The Packers’ roster contains more than its share of big-play guys.
As recently as last year, there were complaints that the Packers did not have enough playmakers to be a contending team. Whether or not that was true at the time, it is no longer true. The Packers now have several players who are capable of making big plays on a regular basis. And just as importantly, during this five-game winning streak the Packers have consistently won the line-of-scrimmage battle, allowing their playmakers on both sides of the ball to do what they do best.
I divide playmakers into two categories: Top-notch playmakers, who can consistently deliver big plays, and occasional playmakers, who are normally just very good but will occasionally make that jaw-droppingly great play. Let’s take a look at them now, in order of importance.
Aaron Rodgers: Chris Collinsworth made a very good point a couple weeks ago, when he said that the difference between the very best NFL QB’s and all of the rest is that the best ones can complete passes to receivers who are not open. He was referring to Kurt Warner, but Aaron Rodgers is one of a handful of QB’s who can do this on a regular basis. He also throws a good deep ball, he can extend plays by avoiding pressure, and he can scramble for long gains when he gets the chance. He leads the league in QB rushing yards. A great playmaking QB is the single best asset any team can have. And we’ve got one.
Charles Woodson: There’s not much more that can be said about this guy. Interceptions, forced fumbles, tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and sacks. He does it all. He is easily the best player on the team, and he can find a way to impact a game even when opposing QB’s are avoiding him like he plague, as they well should.
Clay Matthews: His demolition of the Bears’ left tackle on Sunday was a joy to watch. One sack and two penalties drawn—one for holding and one for a facemask. Also, he more than held his own against the run. And this has become a typical game for the rookie. This guy lives to play football. He reminds me of some of those great Oakland Raider players of the 70s.
Jermichael Finley: Maybe I’m a little early with this one, but Finley is a matchup nightmare for opposing teams, and he is only going to get better. He has a size-speed-skill combo that is very rare, and he is on the verge of becoming a TE who can be mentioned in the same sentences as TE’s like Antonio Gates and Jeremy Shockey. He is the future. And luckily for the 2009 Packers, he is also the present.
Nick Collins: After finally coming into his own last season, Collins continues to be a ballhawk, with six interceptions, and he seems to get them at the very best times. He is also capable of chasing down ballcarriers from behind, preventing TD’s on big plays. In addition, his speed allows him to provide support for the CB’s on deep balls, helping to prevent big plays by opposing teams.
Nick Barnett—With his knee healing, he has played better and better as the season has gone on. Barnett specializes in sniffing out screen passes and pursuing ballcarriers sideline-to-sideline behind the line of scrimmage. He can create havoc on blitzes as well, and he always plays with a nasty attitude.
Greg Jennings—Last year, he would’ve been in the first category. For unknown reasons, his production has fallen off this year, as he often comes up just short when given a chance to make a big play. He is still the receiver that opposing teams fear most, however–a legitimate deep threat, and he can kill you on slants if he catches the ball at full speed, in the clear.
Donald Driver—He has enjoyed a resurgence this season. Driver can get open deep and has made not just one, but two one-handed catches on deep balls this season. His specialty, however, is converting third downs by catching the ball in traffic and taking big hits.
Cullen Jenkins—Although he is not going to run up big sack totals as a 3-4 DE, Jenkins can often be found in the opposing team’s backfield, getting pressure on the QB or blowing up running plays. He can also chase down ballcarriers from behind—a rare talent for a defensive lineman.
The defense has suffered two huge losses this year with the injuries to Al Harris and Aaron Kampman. I’m not sure, however, that either of them would fit into the category of “playmaker.” Harris is very solid, and he helped set up Woodson by reliably covering his half of the field. Kampman got a lot of sacks but was not as dynamic of a player as Matthews.
The one real playmaker who was lost to injury this season was Will Blackmon, who scored two TD’s on punt returns last season and broke a few other big ones. Heretical as it sounds, I would argue that Blackmon has been harder to replace than Harris or Kampman, although time will tell how much the loss of the two defensive Pro Bowlers will damage the Packers’ chances of being a real force in the playoffs this season.
At any rate, the Packers do have a worthy collection of impact players, which belies Ted Thompson’s reputation among many fans as a dull and unimaginative GM. He made bold moves to grab Rodgers, Woodson, and Matthews, while Finley, Collins, and Jennings were somewhat unconventional draft picks who are now paying off. If this year’s Packer team continues to get solid play at the line of scrimmage as well as from the Grants, Hawks, and Bigbys, they have enough big-play talent to make some noise in the playoffs.
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