Packers offensive tackle David Bakhtiari (69) prior to a game against Detroit earlier this season. Green Bay's offensive linemen, including Bakhtiari, have endured some inconsistent performances in 2014.
It’s time for this week’s edition of Packers Mailbag. Soon after Green Bay’s game against the Carolina Panthers, look for the form to submit questions for next week’s mailbag.
Question: Why is the offensive line so poor at blocking? Is McCarthy not making adjustments during the game? They can’t even dominate a poorer D-Line, Rodgers is under fire all the time, they can’t run block at all. They are the ones being dominated. – Karl, River Falls
Question: WHEN WILL THE OFFENSE LEARN TO PROTECT RODGERS? WAKE UP … – Jean, Florida
Question: What needs to be done to get our O line straightened out. They don’t seem to make adjustments to the defensive ends setting wide on passing down plays and Defenses are crashing down to run formations. I know play calling plays a part but O line needs to improve or we will again be without Rodgers due to injury. Will JC’s return help? – Mike, Black River Falls
Answer: One thing the Packers tried in Miami was bringing in Derek Sherrod as an eligible tight end. The idea, of course, was that six offensive linemen should be able to block better than five. But don’t mistake the Dolphins for anything less than a great front seven. No, Green Bay didn’t block well enough in Miami, but that was while facing a dominant bunch upfront. It is certainly problematic, however, that the Packers have struggled quite a bit when going up against teams with that caliber of defensive linemen and linebackers.
Green Bay has allowed 15 sacks through six games, which is the seventh-most in the NFL. It’s too many. But the pass-blocking of the offensive line should not be blamed too much, as they’ve played well more often than not so far. ProFootballFocus has the Packers rated as the league’s third-best pass-blocking team. The guards, Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, have been great in that area.
In terms of the entire NFL, Green Bay’s offensive line is performing average to slightly above average. Corey Linsley needs to be a lot better as a pass-blocker, while David Bakhtiari has a lot of work to do as a run-blocker. Especially in the case of a rookie center and a second-year left tackle, I think there should be some faith that those two will continue to improve throughout the season.
Q: What’s up with Clay Matthews? Why is he not making any tackles or sacks? Is he injured that bad? Is he freelancing? Seems like he’s playing the ball and not the defense called. He’s over-committing on the read option every time. Is there something we don’t know? – Louie, Eau Claire
What is up with Clay Matthews? has he reached his peak? Is he now descending into average? In yesterdays game he was basically a no show. One tipped pass, and chasing people from behind. – Mike, Los Angeles
Hey Paul, is it just me or does Clay Matthews seem to be struggling a bit. i mean, wasn’t the whole point of bringing Peppers to the packers was to get clay more one on one opportunities or are teams still doubling Clay allowing others to get free? Thanks. – Matt, Sheboygan
Can you give us any insight into the apparent struggles of Clay Matthews this season? 6 games only 1 sack. He looked really bad against the read option at least 3 times in the past game. I thought the addition of Peppers was supposed to free him up to make more impact plays? – Mike, Saranac Lake
Basically, the Packers coaching staff doesn’t think Matthews is struggling. Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers say they’ve been grading Matthews well in their tape review. They believe — and Matthews agrees — that statistics such as sacks come in bunches. Whether that’s true and Matthews finishes the season with his customary number of sacks remains to be seen. But right now, after six games, having a $66 million outside linebacker with just one sack isn’t enough.
To specifically address a few aspects of the questions above . . . No, Matthews is not injured. He said Wednesday that the groin injury from a couple weeks ago is no longer a problem, nor is his twice-broken thumb from last season. He’s not freelancing. In fact, he’s apparently doing just the opposite of that and is playing to his assigned role within the defense. Matthews does believe teams are running the read-option at him as a way to slow him down and take him out of the game. And that’s worked, which means there’s no reason to believe the Carolina Panthers won’t do the exact same thing with Cam Newton coming to Lambeau Field this Sunday. Perhaps we’ve seen the best we’ll ever see out of Matthews. That is possible. But he’s still capable of being much more than an average player. He does still have opposing offenses game-planning for him, which is more than what a lot of NFL players can say for themselves.
Q: Why was the special teams so bad on both returns and coverage? They can’t tackle and it’s up to Crosby to make the tackle, he’s going to get hurt. Why is Harris still on the return team? He nearly cost them on the delay coming out of the end zone. why not try Janis? – Lars, Elk Mound
Q: I am still skeptical of the defense but I am focusing this week on special teams. Our special teams are not special. The offense marches down scores a touchdown on the opening drive, special teams allow the Dolphins to get to mid-field. Plus our return games are not scary at all. Is there any hope for our special teams to help this team and not hinder them? – Tom K, La Crosse
A: There’s no doubt that the Packers struggled to contain kickoff returns in Miami. Special teams coach Shawn Slocum was not happy about it on Monday when he spoke with the media. Interestingly, that poor performance happened right after Green Bay released fourth-year core special teams player Ryan Taylor. It was actually Taylor’s replacement on the active roster, Kevin Dorsey, who failed to do his job on Jarvis Landry’s longest kickoff return.
DuJuan Harris should consider himself very lucky that he ended up returning that one kickoff past the 20-yard line. He fielded it eight yards deep and then momentarily paused before deciding to take it out. Good coverage from the Dolphins could have had Harris down before the 10-yard line.
Micah Hyde, however, was tremendous as the punt returner in Miami. So there’s definitely no change needed at that spot, especially with Randall Cobb also in that mix.
I would guess that at some point in the season the Packers give Jeff Janis at least one or two kickoffs to return. But that might only happen if Harris fumbles or makes a very costly mistake.
Q: Will people finally get off Rodgers’ back about come from behind victories? – Jerry, Fall Creek
A: Maybe. It certainly must have silenced a few critics. But, it seemed many were surprised to find out that was only the seventh fourth-quarter comeback victory of Rodgers’ career. I would argue that football is obviously a team sport, and that while quarterback is the most important position on that team, a fourth-quarter comeback stat has a ton to do with factors such as how the defense performs and whether the kicker connects on a go-ahead or game-winning field-goal attempt.
But what if Rodgers had fumbled that game away? Had it not been for T.J. Lang’s quick reaction, Rodgers would have done just that. Then it would have been another failed fourth-quarter comeback opportunity. So, Rodgers still has work to do in the eyes of some if he wants to be well-known as a "clutch" player, but that comeback in Miami was a big one for him.
Q: How are the Packers Defense going to stop Cam Newton? – Adam, Marshfield
A: By spending all of their preparation time this week on specifically stopping Cam Newton. Fortunately for Green Bay, Newton is the only significant threat anywhere on that Carolina offense. He leads the Panthers in rushing offense this season and is coming off a game against Cincinnati in which he rushed for 107 yards on 17 carries.
Running back Jonathan Stewart was a full practice participant Wednesday and will likely start after missing the past three games. But still, that won’t change the fact that Carolina’s offensive threats are, in order: 1) Newton, 2) Newton, 3) Newton. He’s a great passer and a great runner. The true total package at the quarterback position.
Panthers fast-rising rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is having a good season, as is tight end Greg Olsen. But in comparison to facing Calvin Johnson at wide receiver and a tight end like Martellus Bennett, Benjamin and Olsen aren’t at those levels. For Green Bay, it’s all about focusing on Newton in this game.
Q: Will the Packers continue to start Corey Linsley when JC Tretter is eligible to return to game action? Also is there worry about depth on the offensive line because if one of the Guards or Tackles go down, how much confidence is there in Lane Taylor or Derek Sherrod being able to step in, especially for an extended period of time? – Jason, Germantown
A: The starting center position is now Corey Linsley’s job to lose. Linsley earned very high praise from McCarthy before the Dolphins game and seems to be comfortable working with Rodgers now. Inserting JC Tretter in Week 10 (when he’s eligible to play in a game — after the Packers’ bye) would be a difficult switch and is also an unnecessary move with the way Linsley is playing.
If there is an injury prior to Tretter’s return from the temporary IR list, yes, there would be a fairly big dropoff in going to Derek Sherrod at tackle or Lane Taylor at guard. Logically, Green Bay’s plan would likely be to get Tretter trained at multiple positions and have him be the new Don Barclay, capable of stepping in at any position.
Q: Take Aaron Rodgers out of the equation and who do you think has built the better all around team in the last two years: McCarthy/Thompson or Joe Philbin? No matter how you cut it, Paul, Miami’s front seven was heads and tails above The Packers. Their running game and offensive line was better. The gaping hole in the middle of our defense w/ A.J. and company is a mess. Yes, we won but take Aaron out of the equation and who had the better all around team? And in two years. – B Gailbreath, Madison
A: It’s all about where a team invests its resources. Is Miami a better defense than the Packers? Absolutely. But the Dolphins have a distinct advantage in their salary cap by only having to pay Ryan Tannehill on a rookie contract. Tannehill’s cap hit is $3.4 million this season, whereas Rodgers’ cap hit is $17.5 million. That’s $14 million more that Miami can spend elsewhere.
Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, Jelani Jenkins and Jared Odrick are just four of the players on that Dolphins defense that would be great additions for Green Bay. On offense, Branden Albert is a terrific left tackle, but it took a five-year, $47 million ($26 million guaranteed) contract this offseason to get him to sign with Miami.
The Packers have better safeties, better cornerbacks and a better 1-2 wide receiver duo than the Dolphins. I’d give the slight edge roster-wise (quarterbacks not included) to Green Bay. It’s close, though.
Q: When will the Pack let Rodgers call the plays and give McCarthy a funny book, something else to stare at? – Joe, Northampton, PA
A: I’d put the chances of the Packers giving McCarthy a funny book to stare at — rather than call the offensive plays — fairly low. But in seriousness, no, I don’t see McCarthy’s role changing in that regard. Rodgers has some freedom, and while I’m sure he’d love doing it all himself, that’s really what McCarthy does. He’s an offensive play-caller, and that’s unlikely to change.
** Thanks for all the questions this week. As always, keep sending questions in and we’ll do this again next week after Packers-Panthers. **