Re-Focused – Packers @ Panthers, Week 2

| September 19, 2011

Another week, another loss yet we still learnt more good things about Cam Newton; yes there were mistakes, but this was another strong showing for the Carolina Panthers’ new QB. The Panthers may be 0-2 right now but the way that Newton and the team have played in the first two games will give real cause for hope for the Panthers’ faithful. There were again solid performances all over, but unlike last week against a similar standard of team in Arizona, this week their mistakes were punished ruthlessly by the defending Superbowl champions.

For the Green Bay Packers the first half and, in particular the first quarter, will have been a rude shock; if they thought they were going to come right in, confuse and overawe the #1 overall pick, they were sorely mistaken. The defense was caught on its heels and other teams without such a strong offense, able to score at will, would have been in real trouble of taking a shocking loss. However this is Aaron Rodgers’ Packers we’re talking about and there was almost a sense of inevitability about the comeback after a while. Were they caught short coming off of a long lay over from the New Orleans game? Possibly, but the important thing is that they are 2-0 and now they must build on that ahead of their first divisional encounter of the season in Chicago, on Sunday.
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Green Bay – Three Performances of Note
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1)   Clamping down in the middle

When BJ Raji (+4.4) puts together an all-around game of the sort he put in against the Panthers, it’s generally bad news for the opposing offense. Whilst the Panthers were able to put up a lot of offense still on Sunday, Raji along with Jarius Wynn (+2.0 run defense) forced them to go away from their bread and butter of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. This pairs dominance in the middle forced the Panthers to run primarily out of a shotgun zone read, something they were still able to do but it took a feather out of Panthers’ OC Rob Chudzinski’s bow. Raji’s dominance wasn’t limited to the run game however as he also registered one sack and four pressures in a game that the Panthers’ interior offensive line would probably sooner forget.
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2)   Establishing a running game

The Packers offense is starting to take on a persona similar to the Saints a couple of seasons ago, famed for their passing but quietly one of the more efficient running teams in the NFL. This has developed for New Orleans into one of their better run blocking lines in the league and with the Packers’ line and a good pair of backs a similar curve could be taken by Green Bay. For the second week running the triumvirate of Scott Wells (+2.8), Josh Sitton (+1.9) and Bryan Bulaga (+2.4) were strong again run blocking. The blocking of these three allowed James Starks to put up a strong showing with 85 yards on nine carries. The Packers running backs looked sharp but perhaps the mark of the Green Bay offensive line is that they gave their backs an average of 4.3 yards per carry before they were touched.
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3)   Concerns in the secondary

Three interceptions and a further fumble recovery from the Packers secondary is a strong showing and four turnovers to one touchdown is a nice ratio, but all was not rosy for the Packers secondary this week. Charles Woodson went punch for punch with Steve Smith giving up 135 yards to Smith whilst picking up two interceptions, big plays in both directions resulting in somewhat of a wash. 400+ passing yards is, generally speaking, not the hallmark of a strong day in coverage and five of the six Packer defensive backs who took snaps graded negatively in this game. Only Morgan Burnett graded positively and the Packers will be hoping for stronger showings down the line from this secondary. Surely going toe to toe with teams in shootouts is not a recipe for a successful Superbowl defense and at some point the defense needs to raise their game.
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Carolina – Thee Performances of Note
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1)   Vulnerable in the middle

Long gone are the days of the likes of Brentson Buckner and Kris Jenkins in his prime in the middle of a Panthers’ defensive line. A new crop of defensive tackles are patrolling the middle for Carolina and they did not perform at all well on Sunday. The Panthers used three DTs (Sione Fua, Andre Neblett and Terrell McClain) along with Greg Hardy on passing downs and none of them were able to match up well with a strong Green Bay interior offensive line. Only Fua recorded a tackle and he also recorded the only pressure from the trio of big bodies, as all three of them were consistently controlled by Wells, TJ Lang and Sitton. The Panthers have some talent at linebacker, even with the loss of Jon Beason to injury, but it will be really tough for the likes of James Anderson and Dan Connor to make a positive impact on games if the DTs don’t up their game in front of them.
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2)   Newton continues to raise eyebrows

Yes there were mistakes, there was a concerning lack of accuracy on his throws and QB fundamentalists will be having fits about his mechanics, but at the end of the day Cam Newton (+4.2) was again extremely impressive. His first quarter was simply extraordinary and after struggling through the second and third quarters he regained his composure to lead a strong consolation drive to draw the Panthers within a touchdown at the end of the game. Some of the pre-draft concerns raised their head for Newton in this one but not to the extent that was expected and he has been more than anyone could have imagined in his opening two games. We’re still waiting for the Panthers’ running game to get on track and when it does teams are going to have real headaches defending Newton.
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3)   Anything you can do…

Four catches for 49 yards and a touchdown may not be a stat line to make headlines with, but Brandon Lafell (+2.5) had a pair of outstanding grabs in his support role to Newton. Whilst Newton takes the attention and the plaudits Lafell is starting to show that he can make the theatrical grabs and pull in passes when Newton just puts the ball up and lets him go to work. The question now is can Lafell expand his role, Newton has sparked up an immediate on-field rapport with Smith but can Lafell slot himself in as a reliable second target? Legedu Naanee (-1.3) has shown some potential, but a lack of consistency in that role will mean Lafell should have the opportunity to capitalize on his big plays and turn them into an expanded role in the offense.
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Game Notes

● Nearly but not quite for Captain Munnerlyn this week, prior to Jordy Nelson’s long touchdown in the fourth quarter Munnerlyn had yielded only one catch for eight yards on four targets into his coverage.

Aaron Rodgers didn’t have a good day on throws aimed outside of the left numbers; Rodgers was 0-for-4 on such passes.

Desmond Bishop was as active as ever, Bishop registered four defensive stops on Sunday. This marks the sixth time he has recorded this many stops or more since taking over as a starter in Week 5 last season.
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PFF Game Ball

BJ Raji, DT, Green Bay Packers

This man’s star is firmly on the rise and this game showed precisely why Raji is one of the best young defensive linemen in the NFL. Raji shut down the middle and forced the Panthers to change their gameplan.

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