It was a win the Packers needed coming off a momentum-changing victory a week ago, and with Aaron Rodgers once again playing at the top of his game, Green Bay beat the Rams in St. Louis.
Five things we learned from the Packers’ 30-20 win:
1. Rodgers is back.
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Rodgers didn’t look like the reigning NFL MVP through the first five games this season. He was still performing like an elite, top-10 quarterback, but it wasn’t the Rodgers who helped the Packers to 15 wins while leading the league in scoring. Green Bay’s Week 6 win in Houston was a breakthrough game for Rodgers, who played with an intense focus level intent on proving to critics that the Packers’ offense had not fallen off as much as it appeared. Rodgers’ six touchdown passes and no interceptions against the Texans needed a strong follow-up performance, and he delivered.
Rodgers completed 30 of 37 attempts with three touchdown passes and no interceptions in St. Louis for a passer rating of 132.2. With wide receiver Greg Jennings still out due to a groin injury, Rodgers had plenty of success finding Jordy Nelson (eight catches, 122 yards, one touchdown), Randall Cobb (eight catches, 89 yards, two touchdowns) and James Jones (six catches, 53 yards).
The Rams’ defense had been very good all season, entering Sunday’s game ranked fifth in points allowed, seventh in total yards allowed and fifth in passing yards allowed. But Rodgers and the Packers’ passing game were too much for St. Louis to defend, dominating the Rams on the road.
2. Cobb is quickly becoming a star.
Cobb had already established himself as a playmaker as the kick and punt returner last season. He was coming off his first career 100-yard receiving game last week and was given a lot of praise from Rodgers as a result. With Jennings out for most of this season so far, Cobb has seen an increased number of snaps and has really started making the most of them.
In St. Louis, Cobb caught all eight of the passes thrown his way and was easily able to create separation from the Rams’ cornerbacks. Cobb’s speed has never been in question, but during his rookie season there weren’t the opportunities in the passing game to show whether he could make it as an every-down receiver. In Cobb’s fourth consecutive game with terrific production, he is quickly becoming a rising star in the NFL.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy has been looking for any way possible to get Cobb the ball with room to make a play. For the third time this season, Cobb was given a handoff and gained 19 yards with the team’s biggest run of the game.
As Cobb continues to improve, the need to rush Jennings back becomes less critical. Cobb, still only 22 years old, is already a dynamic threat for Green Bay and may be one of the league’s best receivers in a few years.
3. The offensive line struggles.
Rodgers was under pressure for much of this game as the Packers’ offensive line had a difficult time stopping the Rams up front. Rodgers did hold the ball too long on a few occasions, but too many times was he forced to leave the pocket after less than two seconds. St. Louis came into the game ranked fifth in the NFL in sacks, but nearly every Packers’ lineman was unable to hold up in pass protection.
Green Bay’s run-blocking was not good, either. Alex Green finished with only 35 yards on 20 carries (1.8 average) and most of that was because he had no room. Green slipped on one running play that could have been a solid gain, but in most cases, there was no space for him to work. The Rams have invested a lot in their defensive line, using first-round picks to draft Michael Brockers in 2012, Robert Quinn in 2011 and the second-overall pick on Chris Long in 2008. But the Packers’ offensive line will have to perform better than they did Sunday in order to give Rodgers and Green the time they need to create efficient plays.
4. Defense does just enough to get by.
It wasn’t a great performance by the Packers’ defense facing a mediocre Rams offense. Green Bay allowed 108 rushing yards (4.9 average) while Sam Bradford threw for 255 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception. Though St. Louis has running back Steven Jackson, he’s not nearly the player he once was. The Rams’ best wide receiver is Danny Amendola, but he was out with a shoulder injury. But Chris Givens and Brandon Gibson, two receivers who would struggle to make the Packers’ roster at all, had big plays and totaled 133 yards between the two of them.
Playing without nose tackle B.J. Raji, cornerback Sam Shields, outside linebackers Nick Perry and inside linebackers Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith (both on injured reserve), some struggles defensively should be expected. But Green Bay’s defense will have to perform better the next time it faces an offense that is better than the Rams. This was an OK performance by the Packers’ defense, but it wasn’t good enough to get by long term.
5. A winning streak is underway.
Green Bay had an up-and-down season through the first six weeks, alternating wins and losses. But after getting a big win in Week 6 against the Texans, the Packers’ schedule offered an opportunity to string together a few consecutive victories. This win over the Rams was one that Green Bay needed, with home games against the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-4) and Arizona Cardinals (4-3; 3 losses in a row) coming up before the bye week.
There was no doubt that the Packers had a very difficult schedule to begin the season, opening with the 49ers, having only four days of rest before hosting the Bears, waiting 11 days before traveling to Seattle, facing the Saints’ high-powered offense and then going on a three-game road trip. But Green Bay should now get on a roll if it performs up to expectations and, pending a letdown, will likely enter the bye week at 6-3. Considering the Packers had to win last week just to avoid falling to 2-4, the past two games have been a huge turning point in their season.
Most important for Green Bay is that it’s starting to play its best football of the year right now. The Packers’ record wouldn’t suggest it, but they are arguably one of the top five teams in the NFL through seven games. With a couple of the top teams, such as San Francisco and Houston, not being consistently dominant each week, Green Bay is in position to work its way into serious contention as a Super Bowl favorite if Rodgers & Co. continue playing well.