If thereís ever been any question about the importance of the quarterback position in the modern NFL look no further than the Indianapolis Colts. Blessed with Peyton Manning, they had gone to the playoffs 11 times in the past 12 years, including last year when they lost more starters to injury than even the Green Bay Packers.
This year, without Manning but with all their other weapons and their best defensive players healthy, they might be the worst team in the NFL. For all the talk about the NFL being a team game, itís a quarterback and playmaker driven league and thatís why the Packers head into their bye week, 7-0, after a victory over Minnesota Sunday.
He probably has more firepower at his disposal than any quarterback in team history, but heís the reason the Packers are 7-0. Theyíre averaging 33 points per game. He has a passer rating of 125.7. He has thrown 20 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions. Heís putting up the kind of gaudy numbers you put up playing PlayStation 3 or Madden football.
Sure, he has faced back-to-back opponents with secondaries shredded by injury. But he has been impeccable. He never throws the ball up for grabs. He looks so comfortable. He does all the little things that great quarterback do. He looks off coverage. He can audible in and out of plays quickly.
Before the Colts played Sunday night, Reggie Wayne was asked: Whatís the difference playing without Manning? Wayne talked about sitting at the line of scrimmage and waiting for an audible call and it doesnít happen. You get in that situation and youíre running plays that you know arenít going to work.
Right now, for Rodgers, everything has come together: The physical part of the game, the mental part of the game. Heís 27 years old ó heíll be 28 in December ó and thatís prime time for a football player. He might be at the pinnacle of his career. Brett Favre was 27 when he won Super Bowl XXXI, and it wasnít long after that he started to lose his ability to make plays on the move.
The offensive line
On Jared Allenís first sack, Marshall Newhouse didnít get enough depth on his first step. When youíre playing against a speed rusher like Allen that bucket step canít be short or diagonal. On the second sack, the Packers botched a screen and the Vikings ran a tackle-end twist. Whatever went wrong, Newhouse wasnít at fault.
The Packers helped Newhouse and maybe more than they intended after the first sack. They slid protection that way when they could. They chipped Allen some. They moved Rodgers around. They used three-step drops. But if youíre playing someone of Allenís caliber, youíre going to do some of that stuff even if you have an all-pro left tackle. And game situations dictate it, too.
But Newhouse seems to learn from his mistakes. Even against Allen, he fixed some things as the game unfolded and held his own.
Scott Wells is the glue that holds that offensive line together. His sustain on some of his run blocks was textbook. He has a gift for moving his feet and turning his hips in the running game. Heís a strong guy, kind of a roughneck, tenacious. Heís why the guards are able to get off their initial blocks, move up to the second level and get a piece of the linebacker.
Great back or great line?
Another question that was clearly answered Sunday was whether a running game is more dependent on a great back or a great line. The answer always has been and always will be: A great back.
For example, with 6:46 left in the third quarter, Ryan Grant ran left on a well blocked play. Everything was set up for Grant to cut up-field and make a nice gain. He got 3 yards.
Adrian Peterson was getting 5, 6 or more yards on plays where the Packers were in position to stop him cold, plays that werenít blocked particularly well. A back has to make the first guy miss or run him over, and Peterson did that time after time and made something out of nothing.
There were three runs in the first seven minutes of the third quarter where Desmond Bishop or A.J. Hawk was in position to stop Peterson for short gains of 2, 3 yards. But Peterson gained 5, 5 and 6. Not only can Peterson go the distance, he lowers his shoulder, keeps his feet moving and gets the tough yards.
At least the Packers were able to run the ball when they had to run the ball on the final series. That was James Starks. Heís no Peterson, but he averaged 5.8 per carry. Grant has averaged 2.9 per carry in the last three games. Makes you wonder how much longer theyíll feed Grant the ball.
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.