With the Green Bay Packers (1-2) falling to the Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) Sunday in what can only be considered a nauseating rollercoaster ride for both clubs, it seemed natural to put together the first stock report of the 2013 season.
The ebbs and flows of a stock exchange defined Green Bay's performance. The Packers scored the game's middle 30 points in consecutive fashion, but also allowed the first 14 and final 20 to lose, 34-30.
Below is a look at those who saw their stock rise and fall during Sunday's 34-30 loss in Cincinnati:
RB Johnathan Franklin: During the dying embers of training camp, a ridiculous but audible presence emerged that surmised Franklin was on the roster bubble. He likely never was. The fourth-round pick from UCLA certainly wasn't impressive in August, and his struggles in pass protection were a legitimate concern. But Sunday provided all the evidence needed for why the Packers were willing to stick with him through early growing pains. He can be a dynamic mover in space, and his patience and quick-twitch skills while working with the first-team offense were a far cry from the dud performances he produced with the preseason scrubs. Franklin's catastrophic fourth-quarter fumble will obviously live on as the black eye of his NFL debut. But before Sunday, would anyone have argued that Franklin was capable of a 100-yard performance against the Bengals front seven? He belongs.
DL Datone Jones: Worry began to reverberate when Jones, the Packers first-round pick in April, was quiet during his first two NFL games. Patience is a virtue. The rookie played 35 snaps and was asked to play disciplined in his rush lanes against two mobile quarterbacks. On Sunday, he finally started to make his presence felt. Jones was in on a sack and forced fumble of Andy Dalton in the first half, and then later blocked an extra point attempt that kept the Packers lead at three. Both were flash plays worthy of a top pick. As Jones' ankle heals and his role increases, expect more of the same. He's going to be a player.
CB Sam Shields: Bengals receiver A.J. Green beat Shields clean for a third quarter touchdown, but it's hard to knock the overall performance from Green Bay's best cover cornerback. In the hierarchy of elite receivers, Green is somewhere near the top. With his deep speed and long arms, Shields mostly eliminated the Bengals' 6'4" receiver. Green was targeted a team-high eight times but caught just four for 46 yards. Shields even recorded his first interception of 2013 on a third-down play that helped turn the momentum in Green Bay's favor.
QB Aaron Rodgers: Since 2008, there have been precious few weeks where you could legitimately call Rodgers a primary reason for why the Packers lost a football game. Sunday might be one. His first interception was more a causation of James Jones not finishing his route than a poor throw, but the second was a forced decision and a game-changing play. The two second-half turnovers tilted momentum back Cincinnati's way after the Packers had a road win by the neck. Rodgers' entire afternoon was mostly uncharacteristic and sloppy, and he finished with his worst passer rating (64.5) in a game he's completed since October 2010 (59.7, at New York Jets). Luckily for the Packers, these days at the office are a rarity for Rodgers. But Green Bay lost a game it should have won Sunday in large part because of the failures of its quarterback.
KR Jeremy Ross: The Packers are no longer an offense that relies on all five receivers to play snaps in a given game. Ross is on the 53-man roster because of his ability on special teams, not as a legitimate offensive weapon. He failed his primary objective Sunday. The muffed kick in the first quarter handed the Bengals an early 14-0 lead before Rodgers even stepped foot onto the field. The Packers probably should have overcame the miscue and won the game, but it's hard enough to beat good teams on the road without special teams mistakes. That's now two huge blunders in the past four games for Ross.
Staying Healthy: Mike McCarthy and the Packers coaching staff made another concerted effort this offseason to decrease the number of injuries. Well, a lot of the same problems in the training room have remained. Concussions like the ones suffered by Eddie Lacy and Jermichael Finley are unavoidable, but the hamstrings of Morgan Burnett, Casey Hayward and Clay Matthews might be the difference between 1-2 and 3-0. Losing James Starks to a knee injury was seemingly negated by Franklin's big day, but it also forced the Packers to be limited in the running game during the second half with only one running back available. Finley's head injury in the first quarter appeared to throw Green Bay's game plan into complete disarray, and Andy Dalton threw for 168 of his 235 yards after Matthews exited in the second half. The absences of Burnett and Hayward have rippled through the passing defense, especially back in Week 1. Every team deals with injuries during a given year, but the Packers seem to get stung at the worst times, year-after-year.
Zach Kruse is a 25-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covered prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at [email protected].
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