For this week’s “Getting to Know” segment on the the Packers, we turned to Pete Dougherty, Green Bay Press-Gazette Packers columnist and one of the 46 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors.
Here are five questions for Pete:
MC: For most of his career against the Vikings, Aaron Rodgers hasn’t looked human. He’s 11-4 overall and 10-4 in the regular season while completing 71.2 percent of his passes with 31 touchdowns, four interceptions and a 119.0 passer rating. The Vikings’ defense changed dramatically in scheme and philosophy last year under coach Mike Zimmer. Rodgers wasn’t challenged in the first meeting, but he was at least tested in the second meeting, a 24-21 Packers win. How do you think Zimmer’s defense matches up with Rodgers and that offense compared to what Rodgers saw before?
PD: “The numbers say Zimmer matches up well with Rodgers going back to his time with as Bengals coordinator. Rodgers is 2-2 against Zimmer and has a 92.9 rating in those four games, as opposed to his 105.8 career rating overall. Hard to say if Zimmer has some read on Rodgers or just that he’s a really good defensive coach and has had some good defenses and good defensive players. I do know that when I talk to assistant coaches in the league about Zimmer, they speak really highly of him as a defensive mind.”
MC: On the flip side, after watching the Lions game closely, Rodgers looked unusually human in missing throws that he just doesn’t typically miss. Of course, many of those throws were to receivers who were covered tightly. As you look at Rodgers and the offense, what are the issues right now and what impact has Mike McCarthy’s decision to turn the play-calling duties over to Tom Clements had?
PD: “A couple things. One worth pointing out, and it might speak to Rodgers’ surprising inaccuracy in the Lions’ game, is that he popped up on the Wednesday injury report as limited with a shoulder injury. That’s new, so perhaps it was a factor there. Maybe the biggest issue is that without Jordy Nelson, the throwing windows with this receiving corps are tighter than in the recent past. Rodgers does not like to take risks – he rarely even comes close to throwing interceptions – so he’s holding the ball. He’s always had a tendency to hold the ball more than other good QBs, but it’s shown up a lot more this year. He might just have to start taking more calculated risks. Eddie Lacy hasn’t been the same back as the last two years, so that’s been a factor in the offensive struggles too. And teams in the past six weeks or so have been rushing Rodgers to contain him in the pocket more than to sack him, and they’re confident they can cover those receivers for the extra time. So far it’s worked. There’s no knowing what McCarthy really thinks about the play calling. That was a big decision to give that up, and he is deliberate about big decisions, so I have trouble seeing him taking back the play calling during the season. But you never know. There’s a knack that goes with being a good play caller, and all the studying in the world can’t make up for that. Maybe McCarthy has the knack and Clements doesn’t. But McCarthy approves all game plans and can change calls at any time in a game, so he’s culpable as well.”
MC: Defensively, except for some poor tackling on a 43-yard catch and run late in the Lions game, the Packers seemed to play very well against the Lions. What are your observations on how the defense has played and does it stop the run well enough to contain Adrian Peterson?
PD: “The Packers’ defense played very well against the Lions, though we can safely say that Joique Bell is no Adrian Peterson. This is a totally different ballgame. The Packers have decent run-stopping personnel – B.J. Raji, Letroy Guion and Mike Pennell are all 320 pounds or more and good run defenders, though Guion was a lot better last year than this. The Packers rarely play them together, but I could see them doing it this week. No idea if they’ll be able to keep Peterson from winning the game.”
MC: The Vikings have been strong on special teams all season. Marcus Sherels had a punt return for a touchdown three weeks ago in Chicago and Cordarrelle Patterson had his first kickoff return for a touchdown in 33 games last week. The Packers gave up that 104-yard kickoff return to the 1-yard line last week. Overall, how has Green Bay’s coverage units performed this year?
PD: “That kickoff return they gave up last week was their first big special teams mistake of the season. We talk about the play calling possibly/probably suffering from McCarthy relinquishing those duties, well, the huge improvement in special teams play (coverage and returns) presumably is in part because McCarthy is spending time in those meetings also, which he didn’t do in the past. Their special teams has been the one consistently strong part of the team all season.”
MC: On Monday, players were walking around the locker room wearing T-shirts that Zimmer had made for each of them. On the front of the shirts was the NFC logo and “North.” On the back were the words “Beat Green Bay”. There’s nothing inflammatory there, but how was that news spun in Green Bay and what would you say is the general mood of the team after losing to Detroit and seeing the Vikings move ahead of them in a division that’s been so comfortable for them for a long time?
PD: “Those T-shirts didn’t get a lot of play here – they were mentioned in the media, but I don’t recall any players being asked about them. Under different circumstances that probably would have gotten bigger play, but with three straight losses the questions about their performance overwhelm everything else. I’m guessing McCarthy and/or his assistant have at least mentioned it to players and probably talked about it with them. Or maybe he’s saving it for Saturday night. But it warrants mentioning, just reminding the players that the Vikings are shooting for them and are serious about winning the division.”