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Sunday, September 19, 2010

The 2010 Packers According To The Mike - Week Two

We're back for round two with the 2010 Packers, and it was a rough week for the team.  Starting running back Ryan Grant, who has been a workhorse over the past two-and-a-half years, is done for the season due to the ankle injury that he incurred last week.  Luckily, the opponent for the home opener hasn't made the playoffs in a decade plus.  Let's get at it!

Pre-Game Notes:
The Game: Vs. Buffalo Bills.  The Bills have fallen on hard times since their reign over the AFC in the mid 1990s, and new coach Chan Gailey brings them to Lambeau with an 0-1 record.  Quarterback Trent Edwards is getting his last chance to lead the team, and the team hopes rookie running back CJ Spiller can carry the offense.

Things That Excite Me: Well, it's the home opener, so it's hard not to be excited.  I've been to Lambeau 15 times in the last 17 years. and the chance to witness the gameday environment in Green Bay is always a pleasure.

Things That Worry Me: Recent Packers teams have often overlooked some games that seem like easy wins on the schedule.  Most recently, they went to Tampa Bay last year and dropped the game to an 0-7 team.  Everyone knows that the Bills are rebuilding, but the Packers still have to show up and play the game.

The Game:
First Quarter: The Packers took the ball to start the game, and the opening drive quickly became three points on a Mason Crosby field goal.  And the defense picked up right where it left off last week, with linebacker Clay Matthews ending the Bills' first possession with his 4th sack of the young year.  Also notable on the first Bills drive was the fact that Packer linebacker AJ Hawk made the opening tackle on Bills running back Marshawn Lynch.  Both players are former first round picks that started the season off wrong (Hawk didn't play a down last week due to gameplanning issues, Lynch has been trailing Spiller and Fred Jackson on the Bills' depth chart), and have been the subject of trade rumors this year.  (Both players would get a lot of action in this game.)

A big play from Aaron Rodgers to boisterous-and-talented tight end Jermichael Finley would set the Packers up inside the 10 yard line on the next series, but the offense stalled and Crosby was needed to hit another field goal.  The Bills followed suit with another three-and-out, and the next Packers drive would not be stopped.  Rodgers and Finley connected for 32 yards on a third down, keeping alive a drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown by Grant's replacement, Brandon Jackson.  Jackson got to take the first Lambeau Leap of the season, and the Packers ended the first up by a couple of scores. (13-0, Packers lead.)

Second Quarter: The Packers seemed to stall entirely in the second quarter, on both sides of the ball.  The Bills ran the ball well on their first drive of the quarter, and a pass interference penalty on Packers corner Charles Woodson extended their drive.  Fred Jackson got in for the Bills' first score less than five minutes into the quarter, cutting the Packers' lead to six.

Neither offense did much the rest of the quarter, with the Packers stalling on both of their possessions.  The defense stayed strong, and rookie Sam Shields made a nice open field play to stop the Bills' last drive of the half on a third down pass over the middle.  Packers coach Mike McCarthy oddly chose not to stop the clock and utilize his two-minute offense with time running down, and the Packers went to the half with a meager lead. (13-7, Packers lead.)

Third Quarter: The defense continued to carry the team in the early third quarter.  Linebacker Brandon Chillar - who's the guy that has taken AJ Hawk's playing time - pulled in his first career interception on a tipped third down pass, and the Packers responded on offense.  Greg Jennings made a great third down grab to keep the drive going (last week he had to leap and make a one handed grab to extend a TD drive, this time he slid to catch a ball thrown behind him), and Rodgers connected (on another third down) with the Packers' all-time leading receiver - and my personal favorite Packer - Donald Driver for a TD.

Clay Matthews pulled in his fifth sack in 7 quarters on the next Bills three-and-out, and the offense took back over.  Rodgers and company put together another fine drive (Finley pulled in his third 20+ yard reception of the game), and scored on a quarterback keeper from nine yards out to stretch the lead .  (27-7, Packers lead.)

Fourth Quarter:  It didn't take much of the fourth quarter to confirm that this was mop-up time.  Rookie safety Morgan Burnett, who has done a fine job of not getting burnt through two games, took a short pass away from Bills receiver Roscoe Parrish for his first career INT, and a drive of just over two-and-a-half minutes ended with Rodgers hitting James Jones for a 30 yard touch down.  From there on, it was just about going through the motions to end the game.  In the process, Matthews took the time to pull in his third sack of the game, putting him at six on the young season.  The Bills got some yardage on the final possession, but the Pack held on a fourth down and put the game in the books. (34-7, Packers win.)

Looking Back:
The Good: 
  • The defense swarmed the Bills for most of the game, and really made up for their second quarter lapses in the third.  Matthews looks like a superstar, and the suspect pass defense has held up fine - though this wasn't much of a challenge in that department.
  • The passing game looked explosive.  Finley was a mismatch for the Bills, and the top four receivers each made an impact.
  • Crosby hit on his field goals again, and Jordy Nelson looked good on kick returns again.
The Bad:
  • The second quarter was completely wasted.  The team looked uninspired at times early, and lacked punch on offense and defense.  I worry that this team, still relatively young, will let the high expectations for the season go to their heads at times, and this quarter seemed to show that.
  • Veteran left tackle Chad Clifton was pulled from the game in the second quarter by McCarthy, and replaced by rookie first-round pick Bryan Bulaga.  Clifton has had a long injury history, and it's sad to say that time may be catching up with the 34 year-old tackle.
  • Tramon Williams didn't do much in the punt return game, and I'm absolutely terrified that he's going to get hurt twisting around on these plays.  Williams is starting at cornerback - the Packers' thinnest position - in place of injured veteran Al Harris and the Packers can not afford to lose him.
  • I know Grant's only been gone one week, and the running game wasn't needed here.  But the offensive line has to be more consistent in making the ground game work if Brandon Jackson, John Kuhn, and Dmitri Nance are going to be their primary ball carriers.
  • Clay Matthews, of course, needs to be mentioned for the second straight week.  He looks as dominant as any pass rusher in the league through two games.
  • Jermichael Finley talks a big game, and today he backed it up.  He only caught four passes from Rodgers, but totaled 103 yards.  He showed that he can be a nightmare for defenses.
  • Bryan Bulaga, the rookie from Iowa (*tear*  Go Cyclones!), looked very good in relief of Clifton.  If he has to start going forward, he looks ready.
  • Morgan Burnett's play to get his INT was a heads-up and hard-nosed one.  Hoping to see more of this for years to come.
Final Observations:
This is the kind of game you expect to win, and it's good to see the Packers get it done.  It might not have been a perfect game, but the team showed off plenty of the reasons why they're one of the favorites to compete in the playoffs at season's end.  With no major injuries occurring, there's not much more the team can ask for here.

Next Week: The Packers get their only Monday Night appearance of the year, on the road at the rival Chicago Bears.  The Bears are a surprising 2-0 and tied with the Packers atop the NFC North.  It's early in the season, but every divisional game is a must win in this league.  Should be a fun one.

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