Following a heart thumping victory the week before in Miami, the Packers returned to the friendly confines of Lambeau Field to take on the Carolina Panthers. The visitor was overmatched and overrun by a Green Bay team that is hitting its stride as we near the midpoint of the season. Here are my Pick Six for week 7.
1. Gutsy CB Play – There are plenty of superlatives to be thrown around for the dominating victory, but my player of the game went to Tramon Williams. Playing through an injured ankle, Williams anchored the defensive backfield and was just a shade early on an inward breaking route that resulted in a Clay Matthews interception. With other bookend Sam Shields already out, the defense received a definite boost from Williams’ decision to play through pain.
2. Downfield Blocking – There are certain aspects of the game that are rarely noticed, but in film study it’s hard to not pay attention to some of the work from Richard Rodgers, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. In a league where the pass catchers often take the prima donna route, it was refreshing to watch these three make key blocks and sustain them downfield to create room for Eddie Lacy or their fellow receivers.
3. NASCAR – After Green Bay’s “quad” package (4-3 front) failed through the first three weeks of the season, the Packers returned to their base 3-4 and are now playing like a top 10 defense. Dom Capers unveiled a new method of getting his deepest positional group in the front seven, the outside linebackers, more opportunities to come at the QB. The NASCAR package was used multiple times on 3rd down passing situations and removed all defensive linemen from the game, allowing Peppers, Matthews, Neal and Perry to stack and stunt their rushes. Expect to see more of it in the coming weeks.
4. 2014 vs. 2013 Safety Play – Perhaps the biggest change year over year is the play in the deep secondary. HaHa Clinton-Dix is becoming more confident week after week and Morgan Burnett, despite being at risk of not playing due to injury this week, has strung together multiple good games in a row. Tackling has been excellent and the Packers are not giving up the long plays they were last season. Meanwhile, former stand ins M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian are still without jobs.
5. Playoff Keys – It’s never too early to look at potential playoff indicators. Ones that I often keep an eye on as a team is finding its identity are how effectively a team can pass the ball, how well they stop the pass, and the turnover differential between pass offense and pass defense. Conventional wisdom suggests that “run the ball and stop the run” are two keys to a championship team. I don’t believe that’s the case in 2014. With that being said, Rodgers is on pace for 41 TD, 2 INT. Green Bay is second in the league in takeaways with 14, and is first in lowest QB rating against. If these trends continue, the Packers will be a force come January.
6. Looking Ahead – The Packers have a tough match up in the dome against a New Orleans Saints team that has been playing bad football to this point in 2014. I noted some weeks back that I wanted to win 2 of 3 to go into the bye at 5-3, so the Packers are playing with house money in my eyes. Six wins going into the bye would be better than I could have hoped for, especially with four home games over five weeks upon our return. Despite the fact that Green Bay is playing head and shoulders above New Orleans right now, they have not lost in their last 19 home games with Sean Payton as the head coach. Their back is against the wall and they need this win much worse than the Packers do. I’m taking the Saints in a tight one tomorrow night.
That will do it for this week’s Pick Six. Look forward to a much broader Pick Six sometime during the bye taking a look back at the first half of the season. Go Pack!