Green Bay Packers: Some Positives to Dwell on During the Bye Week
The main issue that has hampered the Packers is injuries to key players. That and not making big plays in crunch time.
Still, there is a lot to be positive about as the Packers try to right the ship during the bye week and get ready for their Week 5 game against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field.
Let's look at some of those positives.
The Running Game Has Been Solid
Since Mike McCarthy became head coach in 2006, the best year the Packers had running the ball was in 2009, when the team finished 14th in the NFL in rushing. That year, Ryan Grant gained 1,253 yards, which was the second straight season in which Grant rushed for over 1,000 yards.
It's early in 2013, but the Packers are currently ranked 11th in rushing offense in the NFL, averaging 128 yards a game. The Pack is also averaging a robust 5.3 yards per carry.
Both James Starks and Johnathan Franklin have rushed for over 100 yards in 2013 while the team's most talented running back, Eddie Lacy, is expected back to face the Lions in Week 5 after missing the Week 3 game against the Bengals because of a concussion.
Starks hurt his knee versus the Bengals, had a MRI this week and is awaiting the results. Franklin hurt his foot in the same game, but his injury is not considered serious.
Why the success running the ball? The offensive line has been blocking very effectively. The Packers have had success toting the rock on the inside behind left guard Josh Sitton, center Evan Dietrich-Smith and right guard T.J. Lang, and also on the outside behind left tackle David Bakhtiari and right tackle Don Barclay.
Key Players Will Be Returning Very Soon
The injury report for the Packers has hamstrung them quite a bit in 2013. Pun intended. Injuring the hamstring has become an epidemic for the Packers this season.
Both safety Morgan Burnett and cornerback Casey Hayward have not played all season thus far due to hamstring injuries. The Packers' secondary has certainly missed them.
Other players who have missed games or had to leave due to hamstring injuries include defensive back Jarrett Bush, fullback John Kuhn and outside linebacker Clay Matthews.
The Packers won't have to release their injury report for Week 5 until next Wednesday, but there is a decent chance that most of the players with hamstring issues will be ready to play against the Lions.
Matthews is the best defensive player the Packers have, so it would be a definite plus to have him back, but when a secondary has to go up against someone like Calvin Johnson at wide receiver, it sure would be more comforting if Burnett and Hayward played.
We shall see.
The Big Three Have Been Fantastic
The three wide receivers have combined for 54 receptions for 791 yards (a 14.7 average) and six touchdowns in just three games.
They have also combined for 13 catches of over 20 yards.
When quarterback Aaron Rodgers needs a big play, odds are in favor of one of the Big Three being part of it.
Kicking Game Has Been Very Good
Going into the 2013 season, the Packers knew that they had two players on special teams who were among the best in the NFL at their position.
I'm speaking of long snapper Brett Goode and punter Tim Masthay. However, the Packers decided to give kicker Mason Crosby quite a bit of competition this summer, as the team brought in an assortment of kickers to either tryout or compete against him. The most notable competitor was Giorgio Tavecchio.
Through it all, Crosby held on to his job, and so far, so good in the early part of the 2013 season. Crosby is 4-of-4 in field goals and has made all 12 of his extra points.
Masthay has done a nice job of kicking off for the Pack, as he has already had nine touchbacks. As a punter, Masthay is averaging 42.6 a punt, and has put five punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
I can't remember one bad snap by Goode since he became the long snapper in 2008.
The Defense Has the Potential to Be Pretty Good
I can see why some people are questioning the defense. After all, the unit is ranked 27th in the NFL after three games. They have also given up a combined 88 points, which averages out to almost 30 points a game.
Yes, one of those touchdowns was a defensive touchdown, but the overall Packers defense has to get better. Most notably, the secondary, which is currently ranked 27th in the NFL in pass defense (311 yards a game).
The Packers have played the run pretty well this season, as the team is ranked 11th in the league in run defense and is giving up just 93.3 yards a game on the ground.
The good news for the Packers is that the team should be getting back some key players in the secondary, with safety Morgan Burnett and slot-cornerback Casey Hayward expected to return soon. The two combined for eight interceptions last season and are considered the two best defensive backs on the team.
The front seven have played well (led by Clay Matthews' two sacks and two forced fumbles) for the most part this season. If the secondary can do their part with the additions of Burnett and Hayward, the overall defense should be much better.
The Detroit Lions Are the Next Opponent at Lambeau Field
The Packers couldn't have asked for a better opponent than the Detroit Lions in Week 5. Why? The Lions haven't won in the state of Wisconsin since 1991. Yes, the Lions have come close on a few occasions, and they are a dangerous offensive team, but history says the Packers should prevail.
The other thing to consider about the Lions is their penchant for dirty play defensively, led by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. He has an extensive history of playing dirty and being fined, most notably when he stomped on offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith on Thanksgiving in 2011.
There is one other stat line to consider. Head coach Mike McCarthy of the Packers is 13-1 against the Lions since 2006.
Aaron Rodgers Is Still Aaron Rodgers
Even with the hiccup quarterback Aaron Rodgers had last week facing the Bengals, the 2011 NFL MVP is still playing very well in 2013.
It's not very often that Rodgers plays like he did versus Cincinnati last week, when he had a 64.5 quarterback rating and threw two interceptions. In fact, the last time he threw two interceptions in a game was in the NFC Championship against the Bears in the 2010 postseason.
I look at a game like Rodgers had last week as an aberration. For the entire 2013 season, he has thrown eight touchdown passes versus three interceptions for 1,057 yards. He also has a quarterback rating of 105.1 for the season.
Rodgers has also led the Packers to the third-ranked team offense in the NFL this season, as the team is averaging over 454 yards a game.
By the way, Rodgers has been over the 100 mark in quarterback rating now for four straight years going into this season.
I see him making that five years in a row and having another MVP-caliber season in 2013.