Green Bay Packers LB A.J. Hawk serviceable, not flashy

Sep. 20, 2010
Green Bay Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk saw considerably more action Sunday against the Buffalo Bills than he did in the season opener at Philadelphia.
Green Bay Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk saw considerably more action Sunday against the Buffalo Bills than he did in the season opener at Philadelphia. / Corey Wilson/Press-Gazette


After not playing a defensive snap in the Green Bay Packersí season opener a week ago, linebacker A.J. Hawk returned to the lineup on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills and rushed the passer better than usual.

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In a review of the game film in the Packersí 34-7 victory, Hawk was there and applied pressure. A lot of times in the past, youíd see him run into an offensive lineman and that was it. Even in pass coverage when Hawk played in the nickel defense, he didnít give up anything.

And what he always does well in the running game is he gets in the right position. In your run fits, you donít have to make the tackle, you just have to be in your spot.

But he never gets the blow-up tackle. He tackles everybody high. Youíd rather see him tackle people around the waist instead of up around the numbers. Bottom line: He wasnít flashy, but heís a serviceable linebacker. He doesnít hurt you. Some people might say he makes all his tackles downfield, but those are hustle plays, too.

Hawk and fellow inside linebacker Nick Barnett ran by the quarterback too many times.

Barnett, in some ways, is just the opposite of Hawk. He plays faster than Hawk. But he has a tendency to do too much straight-on.

Instead of running in there like a missile and going for the big shot, heíd be better off sometimes getting under control and just making the tackle. But Barnett looks like heís playing faster than last year now that heís a year removed from the knee injury. And he had a really solid game. Like Hawk, he certainly didnít hurt them.

Here are some other observations from Sundayís game:

Clay Matthews

Whatís so impressive is how he can change direction so quickly. You see guys run by quarterbacks all the time. He has the knack that even if a quarterback gives him a wiggle, heís still right there. And Matthews has the downhill speed. Plus, heís good in the run. He can drop back in pass coverage. Heís a complete player. He has the six sacks, but heís not a one-trick pony. So far, he has been amazing.

James Jones

Heís listed at the same weight as last year, but he doesnít look as thick as he did and maybe thatís helping him. Maybe he has more quickness. Something is different about the guy and he really has been stepping up.

Aaron Rodgers

Smart guy. He didnít start off that well again, but he doesnít do anything stupid. For example, the Packers tried to run a screen pass with John Kuhn in the third quarter and Kuhn got swallowed up. So Rodgers simply ran the ball where the blocking was and it went for a yard gain. It was a smart play on his part and nothing bad happened. And on that touchdown pass to Donald Driver, Rodgers knew he was going to get drilled and he stood in there and delivered the ball.

Defensive line

B.J. Raji looks like a much improved player. He seems to have found his spot at the nose. Ryan Pickett, as usual, showed good lateral quickness in the run game. And Cullen Jenkins was surprisingly effective with that club. Thatís a tough thing for a defensive lineman to play with.

Left tackle

It doesnít appear that Chad Clifton can do it anymore in the running game. He has never been dominant in that phase of the game, but he didnít have the foot speed to even get it done Sunday. Maybe his knees are really bad, but they didnít tend to him in the bench area as though he had an injury after he left the game. He still has a big body and heís a strong guy, but heís not cutting off on the backside and he didnít have any explosion on the front-side.

To get into a guy on the play side, a tackle has to have good pad level. And if his knees are bothering him, itís going to be difficult to do that. When the tackle is on the backside of a play, heís basically just trying to shield guys and make sure they donít get in on the pile. So he has to get up-field. The tackle has to get across the face of the defensive end or outside backer in a hurry to cut that guy off before that defender sees flow going to the other side. All weíre talking about in that case is a step or two, but Clifton just doesnít seem to have the speed right now to even make those blocks.

Bryan Bulaga had one false start, but he looked much better than Clifton. He showed some nice feet and looked powerful in the running game. His hands get outside him on occasion in pass protection. He has to work on keeping them in the box or within his frame. But he showed strength and speed in the running game.

They took Clifton out in the second quarter, when the score was still close, so you wonder what the coaches are thinking. But weíll find out by Monday when they play Chicago. Do you throw your rookie out there against Julius Peppers or do you go with your old guy?

Morgan Burnett and Nick Collins

Burnett came up on the first play of the fourth quarter, filled in the alley on the line of scrimmage and made a nice play to stop Marshawn Lynch for no gain. That was a positive. Then he had that interception and that was a physical play. So he played better than last week.

Especially early, the Packers had Collins up at the line of scrimmage more. His game has really come on. He truly is a Pro Bowl player. He covers the pass well. Heís a ball-hawk. And he comes up and tackles. Heís really a player. He got sucked in on a play-action boot pass, but the whole defense did.

Running game

Twenty rushes, 65 yards from their two primary backs. There was nothing explosive there. Kuhn is strictly an inside, downhill, A- and B-gap runner. They tried running him off tackle and it didnít look very good. Kuhn is good for isolation dives and things like that between the center-guard and guard-tackle gaps. Basically, itís just going to be straight ahead with him.

Maybe things would have been better in the running game if Korey Hall had played. Quinn Johnson looks so impressive and everybody talks about him being a blow-íem-up guy, but heís not. His pad level is too high. If he gets into a defender, he can lean on them and push them like a road grader. But Hall and Kuhn, when heís at fullback, play with much better pad level and truly blow guys up.

Cliff Christl is a former Packers writer and sports editor for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Eric Baranczyk is a former player and coach at the high school and collegiate level.

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