One of the reasons there are so many mistakes made in scouting is because the process involves more than just evaluating individual players. Itís also about gauging whom each player is playing with and against and that makes the process much more complicated.
As we saw Sunday in the Green Bay Packersí victory over the Chicago Bears, Clay Matthews is one of those rare players who makes everyone around him better. While the Packers had won three of four games in Matthewsí absence, their chances of winning a Super Bowl without him would have been greatly diminished.
The stat sheet showed Matthews with six tackles, including five solos, four for losses, two sacks and a tipped pass, but that by no means was a full measure of his contribution to the Packersí defensive domination of the Chicago Bears. Over the last three quarters, the Bears gained just 119 yards.
One star made 10 other good players that much better.
For example, the key play that stopped the Bearsí first drive was when Matt Forte was held to no gain on second-and-one at the Green Bay 31. Mike Daniels made the tackle, but Matthews blew up the play by beating the tight end and closing the hole.
Actually, on the first play of the game, Matthews set the edge, B.J. Raji beat the center and that allowed Brad Jones to take on the lead blocker at the line and for Ryan Pickett to clean up and make the tackle.
On the Bearsí second possession, on second-and-9, Matthews teamed with Raji again to beat two blockers and drop Forte for a 3-yard loss. Second quarter, just after the Packers tied the game, the Bears pulled a guard with Forte running behind him. Matthews rammed the guard back into Forte, who was knocked off track, allowing A.J. Hawk and Jones to stop the play for no gain.
Next play, second-and-10, Matthews drove the tight end back and four Packers gang-tackled Forte for a 2-yard loss. That series ended after one more play and, ultimately, left enough time for the Packers to score their go-ahead touchdown with 28 seconds left in the half.
Everybody talks about Matthewsí sacks, but heís also a physical force at the point of attack. With him and Erik Walden on the edge, that puts a lot of pressure on the opposing team to run up the gut; and there, they run into Raji and Pickett, two immovable objects. In fact, the last two weeks, Raji has been playing like he did in 2010.
Charles Woodson, at age 36, is no longer as valuable to the Packersí defense as Matthews. The Packers could conceivably win it all without Woodson. But he would certainly be an upgrade at safety over Jennings.
The Packers started out playing two-deep stuff with Jennings in the alley, and he didnít get the job done. Thus, they quickly adjusted and started sneaking Morgan Burnett, the other safety, up into the box. Burnett did a good job from then on. When a safety comes up late like that, itís a tough block for the offense, especially one with a line as shaky as the Bears.
Thatís partly why Forte rushed for 37 yards on the Bearsí first offensive series and only 32 the rest of the game.
On the fourth play of the game, Jennings was driven back 8 yards by the lead blocker, and Forte gained 8 on a pitch right. Three plays later, Forte gained 9, but if Jennings had made the tackle it would have been for only 4, maybe 5 yards.
One of Burnettís tackles that stuck out was a first-down play with 11:22 to go in the second quarter. He came up at linebacker depth, beat the block of a wide receiver, eluded a pulling guard and stopped Forte for no gain.
Unlike Jennings, Woodson doesnít miss many tackles in the run game. When he fills he understands run fits, and heís willing to take on pulling guards.
Jones and Hawk
Thanks to Jones, the Packers donít miss Desmond Bishop as much as one would expect. If Bishop was healthy, the Packersí best tandem inside would be him and Jones, not Bishop and Hawk.
Jonesí tackles come closer to the line of scrimmage. Some of it is that teams are running at Hawk and heís taking on fullbacks or pulling linemen, but he still needs to do that closer to the line.
Jones missed the tackle on Brandon Marshallís touchdown, but on the series before that he was right there when Forte flanked right and ran up the sideline on a pass that fell incomplete. Thatís a mismatch teams are always looking to exploit ó inside backers on backs and tight ends ó and they all get beat. But, in this case, Jones at 6-3 made that a tougher pass for Jay Cutler. No question, Jones is much better in the passing game than Hawk.
Again, Daniels was around the ball. Heís not flashy or explosive, but he uses good techniques and doesnít give up on plays. Jerel Worthy, on the other hand, has a tendency to give up and get put on his back. Mike Neal has a good bull rush. Maybe heís a one-trick pony, but he gives the Packers some inside pass rush and generally holds his ground against the run.
The Packers donít have an elite receiver, but theyíre five deep at full strength, counting tight end Jermichael Finley. In the past, when the passing game was clicking, Aaron Rodgers was attacking the hashmarks and spreading the ball around. We hadnít seen that in a while, but thatís what he did Sunday. As a result, the Bears faced the dilemma: Whom do we take away?
On James Jonesí first touchdown, they switched out of a two-deep zone and Rodgers hit Jones up the sideline. The Bears appeared to set their sights on Randall Cobb and Greg Jennings, and didnít have a safety to help over the top on Jones.
The Packers are pulling guards and tackles more than theyíve done in the past under Mike McCarthy. Thatís to overload the point of attack, and it seems to be the latest trend around the league. You see New England and San Francisco doing it, too.
Either way, the key for the Packers in the running game is getting their linemen to the second level and being effective.
T.J. Lang was back in form at left guard and, for the most part, did a good job in that area.
Right tackle Don Barclay got beat for a sack early, but it was a technique thing: He leaned and dropped his head. On the plus side, he learned from it and it didnít happen again. Barclay doesnít have a great punch and heís not Bryan Bulaga, but his feet are OK and he does a nice job in the running game.
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.