NFL week one: Five judgments from Packers' loss to 49ers

[caption id="attachment_154" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Clay Matthews was one of the lone bright spots for the Packers defense Sunday, registering 2.5 sacks."][/caption]

1. Same defense, different year

Green Bay’s Achilles heel throughout 2011 was their defense, the secondary in particular. They were dead last in the league in total yards allowed and passing yards allowed per game. They missed tackles, surrendered a ton of big plays and got lost in coverage.

Based on today’s performance, they could be in for a lot more of the same.

The Packers let Alex Smith complete 20 of 26 passes for 211 yards and a pair of touchdowns. On multiple occasions, Smith found his targets with no Packer defender in sight. Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis all had catches of 20 yards or more.

Frank Gore ran for 112 yards on 16 carries, an average of seven yards per run.

If defensive coordinator Dom Capers can’t get this defense to play at a higher level, this team will face the same scrutiny and challenges it did last year.

2. Cedric Benson needs to be much, much better

The National Football League may be driven by quarterbacks and wide receivers these days, but that doesn’t mean you can get away with having absolutely no running game.

Cedric Benson, who has gone over the 1,000-yard mark in each of the last three seasons, signed in August and was expected to be Green Bay’s starter in the backfield.

Benson ran it nine times for 18 yards with a long of four yards. Aaron Rodgers may be the MVP and he may have an abundance of weapons around him, but no offense can function without some sort of running game.

Benson ran for 1,067 yards last season with Cincinnati, but averaged just 3.9 yards per carry. Grant averaged 4.2 YPC and took much less of a physical beating.

Benson was a surprise choice over Grant, who is still sitting on the free agent pile. A few more outings like this from Benson and it might be time to give him a call.

3. On the plus side, the pass rush has (hopefully) returned

Aside from giving up massive amounts of yards last year, Green Bay also had a problem getting to the opposing quarterback. They recorded just 29 sacks, 27th in the NFL.

Clay Matthews (2.5) and Charles Woodson (1.5) combined for four sacks on Smith and the Green Bay defense generated pressure on him for most of the game.

Matthews got to the quarterback 13.5 times in 2010, but saw that number plummet to just six in 2011. Offenses started to highlight Matthews as the only legitimate pass rushing threat and doubled, sometimes triple-teamed him on almost every snap.

First round pick Nick Perry should help take some of the pressure off of Matthews and prevent offenses from throwing extra bodies at him.

The secondary looks like it’s still in shambles, but some of those deficiencies can be masked if the Pack can regain their 2010 pass rushing form.

4. Randall Cobb is a superstar in the making

Aaron Rodgers may have a new favorite target in Cobb, a second round choice in 2011. His athleticism is what sold GM Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy, and he has put that on display ever since returning a kickoff for a touchdown in his first game in the NFL last year.

He fought for playing time in Green Bay’s crowded receiving corps last year, but figures to have a larger role in 2012.

Cobb hauled in nine catches for 77 yards and brought a punt back 75 yards to the house when the Packers were in desperate need of a jolt in the fourth quarter.

Rodgers looked to him in pressure situations and he didn’t disappoint. What makes Cobb so dangerous is his ability to run after the catch and turn a five-yard catch into a 10 or 15 yard gain.

Between the run after the catch ability and his return skills, he looks a lot like Percy Harvin. Expect big things from Cobb this season, especially if defenses sit back and try to take away the deep ball to Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson.

5. Donald Driver’s role might be even less than originally thought

When Driver agreed to restructure his contract this offseason, we all knew that meant his role would decrease in some capacity. However, most people probably expected him to get on the field for more than three plays in the season opener.

The fan favorite spent almost the entire game on the sidelines before getting in on Green Bay’s final three plays.

The Packers used their no-huddle package quite a bit Sunday. They made substitutions, just not with Driver.

He’s one of the classiest guys in the league and never expresses his frustrations publically, but it’s fair to wonder if this is what he thought he signed up for.

Based on today, Driver won’t see much playing time if Green Bay’s top four receivers (Jennings, Nelson, Cobb and Jones) stay healthy.

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