Every week we meet on friendly ground with the opponent’s bloggers and ask five questions about the state of the team. Given that this is Packers week, we were unable to find friendly ground and instead met in Lake Michigan and yelled across the bow of our respective ships (one of which is sinking). Jason Hirschhorn from Acme Packing Company helps us understand more about Thursday’s foe.
WCG: 1. As Robert Mays of the Ringer puts it, Aaron Rodgers is an actual fire-breathing dragon and not of this world. We've seen flashes of awesome this year but also inconsistent play to the point of getting booed at home against Dallas on Sunday. Is there something wrong with Rodgers or is something/someone else to blame?
APC: Though nothing appears physically wrong with Aaron Rodgers, he certainly hasn't played like the quarterback that won the league MVP as recently as 2014. I wrote about Rodgers' struggles at length earlier this week, but in short, throws that used to represent layups have become challenging for him. He also hasn't made as many plays down the field within the design of the play, an issue that cropped up in 2015 and has continued into this season. He no longer seems to have the discipline that made him the most dangerous quarterback in football, and after a year of poor performance this has begun to look like the new normal.
WCG: 2. Jordy Nelson tore his ACL before the start of the 2015 season. He's found paydirt frequently this season but his catch efficiency is down from what we're used to seeing out of him. Is he completely back physically and mentally from the injury?
APC: As of yet, Jordy Nelson has not reclaimed the form that made him a second-team All-Pro in 2014. He doesn't display the same burst at the snap of previous seasons, nor has he shown the sideline acrobatics that made him such a dangerous weapon for many years in Green Bay. Given his age (31) and other injuries, that receiver may be gone for good.
That doesn't mean Nelson can't return to bona fide No. 1 receiver status, however. As you hinted at, he has caught a league-leading five touchdowns already, and he has started to make more big plays down the field. Nelson isn't going to maintain his touchdown-per-game average, but it seems reasonable that he will begin gaining more yards after the catch in the near future.
WCG: 3. Josh Sitton has settled in and looks great in navy and orange. What happened with him that caused the team to make a move and release him just before the season started? Are the Packers missing him or is the succession plan working out?
APC: The details of Josh Sitton's departure remain unclear, and neither team nor player seem willing to share them anytime soon. We may never know why the Packers decided to release their best offensive lineman on the eve of the season.
Though Sitton has certainly played well for Chicago, Green Bay's offensive line hasn't fallen off in his absence. New starting left guard Lane Taylor has performed admirably in his stead while the linemen to either side of him -- left tackle David Bakhtiari and center JC Tretter -- have played the best football of their careers. While having Sitton would unquestionably improve the unit, it seems fine without him.
WCG: 4. On the other side of the ball, what do we make of the Packers defense? Before Sunday's loss to Dallas, the defense ranked in the top 10 in DVOA and the run defense had looked great, led by the outstanding play of Defensive End Mike Daniels. Who are the guys to watch out for on that side of the ball on Thursday and is this a top 10 unit moving forward?
APC: You already mentioned one of the most consistent members of the defense. Mike Daniels not only anchors the defensive line, but he consistently takes on double teams and still manages to generate pressure. At least through five games, the unit's second-best player has been outside linebacker Nick Perry. After years of disappointing play, the former first-round pick has become a pass-rushing machine. Not only does he lead the team in sacks and quarterback knockdowns, but he also has played a major role in improving the run defense to elite status.
At the same time, the secondary has struggled with Sam Shields, Damarious Randall, and Quinten Rollins all missing time. It remains unclear whether any of them can play against the Bears on Thursday. Once they return, the unit overall could return to top-10 status. Until then, they probably belong somewhere in the middle of the pack.
WCG: 5. What are the expectations record-wise for the rest of the year for GB? Can they put it together to win the division, earn a wildcard berth, or will they end up missing the playoffs?
APC: That's difficult to say. On the one hand, the Packers have definitely played below their current 3-2 record. Outside of one half against the woeful Detroit Lions, the offense hasn't even matched last year's scoring efficiency, and last week's tilt with the Cowboys exposed more issues on the defense. At the same time, Green Bay's schedule doesn't look particularly imposing outside of a few matchups. A mediocre team could still realistically reach double-digit wins given that setup.
Ultimately, I cannot see the Packers earning a playoff berth unless their offense significantly improves. Such a development remains on the table, but it becomes more difficult to fathom by the week.
Thank you to Jason and Acme Packing Company!