MARK CRAIG'S FILM STUDY THE PACKERS ON TAPE
Sunday: The Packers played one of those dreaded September road openers in Florida, beating Jacksonville 27-23. Yet the Packers were the better-conditioned team that even at times pushed the tempo with no-huddle and hurry-up offenses. Their defense held strong with the Jaguars driving in the closing minute for what would have been their best victory in many years.
Key player: Is quarterback Aaron Rodgers even better? Reports from Green Bay are he lost seven to 10 pounds and is in the best shape of his life. I believe them after watching him move quicker, faster and more efficiently than I can recall, which is really impressive because he's always been quick, fast and efficient. And he did it all in that heat and humidity. His escape and burst to the pylon for a 6-yard touchdown run to make it 7-0 looked faster than normal. He also was masterful in the pocket, sliding, stepping up, ducking and moving every which way as if he had some sort of Spider-Man sense. Throw in the league-best arm strength and the return of receiver Jordy Nelson and, well, look out.
Some observations: Finding and blocking Clay Matthews will be difficult now that he's back at outside linebacker. It was noted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's excellent NFL writer Bob McGinn that Matthews lined up 32 times on the right side, 14 on the left and seven as a rover in the middle of the defense.
• Although the Packers ended up holding the Jaguars to 48 yards rushing (a league best), I think Green Bay's run defense is vulnerable. The Jags were without No. 1 back Chris Ivory, who was hospitalized Sunday morning. Backup T.J. Yeldon gouged the Packers with some impressive inside power runs early, but defensive adjustments eventually led to Yeldon being tackled for losses six times.
• The Packers basically play a two-down front. According to McGinn, they lined up with three down linemen only three times in 72 snaps. A few times, the Packers had no down linemen and four outside linebackers all roaming at the line of scrimmage. Offensive lines need to be assignment-sound against these fellas.
• Second-year linebacker Joe Thomas might be only 217 pounds, but he plays much bigger. He showed quickness on an interception off a tipped pass and power when he ran over a running back to set up a sack for Matthews.
• I'm not convinced that running back Eddie Lacy is any lighter than he was last season, per several reports. But I do know after watching the game that he's in better shape at whatever weight he is. He showed power and, better yet for the Packers, some stamina in very trying conditions. He made a nice cut on a 28-yarder when the defensive back froze, expecting to be run over.
• Overall, the Packers receivers were OK. There wasn't glaring separation, but the coaches made some nice adjustments. Moving Nelson into the slot and stacking him with other targets helped spring him open.
• Safety Morgan Burnett looked especially good considering he hadn't played in the preseason. Several Packers swarmed to the ball on the game-ending tackle. But Burnett pounced the hardest and stopped the bubble screen on fourth-and-5 in Packers territory with 16 seconds left.
• The Packers have a new fullback, Aaron Ripkowski. How weird will it be not to hear Packers fans yell "Kooooooon!" now that John Kuhn is no longer a Packer?