The 2nd Quarter

Dejected Lions

As the Packers enter the 2nd quarter of the season, fresh off a bye and a chance to self scout, here are a few things that I’d like to see. This goes back to the earlier point that I raised, finding a way to win despite team weaknesses. This quarter of the season presents us a golden opportunity. After a first quarter where we faced three quality opponents, this quarter we will face one quality opponent, and it will be at Lambeau (the Vikings). With a win against the Vikings, it certainly is not inconceivable that the Packers will be 6-2 at the halfway point. This team needs to find its identity, this quarter of the season gives the team a great chance to do so, and can should be able to really help boost the team with some positive momentum.

So what should we be looking for?

Get good at running at least one run play
In 2006 we were best running the outside zone. By late 2007 the inside zone was our best run play, and that continued through last season. In fact we began to really struggle with the outside zone run. We’ve had our moments but also have sputtered with all of them this season. Outside pulls and sweeps have worked a little for us in the last 10 games. One of the first steps to running the ball is to find a play that we are good at this season. A bread and butter that is relaible for 2-3 yards. A running game would do wonders to augment what Aaron does best, perimeter passing.

Add a second runner
Whether from Jackson returning, Wynn getting work, Lumpkin being elevated, a guy stolen from someone else’s practice squad, a street free agent, or in trade, there needs to be a running compliment to Grant. Backs not named Grant have carried the ball 9 times, 6 by Wynn and 3 by Kuhn. Grant has carried it 67 times. This is very lopsided, and helps our opponents. They really do not have to prepare to face a 2nd running back. All tape effort can be devoted to Grant and other aspects of the offense.

Adapt the offense
One thing I’ve always thought very highly of McCarthy on is how quickly he can farily radically change his offense, to adapt it to what others are doing to stop the Packers. Not in an in-game sense (I like his in game scheming, IMO fans are too reactionary, most of the time the obvious “answer” has in fact been baited by the opponents), but we’ve seen some big week to week changes in his time, and he really has never stuck with something for more than 6-8 games. I think that it is time to change. In fact I expect it after the self scout. Fans are clamoring for slants and quick passing; just like preseason our 2 TE set, when used, has been dynamic and deadly; we’ve seen some screen work and RB/FB passing as of late; and I’ve seen McCarthy get the fast super motion-sub machine going in spurts, which wears down a defense quickly, moving poeple around constantly, forcing the defenders to be on top of their game mentally. Something, what we were doing was producing offense, but we are ready for a new iteration of offense ’09.

Get healthy on the offensive line
Much ado has been made about the line, and it has been beat to death in discussion. Getting Clifton back would go a very long way to fixing the line’s issues.

Improve the defense on 3rd downs
This was a concern of mine during the preseason and it has remanifested itself. We need to be weaned off the turnover as the only means of stopping an opponent. We are doing a very good job of getting to 3rd down consistently this year from what I have seen. That is half the battle. The next step is to excel on 3rd down. There always seems to either be a coverage breakdown or lack of pass rush, where opponents are converting at a high rate. The safeties are the lynchpins of this defense. They move around the most, allowing much of the schemed pressure, and they are often left on an island as the last line of defense. Bigby’s injury has really been tough on our defense as a whole. Just look at how much Pittsburgh’s defense has struggled with Polamalu missing, missing a starting S can turn an aggressive defense downright vanilla.

Get the rookies going
Thus far we’ve seen 4 rookies play on offense or defense, and are about to see a 5th.

Clay Matthews has been the most impressive of the bunch. At times he has arguably been our best looking linebacker period. Hopefully the coaches have reached the conclusion that he is ready for full time duty, he seems light years ahead of Poppinga. His pass coverage has been smooth and fluid, and he has been getting close when pass rushing. He seems to be quick getting to the edge and good at keeping tackles and ends off of him. He just needs the sacks to start flowing and the pressure to get more reliable, that is the next step for him after full time starting.

BJ Raji has seen the next most playing time. I’m not sure that the coaches have fully decided how to use him. Jolly always seems to respond when pushed from behind, and that appears to be happening again. Since seeing this defense in action I’ve been an advocate of Raji not playing much in base 3-4 formations, however being a starter in all other formations, especially the 2-4, which to my eyes seems to be his best fit in this defense. Not that he wouldn’t make a good NT, but Raji’s greatest strength right now is rushing the passer, his bullrush is unreal, the NT is a situational run stuffer that ideally is never on the field when the ball is passed. Pickett has not rushed very much. Raji can go a long way toward making our 2-4-5 defense, typically used on 3rd downs (and other passing downs or when the O is in 3 wide personnel), the best alignment for the talents of the Packers. I’d like to see Raji start to generate some consistent pressure. He has shown the ability.

Raji is still a work in progress against the run, all rookie lineman are. Offensive lineman are bigger, stronger, faster, hold better, have better technique, and work much better as a group at the pro level. All rookie defensive lineman are typically embarassed. It took Harrell until about December of his rookie year before he got good against the run, that time frame is typical around the league, even for the good ones. I don’t expect Raji to be great agianst the run in this quarter of the season, but getting off blocks and learning to square up consistently is the next step for him.

Jarius Wynn has seen spotty action in every game. He appears to be 4th on the depth chart ahead of Montgomery at defensive end. He has been quiet, however he had a nice stop of Adrian Peterson for no gain against Mn late in the game, working against Hutch. He has gotten in games when Cullen Jenkins needs a breather. Jarius is one of my favorite players drafted this year. He plays as hard as any player on the team when on the field, and had a shockingly refined pass rushing arsenal for a late round rookie 3-4 DE. Guys with a 3-4 DE body that can rush the passer are at a big premium, I think that Jarius might become Ted’s best late round gem yet drafted. Like Raji, right now he is struggling with the pro OL run blocking, something that will come in time. He was known more for his run stopping than pass rushing on draft day. Unlike Raji, he may need an offseason in the weight room before his run stopping really blossoms.

TJ Lang got his first action in the last place most rookie OL would want to be. On the road, down in a game, in a loud dome, against one of the best defensive ends in the game, filling in at left tackle, a position that he had barely even practiced to that point. He did a respectable job. He did give up a sack, but it was a case of outfoxed by a smart double move, and not simply being beaten. He didn’t however hold or false start, which are almost expected for a guy thrown in the game in his position. One thing is clear with the way he plays; he plays mean as hell. He is violent and nasty, and wants to be the aggressor. While I don’t expect him to last at left tackle (who knows though, stranger things have happened), time spent at left tackle will go a long way towards where I do think he eventually will end up. A showdown at RT between Alan Barbre and TJ Lang seems inevidable to me at this point, if anything, that has to be an early favorite for the battle of camp next year.

Brad Jones has gotten special teams action. I wouldn’t mind a play here or there on passing downs to let him rush the passer. He showed enough coverage ability that he isn’t a liability if there is an audible for him to drop, however he wasn’t very good agaisnt the run. He was our one guy this preseason that was a natural speed rusher, much like KGB used to be. It might draw the ire of some fans, but I would not be terribly disappointed to see Kamp sit a little bit here and there to let Brad have a crack at it. Personally I think that Kamp is losing it, predating the defensive switch.

We will get to see Quinn Johnson for the first time this week against Detroit. This is an opportunity for him to make Hall an object in the rear view mirror. Hall hasn’t exactly played well since the start of the season, Kuhn has been much better. Some good play by Quinn has a definite possibility of leaving Hall as the odd man out, this injury allows Quinn a golden opportunity to steal Hall’s spot on the depth chart.

I think that all the rookies that are seeing time on the field will step it up a little bit in this next quarter of the season. This season’s group of rookies can go a long way toward making the Packer a much more complete team.

Ths whole team still just needs to find its identity. They got closer when they played Minnesota, but they definietly were not there yet. I think that we will see a whole different team with Clifton, Bigby, and Jackson returning from injury.


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One Response to “The 2nd Quarter”

  1. The 3rd Quarter « Where's Lambeau? Says:

    […] back to my 2nd Quarter Thoughts, some of the goals were achieved, some were not. The running game goals I feel were reached. The […]

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