Take Five: Random Thoughts Through Five Games of a Strange SeasonPosted:Oct 15th, 2013 9:16 pm
We're still a couple weeks away from Halloween, but the NFL story being written for 2013 is full of the weirdness we expect on that night.
We could talk about the ghoulish start that has doomed the seasons of the Giants, Falcons, Vikings, Steelers and Texans. Or we could look at the recent spate of injuries that have befallen the Pack. I think I'll just feel grateful that we're not fans of the Giants, Falcons, Vikings, Steelers or Texans. The lengthening injury list is starting to give off a 2010 feel--and that season didn't end too badly as I recall.
The Pack will take the field against Cleveland with only one of four linebackers who started week one and is so desperate at wide receiver that it promoted a tight end--Jake Stoneburner--to the active roster. Can you say two and three tight end sets? We may not have more than two healthy receivers, but we got tight ends coming out of our....well, you know.
Through five games this team is taking on a different identity--one that may be led by its defense and running game. That's not to say this isn't Aaron Rodgers' team and we know the team will only go as far as Rodgers takes them. But the addition of Eddie Lacy is paying dividends by providing longer, more sustained drives (thus giving the short-handed defense more time to rest) and providing Rodgers with the element of play action, something that's missing the past few years. The bomb to Jordy Nelson was a product of the safety biting on play action.
Through five games the unit that's escaped serious injuries is the offensive line (knocking on wood). The play of rookie David Bakhtiari has been a revelation; at this rate there's no way Bryan Bulaga never takes over on that side. Providing he's healthy next season he's likely to return to right tackle. Bakhtiari has more than held his own against some of the league's top pass rushers. Sunday he held Terrell Suggs sackless, his first game all season without a sack. Put Bakhtiati at the top of the 'pleasant surprises' list.
Lacy's right behind him. He's shown in the past two weeks that he's a different kind of runner than we have seen in green and gold in decades. And he's still learning. What he brings is power, balance, toughness and an innate understanding of the game. Knowing to slide down in bounds to allow Rodgers to kneel down and run out the clock was great to see from a rookie.
But it's the defense, particularly the front seven, that has me excited. That 4th down goal line stand from the one on Sunday says it all. As does the confidence Mike McCarthy showed in his unit by declining a holding penalty that would have made it 3rd and goal from the eleven. Johnny Jolly is playing like he never left, Datone Jones is getting more and more comfortable and the rotation of linemen is keeping guys fresh. They, along with the linebackers are stuffing the run.
The loss of Nick Perry is obviously a concern. The Packers are down both starting outside linebackers--the guys that are supposed to be the identity of Dom Capers' defense. Perry was just starting to show a glimpse of what Ted Thompson imagined, but he's turning into a guy who can't stay healthy. Thank goodness the team moved Mike Neal to OLB. He'll be counted on to get to the passer in the next few weeks without Matthews and Perry.
Micah Hyde arrived on the scene on Sunday, another apparent winner from thus year's draft class. Not only was he effective as a pass returner, he basically planted Davon House on the sidelines. He was playing too well at corner to come out. With Casey Hayward set to return this week or next, the cornerback group is as deep as we've seen in years. Safety is still a major concern after Morgan Burnett. Jerrion McMillain's horrid fourth quarter performance nearly handed the Ravens the game. He's a liability, but there's not much behind him on the roster. I say give Chris Banjo a chance against an weaker offense like Cleveland and see what he can do.
Finally, the Randall Cobb injury is really the most disappointing development of the first five games. Losing Matthews hurts too, but it sounds like he'll be back in a few weeks (possibly with his thumb in a cast). The Pack have placed Cobb on IR, with the designation to return, but that means he's out till December 15th at the earliest--meaning Green Bay will play the majority of its season without its most dangerous, unpredictable offensive weapon. Cue the running game.
Despite the injuries, if the rest of the team can stay somewhat healthy, the schedule sets up to allow the Pack to get through the next six to eight weeks. The only '12 playoff team they face between now and December is the Vikings and....well, let's just say the Vikings are not a playoff team this year. The Packers will be favored in their next six games. If they take care of business till their studs come back, they should be poised to make a December-January run.