Here are two adages about pro football that aren’t likely to change.
1) If a team has a great quarterback, it has a chance to win any game, regardless of offseason losses, injuries or other hardships.
2) Except for an extremely short list of players on each team — some of the game’s brighter minds in player personnel have insisted the list is limited to only a few rare players in the entire league — most everyone else is easily replaced.
If anybody had any remaining doubts about that, they should have been erased Sunday by the Green Bay Packers’ victory over the Baltimore Ravens. The Packers started the day without their best defender, Clay Matthews, and lost two of their three so-called playmakers at wide receiver, James Jones and Randall Cobb, and still beat the defending Super Bowl champs on their home field.
Clearly, the Ravens don’t appear to be the same team they were a year ago, although it has little or nothing to do with losing Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, two future Hall of Famers.
And, yes, injuries play a part in how seasons unfold. Too many at a critical position or on one side of the ball or maybe just one season-ending injury to a tremendous player like Matthews can hurt a team’s chances in the playoffs.
But as Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, one of the game’s best, often reminds his front office protégés, “There’s always enough players to go around.”
That’s why the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos can lose Ryan Clady, maybe one of the two or three best left tackles in the game, replace him with Chris Clark, a one-time street free agent as well as a reject from Minnesota’s practice squad, and still light up the scoreboard every week. And why New England with Tom Brady can lose Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker, and play without Rob Gronkowski for six games and still be 5-1.
Those who like to make mountains out of molehills prattle on endlessly about every little personnel loss and injury. But as Vince Lombardi preached: Keeping a player too long can be a fatal mistake; losing players shouldn’t matter.
He missed some throws and seemed to be bothered by the rush at times, but he made enough plays down the stretch to spell the difference. Late in the third quarter, Rodgers escaped for 12 yards on third-and-6 and on the next play hit Jordy Nelson on a 64-yard bomb. Rodgers had another key scramble before Mason Crosby’s final field goal and made the right read on Jermichael Finley’s 52-yard catch and run that sealed the victory.
The pass to Nelson was a tough throw. Yes, that was a play that showed what a running game does for an offense. The entire secondary bit on the play-action. But you see NFL quarterbacks overthrow that pass all the time. They leave it short or whip the throw over the head of the receiver. What’s more, Rodgers was rolling right, but had the wherewithal to set his feet. Again, lesser quarterbacks sometimes forget about their mechanics and rush that throw.
Rodgers is the Packers’ most pinpoint passer since the 1950s and maybe ever, but he has always been blessed with a good and deep receiving corps. Now, we might find out if he can string wins together with JV receivers the way Brady is doing and the way Brett Favre did for much of his career.
It all depends on how soon Jones returns and maybe more so on how much Jarrett Boykin has to play. Cobb to Boykin would be a substantial drop-off. That said, Finley can line up as a wide receiver as he did on his 52-yard catch and pick up some of the slack. And Rodgers never has had a back like Eddie Lacy. If he can continue to lean on him for 20-plus carries and 100 yards a game that should take pressure off Rodgers and maybe minimize the loss of Cobb.
Third string or not, it should have come as no surprise that Jamari Lattimore filled in more than adequately for Brad Jones.
Over the past 25 years, the Packers have transitioned at inside or middle linebacker from Brian Noble and Johnny Holland to Fred Strickland to George Koonce to Bernardo Harris to Nick Barnett to A.J. Hawk to Desmond Bishop to Brad Jones. Some of those nine backers might have had an off year here or there, but other than 2002 when the Packers signed over-the-hill Hardy Nickerson they’ve almost always gotten adequate production at those positions.
Were any of them all-pros? No. Were any of them junk other than Nickerson? No.
They all had different strengths, probably all played better when healthy as opposed to nicked up. But bottom line: The only real difference between any of them was the number on their back.
Lattimore made an open-field tackle in the flat at the line of scrimmage, beat the block of Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach to drop a runner for a 3-yard loss, broke up a pass in the end zone and filled the hole on fourth-and-goal. Both Lattimore and Hawk pressed the line and played the run well.
Outside, Andy Mulumba played with leverage, played tight to the line of scrimmage, took on blockers and made two good plays on the goal-line stand. He has to learn some pass rush skills, but he played within himself and the scheme of the defense.
Mike Neal has gotten more attention, but Nick Perry has been the more physical outside backer. Perry is a powerful man. Two weeks in a row, he has had a sack fumble. That’s big time! He turned the corner, sunk his hips and exploded to the quarterback. That’s the way the coaches drill it.
He was outstanding. He was in on three of four plays on the goal-line stand. His return has made a difference because the Packers have no other safety that can make those plays. On first down, Ryan Pickett penetrated, forcing the back to jump-cut, and Burnett made the tackle. Second down: Mulumba took on the fullback and a pulling guard before Burnett navigated through the trash and stopped the runner in his tracks. Third-and-1: Mulumba penetrated, but Burnett spun away from the block of Leach and made the tackle at the line of scrimmage.
Here again, Casey Hayward showed last year he had some cover skills and a nose for the ball. But there were countless times where Hayward blitzed and didn’t finish. Hyde finishes and he’s there to help in the running game. He was in on the fourth-down play at the goal line. The Packers used him at the line of scrimmage like they did with Charles Woodson. Hyde also played well on special teams.