Maybe it’s time to table the Green Bay Packers Super Bowl talk for a bit.
The defense, led by linebacker Clay Matthews, was the biggest reason the Packers were able to escape Philadelphia with a 27-20 win over the Eagles. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense wasn’t close to firing on all cylinders, but surprisingly, the special teams contributed to the season-opening win.
Here are our observations from the Packers’ victory over the Eagles.
Matthews was dominant with seven tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. He not only looks like he picked up where he left off last year, but looks like he could be even better. Matthews is a relentless playmaker, which is something the Packers haven’t had at the linebacker position in some time.
On the day, the Packers had five sacks and two forced fumbles, which is a good effort. In addition to Matthews, Cullen Jenkins, B.J. Raji and Frank Zombo registered sacks. Charles Woodson had the other forced fumble.
The special teams played better as a unit than it has in probably the past two seasons. Jordy Nelson looks like a legitimate kickoff returner, averaging 31 yards on five returns, with a long of 51. Tramon Williams was nothing special as a punt returner, and I still have to question why the Packers are exposing their starting cornerback on returns, but he didn’t make any mistakes. The Packers held the Eagles to averages of 23 yards per kickoff return and seven yards on punt returns. The Packers punting unit was especially impressive, considering DeSean Jackson is the Eagles punt returner. Punter Tim Masthay averaged a solid 41.5 yards gross and 38 yards net in his NFL debut. Mason Crosby was excellent, hitting both of his field goals and nailing a Packers-record 56-yarder in the process.
What wasn’t impressive was the Packers passing game. Rodgers’ timing and accuracy was off all game and he finished a shoddy 19-of-31 for 188 yards. He threw two touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions. Part of the reason for Rodgers’ sub-par game could have been the double and triple coverage the Eagles were throwing at tight end Jermichael Finley. We fully expect Rodgers to bounce back, but there’s no need to inscribe his name on the NFL MVP trophy just yet.
On the other hand, the Packers rushing attack was surprisingly good, even after starter Ryan Grant went down with a sprained ankle. Grant rushed for 45 yards on eight carries, a 5.6-yard average. Backup Brandon Jackson had 63 yards on 18 carries, a 3.5-yard average. Jackson would have had a higher average if not for some short late-game runs when the Packers were trying to run out the clock and the Eagles knew he would be getting the ball. Fullback John Kuhn also ran hard, with two runs for 15 yards and a touchdown.
Despite being solid in the run game, the Packers offensive line was less than in the passing game. The main problems were the two old men playing tackle. Mark Tauscher was overpowered in giving up two sacks and Chad Clifton also gave up a sack and got beat badly on a two-yard loss by Ryan Grant. Clifton and Tauscher simply looked old and slow. If they continue to play like this, it may be time to insert Bryan Bulaga and T.J. Lang in the starting lineup.
The Eagles weren’t able to effectively target rookie cornerback Sam Shields, who was the Packers nickel back, but Shields did get faked out badly on the Eagles only passing touchdown, a 17-yard pass from Michael Vick to Jeremy Maclin. Shields finished with three tackles.
Jarrett Bush continued to serve as the Packers dime back ahead of Pat Lee. He’ll be bumped from that role when Brandon Underwood returns from a shoulder injury.
Where was A.J. Hawk? Hawk was a non-factor in the game. He didn’t record any tackles and Brandon Chillar appeared to get most, if not all, of the reps at inside linebacker after Hawk started the game. Chillar finished with seven tackles.
The Packers are in first place. The Minnesota Vikings are in last. All is right with the world.