As I was walking into Lambeau Field last Sunday afternoon, eager to see the Packers and Colts matchup, I couldn’t ignore how many Number 4 jerseys I saw. Clearly, the hysteria from the Brett Favre saga has not left Packer fans. Heck, CBS even went so far as to bring New York Jets games to the homes of Wisconsin residents every Sunday this fall, effectively ending any chance for closure. While this is inevitable, however, like most Green Bay Packer fans, I am still warming up to the idea of seeing a guy from California wearing number 12 under center.
This Californian that I am referring to is of course Aaron Rodgers. In his first year on the job, Rodgers has managed to keep the Packers in the playoff hunt, something Favre did almost every single season. While Aaron Rodgers is no Brett Favre, he is playing very efficiently as seen in his QB rating of 98.8, tied for fourth best in the league (all statistics courtesy of Elias Sports Bureau). Also, Rodgers has thrown 12 touchdowns.
Aside from the statistics, Rodgers has won over the support of his Packers’ teammates with his toughness. In his first three years as a backup, Number 12 was often injured, including a season-ending injury in his sophomore campaign. This season seems to be a new story for Rodgers, who has led the Packers to a 4-3 record. He has shed his California pretty boy image by playing the last three games with an injured shoulder.
Surely, this has won him a few points with the veterans in the locker room, but he has a long way to go before even drawing comparisons to Favre.
Brett Favre, on the other hand, is putting up very solid numbers this year. He still takes his share of chances throwing the ball. Despite a devastating overtime loss to Oakland, Favre is showing that he can still compete. He has thrown 13 touchdowns in six games, but he has been intercepted eight times already.
The starting quarterbacks of the Jets and Packers do garner their share of the attention, but other skill players on the offensive side of the ball have been effective for both teams.
For the Pack, the receivers have been making most of the offensive plays this season. Greg Jennings is performing great as a deep threat, and has led the Packers in receiving yardage every single game in 2008. Jennings is currently first in the NFL in receiving yards with 685 yards.
Donald Driver, Donald Lee and rookie wideout Jordy Nelson have performed well as possession receivers. The ground game has been slower than expected this year for the Packers. Fresh off of a breakout year, Ryan Grant has yet to prove that he is worth his new six year contract.
For the New York Jets, Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles have given the team a potent one-two punch in the wideout positions (stats).
Out of the backfield for the Jets is Thomas Jones, the former Chicago Bear, who is on pace for a 1,000 yard campaign. Running back Leon Washington has also been effective catching the ball out of the backfield with 16 catches in six games, while giving starter Thomas Jones valuable relief in the rushing department. Washington is also one of the most dynamic punt returners in the game, averaging 10.7 yards per return.
The defensive side of the ball for the Packers has been a tale of two seasons. When it is healthy this can be one of the most effective units in the league, as seen this past Sunday holding the Colts to 14 points. But with injuries to Atari Bigby, Al Harris and Cullen Jenkins to name a few, the defense is struggling to keep opponents at bay. The good news is that the Packers expect most of the injured players to return this season.
The standout performers for the Packers defense this year have been in the secondary. Cornerback Charles Woodson and safety Nick Collins are tied for the league lead in interceptions with four apiece.
The defense has taken pressure off of Rodgers by providing some offense of their own. Woodson has two defensive touchdowns this year while backup safety Aaron Rouse had his first career touchdown when he picked off a Peyton Manning pass and took it 99 yards for the score. Safety Nick Collins also added a defensive touchdown in the matchup.
The New York Jets defense has remained relatively healthy this year. Defensive end Shaun Ellis is tops on the team in sacks with five, while linebacker Bryan Thomas has 4.5 to his own credit. Second year cornerback Darrelle Revis has been the leader of a much improved secondary. Revis has three picks this year, along with one touchdown.
Too often, fans get caught up in the players and their stats when the real driving force behind a team’s success is their Head Coach. The Packers coach Mike McCarthy is enjoying success in his third season as a head coach. McCarthy has ties to the Packers all the way back to 1999 when he was the team’s Quarterback Coach. McCarthy is looking to capitalize on last year’s playoff experience to build momentum for a young team.
For the Jets and their coach Eric Mangini, it has been less than glamorous in two plus seasons. When originally hired, “Mangenius” (as he is known around the NFL) was heralded because he coached under the Patriots with the future Hall of Famer Bill Belichick for six seasons. Since taking over Mangini is 17-21 with a playoff appearance. Success this year for Mangini is critical to his job security. A funny fact about Mangini is that he is actually 15 months younger than his quarterback, Brett Favre.
With seven weeks down and ten to go, the Packers at 4-3 and the Jets at 3-3 are both in good position to snag a playoff spot. Given the talent for both teams, a playoff appearance would provide good momentum to facilitate more successful seasons in the future.