10 Quick Things: GB vs. PIT
1) Quarterback Aaron Rodgers throws the ball to receivers he trusts, especially in big spots, so it’s no surprise that Randall Cobb kept four drives going with catches on third down. The 31-year-old, who was acquired in a minor trade just before the start of camp, isn’t as quick or explosive as the player who went to the Pro Bowl in ’14, but he still knows how to get open in the middle of the field. This impressive performance should ensure a bigger role for Cobb even when Marquez Valdes-Scantling returns from injured reserve in a few weeks.
2) In his second start at left tackle, Yosh Nijman had a handful of rough snaps against former Pro Bowler Melvin Ingram, but once again, he wasn’t a liability. That’s a huge win for the Packers. And while I have no idea what the future holds for the 26-year-old from Virginia Tech, he’s already exceeded my expectations. Nijman was beaten cleanly way too often in college, but that didn’t happen Sunday – even when he wasn’t getting help. The nimble 315-pounder at least slowed down rushers on their way to the QB, which was all No. 12 needed to get rid of the ball.
Here’s what I mean by Nijman (#73) doing just enough to allow Rodgers to get rid of the ball. This isn’t good pass blocking, but it got the job done.
3) Josiah Deguara is less than a year removed from major knee surgery, and to be honest, he looks like a player less than a year removed from major knee surgery. He whiffed on a couple of blocks and looked awkward in space against the Steelers. Last year’s third-round pick is probably only getting snaps because Dominique Dafney is on IR. The Packers have to hope Deguara gets better with each passing week because right now he’s a liability on offense.
4) Aaron Jones had another pedestrian game running the ball (15 carries for 48 yards), but it wasn’t his fault. A lesser back would’ve struggled to gain 30 yards. The young O-line didn’t create much space, especially on the second level where the former UTEP star does his most damage. That’s why it made sense to give A. J. Dillon a bigger role on Sunday. The former Boston College star doesn’t need good blocking to be productive. His strength and determination make it difficult to keep him from picking up four or five yards even when there’s nowhere to run.
1) After a mediocre opener, De’Vondre Campbell just keeps getting better. Against the Steelers, the 28-year-old inside linebacker was strong at the point of attack and solid in coverage. I watched every game he played for the Cards in 2020, and this isn’t the same guy. Maybe it’s the scheme, or maybe he’s the rare player who gets better in his sixth season, or maybe it’s a mirage that will soon disappear, but right now, Campbell is performing like a Pro Bowler. Nobody saw that coming from a journeyman who was on the street until the Packers signed him in early June.
2) Defensive end Kingsley Keke was quiet for the first three games, but he finally made some noise on Sunday. The former Texas A&M standout had a huge strip-sack in the second quarter and was disruptive on a number of other plays. Now he has to show he can be productive against better offensive lines. The Steelers started rookie Dan Moore at left tackle and struggling second-year player Kevin Dotson at left guard. Without All-Pro outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith for the foreseeable future, Keke has to provide more than just one good game every month.
3) Preston Smith was ineffective as a pass rusher after injuring his shoulder in the first quarter (0 pressures in 36 snaps), but give him credit for gutting it out. The veteran from Mississippi State wasn’t as stout against the run as he had been the first three games, but he was far from a liability. We also found out on Sunday that a one-armed Smith is still better than backups Jonathan Garvin and Chauncey Rivers, who provided next to nothing for the fourth straight week. It would behoove general manager Brian Gutekunst to start looking around for veteran linebackers.
4) With Krys Barnes inactive, Oren Burks played a season-high 36 snaps on Sunday, and he once again proved that’s about 36 snaps too many. The fourth-year inside linebacker just doesn’t have the strength or the instincts to be an asset on defense. He got pushed around in the run game and missed a pair of tackles. Coordinator Joe Barry used Burks all over, but he wasn’t effective anywhere. You’d have to think sixth-round pick Isaiah McDuffie or even Ray Wilborn could produce better results than Burks, whose appearances should be limited to special teams.
5) With Jaire Alexander likely to miss some time due to a shoulder injury, the Packers need Eric Stokes to grow up in a hurry. That means he must play a lot better than he did against the Steelers. Aside from an interception in garbage time, the No. 1 pick had a rough afternoon. He gave up 10 completions on 16 targets for 85 yards, and those numbers would’ve looked a lot worse had quarterback Ben Roethlisberger been more accurate on a few long passes to open receivers. Stokes also missed a couple of tackles. Fair or not, the Packers need the former Georgia star to play like a quality veteran cornerback if the defense is to have any chance of surviving without Alexander.
Roethlisberger overthrew JuJu Smith-Schuster on this play, but you can be sure Bengals’ QB Joe Burrow won’t miss such an open receiver on Sunday.
6) Sunday was another OK game for Darnell Savage, but the defense needs more from the 21st overall pick in the 2019 draft, especially with Za’Darius Smith and possibly Alexander sidelined. The former Maryland star handled his coverage responsibilities without incident, but he’s still not making an impact. Through four weeks, Savage has nine solo tackles, one pass defensed, and no interceptions. That’s just not good enough for such a talented player. While there’s something to be said for consistency, a team doesn’t trade up in the first round for the next Morgan Burnett.
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