Buckle up. Get ready to go for a ride. The 2011 NFL Season is off to a thrilling start. And after one week, the NFC North looks like it might be among the elite Divisions in all of Football. The NFC North battled the NFC South three times on Sunday. In each contest, the NFC North left victorious.
The last 8 minutes didn't go as we had hoped, but for 52 minutes, the Green Bay Packers looked like what we are...the defending Super Bowl Champions. Here's some things I took from both the game and my trip back to Titletown, USA:
* Growing up in Green Bay, I remember a time in which I saw a deer run through my backyard. A mile from my house was farm land. You'd often see deer running through the fields. Seeing Green Bay in the fashion that it was last weekend was spectacular. It was a mini Super Bowl. The closest Green Bay will ever get to a Super Bowl. Yes, it was a Packers home game. But, it was more than that. It was an NFL Sponsored Event. For a day, Football's smallest town was the sole focus of the NFL.
* Randall freakin' Cobb. Did we just draft a DeSean Jackson type playmaker? Lethal. It was great to see the way he was received by his teammates post his TD's. After the TD catch, Donald Driver was there with a vintage Double-D complimentary grin. After the Kickoff Return for a TD, Cobb was sparkling. He was greeted by Sir Charles. Woodson had his business face on. Sure, he gave Cobb the love. But, Woodson knew there was a long ways to go.
* Aaron Rodgers for MVP.
* James Jones can complain all he wants. He can pout as he sprints off the field immediately after a dramatic goal line stop. But, the reality is that Jennings, Driver, Nelson, Cobb, and Finley are all more valuable than Jones. I don't get the Internet rumblings suggesting that the Packers should trade him. Prior to the year, anyone could have had Jones. Clearly, no one was desperate to have him on their team as he returned to the Packers for what is far less than I'm sure he assumed he'd make.
* Kudos to the OL. TJ Lang owned Vilma on the Starks TD. Lang gets to the second level. He's powerful. Moves well. For now, I'll ignore the false starts. Lang performed. Sitton has Hawaii talent. Thanks for signing your deal and sticking around, Josh! Clifton was back to his Pro Bowl form. Bulaga has grown from Year 1 to Year 2. Ted Thompson is normally extremely cautious with signing those that are 30 or above to long term contracts - excluding the likes of Clifton, Double-D, Sir Charles, and Pickett. But, if Wells continues to play like he did in Week 1, Thompson will consider adding Wells to that list.
* Finley is a beast. But, we gotta keep getting him the ball.
* I like Starks as a runner. A lot. But, man, he has to do a better job of recognizing where the blitz is coming from.
* Grant showed glimpses. But, clearly, he's still trying to get his legs underneath him. His football awareness seemed to return as he did a nice job picking up the blitz.
* The back shoulder to Jennings is unstoppable.
* Nelson has really improved his running after the catch.
* For Double-D, it's one more yard until the record is his...and his alone.
* Randall Cobb is so much fun!
* Jarius Wynn has grown. His development reminds me of a young Cullen Jenkins. His play on the 3rd down stop on Ingram in the 3rd Quarter on 3rd in 1 was sensational. He showed that he couldn't be blocked by a TE.
* Let's hope T-Mon can recover quickly. Sure, it was only a "bruise" - but I won't feel better until I see him on the field.
* Sammy Swagga played the exact game that I feared he might.
* Morgan Burnett was ultra active around the football.
* Nintendo Nick forcing the first turnover of the year!
* After one week, as a team, the Packers have 3 sacks and they've forced 1 turnover.
This week - the Packers travel to Charlotte to take on the Cam Newton led Carolina Panthers. And the biggest responsibility of this game lies on Erik Walden. Late in the 2010 campaign, Erik Walden displayed a great ability to shadow a QB in Capers uniquely designed defense. Walden's ability to drop and man the middle of the field helps allow Capers to blitz from a variety of areas. Importantly, Walden does a terrific job of shadowing QB's, which allows the Claymaker to freely set his sights on the QB. I fully anticipate that Capers will employ Walden as a shadow of Cam Newton.
With Jeff Otah's status in doubt, CM3 will most likely be blocked by either Byron Bell or Lee Ziemba. Clay will get to Cam.
Against the Saints, Rodgers connected with 9 receivers. This week, it might be 10. The Panthers have a talented young defense. But, they don't have the horses to run with us. Especially when you take Jon Beason out of the middle of the defense. So, the mantra of the offense is quite simple this week. Spread 'em out. Try and make them cover us. Rodgers dictates the tempo of the game without a huddle. RJ Stanford and Josh Thomas cannot cover the likes of Jennings, Driver, Jones, Nelson and Cobb. Therefore, look for McCarthy to try and keep Carolina's nickel and dime defenses on the field. And when the defense tires, look for the Packers to come with draw plays and screens.
The interior of the Panthers defense is manned by Terrell McClain and Sione Fua. Both are solid rookies. Good potential to develop. But, they aren't ready. With Sitton, Wells, and Lang dominating the middle of the line. Rodgers has time. He gives results. 3 TD's for Rodgers. One to Finley. One to Jennings. One to Nelson. Starks grabs a rushing TD. Crosby kicks two FG's. Carolina gets a late TD to make the score appear closer than it was.
Green Bay 34. Carolina 20.
Tracking the players who left via Free Agency in the interest of compensatory picks: Cullen Jenkins notched a sack and 2 tackles. Daryn Colledge pick up a start. While Korey Hall did not get credit for a start, he did play for the Saints against the Packers. Jason Spitz, Ras-A-tari Bigby and Anthony Smith all received a games played, but none of them started. Of course, B-Jack is out for the year with an injury. Frankly, I'm not sure what impact B-Jack's injury has on the Packers compensatory picks for the 2012 NFL Draft. Nonetheless, my best guess at this stage would be for the Packers to pick up a 4th, 5th and two 7th round picks as added selections.
Go Pack Go!