The Green Bay Packers’ biggest problem against the Washington Redskins Sunday was finishing. Finishing plays, finishing drives, finishing the game. And it would be convenient to blame that and, ultimately, the Packers’ 16-13 overtime loss on their mounting injuries.
But it also would miss the point, at least to some degree.
Playmakers are the difference-makers in the NFL and the Packers have four indispensable players. That is, players they probably couldn’t win the Super Bowl without. Two of those players, Jermichael Finley and Clay Matthews, dropped out of Sunday’s game and those were certainly costly losses.
But as for the Packers’ other injuries, there was no big drop-off at any position. Bryan Bulaga might have been an improvement over Mark Tauscher at right tackle; Mike Neal played as well on the defensive line as Ryan Pickett has in any game this season; inside linebacker Desmond Bishop wasn’t Nick Barnett, but there wasn’t a huge difference between the two; and safety Charlie Peprah got burned on two big plays, but was more physical than Morgan Burnett.
Even running back Brandon Jackson averaged more yards per carry than Ryan Grant has in 48 games for the Packers.
Andrew Quarless, Tom Crabtree
Quarless isn’t much on special teams and he’s not much of a run blocker, but he’s a big target and he has some speed. And Crabtree is a good blocker. Sure, losing Finley hurt. But those two young guys were pretty good. That was a tough catch Quarless made on the third-and-2 play in the third quarter. Athletically, he’s a player.
For a guy starting his first game at a position where he hadn’t played or practiced a lot, Bulaga was impressive. The two false start penalties hurt, especially the one in overtime, and he perhaps could have been called for another one or two because he was quick off the ball the entire game. But part of that was just him being aggressive.
As a run blocker, Bulaga was very good. Very quick, very athletic. In the passing game, they didn’t send a lot of backs over to help him. He was mostly singled-up. And even on the one sack where there was a mix-up on the right side, it appeared to be Josh Sitton’s guy.
Bulaga moves so much better than Tauscher and is so much better in the running game, it’s hard to imagine that he won’t be starting the rest of the year.
He has really come on this season. Surprisingly, he’s even getting to the quarterback. He has an extremely quick first step and some niftiness that catches you by surprise. He has been a disruptive force against the run. And his second step is something special. His first step is what allows him to get into the blocker and his second step is what allows him to get penetration. What’s more, he’s really using his hands well. But the big thing is he gets penetration in the running game.
Mike Neal, Cullen Jenkins
The whole defensive line played well. Neal is extremely powerful. And the Packers even had him dropping into coverage.
That gives them more options when they blitz. Neal is a little mechanical on his pass rush, but if he ever develops a second move, he’ll be something special.
The Redskins caught him on a run play where they suckered him upfield and ran behind him. That’s an experience thing. But Neal is an athlete.
Athletically, there’s no question: He’s an improvement over Pickett.
Jenkins could have had three sacks if he wasn’t wearing that club. He has that swim move down on his pass rush like few other linemen you’ll see.
Maybe Bishop runs around blocks a little too much and he’s not as quick over the top as Barnett, but he was fine against the run. For Bishop to become a complete player and for him to close the gap on Barnett, he has to get quicker on his pass drops.
On that 22-yard completion by the Redskins in the second quarter, where the receiver ran a slant and fullback Mike Sellers wheeled behind it, it appeared that if Bishop had bailed out faster on his drop then Tramon Williams would have been able to stick to his zone and pick up Sellers.
That’s a tough play for any defender, but Bishop just looked a little slow on his drops. As for Bishop’s sack, most of the credit for that goes to the defensive line. The Packers’ defensive line does a good job of opening lanes for inside blitzes and Bishop shot through one untouched.
That’s another thing Neal does well. With his bull rush, he can push an offensive lineman wherever he needs to push him.
It’s hard to say Peprah played a good game considering Santana Moss beat him over the top for 52 yards to set up the Redskins’ field goal at the end of the first half and he got turned around on the 48-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Armstrong, but Burnett had his problems in coverage, too.
On the other hand, Peprah had a nice tackle on Moss on a third-down play and another on a screen pass. And he had a couple good plays in coverage. The big difference between Peprah and Burnett is that Peprah isn’t afraid of contact. He fills much better than Burnett.
The outside backers
Captain Caveman – isn’t that what Matthews looks like? – was having an awesome game when he went down and that was an injury that was devastating.
Brad Jones looked rusty. Brady Poppinga is so stiff in the hips. Frank Zombo seems to have a better motor than Jones. But the Packers are a different team without Matthews.
He’s one of the best players in the league right now.
After whining about not throwing the ball more last week, Rodgers got the chance to do it Sunday – he put it up 46 times -- and played one of his worst games. Donald Driver didn’t do him any favors by dropping four balls. But Rodgers’ decision-making was certainly questionable, especially late in the game.
The first series of the third quarter, second-and-3, Rodgers hit John Kuhn for 1 yard. Crabtree was wide open for a first down. The second series in the third quarter, on third-and-1 prior to the missed field goal, Rodgers threw to Driver – it was a drop – and they had guys wide open everywhere: Quarless on the seam, Greg Jennings on the hash and James Jones on the numbers.
On the sack in the second quarter before Mason Crosby’s field goal, Jennings was open on a post for six.
Rodgers’ reads seemed to be off and there were balls that weren’t thrown where they needed to be. On the fourth-and-1 pass to Quarless in the end zone, the quarterback needs to put a little air under that ball.
Rodgers can do it all. He can make every throw. He can do things with his feet. But he has to make the right decisions and make the plays to win close games. The Packers gave up 13 points in regulation. Even without Finley, how could Rodgers and that offense not score more than 13 points?
The running game
The Packers need to do something to slow down the other team’s pass rush. Those defensive linemen and linebackers are just pinning their ears back and going after Rodgers. Take out Jackson’s 71-yard run and the running backs still averaged 4.6 yards per carry, but they had only 12 other attempts.
The Packers ran the ball well. Out of their 67 offensive plays, they lined up 19 times in an I-formation or some variation of it. Jackson’s big run was out of a shotgun. But most of their other runs were out of the I and they do that pretty well.
The same goes for the spread I with three receivers. Plus, that’s a formation that should open up the play-action pass. The Packers started out with two play-action passes that picked up nice gains, but as the game went on, the Redskins’ backside defenders weren’t going with flow. They were running up-field.
It would seem that running the A-gap and B-gap to the right side – behind Scott Wells, Sitton and Bulaga – would help the play-action pass. Plus, the Packers’ running backs are I-formation backs. They’re not one-cut-and-go guys.
Both Jackson and Kuhn are downhill guys. On Jackson’s 71-yard run and, again, on a 9-yard gain in the third quarter, there weren’t big holes. But he was running downhill and he popped through a crease. With Jackson six, seven yards deep in the backfield behind Korey Hall, the Packers might at least pose the threat of a running game.
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.