Green Bay has been winning with mediocre attack.
By Charean Williams
Aaron Rodgers isn’t about to sugar-coat it. Even though the Packers’ 5-3 record has them in first place in the NFC North, Rodgers admits he and his offensive mates haven’t been good enough.
“[I have] not [played] as well as I would have liked,” Rodgers said. “I was happy that I didn’t turn the ball over [against the Jets]. But as an offense, I think we’ve all underachieved as far as the high standards we’ve set for ourselves.
“We’re happy we’re 5-3 and a half-game up on the division. That’s important. Winning the division is our No. 1 goal. But I think individually, we’d all like to be playing a little bit better.”
The Packers were a preseason favorite to reach the Super Bowl because of Rodgers, who was considered an MVP candidate going into the year. But Green Bay ranks only 16th in total offense as Rodgers ranks only 17th in passer rating (85.3). He has 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
“He’s played good solid football,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I think it makes you appreciate how well he played last year, because he played at such a high level for pretty much the whole season. It’s something that we can definitely look back on and appreciate. He needs to step up a little bit. He knows that.”
The Packers are coming off a 9-0 victory over the Jets. While the win got them back into the Super Bowl talk, the Packers had a season-low 237 yards and converted only 2-of-14 third downs. Rodgers was 15-of-34 for 170 yards with a passer rating of 59.7, the third-lowest of his career as a starter.
McCarthy blamed his offense’s problems on fundamental mistakes.
“There are a couple of things we need to do as better as an offense, particularly on third down,” McCarthy said. “Our third down production has really been the key to our offense. Aaron was off the charts last year in third downs. I think he had a 130-plus quarterback rating on third down. We’ve just got to get back to some of the basic things that we had successes at in the past. It’s just being a little bit more fundamentally strong.”
Griffin is back
Titans safety Michael Griffin was criticized last season for his poor play. He took almost as much blame for the team’s 0-6 start as quarterback Kerry Collins. Griffin missed nine tackles and gave up seven touchdown passes in 2009, according to STATS, Inc.
But after the season, Griffin had surgery to repair a torn labrum, a procedure that required 11 anchors almost completely encircling the shoulder. That was the first time most people outside Baptist Sports Park had heard of the injury.
“Oh, man, it played a lot [into his poor season],” Griffin said. “A torn labrum makes it hard to try to make tackles. It was like trying to play with one arm, and then having stingers on the other side. It really put me in a vulnerable position. I really was out there trying to help the team to the best ability, but not being able to do too much.”
Griffin also blamed personal issues for some of his mental mistakes.
But that’s all in the past now. His shoulder is healed, his problems are solved and his game is good again.
Griffin, the 19th overall pick in 2007, has proved he is anything but a one-year wonder.
Griffin has four interceptions after making only one last season. His biggest came against the Cowboys in Week 5 when a Tony Romo pass bounced off tight end Martellus Bennett’s hands and into Griffin’s in the end zone. He had a fifth — which he returned 17 yards for a touchdown against the Chargers last week — negated by a holding penalty.
“It’s just being in the right place at the right time,” said Griffin, who named the AFC Defensive Player of the Month for October. “Some balls were tipped; some were overthrown; some were [forced by] good pressure by the D-line.”
Griffin has 52 tackles and seven pass breakups while allowing 19 catches for 258 yards and a touchdown. He is having a Pro Bowl-type season, an honor he received in 2008.
“Whatever I can do to make this team better, that’s all I’m trying to do,” Griffin said.
Cardinals running back Tim Hightower has lost his starting job, because of his penchant for fumbling. In 39 career games, Hightower has 10 fumbles, losing seven. Three of those have come this season. All three were lost. Hightower is paying for his ball insecurity: He had one rush and one reception last week.
• Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber has 39 career interceptions, returning 11 for touchdowns. The Bucs intercepted four passes last week and returned two for touchdowns, giving them a plus-eight turnover margin for the season.
• Ravens receiver Donte’ Stallworth is expected to play in his first regular-season game since Week 17 of the 2008 season. He missed all of 2009 after pleading guilty to DUI manslaughter, leading to a one-year suspension from the NFL. Stallworth returned to practice this week from a broken bone in his left foot suffered in the third preseason game. The Ravens can use him. He has 13 receptions of at least 40 yards in his career. The Ravens have two this season, tying them for 20th in the NFL.
• Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 25-7 vs. AFC North teams in his career. He had never lost in Cincinnati before the Bengals swept the Steelers twice last season.
• Five times this season Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has thrown for 300 yards. His 2,649 passing yards are the most in NFL history through the first eight games.
• The Seahawks are on their fifth offensive line combination of the season.
• The Rams are 4-1 at home, making Sam Bradford the only rookie quarterback selected No. 1 overall to win four of his first five starts at home since 1967, the first year of the common draft.
• The Bills defense has one interception, none by the secondary. Last year, Buffalo led the AFC with 28, including nine by free safety Jairus Byrd.
• Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer is 4-7 in starts against the Steelers. He is 193-of-343 with 14 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a passer rating of 78.9.
• The Panthers are sticking with quarterback Matt Moore despite his 10 interceptions and two fumbles in four starts this season. Carolina has been limited to 10 points or less in four of seven games this season and ranks near the bottom of every major offensive category, including points per game (12.1), yards per game (251.4), touchdowns (8) and interceptions (13).
• Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell has passer ratings of 127.9 and 120.9, the highest rated back-to-back weeks of his career.
• Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman has only three turnovers this season, a year after throwing 18 interceptions and losing two fumbles. He has sixth fourth quarter comeback victories in his young career.
• The Ravens were 3-8 in games decided by fewer than 7 points in John Harbaugh’s first two seasons. They are 3-2 in those close games this season.
• Eli Manning has had 11 interceptions, seven on tipped passes. He has been just a bit off all season, raising questions about whether there is something wrong with the Giants quarterback. He and his position coach, Mike Sullivan, insist nothing has changed as far as his mechanics.
• Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson has slowed his pace. He has only 109 yards on 32 carries in the past two games combined. Tomlinson, 31, again will have to prove to his critics that his age is not a factor. Tomlinson, the seventh-leading rusher in NFL history, has joined Walter Payton as the only players in league history with more than 13,000 rushing yards and 4,000 receiving yards.
• The Bears appear to be giving up on offensive lineman Chris Williams as a left tackle. He started the final four games at left tackle last season and started the first two games there this season before injuring a hamstring. When he returned, Williams was moved to left guard to replace Roberto Garza. Williams, who has allowed three sacks and had a holding penalty in four games, appears miscast at guard. But the Bears obviously aren’t ready to completely give up on the 14th overall pick in 2008.
• Kyle Orton never threw for 3,000 yards in any of his four seasons in Chicago. Yet, he went 21-11 as the Bears’ starter. In Chicago, all he did was win. But since arriving in Denver, Orton’s numbers have gone up, while his winning percentage has gone down. He threw for 3,802 yards last season and has 2,509 this season. The Broncos are 10-14 with Orton under starter.
• Lions rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh posted 14 tackles, 4.5 sacks, an interception, a pass defensed and a fumble return for a touchdown in the month of October. He has 6.5 sacks for the season and is on pace to equal Jevon Kearse’s NFL record for sacks by a rookie defensive lineman (14.5).
• Texans left tackle Duane Brown was beaten for three sacks by defensive end Dwight Freeney in two games against the Colts this season.
• Todd Haley is an unconventional coach, with some of his decisions drawing second-guessing at times in Kansas City. Haley has passed up four field goal tries of less than 40 yards this season. The Chiefs converted one of those four fourth down tries. For the season, Kansas City is 6-of-11 on fourth down. Haley believes his playing-to-win approach is going to build something with his team.
• Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has won 24 consecutive regular-season starts at Gillette Stadium, closing to within one win of Brett Favre’s post-merger NFL-record 25-game home winning streak. The Patriots haven’t lost a regular-season home game in which Brady started since Nov. 12, 2006, against the Jets. Favre won 25 consecutive home games for Green Bay from September 1995 through October 1998.
• The Giants are 5-16 all time in games played after their bye week, including a 3-3 record under Tom Coughlin.
• Donovan McNabb turns 34 this month. His passer rating of 76.0 is the lowest of his 11 years as a starter. He was benched at the end of a loss to the Lions. Yet, McNabb, whose contract expires after this season, said this week that he is “100 percent” certain he will sign a contract extension with the Redskins.