Although they've played nine games already, the bye week more or less divides the season into two halves. In this two part miniseries, I'm going to break down what I've seen from the Green and Gold so far this year. Now that we've seen nine full games from the Packers, we should have a pretty good idea who has done well and who could have been better. Be prepared for quite a bit of reading today, because this could be a long one.
Aaron Rodgers (219/327, 2383 yards, 25 TD, 5 INT) - Despite a slow start (3 TD, 2 INT through three games), Rodgers has regained much of his 2011 MVP form during the past six games, and it's no surprise that the Packers are 5-1 in that stretch. Smack dab in the middle of that stretch is perhaps the best regular season performance we've ever seen from Mr. Rodgers, a 338 yard, six touchdown performance in prime time against the previously undefeated Houston Texans.
While Rodgers has been good of late, his performance the last two games has been limited slightly due to increasing injuries among the receiving corps. Hopefully with a week or two to get healthy, Rodgers will soon have a full complement of offensive weapons.
Graham Harrell (no passing stats) - Harrell has had one notable play so far this year: botching a handoff and fumbling the ball inside the five yard line on a crucial drive against New Orleans. Fortunately, the Packers were able to hold off the Saints, or Harrell could have earned T.J. Rubley-level infamy. Hopefully we won't see Harrell again this year, at least not in serious action.
Cedric Benson (71 carries, 248 yards; 1 TD, 14 receptions 97 yards) - In a somewhat surprising move, the Packers signed Benson in the preseason to bolster their faltering running back corps, and he did provide some juice until he decided to try to snap his foot in half in Week 5. Come on, Cedric! Fortunately, he was unable to properly destroy his own foot, so he may be able to return to action later this season, although I have my doubts. (Seriously though, I'm a big fan of Cedric Benson. Let's hope he gets well soon.)
Alex Green (87 carries, 272 yards; 11 receptions 90 yards) - For my money, Alex Green is perhaps the most disappointing and intriguing Packer so far this year. Although he had extended action for three consecutive weeks (at least 20 carries in games against Houston, St. Louis, and Jacksonville), he never produced more than 65 yards. But then, against Arizona's stout run defense, Green produced 53 yards on just 11 carries, including a nice 21 yards run. Could it be that Green is better in spot duty? Could he still be recovering from his knee injury? Mike McCarthy says Green has the tools to be a successful NFL running back, so I'm inclined to think he'll do well eventually. His development and use will be a story to watch throughout the second half of the season.
James Starks (23 carries, 80 yards; 1 reception, 9 yards) - After a turf toe injury in the preseason, we didn't see Starks until late in the game against Houston, where he saw five carries in mop-up duty. Starks touched the ball just twice in the next two weeks, but earned 17 carries in Week 9. Given the physical specimen that he is, it's almost impossible fr the Packers not to give him a shot, especially since Alex Green has been fairly underwhelming this year. Starks has shown that he can be an effective runner, when healthy. As we've already seen this year, that "when healthy" designation is a pretty big asterisk. Starks may yet have something to say about who the lead dog is in the Packer backfield.
Johnny White (no stats) - White was signed from the Buffalo Bills' practice squad following Cedric Benson's injury. He has yet to carry the ball.
John Kuhn (11 carries, 39 yards, 1 TD; 8 receptions, 70 yards) - John Kuhn has been exactly what you'd expect from John Kuhn. Solid blocking, a few receptions out of the backfield, and at least one potential tackler hurdled. He's been banged up recently, but he'll be back soon, metaphorical lunch pail in hand.
Greg Jennings (12 receptions 78 yards, 1 TD) - Jennings has been fighting a groin injury for most of the season, although his recent surgery could put him on track to return within a few weeks. Jennings has hardly been on the field enough for me to have an opinion on him, but my tentative feeling is that we'll see him used differently than in the past. My gut feeling is that he could be used more in the slot once he finally returns, which could make for a pretty interesting and dangerous pairing when Randall Cobb is on the field at the same time.
Jordy Nelson (40 receptions, 532 yards, 5 TD) - Jordy Nelson continues to look the part of a number one receiver. Although he's faced injuries in recent weeks, when healthy, Nelson has been as productive as you could ask a receiver to be. He, along with James Jones, has provided a physical presence the receiving corps hasn't seen in quite some time.
James Jones (40 receptions, 462 yards, 8 TD) - Were it not for Randall Cobb, the Packers' breakout star this year would be James Jones, hands down. And speaking of hands, Jones' hands have been much better this year. After struggling with drops throughout his first six seasons, Jones has seemingly put those woes behind him, snagging every pass he's gotten his hands on this year. That's right, through nine games, James Jones has dropped exactly zero passes and he's well on his way to a career year. Whether it's moving the chains or catching big touchdowns, Jones has been great so far this year.
Randall Cobb (45 receptions, 500 yards, 6 TD; 6 carries, 96 yards) - I can't say enough good things about Randall Cobb. He runs. He catches. He returns punts. He returns kicks. He does it all at lightning speed. He's without a doubt the most fun player to watch on the Packers. If I had to give him a letter grade, it would be A+++. He's done everything the Packers have asked, and more.
Jarrett Boykin (3 receptions, 16 yards) - When the Packers broke camp, it wasn't the much hyped Tori Gurley or Diondre Borel that ended up on the final roster. It was undrafted rookie Jarrett Boykin. And while Boykin hasn't been on the field all that much, he has gotten a bit more playing time recently. Depending on how quickly Jennings and Nelson bounce back from their injuries, we may see more Boykin in the second half of the season.
Jermichael Finley (29 receptions, 271 yards, 1 TD) - I was surprised to find that Finley is more or less on pace to catch about as many passes as he did last year. He's been far less of a factor than his reception total would indicate, but that might have to do with the fact that he's only averaging 9.3 yards per reception. Why that is, I'm not sure, but Finley doesn't seem to be the guy he was last year or the year before. It's frustrating to watch, because he's certainly a very physically talented individual.
Tom Crabtree (6 receptions, 183 yards, 3 TD) - So it turns out Tom Crabtree was the sleeping giant at the tight end position. If I thought Crabtree could keep up the pace he's set of catching a touchdown on every other pass he hauls in, I'd definitely say they should get him the ball more. Instead, I think we should probably just enjoy the explosion of weirdness that is Tom Crabtree.
Case in point:
D.J. Williams (4 receptions, 37 yards) - Williams hasn't been able to stay terribly healthy this year, otherwise I think we'd probably see more of him. As it stands, he's an athletic third option that could be getting some competition from Andrew Quarless in the near future.
Ryan Taylor (no stats) - Mainly a special teams player, Taylor has yet to catch a pass this year. He's a big, athletic player, though, and if anyone is injured, I think it would be interesting to see what he could do in extended play.
Andrew Quarless (no stats) - Quarless was just recently brought off the Physically Unable to Perform list, which means he's all set for the active roster. He's been a somewhat reliable option in the past, so he could cut into the playing time of D.J. Williams or one of the other tight ends on the lower end of the totem pole.
Without game tape and a lot of free time, it's almost impossible to effectively evaluate the offensive line. They've been really bad at times (Seattle) and really good at other times (Houston). According to Football Outsiders, as a unit they don't rank particularly well in the run game (28th overall) or in pass protection (25th overall). Individually, though, at least one player is doing pretty well: Pro Football Focus says Josh Sitton is one of the two best guards in the NFC North so far this year. Football Outsiders' stats seem to back that up: they claim that the Packers are the 14th best team in the league when it comes to running straight up the middle.
Injuries have forced some shuffling up front of late. T.J. Lang finished the last game at right tackle when Bryan Bulaga was injured, while Evan Dietrich-Smith stepped in at left guard. Since it looks like Derek Sherrod won't be able to play this year, the Packers are awfully thin up front. Along with their other injury woes, the Packers' offensive line situation may be the story to watch through the rest of the year.