The "develop your own" and "stay young" philosophies of general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy continue to pay off for the Green Bay Packers.
Rather than sign someone elseís over-the-hill rejects when their roster might look thin in spots to outsiders, they show confidence in young players and have them ready to play when injuries strike.
That played a big part in the Packers winning the Super Bowl last year and played a part in their victory over Atlanta. As was the case last year and again Sunday night, sometimes those young players, when given the opportunity, play as well, if not better, than the established starters they replace.
Sherrod and Newhouse
Derek Sherrodís technique wasnít the best. He still rides a little high in the saddle. They confused him some early with stunts and blitzes. He wasnít always pretty. But he got the job done.
Maybe he didnít always have his hands in the right place. But heís a big guy with long arms and good feet. In the preseason, his feet would get too close together, and heíd get beat inside or on a countermove. But against the Falcons, he kicked out fast with his bucket step and kept his feet apart for the most part.
In the running game, he stuck to the defensive end too long sometimes and didnít get to the linebacker level. But those are things that will get cleaned up over time.
Marshall Newhouse has good hands. His initial punch is good, but heís also good at targeting it at the top of the defenderís numbers and keeping his hands inside. Thatís the key to pass blocking. When the tacklesí hands start getting up near the outside shoulders of the rusher thatís when they become vulnerable to countermoves. Newhouse gets his hands into the core of the rusher.
Chad Clifton might have a lot of medals on his lapel, but Newhouse wasnít on skates all night. If Newhouse isnít as good now, he has a chance to be the better player by the end of the year. Back in 2008 and 2009 when the Packers replaced Clifton with Daryn Colledge, it was a disaster. Now, it appears they can win without Clifton.
Plus, his injury shows again how risky it is to bank on aging veterans. Theyíre always getting hurt.
Granted, the Falcons werenít at full strength without John Abraham. But it was impressive how those two tackles performed at positions they really hadnít played before.
The passing game
Aaron Rodgersí ability to throw on the run is special. How many times has that been the difference in games the last two years when the Packers have been matched up against other outstanding quarterbacks? You wonder whether he couldnít throw a 50-yard strike running on a treadmill.
The Packers fell behind and put their best players on the field Ė James Jones for Donald Driver; James Starks for more snaps than Ryan Grant Ė and it made a difference. Jones caught a 70-yard TD that gave the Packers the lead. That 29-yard TD by Greg Jennings was a play most NFL receivers canít make. To turn the corner, stay in bounds and extend the ball Ė thatís rare body control.
Maybe if Jermichael Finley would get off Twitter and rest his thumbs during the week, he might be able to catch the ball. He had three drops that could have been the difference in the game.
The ball that skipped off Driverís hands was because he isnít as quick out of his break as he used to be. That shouldnít have been a tough catch. Great guy. Fans love him. But that tank is just about out of gas.
With their best corner, Tramon Williams, looking healthier than the past two weeks and Sam Shields having his best game this season, it allowed the Packers to blitz and put more heat on the quarterback in the second half.
They put those corners on the outside in one-on-one coverage against one of the most explosive wide receiver tandems in the league, and they held them to 7 catches for 66 yards. It appeared Williams was able to play press coverage without worrying about his shoulder. Shields was matched up for much of the game against rookie stud Julio Jones and held him to one catch.
After the first two series the biggest improvement was the tackling, especially on the edge. Charles Woodson missed two tackles and was blocked by a wide receiver on a third play to the edge on the first series of the game. Last year, the Packers were so good at that, it was surprising to see.
The Packers had only one sack, but they started to rattle Matt Ryan in the second half. They hit him late, had him throwing off target, and he threw two interceptions.
ó Former Press-Gazette sports editor Cliff Christl and former football coach and player Eric Baranczyk offer their analysis of Green Bay Packers games each week.