6 pts. — Wil Marsh, Southern California
A: Giving the ball to a rookie running back like Franklin — who was only in the game because of injuries to Lacy, Starks and Kuhn — in a critical moment obviously backfired in a major way for Green Bay. But the Packers had been running the ball with a lot of success against the Bengals, so it shouldn’t be difficult to pick up 1 yard on a running play. However, with one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks behind center, it’s certainly easy to debate that Rodgers should be allowed to do his best to make a play in that situation. Rodgers is, after all, the player that the front office gave $110 million to this offseason. Again, though, gaining 1 yard (actually less than 1 yard) should be attainable, especially given how well Green Bay had been moving the ball on the ground.
Q: Why is Dom Capers still here? The defense is 30th in NFL in everything. Our defense makes San Fran look like a Super Bowl contender and everybody else makes them look average. And Sunday the defense was really bad. So I ask, why is he still our defense coach? Why haven’t they said anything about the Green Bay defense and maybe look for a new coach who can actually coach defense? — Bill, Orlando, FL
A: Well, the Packers aren’t actually 30th in the NFL in any defensive category. Here’s a look at where Green Bay’s defense ranks after three games: 28th in points allowed, 27th in yards allowed, 18th in sacks, 18th in interceptions and second in forced fumbles.
The Packers forced four turnovers (and scored a touchdown on one of them) and still lost to Cincinnati, so it’s difficult to place blame on Green Bay’s defense for that game.
Q: Do you think our receivers are overrated and not as good as advertised? They rarely are wide open as opposed to the teams we play. Their guys, a lot of the time, are so open Joel Stave might even be able to hit them. — Brian R, New Richmond, WI
A: I don’t think the Packers’ receivers are overrated at all. Jordy Nelson makes difficult catches that very few others in the NFL could haul in, Randall Cobb is a dynamic threat and has plenty of speed to break free once he gets the ball in his hands, and James Jones is coming off a 2012 season in which he led the league in receiving touchdowns.
Green Bay is ranked second in the NFL right now in receiving yards behind only the Broncos. That’s not all because of Rodgers. That’s because the targets he’s throwing to know how to make plays.
Q: When Greg Jennings is shooting off his mouth about how the Packers suck, why doesn’t someone in the Packers tell him “if you hate us so much, give back your Super Bowl ring” and end the relationship? — Jeff Colson, Baldwin, WI
A: Jennings has perhaps done more damage to his relationship with Packers fans than Brett Favre did. Given all that Jennings has said and done since signing with the Minnesota Vikings in March, it’s difficult to ever see Green Bay bringing him back for any type of ceremony once he’s retired. Jennings may have burned all of those bridges now.
Q: What’s the matter with the offensive line? — Dick, Menomonie, WI
A: Has the Packers’ offensive line been great through three games this season? No. But they certainly haven’t been bad, either. Green Bay is ranked second in the NFL in points scored, third in passing yards and, in the biggest surprise, is 10th in rushing yards. The Packers haven’t finished better than 20th in any season running the ball since 2009. That improvement is a big credit to the offensive line. The one problem that has persisted from last season is that Green Bay is ranked sixth in sacks allowed. That will have to improve. The rating system at ProFootballFocus.com has Green Bay as the sixth-best pass-blocking team and the seventh-best run-blocking team so far this season. I think that’s pretty good for a group that has a second-year undrafted player (Don Barclay) at right tackle, a fourth-round rookie (David Bakhtiari) at left tackle and a first-year starting center (Evan Dietrich-Smith) who was once released by the Packers.
** Thanks to everyone for their questions this week. There will be no Mailbag next week, but I’ll be back to do this again on Thursday, Oct. 10 with questions being taken after the Lions game Oct. 6. **