Note from sports editor Mike Vandermause
I am pleased to introduce Cliff Christl and Eric Baranczyk to our Green Bay Packers coverage team. Christl, a former Packers writer and sports editor for the Green Bay Press-Gazette, and Baranczyk, who played football at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and later served as an assistant coach at the high school and small college level, will break down the film from the latest Packers game and provide their expert analysis each week. You have seen the game and know the score, but hereís a chance to receive an in-depth perspective on the key players and why they succeeded or failed.
They better find a fountain of youth for Green Bay Packers starting offensive tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher.
Neither one played a lot during the preseason so maybe part of their struggles Sunday in the Packersí 27-20 victory over Philadelphia was that they needed to shake off some rust.
They seemed to get better as the game went on. But the pass protection out of Tauscher and Clifton wasnít what weíre accustomed to seeing. Both of them just looked slow. On the sack Clifton gave up to Trent Cole, the Eaglesí defensive end knocked his hands away and Clifton couldnít recover with his feet.
Josh Sitton, meanwhile, had a dominating game run blocking. On the 12-yard run by John Kuhn in the third quarter, Sitton drove the defensive tackle 10 yards downfield. You donít see that very often in the NFL. The guard-center-guard run game, along with Scott Wells and Daryn Colledge, was pretty darn good. Not perfect, but the other guys get paid too.
Not a very good performance. Thatís as bad as he has played since Tampa Bay last year.
Donít know why he missed so many targets, other than maybe that was the first time this year he had bullets flying around him. In the preseason, there was no one even near him.
It almost seemed as though he was targeting Jermichael Finley too much, especially early. There were times it appeared that he tried to force the ball to him and there were other guys open.
Heís not a me-me guy, but he goes out and performs.
On his touchdown, he just ran by the cornerback. And that one-handed catch was phenomenal. Not many guys make that catch. They may get a paw on it, but they donít come down with it like that. He has to have fantastic body control to stop the way he did, and go up and get that ball.
Philadelphia trailed a linebacker behind Finley and put a safety over the top with the hope of shutting him down, at least in the seam. But his athletic ability was apparent on that short pass toward the sideline in the first half Ė the little flair route Ė where he beat the tackler. Thatís one of the beauties of that guy. Itís so hard to bring him down. The first tackler almost always misses against him.
A lot of people questioned why the Packers kept Donald Lee. Well, it was obvious in this game. Heís a blocker. He took on defensive end Juqua Parker on an outside zone and neutralized him. Itís questionable whether any of their other tight ends could have made that block, even Tom Crabtree.
He was a little tentative a couple times and one-time he overran his blocking on a stretch play, but when he made a decision, he put his foot in the ground and got North and South in a hurry. He ran tough. He ran with his pads lower to the ground than weíve seen in the past. That made him a tough target.
You donít see many guys like Clay Matthews in the entire league. Obviously, he wasnít in 100% game shape because he looked winded at times. But on fourth-and-one with the game on the line, the Eagles ran a pinch play and they were cooking at the time. But he pinched inside the tackle, which is tough to do to begin with.
Then he beat the fullback and took Michael Vick to the ground. Itís also interesting the way Dom Capers sometimes uses him as bait. They line him up on third-and-long and make it look like heís going to be rushing, then he falls off into coverage and they blitz from the other side. And whatís impressive is someone his size Ė a 260-pound guy Ė still getting the depth he gets in coverage.
His first sack was another play where they had him at linebacker depth over a B-gap and he waited for the guard to go to the nose tackle and then he shot the gap. Again, at his size, he takes off like a deer.
And even after that hamstring, he never gives up on a play. On the play that knocked Kevin Kolb out of the game, Matthews came from the backside and chased all the way to the sideline.
B.J. Raji showed more up-field explosion than he has in the past. He missed Vick on one, but he was there like now. And Ryan Pickett is what he is. In that nickel set, those big guys have to be stout against the run, and they were.
He whiffed three times. The worst was on the screen pass to LeSean McCoy at the end. Your safeties are supposed to be athletic enough to make that tackle.
On McCoyís touchdown run, Burnett has got to fill. He runs up to the pile nice after the play, but heís got to want to tackle. He wasnít even physical.
Thatís the one thing they had with Atari Bigby. In a 3-4 defense, the safeties have to fill in the alley and he doesnít look like he wants to do it. He certainly didnít come to balance. You saw the difference between him and Nick Collins. Collins comes down to the line, doesnít take on the blocker if he doesnít have to and makes the tackle.
On the touchdown pass, Sam Shields got turned around and didnít contest it. But, at least, it wasnít a jailbreak when they played their nickel and dime defenses the way it was in some of the games last year.
It looks as if he might be the odd-man out as far as getting plays as a receiver, so maybe knowing that returning kicks is whatís going to keep him on the field will make a difference. Maybe this game will give him confidence, too. Nobody can ask for more than 40-, 50-yard returns. But the blocking was a big part of it.