Packer Hustle: Defense takes charge
More than any blowout, this is the kind of game where a Super Bowl contender is most recognizable.
You've got a team like Green Bay, who's been kicking some serious tush, and you have St. Louis, which, admittedly, is an incomplete team – but it does some things so well it can bring down squads like Seattle and Arizona.
Green Bay had a mistake-filled and milquetoast day on offense. Three turnovers almost made the whole state pass out. And St. Louis excelled where expected – run the ball and pressure the backfield. But did it ever really feel like Green Bay was losing control? (I mean, other than maybe one quarter against Seattle, has it ever felt like Green Bay's hold on any game this year was ever slipping?)
The average NFL game is not a blowout. For one team to have everything or nothing go right for itself in a game is an anomaly. So you judge a contender based on how well it can pretend its inadequacies are immaterial. Green Bay turned the ball over, allowed almost 200 yards rushing and ran for just 86 on its own. But it also shut out St. Louis for three quarters, got in the quarterback's grill and forced four turnovers. Green Bay wins, 24-10.
1. Clay Matthews (Last week: No. 1)–All season, he has found ways to split an offense's center and guard and be in the backfield to wreak havoc in a second flat. I don't think anyone in the league is better at it. He perfected the craft in the second half Sunday, when he cruised by center Tim Barnes and guard Garrett Reynolds (Reynolds looked stupefied) so fast that quarterback Nick Foles did not even have time to panic. The play felt like one of those moments in Madden that reveal the shortcomings of the A.I. That's what Matthews has become – the annoyingly crafty human-controlled player taking advantage of all glitches. Clay Matthews: torch-carrier.
2. Julius Peppers (Last week: Doghouse No. 3)–There were many Packer defenders who made their presence felt in the backfield Sunday (fedora tips to Mike Daniels, B.J. Raji, Letroy Guion, Mike Neal and Nick Perry). But Peppers' chances at the QB had big consequences. He pressured Foles into a throw that was intercepted by Micah Hyde. He forced Foles into a third-down incomplete pass in the second half. And Peppers practically ingested an offensive lineman on his way to sacking Foles and forcing a fumble in the third quarter.
3. Quinten Rollins (Last week: Not ranked)–His pick-six was practically a gift from the football gods. Defensive end Datone Jones applied the pressure and tight end Jared Cook didn't finish his route, so the ball floated into Rollins' hands. He also allowed a 68-yard reception late in the game, but ended that drive with a second interception that involved various skills, so it all evens out. Let's give it up for the rookie! He's only been playing football for two years since graduating high school. You know how it is. You pick up an old hobby, you immediately get sucked into its premier professional league and you'll take whatever balls bounce your way. (For real, though, he's having a nice year.)
4. Sam Shields (Last week: No. 5)–Another strong game that included feats such as keeping stride with speedy Tavon Auston and preventing the downfield strike and also defending a jump ball in the end zone to Brian Quick, who is almost half a foot taller than Shields.
5. James Jones (Last week: No. 4)–
[My living room.]
Me: Hmm, James Jones hasn't done anything. This was bound to happen eventually.
[Jones scores a 65-yard touchdown and looks like Mr. Fantastic stretching for the goal line.]
Dropped from the Leaderboard: Aaron Rodgers (we have reached a milestone in the storied history of this blog. Please take a moment to reflect. Actually hold off on that because it gets worse as you read on.) and Mike Daniels (still a buzzsaw on the line, but it was such a party in St. Louis' backfield and some people just partied harder).
1. Aaron Rodgers* (Last week: Leaderboard No. 2)–I feel uncomfortable, so let's make this snappy: three turnovers (they're aren't all his fault, yeah, yeah), a whatever 63 percent completion percentage and struggles to get those darn free plays. I am bound by the asterisk.
2. Richard Rodgers (Last week: NR)–My goodness, when in the history of time and space has it ever been a bad day to be named Rodgers? Because I don't think Fred Rogers ever had a bad day and he was born in 1928. Anyway, Rodgers the tight end dropped an easy-breezy pass into the red zone that he potentially could have scored on. Then on the same drive he nullified a 47-yard field goal by committing a hands-to-the-face. Perhaps it is best Fred Rogers wasn't around to see this day.
3. The Football God of Injuries (Last week: NR)–On Sunday, T.J. Lang, B.J. Raji and Perry left with injuries. Key reserve Sean Richardson's career may end after hurting his neck last week. Morgan Burnett and Davante Adams remain sidelined. What has Green Bay done to antagonize this deity. When will it stop. It will not.
Ascended from the Doghouse: Julius Peppers (the defense tastes better with his seasoning) and Tim Masthay (punts of 52, 47, 39 and 52 punts him right out of this group).
Next week: San Diego Chargers
The University of Wisconsin Marching Band insists on playing at Lambeau Field for a second straight week, this time to steal a Melvin Gordon.
*Rodgers' performance is judged based on superhuman standards.
Reporter Elliot Hughes has been with GazetteXtra since 2015. His sportswriting has appeared in The Huffington Post, the Isthmus and The Classical. Follow him on Twitter @elliothughes12 or email him at [email protected].