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Green Bay Packers offensive-defensive combo of QB Aaron Rodgers and LB Clay Matthews may be best in NFC

Nov. 8, 2010
 
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers scrambles against the Dallas Cowboys during the third quarter of the game at Lambeau Field on Nov. 7, 2010. (Corey Wilson/Press-Gazette)
Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews returns an interception for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Dallas Cowboys during Sunday night's game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. (Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette)

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The whole football community uses euphemisms to describe Jon Kitna. Average quarterback. Journeyman. Retread. Translate all that talk and what it really means is that he stinks and his team is going to stink right along with him.

With a quarterback that bad, the Dallas Cowboys would be hard-pressed to beat anyone. Add to the equation that they were overrated from the start Ė itís a team with a lot of good players, but no stars even with Tony Romo Ė and theyíve since thrown in the towel, and the outcome Sunday night was to be expected.

So the answer to the question -- Were the Cowboys that bad or the Packers that good? Ė would seem to be more of the former than the latter.

That said, if Aaron Rodgers found his groove by orchestrating the 45-7 victory and is now poised to consistently perform at that level over the remainder of the season, the Packers figure to have as good a shot as anyone at winning the NFC championship. No other team in the conference has a better combination of playmakers leading its offense and defense than Rodgers and Clay Matthews.

Rodgers

He made some tough throws. That back-shoulder pass to Jordy Nelson was a great pass. The pass to Greg Jennings up the sideline was a beautiful throw. The corner was right there. Plus, Rodgers converted the third downs. He moved the chains by playing smart and throwing to the right guy.

Rodgers also looked as though the game was slow for him. He stepped up to avoid rushers, threw over the top of blitzers. It was like everybody was playing in slow motion to him. Thatís what allowed him to have so much composure in the pocket. And thatís what allows a quarterback to throw with pinpoint accuracy.

Matthews

Something that doesnít get mentioned a lot with Matthews is how good he is with his hands: Knocking down blockersí arms, pushing them off. He has taken his game to another level with that. Everybody talks about his closing speed, his great motor, all his tremendous physical gifts, but the improvement he has made fundamentally with his hands is big, too.

What team in the NFC has two playmakers on each side of the ball as good as the Packers? New Orleans has Drew Brees, but no stud like Matthews on defense. Are Eli Manning and Osi Umenyiora better? Or Michael Vick and Trent Cole? Who does Atlanta have thatís better? Itís not Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen; Allen isnít playing like he did last year. Jay Cutler and Brian Urlacher?

The Offensive Line

Letís face it, the Packers beat a whipped team and that makes it easier on an offensive line. But Jay Ratliff has been one of the gameís best nose tackles in recent years, and the Packers neutralized him.
Scott Wells is really a scrappy son of a gun. He has good feet, good hips for all the combo blocking heís asked to do, especially against 3-4 defenses. Josh Sitton can be dominating. Heís a big body who can move. And when he gets to the second level, heís nifty enough to make a block, not just get there and get in somebodyís way. Heís getting close to being a Pro Bowl lineman. And Daryn Colledge hasnít been having any of those blow-up plays that he was always known for: Giving up a big sack at the wrong time or committing a penalty at a crucial point. He has been much more consistent.

Itís amazing how Chad Clifton looks quicker than he has in a long time. Heís back to neutralizing people with that first punch. And Bryan Bulaga continues to play well for a rookie. Maybe his lower-body strength needs to catch up with his upper body. He doesnít look as thick as Clifton in the legs. But he moves well and heís aggressive.

Receivers

Jordy Nelson isnít Jermichael Finley, but he has become the go-to guy when the Packers need a sure-handed, third-down pass play.

Itís hard to figure out why James Jones is so inconsistent as far as securing the ball, especially because he has such good hands. Maybe he starts thinking too early about making a play after the catch, making a defender miss because thatís not his forte.

The defense

When Ryan Pickett went down, they didnít miss him. Howard Green didnít show up on the stat sheet, but he takes up space and doesnít get driven off the ball. Thatís what you look for in a 3-4 defensive lineman.

Sam Shields has really been a surprise and a big improvement over what they had for nickel backs last year after Al Harris went down. Heís playing with surprising confidence and seems to be assignment sure. He adjusts to the football. He has that tremendous speed. That was a fantastic interception against a good receiver. And if heís sound with the ball, he looked explosive on that kick return. When was the last time a Packers kick returner shot out of the blocks like that? Travis Williams in the Ď60s?

Frank Zombo is just a guy. Heís assignment sure, doesnít get beat on the run. But it doesnít appear that the physical ability is there to be a good pass rusher.

Itíll be interesting to see what they do with Atari Bigby. Job security can be fleeting in the NFL. They got rid of Al Harris. And what would they gain by putting Bigby in for Charlie Peprah? Theyíre the same type of player.

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