Pack on Track - Packers: 28 Saints: 27
Sure, the defense was a bit more giving than in recent weeks, Graham Harrell reminded us why he's a shaky bet as Aaron Rodgers' backup, but once again, Green Bay was the one coming out on top. Even though 2-2 isn't necessarily what the team and its fans might have predicted, it's sure a heck of a lot better than 1-3.
The best part of the afternoon, though, was a sighting of something resembling the Packer offense of a year ago. It wasn't quite the laser light show of last season's 15-1 campaign, but Aaron Rodgers was sharp and the Packer receiving corps seemed to be at, or at least near, the top of their collective game. And speaking of those receivers, at least one of those guys is quietly having a very solid season...
James Jones - 5 receptions, 56 yards, 2 TD - Neither the catch or the yardage statistics are eye-popping, but James Jones was the best receiver on the field for the Packers yesterday. It wasn't the amount of catches so much as the timeliness. Case in point: the absolutely ridiculous catch Jones made on the Packers' final third down conversion, pinning the football to the backside of the Saints' defender trying desperately to knock the ball away.
And it hasn't just been this week; Jones has been solid all season. He's currently leading the team in receiving touchdowns, second in receiving yards, and second in yards per catch for pass catchers with at least five receptions.
Aaron Rodgers - 31/41 passing for 319 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT - Despite one head scratcher of an interception, Rodgers finally looked a bit more like his MVP self than whatever it was he resembled through the first three games this season. He more than doubled his season passing TD total and completed over 75% of his passes. Even though he may not be putting up the insane numbers he did last year, Rodgers may be carrying more of the team this time around. Were it not for an interesting interpretation of the simultaneous catch rule, Rodgers would already have led two fourth quarter comebacks this year, something he hasn't had the opportunity to do a whole lot in recent years.
Cedric Benson - 18 carries for 84 yards, 4 receptions for 22 yards - Benson posted his best yards per carry average of the season this Sunday, powering through the line at an average of 4.7 yards per attempt. He's only averaging 3.6 yards every time he runs the ball all season, but the former Bear and Bengal is proving to be a worthwhile addition to the Packer backfield.
19 - Designed runs by Packers not named Aaron Rodgers. Mike McCarthy showed a commitment to attacking the Saints' poor run defense, and it appears to have paid off. The 19 runs work out to less than a third of the Packers' overall play calls, but when Green Bay did run, they were effective and efficient.
446 - Passing yards by Drew Brees. The Packer defense has been remarkably solid through the first quarter of the season, but Drew Brees apparently didn't get the memo. He repeatedly beat the Packers short, long, and in between en route to over 400 yards through the air. Most alarming were the Saints' repeated conversions on third and long. It seemed like Marques Colston was able to get to the openings in the Packers' zone defense whenver he wanted.
10 - Points resulting directly from bad or blown calls by the officials. I don't want to harp on the officials (although I'm going to anyway), but it sure seems like the Packers have had an unusually bad run of terrible officiating luck. New Orleans' first touchdown was due in part to a semi-blatant push off by Marques Colston, and the Saints later picked up a field goal when a third down catch by Jimmy Graham was befuddlingly (is that a word?) not overturned. Thankfully, Garrett Hartley bailed the officials out with a late field goal miss, or a blown call on a Darren Sproles touchdown could have caused rioting in the streets of Green Bay.
Just Win Baby - Repeating the refrain from the opening paragraphs, it wasn't always the prettiest, and it was far from perfect, but today the Packers are back to .500. Heading into a much easier stretch of the season, Green Bay finally got the offense on track for a performance resembling at least an echo of their 2011 dominance. Whether or not they can carry that performance into the next few weeks remains to be seen, but for today, all is rosy in the land of the Packers.
Sackless - After watching the Packers' offensive line get destroyed by virtually everyone on Seattle's defense last week, the Saints had to be thinking they'd at least pick up a couple sacks. Not so, said Jeff Saturday and Co, who pitched their third, fourth, fifth, and sixth consecutive quarters of sackless football on Sunday. Even though Rodgers is still being sacked four times per game on average, the offensive line production has been a lot better since Monday night's first half debacle.
Balance - Although far from the traditional 50/50 split between run and pass, the Packers' offense showed a willingness to run and the commitment to stick with it Sunday. Cedric Benson made the most of his 18 carries, and even if it amounted to less than a third of their total play calling, the run game was pretty productive overall. This may be what a balanced offense looks like in 2012.
Turnovers/No Turnovers - It would be unreasonable to assume Aaron Rodgers could replicate the interception-less football he played last year, but this season he's on pace to toss a dozen interceptions. Throw a couple fumbles in there, and the Packers are being remarkably loose with the football. To make matters worse, the stream of turnovers stemming from the Packer defense last year seems to have dried up, at least in games where they're not receiving gifts from Jay Cutler. I don't know if there's a solution here, but the turnover margin is something to watch in the next few weeks.
Cool Brees - Drew Brees faced very little pressure Sunday, despite putting up 54 passing attempts. The Packers' two sacks yesterday (one each by Clay Matthews and C.J. Wilson) seemed like just about the only pressure Brees faced all day, and he made the Packers pay. I'm not prepared to say this is a problem, since the pass rush has generally been very good this year. But it's apparent that the Packers' defense is quite ordinary when they're not pressuring the passer.
Drops - Joe Buck made way more of Jermichael Finley's drop in the end zone than he probably should have, since linebacker Scott Shanle basically tore the ball out of his hands. Aside from that one, though, several other Packers saw passes clank off their hands, including Jordy Nelson. I don't begrudge the Packers for dropping a few passes now and then, but it seems like the drops have been especially ill-timed this season, including quite a few on third downs.
Up Next - The Packers make acquiantences with first overall pick Andrew Luck, heir to the throne of Manning.