What started out as a vintage Aaron Rodgers-led offensive performance eventually turned too close for comfort thanks to a defense that could not get off the field and Mike McCarthy seemingly having no interest in growing on what was the best half of offensive football since 2014. Here are some takeaways from the game:
What We Learned: Jordy Nelson is well on his way to making a full recovery.
After starting somewhat slowly, at least by his own lofty measures, Jordy Nelson finally put Packer fans’ fears to rest with a performance that reminded us all why he is such a beloved and valuable player. Matched up with Darius Slay, one of the better young corners in the NFL, for almost the entire game, Nelson showed his full arsenal: clinical toe-taps along the sideline, willingness to run routes through the middle of the defense, his large catch radius, run after the catch, and timing with Rodgers.
Just as refreshing as the ease with which Nelson got open was the joy with which he played. Packers players talked after the game about the need to have fun again, as the stress of a struggling offense was taking its toll on the players and coaches. Nelson clearly had that in mind throughout the game, and as the big plays kept coming, he let loose. He and Rodgers proved to be the catalysts for the offense, and the way they celebrated throughout the first half, especially after the last touchdown before the break (Rodgers’ 4th and Nelson’s 2nd), showed that the Packers might be getting back to playing the kind of football they will need to compete in the playoffs.
What We Think We Learned: Nick Perry is about to be a very wealthy man.
When the Packers signed Nick Perry to a one year, $5 million contract this off-season, I was worried that the Packers were ‘buying high’ with him, as he was coming off two of the best games of his career in last year’s playoffs. After four years marked more by injuries than sacks, the Packers apparently saw enough late last year to invest in Perry as a player who would finally put it all together. It appears they were correct, although now they face the prospect of having to pay him even more if he keeps playing as well as he has so far this year (and stays healthy).
Perry turned in a dominant performance facing both the run and pass on Sunday, marred only by an Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty for a throat-slash gesture. Fortunately for Perry, he did enough throughout the rest of the game to avoid catching too much of Mike McCarthy’s wrath for that foolish move. Perry pressured Matthew Stafford consistently and notched two sacks, which puts him in the top 5 in that category across the NFL.
I continue to be most impressed with Perry’s run defense, however. He is able to set a rock-solid edge when called to do so, but has also shown the ability to disengage from blocks and actually make a play on the ball-carrier rather than just serve as a roadblock. The ability to do both is one of the major factors that separates the good from the great edge defenders. His one-armed tackle-for-loss of Theo Riddick was incredible, and indicative of the strength and all-around ability Perry possesses.
With more performances like the one Sunday, Perry will soon find himself with the lucrative long-term contract every young players covets.
What We Hope Isn’t True: The young secondary is not yet ready for prime time.
The Packers boast an impressive quantity of young secondary players on the 53-man roster, with four Cornerbacks and two Safeties in either their 1st or 2nd years on the roster. Unfortunately, the quality of play from these young players has been severely lacking three games into 2016, especially in the absence of veteran Sam Shields.
Damarious Randall followed an excellent performance in Week 1 with two terrible games, while fellow second-year players Quentin Rollins and Ladarius Gunter have been up-and-down throughout the first three games. The absence of Shields has also pressed UDFA Josh Hawkins into service. Although he made a beautiful diving breakup of a pass early, shortly thereafter he surrendered the long touchdown to Marvin Jones Jr. that gave the Lions some hope going into halftime. Hawkins never should have been matched up with the Lions’ top WR, but his reaction after the ball was caught, when he seemingly assumed Jones Jr. was going out of bounds, was inexcusable. I’m sure his coaches will be instructing him to play through the whistle in a most colorful way during film study this week.
Also puzzling is the lack of any big plays so far from HaHa Clinton-Dix, a player many tabbed to make a leap from solid young starter to bona-fide star. It can be tough to judge a safety’s play without knowing his specific assignment on a given play, but there were multiple times Sunday where he appeared to be woefully out of position on deep passes. He just isn’t finding himself around the ball the way elite safeties do. If the Packers secondary is going to pay off the huge investment of draft picks Thompson has made in recent years, they will need HaHa to step up in a big way.