Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and running back James Starks feasted on the Washington Redskins' defense Sunday at Lambeau Field. / Dan Powers/Gannett Wisconsin Media
There was much to like about the Green Bay Packersí one-sided victory over Washington on Sunday.
Aaron Rodgers is as pinpoint a passer as there is in the NFL and his passer rating was just 12 points less than perfect and the third best of his career. The Packersí receiving corps is as deep as any in the game and, this time, James Jones, Randall Cobb, Jermichael Finley and Jordy Nelson all got a fair slice of the action. To top it all off, James Starks had his first regular-season 100-yard rushing game and the first by any Packers back in 45 games.
Defensively, the Packers didnít allow a point until garbage time.
But NFL coaches are constantly reminding their players never get too high when things go well and never get too low when things look bad.
So the 38-20 score needs to be tempered with some realism.
The Redskins might have been a playoff team a year ago, but their defense is as soft as the white fluff between Oreo cookies, especially down the middle where the Packers constantly exploited them. Outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are studs. But their defensive linemen arenít physical or active, especially with nose tackle Barry Cofield playing with one arm; inside backers, London Fletcher and Perry Riley, are sawed-off and slow; and the safeties might be even worse. Moreover, the cornerbacks arenít big or physical.
All those weaknesses were just as evident the week before in Washingtonís loss to Philadelphia.
Offensively, Robert Griffin III is a shell of the quarterback he was as a rookie because of the lingering effects of his knee injury. Heís no threat to run and looks gun-shy stepping into his throws. Yet Alfred Morris rushed for 107 yards, including an 8.2 average per carry, and a physical receiver ó this time 6-foot, 212-pound Pierre Garcon ó gouged the Packersí secondary for the second week in a row with eight catches for 143 yards.
The Packers have four legitimate receiving threats who can beat defenses on any given play, and with the shortage of good cover people in the NFL, most defenses canít account for them all.
Jones wonít burn teams, but he catches the ball and heís smart. Due to his strength, itís tough to bump-and-run him and hard to knock him off his routes. Nelson is 6-3 and at his best running the sideline. If he gets a one-on-one matchup, Rodgers is always going to be comfortable throwing to him because Nelson is usually going to have a 3-inch or more edge on opposing corners, and he goes up and gets the ball.
Cobbís thing is that heís quick and shifty. Put him in the slot position or in motion, and itís tough for a defender to get his hands on him. Plus, Cobb gets matchups with linebackers and safeties. Thatís how he often creates his space and what happened on his 35-yard touchdown reception on a fourth-and-3 play in the first quarter that triggered the Packersí stampede.
Finley has always been a matchup nightmare and now seems to be playing with a greater sense of purpose.
Itís also evident why the Packers kept Andrew Quarless over Matthew Mulligan. Maybe Mulligan was a more physical blocker, but Quarless is willing and effective. Plus, he has an upside and can catch. His block on Riley helped spring Starks on his 32-yard touchdown run.
Thatís also an unappreciated quality of the Packersí wide receivers: blocking. Thanks to blocks by Jones, Nelson and Cobb, the Packers gained an estimated 45 extra yards on four pass plays and one run. Thatís unselfish play and a sacrifice not all NFL wide receivers are willing to make.
Starks is a downhill runner and, for the first time in a long time, he looked like the back everyone saw in the 2010 postseason. For someone who has been injury-prone and runs upright, Starks packs a punch with the ball in his hand.
On the collision on the sideline, Brandon Meriweather might have been asleep and quivering before he hit the ground.
The Packers didnít have to fear Griffin like they did Colin Kaepernick last week, so they took more chances with their blitz packages. They played with more of a blood-in-the-water mentality. What should be of some concern is that once they smelled shutout, they didnít simply fall into a prevent defense ó they played softer.
The Packersí safeties were better than last week, but they still didnít look like they were playing as fast as the game. They didnít jump out breaking on the ball or forcefully filling in the running game.
Thereís also reason to seriously question if the Packers can match up against a big, physical receiver. Tramon Williams and Sam Shields are athletic and fast; they can jump and turn. They do all those things well. But theyíre not capable of shocking someone like Anquan Boldin or Garcon at the line in bump coverage or knocking them off their routes.
They can run with them, but they give up too much cushion. Garcon caught five of his passes for 106 yards with Shields in coverage and two more for 19 yards in front of Williams.
That could be a problem for the Packers all year and probably explains why Davon House played corner with Williams in the slot from late in the third quarter on. House gave up an 18-yard catch to Garcon early, but later registered a sack, ran step-for-step with Garcon on a deep throw that fell incomplete and nearly forced a fumble on a play that was reversed.
Micah Hyde missed a tackle on a 15-yard reception by Leonard Hankerson and Chris Banjo missed one on Morrisí 32-yard run. The Redskins tacked on 32 yards as a result of those two misses and punctuated the point for Hyde and Banjo that this is no longer the preseason and the games are for real.