The Green Bay Packers head into the bye week with a 6-3 record having won four games in a row and five of the last six.
Two of the six victories have come against two of the best teams, by record in the NFL, Chicago (7-1) and Houston (7-1).
While Packers fans may be disappointed compared to a year ago when the Packers were undefeated at this point, cheeseheads learned a season ago what matters is how they finish and not how they start.
The bye week comes at an opportune time as the team is decimated by injury. The list is long and includes:
- Cedric Benson should return to practice in the next couple weeks.
- Greg Jennings has no timetable at present for return, but is hopeful of returning in the final month.
- Both 1st and 2nd string inside linebackers, Desmond Bishop and D. J. Smith, have been lost for the year.
- Nick Perry is seeking a second opinion on his injury.
- Sam Shields is expected to return after the bye, but may have lost his starting job to rookie Casey Hayward, who has been phenomenal in his absence.
- Jermichael Finley should also return to full strength following the bye week.
- Charles Woodson is expected to miss at least a couple more weeks.
- John Kuhn should return following the bye week.
- Jerel Worthy is out with a concussion. There is no timetable for his return, but could return in week 11.
- Brian Bulaga injured his hip on Sunday and has yet to see a specialist, his return date is unknown.
- Clay Matthews was also injured Sunday and will be out at least a couple games.
- Jordy Nelson left Sunday's game with an ankle injury but is not expected to miss any games.
Every team has injuries, but none has so many impact players and starters out. The hope is everyone that can return, does return in time for the final month push to the playoffs and Super Bowl.
It is pretty impressive Green Bay has managed to win four in a row which is a testament to this coaching staff, Ted Thompson, and the scouting department.
Now let's talk about the good stuff.
Green Bay has the best winning percentage over the last 27 regular season games winning 23 of them (.852)
Despite a slow start Aaron Rodgers is second in the league with a 107.4 passer rating. Behind only Peyton Manning who has a 108.6 rating. Rodgers is first in touchdown passes with 25, three ahead of second place Drew Brees.
Rodgers has just five interceptions and is 12th in the league with 265 passing yards per game. His 22 touchdown passes over the last six games breaks the record of 20 held by himself and Brett Farve over any six-game stretch in franchise history.
As a team Green Bay is 6th in the league with 3141 yards and 3rd in points with 239.
It is clear Green Bay has not consistently clicked on all cylinders. Even with everyone healthy Rodgers has had a tendency, this season, to hold the ball. That has played a part in Green Bay allowing 29 sacks, though eight of them came in one half against Seattle. Only eight since that half have been allowed.
“Early on we missed a few things here and there,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. “We were just a little off. At Times we've played well, but we still need to work on our consistency.”
The Packers have had a very balanced attack during the winning streak, running the ball 107 times to 139 passes, an 80 percent run to pass ratio. In the previous five games, when Green Bay posted a 2-3 record, the ratio was 48 percent with 91 hand-offs to 188 passing attempts.
You might notice a lack of yardage listed in the rushing statistics. It just isn't as important as the attempts. Of course it would be nice to rack up the yardage. Either way the attempts have to continue.
Alex Green Leads the team in rushing attempts with 87, yards with 272 and the longest run of the year of 41 yards.
All-purpose weapon Randall Cobb leads in yards per attempt, 16.0.
Green Bay has only two rushing touchdowns on the season, last in the NFL.
Cobb also leads the team in catches with 45. Jordy Nelson has the most receiving yards with 532 and James Jones is enjoying his best year as a pro leading the team with eight touchdowns and 63 targets.
The defense has showed significant improvement over last season and Week 1 when confusion reigned.
In 2011 Green Bay finished last in total yards allowed, passing yards allowed, and were 3rd to last with just 29 sacks.
In 2012 Green Bay is 12th in total yards allowed per game, 1st in sacks with 28, and 20th in passing yards allowed per game.
Green Bay also ranks 10th in rushing yards allowed per game and are 1st in that category over the last six games allowing 79.7 yards per game.
Despite no sacks in the last two games, Clay Matthews leads the team and is second in the NFL with nine.
That number is not going to change for at least two games as Matthews sits with the hamstring injury. No other Packer has more than 2.5 sacks.
In limited action the first six weeks, rookie Hayward has 40 percent of the club's 10 interceptions, with four, which ranks third in the NFL. I am super impressed with Hayward. The rookie just makes plays.
Tramon Williams is the only other packer with more than one interception with two. He also leads the team with 11 passes defensed.
Morgan Burnett and A.J. Hawk lead the team in tackles with 67 and 66.
Green Bay is two games behind division-leading Chicago. With five of the remaining seven games left against division rivals including one against the Bears.
Chicago faces Houston and San Francisco in the next two weeks which may break or make them. Three weeks later will be the showdown with Green Bay which in all likelihood will decide the division winner.
Green Bay faces a challenge with Matthews out for an estimated two games. Will the sacks continue to come without his presence? At least one Packer believes they will.
“I think we’ve been able to continue to improve even though we’ve had a significant number of injuries,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “To me, that’s a credit to the guys that started the season as backup players and are now starters."
“I think everybody in that defensive room sees that, and they know at some point in time they’re going to be called upon, and they’re expected to perform. They feel the pressure from the rest of the guys in the room.”
More concerning is the injury to Brian Bulaga. Bulaga has become one of the best right tackles in the NFL in just two seasons. Take away one bad half against Seattle and he is as solid as they come. Can the offensive line protect Rodgers and create running lanes without him?
Protecting Rodgers is paramount. But Rodgers can do his part as well by getting the ball out of his hands. The coaching staff can also help protect the line with effective play calling.
As players return from injury, Green Bay should have no problem making the playoffs and will have an opportunity to win the division.
Can the team gel in time to make a run at the Super Bowl with so many players in and out of the lineup? That is the real question because there is no doubt the talent is there.