Ross Tucker
Monday December 8th, 2008

Every Monday,'s Ross Tucker will hand out letter grades to deserving NFL parties...

Green Bay Packers Defense. If you had told the Packers brass during the Brett Favre drama that the team would be 5-8 after 13 games, I'm confident it would have backed down and welcomed the future Hall of Famer back with open arms. Well, the Packers are 5-8, but a funny thing happened on their way to this disappointing record. Aaron Rodgers showed he is a solid quarterback and is not the person to blame. At all. In fact, Rodgers continues to play at a high level.

The Pack's problems have been the lack of a consistent running game, an inability to win the close ones and, perhaps most disconcerting for those within the organization, a defense that has fallen off the performance of last year's unit. The latest debacle took place Sunday, when the defense was torched for 549 yards by the Texans at Lambeau. Matt Schaub, in his first game back since spraining his knee, torched the Packers for 414 yards and two touchdowns with just one interception.

Green Bay's secondary, once thought to be a strength with the likes of Charles Woodson and Al Harris, has become the team's Achilles' heel. Two weeks ago they were undressed by Drew Brees and the Saints on national television, then last week Carolina's Steve Smith beat double teams to make the big plays when needed.

The run defense hasn't been much better, as the Packers front seven gave up 120 rushing yards on 26 carries to Texans rookie Steve Slaton. The only reason the Pack didn't get a failing grade is because they only gave up 24 points, which isn't a big number considering the amount of yardage yielded.

The only real difference on defense between last year and this year is the loss of tackle Corey Williams, who the Packers traded for a second-round pick from the Cleveland Browns. To have so many players back yet be so inept defensively has to be a source of consternation for defensive coordinator Bob Sanders, the man charged with getting his guys to perform.

Tarvaris Jackson, Minnesota Vikings. The much-maligned former starter had become an afterthought after Gus Frerotte took over the reins in September. Jackson was relegated to biding his time, wondering whether he would ever get another opportunity. He got it in Sunday's game versus the Detroit Lions, and he made the most of it, helping his team escape Ford Field without suffering what would have been a catastrophic loss.

Jackson told me Sunday on Sirius NFL Radio that the demotion was "hard at first, and I had to try and use it as motivation. Coach [Brad] Childress kept telling me to make sure I wasn't the guy who's not ready when my number is called or else I would get exposed. It was great to get back in, but I would never want Gus to get hurt."

Jackson entered the game after Frerotte went down with a back injury. .He proceeded to go 8-of-10 for 105 yards, throwing a touchdown pass to Visanthe Shiancoe that gave the Vikings the lead for good. He would have gotten an A or A+ for his effort but he did throw one ball completely up for grabs as he got hit, a pass that conjured up memories of the Tarvaris Jackson who got benched in the first place. For now, however, he and the rest of the Vikes will stand by their performance in a game they could not afford to lose.

Cincinnati Bengals Organization. The personal foul penalty by chronic miscreant Chris Henry, when he used both hands to hit a Colts defender in the face long after the play was over, epitomizes the disgrace that has befallen this franchise. It is obvious in the face of back-to-back drubbings, this one 34-3 to the Colts, that the Bengals need to make wholesale changes. The problem is that those changes likely need to come at the top. As in higher-than-Marvin Lewis-top.

It is hard to place a lot of the blame on Lewis given the relative prosperity he brought to the organization in his first couple of years, most notably the division title in 2005. I mean, how can you point the finger at a coach who doesn't even get to say whether or not players like Henry can be on his team? Talk about a credibility issue in the locker room.

The defense that had shown signs of improvement this season was lit-up by Peyton Manning, who went 26-of-32 for 272 yards and three touchdowns, one week after failing to score an offensive touchdown against Cleveland.

The offense was characteristically poor and could only muster three points. Ryan Fitzpatrick's turnovers were the undoing for a team that lacks an identity and needs to either give Lewis more authority or bring in a personnel man who will work with Lewis and get the type of players Lewis wants on the roster.

Philadelphia Eagles Defense. How good is Brian Westbrook, he of the impressive 200+ total yardage day against the Giants? Good enough that the offensive star was part of the reason the defense was so dominant against the Giants.

"He is not healthy. He's healthy enough," explained Eagles safety Brian Dawkins of Westbrook, who's playing with knee and ankle injuries. "When you have an individual who plays through what he plays through, how could you not play as hard as possible?"

Dawkins and the rest of the defense held the Giants to fewer than 100 yards rushing and forced them to be one dimensional, proving the Plaxico-less Giants passing attack can't win games on its own. Eli Manning was 7-of-21 for 66 yards before making things a tad bit more interesting with a final drive that resulted in the Giants only offensive touchdown of the day. At the end of the day, an inspired Eagles defense made amends for losing an earlier game against the Giants under adverse circumstances.

"The first game was embarrassing. It was a pride thing," said Dawkins, adding that, "There is no room for the feeble-minded in these situations. Leadership is important. They say pressure bursts pipes; well I say pressure shows what type of man you are."

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.