NFC North: Green Bay Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Midway through training camp, Brandon Bostick looked like the Green Bay Packers' best chance to replicate what Jermichael Finley offered them at the tight end position.

Bostick
Even if he did not win the starting job, Bostick had put himself in position to play a major role in an offense that thrives when it has an athletic player who can operate down the seam like Finley did before his neck injury last season.

So why hasn't Bostick played a single snap on offense yet when he seemingly offers an antidote to the ills of the Packers' passing game?

The leg injury he sustained Aug. 16 kept him out through Week 1 of the regular season, but that is no longer an issue. Bostick has taken his full workload on special teams in each of the last two games, and special-teams coach Shawn Slocum said there's nothing wrong with the way Bostick has run down the field on the coverage teams.

So it can't be the injury that has prevented coach Mike McCarthy from throwing Bostick into the game plan.

From the way offensive coordinator Tom Clements made it sound on Monday, Bostick's practice habits have not warranted playing time. When asked whether Bostick can elevate his play to match what it was in training camp, Clements said: "Sure, he can. It's just a matter of being consistent and getting back into the groove."

Meanwhile, the second-year pro waits his turn.

"I think it's kind of hard to play three tight ends," said Bostick, one of four tight ends on the roster. "You can't play three tight ends. It's whoever's hot right now."

The problem is, no one has been hot. Rookie third-round pick Richard Rodgers has started every game but has been a nonfactor in the passing game (one target and no catches in three games) and is a liability as run blocker (see the safety play from Sunday's game), leaving the Packers perplexed about why Rodgers has not been able to carry over a relatively solid showing in training camp.

"Well, I'm not sure of the answer to that," Clements said.

We may already have seen the beginning of a reduced role for Rodgers. Andrew Quarless played nearly three times as many snaps as Rodgers in Sunday's loss to the Lions and caught four passes for 43 yards and a touchdown, but he doesn't have Bostick's ability to stretch the field.

Perhaps Clements and McCarthy will give some of Rodgers' snaps to Bostick in Sunday's game at the Chicago Bears.

"I'm eager," Bostick said. "I'm just ready to get back to where I was before I left off, before I got injured."

With no reason to think Finley will walk back into the locker room given that Packers physician Dr. Pat McKenzie has not given him clearance to return, the Packers need someone from the tight end spot to take some of the defensive attention away from receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.

Aaron Rodgers has thrown the ball the way of his tight ends less than four times per game this season -- 3.7 times to be exact. That's nearly two-and-a-half targets fewer than his average of 6.1 throws to tight ends in the previous six seasons. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that tight ends had a large share of blocking assignments in the six quarters the Packers played Derek Sherrod at right tackle in place of the injured Bryan Bulaga. But with Bulaga back from his knee injury, that should not be necessary.

"They're always, for the most part, involved with the pass game," Nelson said of the tight ends. "Sometimes we'll keep them in for pass protection, but they're doing what they're being asked to do."

The Film Don't Lie: Packers

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
11:00
AM ET
A weekly look at what the Green Bay Packers must fix:

Some of former Packers tight end Jermichael Finley's biggest games came against the Chicago Bears. There was Finley's nine-catch, 115-yard game in 2010 and his three-touchdown game in 2011.

But unless the Packers can find someone to replicate Finley's production, the Bears might not have to worry much about the tight ends during Sunday's game at Soldier Field.

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has thrown to his tight ends an average of just 3.7 times per game this season, which would rate as a career low. In his first six seasons as a starter, Rodgers averaged 6.1 attempts per game to his tight ends.

Rookie third-round pick Richard Rodgers has started every game yet has been a nonfactor in the passing game, with only one ball thrown his way in three games. Although Andrew Quarless caught four passes for 43 yards (including a 10-yard touchdown) on Sunday against the Lions, he lacks the big-play explosiveness the Packers had with Finley, whose career remains on hold because of the neck injury he sustained last season.

The only way to replicate that might be to use Brandon Bostick, who is the closest thing the Packers have to Finley in terms of athleticism among their tight ends. But the coaches thus far have refused to give Bostick a chance. He was inactive for Week 1 while recovering from a preseason leg injury and played only on special teams the last two games. It might be time for the Packers to give Bostick a shot and see if he can help make something happen down the field like Finley often did.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy seemed ready to give a full-on assessment of why he thought Eddie Lacy and the running game struggled in Sunday's loss to the Detroit Lions.

"Eddie needs to play better," McCarthy began.

Lacy
And then he stopped himself.

"I'm not going to do this anymore; I don't correct individuals in the media," McCarthy said Monday. "We've seen the film. Corrections have been made. Our running game wasn't nearly what it needed to be. Not even close."

You can bet that the assessment was more detailed in the meeting room at Lambeau Field on Monday after the offense watched film of their 223-yard, seven-point performance against the Lions.

While McCarthy and offensive coordinator Tom Clements lamented six dropped passes by their count (ProFootballFocus.com had the Packers with five) that Clements said would have made quarterback Aaron Rodgers' performance look much better, they likely spent more time trying to fix their sputtering run game while praising the offensive line for what they felt was better than adequate pass protection.

For it's the run game, they believe, that will open up things for the rest of their struggling offense and Rodgers, who has played one Rodgers-like game (in Week 2 against the Jets) in three so far this season for the 1-2 Packers.

In three games, Lacy has just 113 rushing yards -- tied for 36th in the NFL -- and has averaged a full yard less than the 4.1-yard average per carry he posted last year on the way to winning the NFL's offensive rookie of the year award.

"We had some misreads and had some blocks that weren't finished," Clements said. "When that happens, it's hard to get the run game going consistent."

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of it was the fact that the Lions essentially dared the Packers to run the ball. They played most of the game with both safeties back in coverage.

Through Sunday’s games, the Packers ranked 27th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (78.7).

"We have an outstanding quarterback and the focus on our offense is always about making our quarterback successful," McCarthy said. "That approach will never change. It starts with a healthy run game."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers came to the postgame interview following Sunday's 19-7 loss to the Detroit Lions with a buzzword locked and loaded.

Rodgers
Rodgers
In eight minutes, he uttered the words "adjust" or "adjustments" at nearly a once-a-minute rate.

Consider this from the Green Bay Packers quarterback: "Offensively, we didn't make enough good adjustments to score more points."

When asked what he meant that, Rodgers said: "Adjustments. We didn't make enough adjustments."

If Rodgers, who managed the lowest scoring output of a game that he started and finished -- and his second-lowest passing yardage total in such games -- since he took over as the Packers' quarterback in 2008, had an issue with the way coach Mike McCarthy game planned or called the game, he did not say so directly on Sunday.

And on Monday, neither McCarthy nor offensive coordinator Tom Clements could shed any light on what Rodgers meant after he completed just 16 of 27 passes for 162 yards.

"I don’t know," Clements said. "You'll have to ask him."

McCarthy said after the game and reiterated on Monday that perhaps he should have put the game in Rodgers' hands earlier than he did before he realized the running game, which managed just 76 yards on 22 attempts, was ineffective.

"Obviously we went into the game wanting to be balanced," McCarthy said. "And obviously the angles and the way their defense played, the production in the run game was clearly execution. The ability to attack any coverage, particularly with Aaron, the only correction I would make as a play-caller is, 'Do you go to it sooner as far as just attacking their coverage, attacking their two-deep?' Once again, we have good players. We didn't play very well in the run game, and it definitely factored in the game."

Clay Matthews in wait-and-see mode

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
6:30
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It may take the entire week before Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews knows whether the groin injury he sustained in Sunday's loss to the Detroit Lions will prevent him from playing in this Sunday's game at the Chicago Bears.

Matthews
Although coach Mike McCarthy said Monday that he had no medical updates, Matthews indicated that he's in a wait-and-see mode in part because he has never before had this injury.

"It's hard to answer that right now," Matthews said Monday. "Obviously I think it's something I can play with, but you've got to make sure you're operating at a high level. That will be the biggest obstacle, not obstacle but thing to find out, and I think we'll know more on Wednesday or Thursday."

Matthews was injured in the fourth quarter and finished the game on the sideline. At the time, it was unclear if Matthews was being held out simply because the game was out of reach or because he could not return.

"The way the communication goes on the sidelines is the medical staff determines if a player is up or down," McCarthy said.

That would indicate that Matthews could not have returned.

Matthews missed five games last season because of a twice-broken thumb and has dealt with hamstring pulls in the past.

"I feel good," Matthews said. "But it's new to me, so it's not like I can really compare it."

The only other injury that came out of Sunday's game was to cornerback Davon House. He originally left the game with cramps but then returned only to depart again because of a knee injury. House played one of his best career games, coming with up an interception and holding up well in coverage during part-time duty against Calvin Johnson.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – When a team ranks 27th in the NFL in rushing yards per game, there are myriad problems with its running game.

And that's the case with the Green Bay Packers, who after three games are averaging just 78.7 yards on the ground.

But a review of Sunday's 19-7 loss at the Detroit Lions – a game in which the Packers rushed 22 times for 76 yards – showed a particular problem on one specific run call: the toss play.

The Packers ran that play six times in their 22 rushing attempts (or 27.3 percent of their runs) and netted just 12 yards. And on one of those plays, James Starks took a toss on third-and-1 in the second quarter and picked up 15 yards.

The other five toss plays produced the following:
  • Zero yards (by Eddie Lacy) on a first-and-10 play in the first quarter.
  • Zero yards (by Starks) on second-and-10 play in the first quarter.
  • Two yards (by Starks) on second-and-3 in the second quarter, one play before his 15-yard gain.
  • Minus-2 yards (by Lacy) on a second-and-3 play in the third quarter.
  • Minus-3 yards (by DuJuan Harris) on a first-and-10 play in the third quarter.

On those five plays, the Packers netted minus-3 yards.

Four of those five plays helped contribute to drives that ended with punts.

On Lacy's run for minus-2, right tackle Bryan Bulaga got beat by defensive end Jason Jones, who made the tackle.

On Harris' run for minus-3, fullback John Kuhn made a diving block attempt and missed.

"It seemed like we had some plays and opportunities to have big runs and just couldn't finish the play," Packers right guard T.J. Lang said of the running game in general. "It's always tough running the ball against them. We know that with their defensive front. I think when we watch film [Monday], we're going to see that we left some yards out on the field. We have to find a way to pick the running game up. The first three games, it’s been disappointing."
DETROIT -- It's hard to hold Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers and his troops responsible for Sunday's 19-7 loss to the Detroit Lions.

Not when you consider they picked off two passes, recovered a fumble after a strip-sack and gave up just 10 points.

Peppers
"They basically kept us going there for the first two-and-half, three quarters," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of the defense.

But that was little consolation to those on the defensive side of the ball after Sunday's game. Even though the Packers' offense gave the Lions almost as many points (seven on Eddie Lacy's fumble that the Lions returned for a touchdown and two on a safety), the Lions managed to keep things going in the second half, officially converting 6-of-8 third downs plus two more by penalty.

Rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix gave the Packers their first interception by a safety since Dec. 2, 2012, and cornerback Davon House added a second pick of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, although after House was ruled down at his own 1-yard line rather than in the end zone for a touchback it led to the safety.

In the third quarter, with the Lions threatening to increase their lead, Julius Peppers registered his first sack as a Packer, forced a fumble on the play and recovered it on his own.

"I think statistics show that anytime you're able to come up with three turnovers, we've been shown the numbers before [but] I can't recall off the top of my head, but usually the games tilt in your favor," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. "Unfortunately, it didn't."

The stat Matthews was referring to: The Packers were 31-7 when registering three or more takeaways since McCarthy took over as head coach in 2006.

The problem was the Packers' offensive ineptitude forced the defense to stay on the field for more than 38 of the 60 minutes.

"We definitely took a step in the direction of getting pressure on the quarterback and getting turnovers," Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels said. "There were a lot of plays where we could have even got more pressure and more sacks. There were a lot of plays where we had some more turnover opportunities. We need to take advantage of those opportunities when they come."
DETROIT -- Teams have gone back to daring the Green Bay Packers to run the ball and even with Eddie Lacy in their backfield, they still can't do it.

Like so many teams did after quarterback Aaron Rodgers' MVP season of 2011, the Detroit Lions spent most of Sunday's game at Ford Field sitting back in a two-deep safety look in an effort to prevent the Packers' passing game from heating up.

It worked just how the Lions drew it up.

The result was a 79-yard rushing performance that included just 36 yards on 11 carries from star back Eddie Lacy, who fumbled on his second carry and was stuffed for a safety 2 yards into his own end zone in the second quarter of the 19-7 loss at Ford Field.

"We've got to be able to run the ball when teams play us like that." Rodgers said. "It happened [after] 2011, we saw two-high all the time. We didn't run it great that year, but we ran it a little bit more effectively than we did today."

The lack of a running game made it easy to defend the Packers' passing game. Their longest play from scrimmage was just 18 yards – a pair of passes to Jordy Nelson and Andrew Quarless. It was the first time since Nov. 9, 2008 that they failed to have at least one 20-yard gain (passing or rushing). It also was the Packers' shortest long gain in a game since Oct. 5, 1998.

Through three games, Lacy has 113 yards on 36 carries, putting him on pace for 603 yards -- or 575 fewer than he had last season when he was the NFL's offensive rookie of the year. His start has left him puzzled and, perhaps more troubling, unsure of what has gone wrong.

"I don’t know if I have to be more patient or speed things up," Lacy said. "But one way or another I'm responsible for the run game."

Lacy's fumble was his first since the fifth carry of his pro career, and it put the Packers in a hole for the second straight game. A week after the Jets turned a fumbled exchange between Rodgers and center Corey Linsley on the first play into a touchdown, the Lions returned Lacy's fumble for a score of their own.

"There's no excuse for that," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "That's two weeks in a row we've had a fumble on the first play and we fumbled the second play. That's unacceptable. And on top of it, it turns into seven points. We gave up nine points on offense."

On the safety, rookie tight end Richard Rodgers got blown off the line of scrimmage by defensive end Jason Jones. That prevented right guard T.J. Lang from pulling, which was his assignment, and by the time he saw linebacker DeAndre Levy shoot through his gap, it was too late.

But the problems in the running game are greater than just a fumble here and a safety there. Through three games, they have averaged 78.7 rushing yards per game after putting up 133.5 (the seventh-best average in the league) last season.

"It's something that we expect to be a big part of our offense," Lang said. "And we've been disappointing in that category the first three games."
video
DETROIT -- It was just one play, one failed play, but in many ways it encapsulated everything that was wrong with the Green Bay Packers' offense in Sunday's 19-7 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

It was fourth-and-5 from the Lions' 20-yard line with 6:59 remaining. Jordy Nelson, the NFL's receiving yardage leader through the first two weeks of the season, found himself open up the right seam. It's a route he has run, and run successfully, hundreds of times. As Nelson took the route to the post, quarterback Aaron Rodgers saw him break free and fired what would have been a touchdown that could have at least given the Packers a chance at a comeback victory for the second straight week.

And the ball came up short and well behind Nelson.

Game over.

With the Rodgers-Nelson connection off -- Nelson had just five catches for 59 yards after combining for 18 receptions and an NFL-high 292 yards the first two weeks -- the Packers (1-2) had little chance given their lack of a running game and dearth of playmakers at the other skill positions.

The result was the lowest scoring output of a game that Rodgers started and finished -- and his second-lowest passing yardage total in such games -- since he took over as the Packers' quarterback in 2008, leaving it open to wonder what exactly is missing from what has been and what was supposed to be a prolific offense.

"There's a lot missing," said Rodgers, who completed 16 of 27 passes for 162 yards. "There's execution missing. We haven't been able to run the ball very well in any of the three games. We just haven't executed as well as we have in the past in the passing game."

Forget for now about the Packers' woeful running game, which totaled just 76 yards on 22 carries and featured a fumble by Eddie Lacy on his second carry of the game. That Rodgers & Co. could not shred a Lions' second-handed secondary which was missing starting strong safety James Ihedigbo and also had to play its fourth, fifth and sixth different nickel defensive backs of the season at various points on Sunday is perhaps most troublesome.

It showed that even a patchwork secondary can take away one player -- Nelson -- if it wants to and expose the lack of weapons around him. The Packers dropped at least three passes, one each by Randall Cobb, James Starks and Jarrett Boykin.

Cobb called his three-catch, 29-yard showing "embarrassing."

"I've got to figure out what it is that I can do to help and do more and give this team more," Cobb said.

Although the only points came on a 10-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Quarless in the first quarter, the Packers' tight ends have not come close to replicating the big-play threat that Jermichael Finley provided before his neck injury last season.

"We need to find a way to get those guys the ball when they're really trying to take Jordy away," Rodgers said. "Find a way to get Randall the football more, and we've got to run block better and we've got to run better."

Packers coach Mike McCarthy admitted that perhaps he stuck with an unproductive running game too long, saying he "maybe should have given [Rodgers] the ball completely earlier," but the normally accurate Rodgers missed his mark more than usual, so it might not have mattered.

Even before the missed fourth-down throw to Nelson, Rodgers overthrew Cobb on a roll-out pass on third down that killed the opening drive of the third quarter and then short-hopped a ball to Boykin on third down that ruined the next possession.

Counting the Nelson play, five of Rodgers' incompletions where underthrown, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. That came a week after six underthrown incompletions (the most of his career).

"We got what we wanted," Nelson said of the fourth-and-5 play. "We had an opportunity to make a play and just weren't able to connect on the throw. It's not an easy game. Sometimes we make it look easier than what it was, but today was not easy at all."

Packers' Matthews ailing again

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
6:25
PM ET
DETROIT -- Observed and heard in the locker room Sunday after the Green Bay Packers' 19-7 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field:

Matthews
Matthews ailing again: Here's a new one for Clay Matthews -- the outside linebacker left the game with a groin injury in the fourth quarter. Aside from his broken thumb last year, the only other injuries Matthews has battled during his career have been to his hamstrings. Although Matthews remained on the sideline and appeared ready to go back into the game, he never did. "One of their little receivers tried to cut me, and I planted wrong, so I felt a little something down there," Matthews said. "It doesn't feel too bad. We'll see how it does moving forward. Can't really give you a timetable or anything along those lines because I've never done it before, but we'll kind of see how it goes." Matthews said he thought the receiver was Golden Tate.

Taking the blame: Coach Mike McCarthy admitted he was wrong to call the timeout with 17 seconds left in the second quarter, when the Lions had the ball at their own 25-yard line. Following the timeout, Matthew Stafford hit a 52-yard pass to Corey Fuller and put the Lions in position for a 41-yard field goal -- which they missed -- on the final play of the first half. McCarthy was hoping to get a stop and force a punt that might have set up a field goal chance for his own team. "That was a poor decision on my part -- the timeout at 17 seconds, there's too much risk in the decision," said McCarthy, who also admitted he erred on the Lions' offside penalty on their kickoff in the fourth quarter. When the Lions re-kicked, Packers tight end Brandon Bostick was called for holding, which forced the Packers to start at their own 10.

McCarthy's message: Asked what McCarthy said to the team after the game, a downtrodden Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels said: "That's classified."

Rapid Reaction: Green Bay Packers

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
3:49
PM ET

DETROIT -- A few thoughts on the Green Bay Packers' 19-7 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Ford Field:

What it means: The Packers finally got some big plays from their defense -- a pair of interceptions and a strip-sack/fumble recovery that perhaps cost the Lions a touchdown -- but it did not matter because the Lions and their patched-up secondary rendered the Packers' offense almost completely ineffective. Aaron Rodgers completed just 16 of 27 passes for 162 yards. Without much of a running game to supplement the offense, the Packers ran just 51 plays and totaled 223 yards. It was the lowest-scoring output by the Packers in a game that Rodgers started and finished since he became the starter in 2008. The previous low came in a 9-0 win over the Jets in 2010.

Stock watch: When Ha Ha Clinton-Dix picked off a Matthew Stafford pass that was tipped in the first quarter, it ended a streak of 25 games (including playoffs) without an interception by a Packers safety dating to Dec. 2, 2012, when Morgan Burnett had a pair of interceptions against the Vikings. On the flip side, another streak ended, and it wasn't good. Running back Eddie Lacy fumbled on his second carry of the game, and it was his first fumble since Week 1 of the 2013 season. He had gone 325 carries without a fumble, including the playoffs last season.

Off the hook: Coach Mike McCarthy should thank Lions kicker Nate Freese for missing a 41-yard field goal on the final play of the first half. It let McCarthy off the hook for an ill-advised timeout with 17 seconds left in the second quarter with the Lions facing third-and-7 from their own 25. Before the timeout, the Lions showed no urgency and might have been content to run out the clock and take a 12-7 lead into halftime. After the timeout, Stafford took a shot deep and hit receiver Corey Fuller for a 52-yard gain to set up the field goal try.

Injury report: Given how much the Packers' defense was on the field, it perhaps wasn't surprising that it sustained some fatigue injuries. Linebacker Clay Matthews dropped out with a groin injury late in the game, and although his return was listed as questionable and he remained on the sideline, he never came back in the game. Also, linebacker Jamari Lattimore and cornerback Davon House (who had the Packers' other interception) went to the locker room to receive treatment for cramps and then returned.

Game ball: The Packers gave Julius Peppers a $7.5 million signing bonus to make game-changing plays. After a relatively quiet first two games, Peppers kept the Packers in the game with a strip sack of Stafford and a fumble recovery after the Lions had the ball and a 12-7 lead at the Packers' 7-yard line and were poised to score in the third quarter. It was Peppers' first sack of the season after he had a half-sack wiped out by a penalty in the season opener.

What’s next: The Packers play the second of three straight NFC North games on Sunday at the Chicago Bears.

Bryan Bulaga returns for Packers

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
12:10
PM ET
DETROIT -- With the Detroit Lions' secondary in tatters, the Green Bay Packers should be able to move the ball through the air if they can protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Bulaga
Having right tackle Bryan Bulaga should help that.

Bulaga was declared active for Sunday's game at Ford Field after missing last week's game against the New York Jets because of the knee injury he sustained in Week 1 at the Seattle Seahawks. In Bulaga's absence, Derek Sherrod allowed three sacks in six quarters of action.

On Friday, Bulaga appeared to be on track to play despite being listed as questionable for the second straight week.

The Lions are not only without safety James Ihedigbo but also may have to use Danny Gorrer, who was signed by the Lions this week, as their third cornerback behind starters Rashean Mathis and Darius Slay. They also promoted cornerback Mohammed Seisay from the practice squad Saturday.

Packers cornerback Casey Hayward, who also was listed as questionable because of a glute strain, will be available for the game. However, that does not necessarily mean he will have a role on defense. Last week against the Jets, the Packers went with Davon House as their No. 3 cornerback in the nickel package over Hayward.

For the second straight week, Jamari Lattimore will start at inside linebacker for the injured Brad Jones (quadriceps).

With only 52 players on the roster after they placed outside linebacker Andy Mulumba (torn ACL) on injured reserve Friday, the Packers had only six inactives for Sunday's game. Mulumba's injury opened the door for rookie outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott to be active for the first time.

Here are the Packers' inactives:
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Bryan Bulaga is no doctor, but the Green Bay Packers right tackle knew immediately that the left knee injury he sustained in the season opener against the Seattle Seahawks wasn't the same as the torn ACL in the same knee 13 months earlier.

And while no one – not even a doctor – can say for sure whether the brace he wore against the Seahawks saved him from another ACL tear, Bulaga believes that to be the case.

Bulaga
So the DonJoy-brand brace that hung in his locker on Friday will be part of his regular equipment the next time he suits up for a game – whether that is Sunday in Detroit remains in question – and perhaps for the rest of his career.

"I'll definitely say that I feel the knee brace helped," Bulaga said Friday, speaking for the first time since he sprained his MCL against the Seahawks on Sept. 4. "There's no doubt about it. I mean, I would assume it did. I just, in my own head, I think it did."

Unlike in college football, where those knee braces are the norm, most NFL players don't wear them unless they must. Bulaga began wearing the brace at the start of training camp. For a player who has played in just one of the Packers' last 25 regular-season games, every little thing could help.

"When it first happened, initially I thought I got charley-horsed or kicked in the thigh," Bulaga said. "So I kind of tried to get back up and wasn't able to. But I didn't think it was going to be anything serious. I certainly didn't feel the same way that I did a year ago. Yeah, I wasn't too nervous about it."

Bulaga said Friday that he felt much better than he did a week ago, when it was determined that he would not play against the New York Jets. However, he still must prove in practice on Saturday that he's able to function at a high level for an extended period of time before he will get the OK to return against the Lions.

"Mobility-wise, strength-wise, everything has just progressed really well," he said.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- You could see it in Al Harris' eyes that day back in January 2008. It was the NFC Championship game against the New York Giants, and the Green Bay Packers' Pro Bowl cornerback was amped up for the challenge of covering receiver Plaxico Burress.

Too amped up, as it turned out.

[+] EnlargeJohnson
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioCalvin Johnson has put up his best numbers against Green Bay, but the Packers' Sam Shields is up to the challenge.
Burress used Harris' overly aggressive, physical style against him and burned the Packers for 11 catches, 151 yards and a touchdown in the Giants' upset win at Lambeau Field.

That was a full year before defensive coordinator Dom Capers and most of his current staff came to Green Bay, but it's a lesson that might be worth reminding their cornerbacks this week when they prepare for a megasized challenge in the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson.

"It's important for our guys, particularly our corners, to play with their technique and play with their leverage and just play football," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said this week. "Anytime you go up against a top-notch player like Calvin, you can't let players like that take you out of your technique."

Surely, that message has been conveyed to Sam Shields, Tramon Williams and the rest of the Packers' secondary this week. Shields is most likely to draw Johnson the most, although Capers has said repeatedly that you can't cover him with the same defensive back all the time. The Packers say they aren't worried about a guy like Shields, who signed a four-year, $39 million contract this offseason, trying to go out and justify his contract by trying to shut down Johnson.

If anything, Shields should be confident in knowing that he has done it in the recent past. Shields covered Johnson for most of last year's Thanksgiving game at Ford Field. Although the Lions won in a 40-10 blowout, Shields held Megatron to just three catches for 46 yards in seven targets when he was in coverage, although Johnson still managed six catches for 101 yards overall for the day.

"At the end of the day, it's all competition, and he's a big challenge," Shields said. "You know a guy like that, you want that. In the NFL, all eyes on you, everybody wants to see what you're going to do against Calvin Johnson. So you know, like I said, do the right things, do my keys, my techniques right, everything will be good."

The same goes for Williams, who has had success -- and seen others have success -- against Johnson. In 2012, Williams' primary job was to cover Johnson, and he held him to four catches for 54 yards without a touchdown in a game at Lambeau Field. However, Williams did not have him the entire time, and Johnson still managed a 100-yard game. And he saw Charles Woodson hold Johnson, in his worst game against the Packers, to two catches for 10 yards for an entire game in 2009.

However, those were not the norms for Johnson, who in 12 career games against the Packers has 71 catches for 1,163 yards and 12 touchdowns -- the most catches, yards and touchdowns he has against any one opponent.

Williams remembers the Harris-Burress situation and, for one, doesn't think Harris played as poorly as most thought.

"I went back and looked at that game, he was in some good positions, and at the end of the day, you battle a guy like that, and he's just making plays for his team, you can live with that," Williams said.

But he and others also do not think the same circumstances apply to a player they know as well as Johnson, their divisional foe.

"We play him twice a year, so it's not anything new," Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. "It's not like we’re on a team that might see him once every two or three years, we see him so much that we understand the challenge, and the challenge is huge."
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Since coming into the NFL, Jordy Nelson has been a good target for Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

This season, though, the former Kansas State receiver has been playing at an even higher level. Through two games, Nelson is leading the NFL in receiving yards (292) and targets (30), is tied for the lead in receptions (18) and first downs (13) with the Saints' Jimmy Graham and is among the top 10 in yards after catch (107).

When Green Bay plays Detroit on Sunday afternoon, Nelson will again be a main target for Rodgers and a primary concern for the Detroit Lions.

In their own words, here’s what they see when they watch the 6-foot-3, 217-pound receiver.

[+] EnlargeJordy Nelson
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesJordy Nelson is Aaron Rodgers' favorite target these days.
Cornerback Darius Slay: "Him and Rodgers got a good connection, you know. They been with each other since I don’t know when. They got a real good connection. A lot of back-shoulders, trusting that the guy can make plays in the deep ball area, so what I’m going to try to do is eliminate them big plays."

Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin: "You have to know where he is. Last year, when we were in Baltimore, they had those three guys and we had to know where he was. He hit us for a big play. We know about him and we know why he gets targeted. He catches the ball, has run-after-catch ability and he can take a small one and make it a big one."

Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi: "The thing that stands out for me is seeing all these back-shoulder catches. So body control, great hands, good route-runner. Competitor."

Safety Glover Quin: "They gave him all that money -- he should be on a different level. Probably out there feeling good, having fun. He’s the quarterback’s favorite target, so he’s like, 'Hey man, gets to go into these games and know the quarterback is going to throw me the ball and they gave me all that money,' so hey, he’s living the good life right now. But Jordy’s a great player. I love playing against Jordy. We have a lot of fun."

Quin on Nelson and Rodgers: "It looks like a best-friend connection (between Nelson and Rodgers). It’s one of those things when he gets in trouble, he trusts Jordy to be in the right spot, in a certain spot. He trusts Jordy. If nothing else, if all else fails, he trusts Jordy. If he has to and he’s forced into that situation, and he has a lot of targets, if it comes down to it, he’s probably going down to Jordy."

Safety Jerome Couplin III: "[Nelson is] a playmaker. He finds way to get himself some very good catches. That’s something that you can’t really necessarily always coach. He has the ability to find the ball and track the ball good. So he’s a playmaker."

Safety Don Carey: "He has a good combination of size and speed. Great hands. Smart football player. Any time you come across a player like that, you have to [mind] your P’s and Q’s."

Linebacker DeAndre Levy: "He’s a great route-runner. Catches the ball. Gets open. I think him and [Aaron] Rodgers have a good connection. He can take a slant, make a guy miss and get 10, 12, 15 more yards on it."

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider