Report Card: Packers vs. Bills

QB Aaron Rodgers (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Aaron Rodgers got on track in the second half to help compensate for a lackluster rushing attack without Ryan Grant.

PASSING OFFENSE: B — Aaron Rodgers put an uncharacteristically sluggish first six quarters of the season in the rearview mirror with an exquisite second half Sunday that was reminiscent of his outstanding performances in the preseason. Rodgers completed 11-of-13 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns, including a 30-yard strike to James Jones, for a near-perfect passer rating of 152.7 as the Packers ran away with the win after leading only 13-7 at halftime. Rodgers completed passes to seven different receivers in the final 30 minutes and finished 19-of-29 for 255 yards without an interception. He also improvised on a third-quarter pass play to run for a touchdown. Tight end Jermichael Finley exploited Buffalo's curious game plan to put only one defender on him and took over with four receptions for 103 yards, including big plays of 34, 32 and 22 yards. Rodgers looked away from an incredibly wide-open Finley for what could have been a 57-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Even with an in-game change of rookie Bryan Bulaga for a struggling Chad Clifton at left tackle in the second quarter, the offensive line held firm and kept Rodgers from being sacked.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D — The tell-it-like-it-is Finley called the running game "average." That was being kind since the Packers were a shell of the respectable and periodically formidable rushing attack when Ryan Grant was toting the football. In their first game without Grant, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 1, the Packers epitomized ineptness on the ground. Mike McCarty's back-by-committee trio of Brandon Jackson, fullback John Kuhn and newcomer Dimitri Nance combined for 71 yards in 22 carries for a sickly average of 3.2 yards. Jackson is supposedly the featured back, but he was lined up at halfback (28 snaps) only slightly more than Kuhn (19) was, and McCarthy also resorted to an empty backfield seven times. Jackson's 11 rushes for only 29 yards, which included a 1-yard touchdown dive, won't cut it as Grant's replacement, especially when he continually struggled to make the right read and cut to get to the second level. Kuhn was more effective with nine carries for 36 yards and had a long run of 12 yards that was equaled by Rodgers (five carries for 20 yards, who also had the 9-yard scoring scramble). The run blocking was so-so.

PASS DEFENSE: A — Clay Matthews has set himself apart as the early front-runner for league defensive player of the year on the strength of a second straight three-sack game, the first player to achieve that feat in team lore. Just as he did with the Philadelphia Eagles' Kevin Kolb before knocking him out of the game after halftime the previous week, the unrelenting Matthews tormented Bills quarterback Trent Edwards from both outside linebacker spots and also shooting a gap up the middle. The Matthews mystique rubbed off on fellow linebackers A.J. Hawk and Brandon Chillar. Hawk, a week removed from not playing a snap from scrimmage against the Eagles, was on the field for 43 of the Bills' 54 plays and stood out on occasion with pressure on Edwards, including a big hit on a tandem blitz with Charles Woodson that resulted in the first career interception for Chillar as he dropped back into zone coverage. Rookie safety Morgan Burnett later nabbed his first pick, doing so by wresting the football away from Roscoe Parrish. Defensive end Cullen Jenkins, not affected much by a club cast on his broken left hand, had the other sack of Edwards, who was lucky to complete 11 of his 18 passes for a meager 102 yards. The Bills had little production from their receivers — electrifying rookie back C.J. Spiller had a team-high four catches. Top wideout Lee Evans was shut out, but Woodson had a blatant pass interference (judging by the three yellow flags that flew onto the field) on a downfield throw to the veteran.


Nick Barnett has Marshawn Lynch in his sights.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus — The Packers didn't have to contend with Michael Vick in this one, after the Eagles rode the legs of their dynamic backup quarterback to 150 rushing yards in Week 1, but an inability to stop the run continued to plague last year's league-leading team in that regard. Instead of getting a heavy dose of Spiller, the Bills made Marshawn Lynch their featured guy. He gashed Green Bay's tackle-challenged unit (particularly safeties Burnett and Nick Collins) for 52 yards on 10 carries in the first half, including an explosive run of 14 yards, before the Packers shored things up and held Lynch to only 12 yards in the last two quarters. Fred Jackson was effective early as a bruising change-of-pace guy. All told, the Packers surrendered 124 yards on the ground, but sliced the Bills' per-carry average from 4.8 yards in the first half to a game-ending 3.9.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B — Consider the Packers 2-0 in the win-loss column in 2010 for their previously horrendous special-teams units. Taking a page out of Tim Masthay's book after he pinned explosive Eagles punt returner DeSean Jackson along the sideline in the opener, kicker Mason Crosby made the elusive Spiller a nonfactor on kickoff returns for most of the game by initially kicking away from him and then angling the football wide when it was kicked to him. Throw out late runbacks of 36 and 41 yards, and Spiller averaged a pedestrian 24.3 yards in his other four returns. Masthay (averages of 40.3 gross and 33.7 net) mis-hit his first two punts, but his third on a pooch was a dandy that his gunners failed to down as it hit inside the 5 and went in the end zone. Jordy Nelson excelled on kickoff returns for the second straight game, averaging 30.5 yards with two runbacks. Tramon Williams was insignificant on punt returns, averaging just 7.3 yards. Crosby stayed perfect on field goals this season, connecting from 44 and 24 yards.

COACHING: B-plus — McCarthy evidently lit a much-needed fire under his team's collective rear end, particularly the sputtering offense, with his fiery monologue at halftime. While the passing game flourished in the second half, doubts are creeping in about how McCarthy will compensate for Grant's absence in the run game. The replacements-by-committee didn't work for at least one game. Meanwhile, coordinators Dom Capers and Shawn Slocum continue to get big-time production from the defense and special teams, respectively. Capers has become the master of confusion with where he can position — and hide — Matthews on any given play. McCarthy had an admittedly "bad challenge" on an incomplete pass from Rodgers to Jones, who clearly landed with one foot out of bounds.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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