NFC North: Green Bay Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was 13 yards away from Jerricho Cotchery when the Carolina Panthers receiver caught a swing pass at his own 48-yard line in the third quarter of Sunday's game at Lambeau Field.

In 1.4 seconds, Clinton-Dix had closed the gap.

The story would be better if the Green Bay Packers rookie made the tackle, but then safeties coach Darren Perry might not have anything to hold over the first-round pick.

[+] EnlargeHa Ha Clinton-Dix
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsRookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has become one of the Packers' surest tacklers.
In what was his first NFL start, Clinton-Dix led the Packers with eight tackles (including seven solo stops). That he missed Cotchery on what turned out to be a 9-yard catch-and-run actually sat well with Perry for one reason: Clinton-Dix was aggressive in his pursuit.

"Coach sees us out there giving effort, 100 percent effort, whether we miss the tackle or we make it, he can live with that," Clinton-Dix said Friday. "Once he sees us coming up short or kind of hesitating on making the tackle, then he really has a problem."

In just seven NFL games, the 21st overall pick went from the guy who was caught flat-footed on his open-field missed tackle that led to Seattle Seahawks receiver Ricardo Lockette's 33-yard touchdown in season opener to perhaps the most aggressive pursuer in the Packers' secondary.

Since the opener, Clinton-Dix has been charged with only one missed tackle, according to Pro Football Focus, although it should be noted that it did not give him a missed tackle against the Panthers.

But the Packers coaches gave him one.

"He's a guy that once he sees stuff, he comes down hill and goes and gets it," Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "He doesn't hesitate. He shoots his gun so to speak. You saw him on Sunday, he had to cover space and made one really nice tackle, and then he missed one. But he's going after it aggressively. I think people, over a period of time, receivers know that when you've got a big safety coming downhill on them, it affects that middle of the field."

For the first six games, Clinton-Dix split time at free safety with second-year pro Micah Hyde, who started every one of them. But in the last three of those, Clinton-Dix actually played more snaps than Hyde, which made it only a matter of time before he took over as the starter and played every snap like he did against the Panthers.

"He's really come into his own and is starting to show that he can cover the field as well as fit within the run game and not only fit, but make big plays in space, which we haven't seen for some time since we lost Nick [Collins] and some of those veteran safeties and corners," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. "It's good to have a guy like that who you know you're going to be able to count on for years."

The Packers may have to count on him even more on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. Veteran starting strong safety Morgan Burnett has not practiced all week because of a calf injury and was listed as questionable on Friday's injury report.

Plus, Clinton-Dix might have his toughest matchup of the season if he's asked to cover Saints tight end Jimmy Graham.

But he will have capable help. If Burnett can't play, either Hyde or Sean Richardson would start at the other safety spot. The Packers like Hyde's coverage ability, which is why he moves to the nickel spot when the Packers employ five defensive backs, and Richardson is an up-and-comer who has contributed in spots -- like his tackle for no gain on Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart on third-and-1 in the first quarter of Sunday's game.

It's an embarrassment of riches at safety, a position where last year the Packers could barely find one productive starter, and they have Clinton-Dix to thank for that.

"This is the way it's supposed to be," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- For the second straight week, the Green Bay Packers spent Friday facing the possibility of playing without two of their four starting defensive backs.

 Last Sunday against Carolina, they got one of them back -- cornerback Tramon Williams -- but played without cornerback Sam Shields.

A week later, they're again concerned about Shields, who has yet to practice because of the knee injury he sustained on Oct. 12 at Miami. The Packers listed him as doubtful for Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints. Davon House would make his second straight start if Shields can’t play.

This time, the other issue is at safety, where Morgan Burnett has yet to practice this week because of a calf injury he sustained against the Panthers.

The situation might be more troublesome this week considering the Saints' high-powered offense, which ranks second in the NFL in yards.

On Thursday, coach Mike McCarthy expressed concern that Burnett's injury was not progressing as fast as he would have hoped.

But on Friday, there was a hint of optimism in his voice.

"Morgan was in here bright and early [going] through the treatments," McCarthy said. "He's obviously going through the Friday routine defensively with the walkthroughs and the classroom, so we'll give him every, plus it's a night game, too. We have more time."

The Packers have options if Burnett can't play. They could start Micah Hyde, who lost his starting spot to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix last week, but still played as the nickel defensive back. Or they could go with up-and-comer Sean Richardson and leave Hyde as the nickel.

Defensive end Datone Jones (ankle) was ruled out even though he practiced on a limited basis Thursday.

"Datone, actually, he went for it yesterday," McCarthy said Friday. "I appreciate him out there pushing through it. Frankly, watching the individual work with Mike Trgovac, our D-Line coach, you could clearly see he's not ready. So he's not going to make it."

Here's the full injury report:
  • Out: DE Datone Jones (ankle)
  • Doubtful: CB Sam Shields (knee)
  • Questionable: S Morgan Burnett (calf)
  • Probable: RB James Starks (ankle)
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Ask Eddie Lacy about his home, and the Green Bay Packers running back can't tell you much -- except what his family has told him.

That will change next week, when he returns to New Orleans to start his bye week. And he'll spend it in the house his family longed for ever since theirs was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

His parents finally moved into that new house in August -- while Lacy was busy with training camp -- after living in a trailer for the better part of a decade since the disaster wiped out their home in Gretna, Louisiana, just across the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans.

"They sent me pictures," Lacy said this week. "They're excited to have their own house, their own back yard, pretty much everything is theirs. It's not a trailer. They've got a lot of room. It's crazy, but they're definitely more comfortable."

Lacy will see that soon enough.

[+] EnlargeEddie Lacy
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesEddie Lacy has seen his numbers drop in his sophomore season but could be in line for a big workload against the Saints.
First, he has business to take care of on the other side of the Mississippi, where the Packers play the Saints Sunday night at the Superdome.

In what can perhaps be described as a disappointing encore to his rookie season, Lacy is coming off his most efficient game of the season. Last Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, he rushed for 63 yards on just 12 carries. His 5.3-yard average was his second best of the season, behind only his 105-yard performance on 13 carries two weeks earlier against the Minnesota Vikings.

Lacy was in full grind-it-out mode against the Panthers. Unlike the game against the Vikings, when he had a long run of 29 yards, he did not have a gain longer than 11 yards against Carolina. He also matched his season high with three catches.

ProFootballFocus.com credited Lacy with nine broken tackles on rushes and receptions combined, although the Packers' coaching staff said their total was well into the teens.

Despite a reduced number of touches this season -- an average of 13.1 carries per game this season compared to 18.9 last season -- Lacy has four rushing touchdowns in his last four games. During most of that stretch, he has split snaps with James Starks. But with Starks battling an ankle injury that kept him out of practice Wednesday, Lacy could go back to being the workhorse back he was last season, when he led all NFL rookies with 1,178 rushing yards.

"You want to score, you want to get 100 yards, you know, you want to do everything that makes you look good," Lacy said. "But I just want to be able to contribute, and that's pass blocking, getting out on the check-down, the whole nine yards. I may not have 100 yards. I may not even get 60, but you know, the yards that I do have definitely will contribute and make sure we're in a great position to win the game, which is the ultimate goal."

So if Lacy's trip goes according to plan, he'll travel with the Packers to New Orleans on Saturday, have a productive game in a victory on Sunday night, fly back with the team to Green Bay early Monday morning and then turn around and head back to New Orleans on Monday night.

And he'll finally see that house.

"It's a great feeling, especially for me coming home," Lacy said. "I don't have to worry about coming home, staying in the trailer and sleeping on the sofa no more. I get to come home to a house, air conditioning, everything's working, [a] sofa, my own bed. It's just a homely feeling now."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Jordy Nelson doesn't want you to know everything about the ins and outs of the back-shoulder play, except he's quick to point out one thing.

"First and foremost, it's not a play," the Green Bay Packers receiver said. "For us, it's a complete reaction."

There is no signal or pre-snap adjustment.

[+] EnlargeJordy Nelson; Aaron Rodgers
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesJordy Nelson and Aaron Rodgers have the on-field chemistry necessary to execute the back-shoulder fade, one of the NFL's toughest passes to defend.
Not even Nelson, one of the NFL's best at executing the play -- check that, the pass -- knows it's coming until the ball sails off the hand of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

"It's all on the quarterback and what they decide to do and where they want to place the ball," Nelson said. "For us, it's just, run our routes. The main thing would be to make sure you get your head around and are able to adjust to the ball."

If the receiver doesn't even know it's coming, what's a helpless cornerback or safety in coverage supposed to do about it?

"If you have a quarterback that can throw it, the quarterback typically throws it at the defender's head," Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. "So you never see the ball."

It goes against everything coaches like Whitt teach their defensive backs, whose first priority is always to take away the deep throw. The back-shoulder fade -- which is essentially a purposefully underthrown pass -- is the perfect counteraction to a defender intent on taking away the go, or fly, route.

"As a secondary player, you're always taught to be on top of a route, control the deep routes," Packers safety Micah Hyde said. "When you get on top, to have to react to a ball that's underthrown, that's the hardest thing for the DB."

But not just any receiver can pull it off. The bigger and longer the receiver, the easier it is to execute. At 6-foot-3 and 217 pounds, Nelson might have the perfect build to do so. It's why you won't see Rodgers throw it very often -- if ever -- to his No. 2 receiver, Randall Cobb, who at 5-foot-10 and 192 pounds is better-suited to play in the slot.

Then there is the experience factor. Someday, rookie receiver Davante Adams (6-1, 215) might see that throw from Rodgers. But until Rodgers knows Adams can react to the ball in the air the way Nelson can, it's not likely to happen.

"It comes with experience," Hyde said. "You've got to have chemistry with the quarterback, because it's a hard throw. To throw the ball before the receiver even stops, it's hard. I played quarterback back in the day [in high school]. It was hard then, and I'm sure it's 10 times harder now with these fast receivers. You've got to have a lot of chemistry, and I think some guys in the NFL, a lot of guys in the NFL, don’t have that experience that A-Rod and Jordy have."

As if it wasn't difficult enough to defend, oftentimes it comes with a subtle shove from the receiver.

"And boom, it's never being called," Whitt said. "It's a good play."

Except that it's not a play.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- There will come a time in Sunday's game in New Orleans when one of the two quarterbacks won't be able to keep up.

And it may be only because there's no more time left.

When Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees get together -- and it's not often -- the scoreboard operator usually gets a workout.

Nearly two thousand passing yards and 211 points combined in the only three head-to-head meetings between those two giants of the quarterbacking world is evidence enough that the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints appear headed for another shootout in the Superdome this Sunday night.

"You're not playing against him," Rodgers insisted on Wednesday. "This is the Saints against the Packers."

But that doesn't mean the Packers quarterback won't have to react to what Brees and the Saints' offense throws at him. Or vice versa.

In those three meetings, Brees has thrown for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. However, Rodgers has the edge in Total QBR (see accompanying chart).

The three meetings were:
  • 2008 -- Saints 51, Packers 29: On "Monday Night Football" in New Orleans, the Saints tied a team record for points (which they have since surpassed) and scored seven touchdowns. Brees threw for 323 yards and four touchdowns.
  • 2011 – Packers 42, Saints 34: In the Thursday night season opener at Lambeau Field, Rodgers threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns, while Brees put up 419 yards and three touchdowns but was stopped on the 1-yard line on the final play of the game.
  • 2012 – Packers 28, Saints 27: In Green Bay, Brees threw for 446 yards and four touchdowns, while Rodgers threw for 319 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. The Saints missed a field goal with less than three minutes remaining.

Those three games may play no role whatsoever on Sunday. But the way Rodgers has started this season, it's hard to envision a defensive struggle is in the offing. He has thrown 18 touchdowns and just one interception this season. In the Packer' four-game winning streak, they have averaged 36.3 points per game. That's better than their scoring average (35.0 ppg) in 2011, when they set the franchise record for points (560).

"The year that he's having has been, you just kind of shake your head," Brees said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters at Lambeau Field. "He’s so impressive. Anytime there's a guy like that on the other side of the ball, you know you have to be at your best and it seems like all the little things in a game like this, all the little details are magnified.

"It's not one of these, 'Hey, we've got to be perfect.' Nobody is perfect. But you have to be pretty darn close. You have to be as good as you can be to have a shot at these guys when he's pulling the trigger on the other side."

In spite of the Saints' struggles in their 2-4 start, their offense has been as explosive as usual at home. In their two games at the Superdome (both victories), they have combined for 907 yards and 57 points.

"It's easy to say, "Well, you start with both teams [which] have had good offenses,' yet just as we say that, you can find yourself in one of those 17-13 games," Saints coach Sean Payton said.

That hardly seems possible, but both Payton and Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday that they have no preconceived notions about the way the game will play out. McCarthy said Wednesday that the plan in every game is to "shoot all your bullets. Hopefully, you're hitting them and they're not hitting you."

"If it ends up being a shootout, we've got to be prepared to do that," Packers right guard T.J. Lang said. "And I think we are every week [with] the amount of production that we've been having. I hate predicting games like that, saying it's going to be a shootout or a defensive battle. We've got to be prepared to do whatever it takes on game day."
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Maybe the Green Bay Packers’ bye is coming a week too late.

When they began preparations on Wednesday for the New Orleans Saints, their final game before their week off, they did so without four key players – cornerback Sam Shields, safety Morgan Burnett, defensive end Datone Jones and running game James Starks.

Neither Shields nor Jones played in last Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers. Shields sustained a knee injury in the Oct. 12 game at Miami. Jones has missed the last two games because of an ankle injury.

Starks left Sunday’s game because of an ankle injury, while no injury was announced for Burnett during or after the game.

All four players were in attendance but did not take part during the portion that was open to reporters.

The full injury report will be available after practice.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Since 2010, no player has captured one of the NFL's player-of-the-week awards more often than Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers
Rodgers
On Wednesday, he was named the NFC's offensive player of the week for the 10th time since 2010. It was the second time he has taken home the honor this season.

Why did Rodgers win the award this time?

Take your pick:
  • In Sunday's victory over the Carolina Panthers, Rodgers had as many touchdowns (three) as incomplete passes on the way to a 255-yard performance that equated to a 154.5 passer rating, the second-highest of his career and the third-best rating in Packers' history for a quarterback with at least 20 attempts.
  • It was Rodgers' fourth game in a row with at least three touchdown passes without an interception. Tom Brady, who did it in 2007, is the only other player in NFL history to pull off that feat.
  • It was also Rodgers' sixth straight game without an interception. That tied Bart Starr's team record set in 1964. Rodgers has not thrown an interception since Week 1, a stretch of 192 attempts -- his career-high and the second-best streak in team history behind only Starr, who had 294 attempts between interceptions in 1964-65.

Packers hang with Pearl Jam

October, 21, 2014
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – You might have seen T.J. Lang's picture from backstage at Monday night's Pearl Jam show in Milwaukee.

The Green Bay Packers right guard posted a shot of himself and teammates Matt Flynn, Corey Linsley and Josh Sitton with the band's frontman, Eddie Vedder, on Twitter.

Not pictured was quarterback Aaron Rodgers. But he was there and met one of his rock heroes before the show.

"Well we did hang out and talk for a little while backstage before the concert," Rodgers said Tuesday on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show. "And he did say that he was [a Packers'] owner. A buddy had gotten him a stock certificate a few years back."

Vedder, a Chicago-area native who remains partial to his hometown teams, donned a Packers' jersey during the show with the No. 10, which is Flynn's number. But the jersey was not Flynn's. Rather, the Packers had one made up with that number to commemorate the 1991 Pearl Jam album "Ten."

"People thought Flynn had given him the jersey, and Flynn obviously played along or maybe in his mind believed it was a Flynn jersey that he was wearing," Rodgers said. "I'm pretty sure it said "Vedder" on the back."

Vedder gave Rodgers a shoutout during the show, however, Rodgers said the story the singer told the crowd about asking Rodgers if he’d be interested in a trade to the Bears for quarterback Jay Cutler was a tall tale.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Dom Capers said he has had an open-door policy ever since he became the Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator in 2009.

Maybe his players have been walking through that door more often of late.

Williams
 Veteran cornerback Tramon Williams attributed the Packers' defensive improvement over the past five weeks, in part, due to improved communication between the players and coaches.

"Whether it's the head coach or it's Dom, at the end of the day we're the ones out there, so we have to be comfortable," Williams said Monday. "I think the communication line has been really [going] well between coaches and players, and the understanding has been really good between us of understanding what we see on the field, trusting what they see on the film and in their game plan and adding that all in together and coming up with a game plan."

The Packers remains near the bottom of the NFL in several key defensive statistical categories, but they did climb out of last place in rushing defense (they're now ahead of only the Cleveland Browns) this week. However, the past five games have seen far better production. Only four teams allowed more points in the first two weeks combined than the 60 that the Packers gave up to the Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets.

In the five games since, they have allowed just 17.4 points per game. That's fifth-best in the league.

Last week in practice, Capers did at least one thing that could be directly attributed to input from his players. He and coach Mike McCarthy devoted an entire period to working on the read-option that they were sure to see plenty of from the Carolina Panthers. And they rendered it ineffective in Sunday's 38-17 rout of the Panthers.

"The more looks you get, the better you play things," Williams said. "I think we've done a good job of that over these past few weeks of doing that and getting better looks. Guys know where they have to be and how it's going to look in the game."

Also in recent weeks, Capers ditched the "quad" package -- essentially a 4-3 alignment that he had never before used in Green Bay until the season opener -- although he said the players had no issues with it and that it remains on his call sheet.

But against the Panthers, Capers unveiled an alignment the Packers call "NASCAR" that features four outside linebackers on the defensive line without any traditional linemen.

McCarthy has a leadership council made up of several veteran players, and Capers said he welcomes the input.

"To me, it's not what I know or what I think," Capers said. "They have to know and believe in it and go out and execute. That's so important. We've got good guys on this team, and I always tell them, 'Hey, if you've got anything on your mind, you let me know.' Because it doesn't do me any good if I don’t know about it. Yeah, I'm always interested in the way they feel because they’re the guys that have to go do it and do it with confidence."

The Film Don't Lie: Packers

October, 21, 2014
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A weekly look at what the Green Bay Packers must fix:

It's not that the Packers' punt return game has been ineffective -- actually it's been more than respectable at 10th in the NFL in average yards per return (9.6) -- but as good as their returners have been, they probably should have broken one for a touchdown by now.

They had at least one good chance in Sunday's 38-17 win over the Carolina Panthers. Randall Cobb matched the team's season best with a 24-yard return in the second quarter, but according to special-teams coach Shawn Slocum, the blocking was not good enough to spring Cobb all the way. It will have to be much better this Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints have allowed an average of just 3.6 yards per punt return this season. That's the second-best mark in the league.

"[We're] not close enough [to breaking a long return]," Slocum said. "We need to get that done. I look at those plays, they're good plays, but we could have gotten a lot more."

How?

"Just finishing blocks a little better," Slocum said.

The Packers have returned one punt for a touchdown in each of the past three seasons. Cobb had one in each of the 2011 and 2012 seasons, while safety Micah Hyde pulled one off last season.

The Packers remain committed to splitting the return duties between Cobb and Hyde. Each has a long punt return of 24 yards this season. Cobb's average (10.75 yards per return) is slightly better than Hyde's mark of 9.8.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Running backs coach Sam Gash had the official count, but Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements did not need an exact number to know running back Eddie Lacy was a tackle-breaking machine in Sunday's 38-17 win over the Carolina Panthers.

Lacy
"I think Sam has the number, but I think it was in the teens," Clements said Monday. "So that's quite a few."

It was perhaps Lacy's most efficient performance of the season. Without the benefit of a big run (he had a long of 29 in his 105-yard game against Minnesota in Week 5), Lacy rushed for 63 yards on just 12 carries with a long gain of 11. His 5.3-yard average was his best other than the Vikings game (8.1-yard average).

ProFootballFocus.com credited Lacy with more than half of his yardage (34) after contact.

"We actually talked about that, T.J. [Lang] and I," Packers left guard Josh Sitton said Monday. "We were kind of standing around a couple plays, looking like [expletives], you know, not blocking and Eddie's just squirting out of there. He probably did it four or five times. It was impressive."

It wasn't just Lacy who was breaking free from Panthers' defenders. Receiver Randall Cobb worked the short and intermediate routes and turned them into big plays. He caught six passes for 121 yards, 89 of which came after contact according to PFF.

In its initial film review, PFF charged the Panthers with 11 missed tackles, but that could change by Wednesday, when it posts its revised numbers.

"I think we had 16 broken tackles at halftime," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "That's unbelievable. That's off the charts."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- You can't accuse the Green Bay Packers' 64-year-old defensive coordinator of being averse to trying new things.

On Sunday, after a week of questions about why Clay Matthews' production had slipped this season, Dom Capers unveiled another new defensive package. This one, called "NASCAR" presumably because it employed more speed on the defensive front, may not have led to a breakout for Matthews, but it proved useful in what was perhaps the Packers' best defensive showing of the year in their 38-17 win over Carolina.

[+] EnlargeClay Matthews
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsClay Matthews was able to put steady pressure on Panthers quarterback Cam Newton on Sunday.
And, oh yeah, Matthews managed to get a shared sack with Julius Peppers, although it came out of a different package.

In "NASCAR," Capers went without any traditional defensive linemen in what was a dime (six defensive back) secondary alignment. Instead, he lined up Matthews and Peppers -- his starting outside linebackers -- as defensive tackles on the interior of the line and flanked them with Nick Perry and Mike Neal as outside linebackers.

"It gets all four of our elephant types on the field at the same time," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Yeah, it's been very productive."

Capers used it only in third-down situations. The first five times he employed "NASCAR" on Sunday, the Packers came up with third-down stops on four of them, including Perry's sack of Cam Newton on third-and-5 to end the Panthers' second series. Carolina converted just 4-of-12 third downs.

"We like that a lot because you put me, Pep, Mike Neal and Nick Perry out there; that's a pretty good pass-rushing group," Matthews said. "When we put that in there, we're thinking that's a pass-rushing down, and we turn loose a little bit. You always love that."

The Packers sacked Newton just three times, but Matthews missed on two others. He shared one of the sacks with Peppers, who had another by himself. Still, through seven games this season, Matthews has just 1.5 sacks. After getting shut out in the tackle category a week ago at Miami, Matthews was credited with two stops against the Panthers.

"In all honesty, I don't have to prove it to anyone but myself," said Matthews, the four-time Pro Bowler. "I'm a good player, and I know that I am. And it's just about putting together performances."

The Packers didn't feast on turnovers like they had the previous four games (when they had 11 takeaways), although cornerback Casey Hayward picked off his second pass in as many games. But the defense was borderline dominant early in the game. At first quarter's end, the Panthers had just 5 total net yards.

"You wish every quarter was like that," Packers cornerback Davon House said. "We only got, what, 12 plays of defense, and the offense scored every single time they got the ball. That was probably as close to perfect."
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With time to reflect, Aaron Rodgers may see this stretch of football -- one that has all sorts of historical milestones that we'll get too soon enough – as one of the finest of his career.

But late Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers quarterback, who last week insisted the offense he directs still was not humming along as he would like, remained unwilling to concede that much has changed.

Who knows what it will take to get Rodgers to acquiesce, but apparently this kind of start to a game -- touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, punt, touchdown, punt, touchdown -- in Sunday's 38-17 victory over the Carolina Panthers apparently did not satisfy his criteria.

At least he was willing to give an inch or two this week.

"I think we're getting closer," Rodgers said.

Rodgers wants more yards (the Packers managed 363 on Sunday) and more opportunity (they ran just 56 offensive plays). But here's why it might be time for Rodgers to admit this offense is rolling: For the first time this season, it resembled days like in 2011, when Rodgers was in the midst of his MVP season and had a smorgasbord of options in the passing game.

In Sunday's dismantling of the Panthers, Rodgers' 19 completions were spread amongst nine different players, a season high. That's in contrast to three times this season, including last week's game at Miami, when Rodgers completed passes to just five different players.

In 2011, Rodgers had seven games in which he completed passes to at least nine different players. Last season, it happened once, and it came against the Philadelphia Eagles when Rodgers was a spectator because of his collarbone injury.

"Back in '11, I feel like we spread it around a little more," said Rodgers, who was 19-of-22 for 255 yards with three touchdowns on Sunday. "We've had a lot of targets for Jordy [Nelson] and Randall [Cobb] this year, so we've tried the last four games to find ways to move those guys around and get them positive matchups."

This wasn't just the Jordy Nelson show, although the NFL's receiving yardage leader entering the week still managed four catches for 80 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown (his fourth straight game with a score).

Five different Packers scored touchdowns, including rushing touchdowns by Eddie Lacy and James Starks (who combined for 99 yards on 19 carries). When Rodgers also can include Cobb (six catches for 121 yards and his eighth touchdown of the season) and Davante Adams (who had a 21-yard touchdown catch) plus completions to two different tight ends, it qualifies as offensive diversity.

"Everybody got involved," said Cobb, who has matched his career high for touchdown passes in just seven games. "We were able to move the ball really well. Just drive after drive, able to capitalize and put points on the board. At the end of the day, that's the kind of offense we want to be, continue to be. We ran the ball well, we passed the ball well. Everything was open for us."

Had Rodgers not sailed a ball over tight end Richard Rodgers' head in the end zone on his final throw of the game late in the third quarter, he would have finished with four touchdown passes and a passer rating of 157.6 (on a scale in which 158.3 is the max). Still, he finished with just two other incompletions, and a harsh grader might consider both of them drops. When he gave way to Matt Flynn in the fourth quarter, Rodgers' final rating of 154.5 was the second-best mark of his career.

For the fourth straight game (all wins for the 5-2 Packers) he threw at least three touchdowns without an interception. Only Tom Brady (in 2007) has done that in a season.

He ran his streak of consecutive passes without an interception to 192, his career high and the second-best total in team history behind Bart Starr (294, 1964-65).

All of it is starting to feel like 2011, when Rodgers was on the best roll of his career.

"I'll say this about Aaron: Aaron is a much better today than he was in 2011," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "His responsibility level has increased a lot since then. So, what he does during the course of the week, during the course of the game, at the line of scrimmage, the communication between Alex Van Pelt and myself, he is, in my opinion, watching him grow throughout his career, he's clearly a better player."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Green Bay Packers' 38-17 victory Sunday over the Carolina Panthers at Lambeau Field:

Cobb
Ketchup with your touchdown, sir: If Randall Cobb keeps catching touchdown passes at this rate -- he tied his career high with his eighth touchdown (in just the seventh game of the season) -- who knows what else he'll see on his future Lambeau leaps? But he was quite surprised to come out of the stands with ketchup all over his No. 18 jersey after his 3-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. "I apologize to whoever's hot dog that was," Cobb said. "It was fresh. I know that because I had all of the ketchup on me." Cobb said he likes hot dogs, even ones with ketchup. "I wasn't expecting one to get on my shoulder pads, though," said Cobb, who caught six passes for 121 yards.

Matthews' taunting penalty: Outside linebacker Clay Matthews was close to having a big day with at least two near sacks only to see Panthers quarterback Cam Newton escape, but he did share a sack with Julius Peppers (1.5 sacks) in the fourth quarter. However, he was flagged for taunting on the play. "I think just my body posture was a little too mean-looking," Matthews said. "You know how it is nowadays, we've got to be best buds out there, you can't show any aggression." Of course, Matthews said something, too. "But nothing bad," he added.

Dislocated finger: Packers cornerback Davon House, who started in place of the injured Sam Shields, knew something was wrong with his right ring finger when he deflected a pass in the second half, but "I didn’t want to look at it," he said. House said he dislocated it. He squirmed on the bench when it was popped back in place. "I panicked a little bit," House said. The only other injury announced was to running back James Starks (ankle).
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers won't have to play without both of their starting cornerbacks Sunday against the Carolina Panthers because Tramon Williams was declared active.

That was in question all week after Williams sprained his ankle last Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. And when fellow starting cornerback Sam Shields (knee) was declared out on Friday, the Packers faced the possibility of starting a pair of backup cornerbacks against Cam Newton and Co.

On Friday, Packers coach Mike McCarthy listed Williams as questionable but said he would give his veteran cornerback every chance to play.

Williams, who has missed only one game in his eight-year NFL career, took part in Saturday's practice -- his first on-field work of the week -- on a limited basis and did not experience any setbacks.

Linebacker Jamari Lattimore (neck), who also was listed as questionable, will play and is expected to start.

Davon House will start at Shields' right cornerback spot, and Casey Hayward is expected to be the third cornerback in the nickel package.

Receiver Jarrett Boykin is active after missing the last three games because of a groin injury.

Here's the Packers' full inactives list:

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