Friday, November 25, 2011

MMQB: Turkey Day and another pretender is dealt with by Green Bay

Wednesday, right before leaving work, one of my fellow Packer fans asked me how I felt about the Thanksgiving day match-up between Green Bay and  the surprising Detroit Lions. I answered as honestly as I could: “I feel good about this game. Lions are going to be tough but I’ve seen them play a few times this year and I can’t see them beating the Packers right now.” Deep in my pessimistic MMQB lizard brain (the part that makes us fearful little animals instead of top-of-the-food chain predators) I knew that this game had the markings of a problem for the Packers. The relative strengths and weaknesses of the two teams did not bode well for our guys. To wit:
  • Lions have an excellent front four that can get after a quarterback without blitzing - The Packer offensive line has not given Rodgers the kind of time lately he needs.
  • The Lions biggest weakness is run defense - Packers have good backs but they are never going to win games by dominating on the ground.
  • The Lions have a pretty good QB in Stafford and a legitimate star in Calvin Johnson - The Packer defensive backs tend to make even mediocre QB’s look like Hall-of-Famers.
 But this is why you play the games. This is why stats and tendencies can lie. This is why the pundits like to look at a game like this and teams like this and say, “yup, time for the Packers to lose one.” And Mike McCarthy, Aaron Rodgers and Charles Woodson say, “nope, not going to happen!”
This team is starting to get into a groove and a rhythm that seems very familiar to me. It was the 2007 season and the almost-perfect New England Patriots were tearing up the entire NFL. Teams would play them tight and close and do everything right and they’d still look up at the scoreboard ten minutes into the game and be down by 21. You could almost hear them think “how the hell did that happen?” And the Packers are getting like that too. Teams have been giving it their best shot (well, maybe not the Vikings two weeks ago) and are still ending up on the short end of the stick. The Bucs played one of  their best games of the season and the Packers won. The Lions stayed nose-to-nose with the Packers in a typically gritty, first half, only to get smoked. 
Think about this team and what they have already accomplished: 11-0 record, pretty darn good. 17 wins in a row going back to last year, outstanding. Beating good teams of all stripes and schemes, can’t get any better. Here is the big one: winning three games in 11 days, against maybe our biggest division rival (Vikes), an up-and-coming team (Bucs) and the biggest revival of fortunes in many years (Lions). 
We have a lot of reasons to be thankful for this year, and as is my habit, I want to tell you mine:
I’m thankful that the Lions have such and undisciplined team. Seriously: 11 penalties for 82 yards is bad enough but two of them allowed the Packers to score touchdowns instead of field goals, total no-no’s in the NFL. Add in the ejection of Mr. Suh (if you’ve heard his after-the-game denial/shifting of blame/explanation, you know this guy is a total head case) and it all totals up to a pretty dysfunctional team. If you want to hand out a game ball, hand it to the Lions: they found a way to keep our drives going for us!
I’m thankful that Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy saw fit to hang on to James Jones. The Lions must have got word that Jordy Nelson could burn you if you took away Jennings and Finely. In their attempt to cover all three of those guys, they forgot about #89 for that one brief moment it took for Aaron Rodgers to find him. BOOM! Touchdown Green Bay. 
I’m thankful for a team that has grown and matured so much in the last three seasons. Not that long ago a sack or penalty or a lack of execution or concentration would have meant a stalled drive and a punt. Now we can rise above the mistakes and make positive plays. We don’t get impatient with ourselves. We know we can overcome adversity.
I’m thankful for team depth. Mike McCarthy deactivate not one, not two but three linebackers before the game and we had the misfortune to have both of our starting inside backers (Hawk and Bishop) go out with injury. A bad day for Green Bay? Nope. We saw DJ Smith and Robert Francois step right up and shoulder the load. Were they perfect? No, that’s why they aren’t the starters. But just like last year, if someone goes down, someone else comes in and plays at or above the level of the starter. Francois even got an interception. THIS is the kind of team character champions are made of.
I’m thankful for the bend-but-don’t-break defense. It can be awfully trying to watch but you just cannot deny it’s effectiveness. The opportunistic nature of this defense would seem to be something you shouldn’t be able to count on but week in and week out, they get the job done! When Charles Woodson RIPPED the ball from a receivers hands, you just had to smile and marvel at our good fortune.
Most of all, I’m thankful for Mindy, Matt, Sean, Becky, Dora, Toni, Jim, Mary, Fred, Joan and all my excellent friends, teammates and co-workers. I’m thankful for all of you read this little rant and from time to time, tell me you like it. I’m thankful for all the fine folk that contribute (in money, support and sweat) to our yearly biking/fundraising quest to eliminate the scourge of MS from Planet Earth.
The Packers have earned some time off before they take on the Giants and so have you. Bask in the afterglow, get yourself a big ol’ slab of white meat and take a few days to appreciate all you have.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

MMQB: Packers play perhaps their worst game of the season and still win by 9

If you were watching the Packers beat the Buccaneers this afternoon, you would not be in the minority thinking that this game should have been closer than the final score indicated. Was I the only one who felt like we were playing from behind all day? Looking at this game on paper, you would have come up with the same thing all the talking heads did: Packers win, somewhere around 35-17. And if you look at the final, you’d say “yeah, Pack gave up one more score than it should have but they still beat ‘em”. You wouldn’t be wrong, but you wouldn’t have seen the complete picture either.
If you watched the Packers beat up on the Vikings last week, you were probably just like this humble scribe in thinking that the Packer defense had finally turned a corner and had solved all those nagging problems (giving up 400+ yards a game) and found a way to stop offenses that were (literally) throwing caution to the wind and attempting to keep pace with the prolific Packer offense. But watching the mediocre Josh Freeman light up the Packer DB’s for 342 yards and 2 TD’s and the decidedly not mediocre Blount run over through and around the Packer tacklers for 107 yards and 1 TD, you have to question that defense again. Seriously: in the third quarter, a period that has been dominated by Green Bay all season long, the Bucs OWNED the game on both sides of the ball.
I have to ask: How did the Bucs take away both Greg Jennings (2 catches for six yards) and Jermichael Finley (1 catch for 30 yards) and STILL put all that pass rush on Aaron Rodgers? Sure, you had a career day by Jordy Nelson (6 for 123 and 2 TD’s) and a resurgence of Donald Driver (4 catches for 72 yards and two key first downs) but how does that happen? I can see every offensive coordinator in the NFL (especially the Detroit guy) pouring over that film, studying what went right for Tampa Bay. One big factor: Aaron Rodgers was not on his game today. Yes, yes, he still threw some great, great passes but he was off-target in many instances and the interception he threw in the fourth quarter was the only one so far that came off of a bad read and bad throw.
We got into the second half and the Packers were getting out-coached and out-played in all phases of the game. Very much uncharacteristic. The defense was embarrassed, seemingly in prevent but in actuality was just out of position. The offense sputtered and stalled. The special teams barely held on. 
But even with all that crap going on, the Packers were still leading the game! Think about that: they were totally messing up on both sides of the ball and yet they were still in control of their destiny. How weird was it?
  • On the Packers first drive, Masthay came on for a seeming three-and-out punt, fumbles twice but runs for a first down.
  • Aaron Rodgers was the second-leading rusher today, something that means the pass blocking is really bad.
  • BJ Raji, a defensive lineman, gets his first rushing TD and second TD overall of his career. Shades of “the Fridge”?? Heck no: he’s now “the Freezer”.
  • Tom Crabtree, the most handsome player in the NFL (Google a picture of him. I dare you) catches the first TD of his NFL career. 
Aaron Rodgers was not efficient. The Packer defense was soft and flaccid. Yet still they won. They made the needful plays in the right spots and found a way to win against an inferior opponent playing out of their heads.
So you have to ask yourself: how does this team beat the Lions on Turkey Day? You have a fine offensive team in Detroit (doesn’t bode well to the seemingly lax Packer defense) and a team that can be good on defense (against a Packer pass attack that suddenly looks mortal).  Can the opportunistic Packer D make up for their lack of backbone with picks? Can Aaron Rodgers and his receivers bounce back from a sub-par performance? The Lions ALWAYS play well on Thanksgiving Day and the Packers will have all they can handle. 10-0 is a remarkable record and a 15 game winning streak is unprecidented in Packer history. Is this the week it all comes crashing down? I don’t know. But I think they will have to play the best game of the season so far to get out of this week undefeated.

Monday, November 14, 2011

MMQB: Packers finally put together a complete game in demolishing the Vikings

When I sit down to write after the Packers have finished playing, I am usually looking for the faults and flaws, no matter what the outcome is. To me, the failures tell you far more about a football team than the successes. Tonight, facing the hated Vikings on a large, nationally-televised stage, the Green Bay Packers made my job here almost impossible! How can I fill up my allotted space with pithy rants and snarky comments if they play like they did? Come on, guys! Have a heart, will ya?
All kidding aside, it’s hard to find anything to pick about and I’m pretty sure you all know where I’m going to find the only blemish on an otherwise complete game: the Cobb fumble. Yeah, the rookie stunned the Vikings by putting up his second return for six after they went three-and-out to start the game. But his muffed punt and subsequent recovery by the Vikings would lead to their only points two plays later. Sound familiar? He did exactly the same thing in the first meeting this year between the Packers and Vikings and it allowed the Queens to climb back into that contest and make it a game. Not so much this time: Cobb redeemed himself by returning the ensuing kick-off to the 50 yard line. Five plays later Rodgers tossed his third TD of the night to Kuhn. I think all is forgiven, Randall. 

I’ve got one more: allowing Jarred Allen to rudely school Marshall Newhouse over and over again was a pointless blunder by the Packers. The guy completely dominated the line of scrimmage and disrupted our passing game, tossing Rodgers about on multiple occasions. When the Packers chipped him or double-teamed him he was much less effective. When they left Newhouse to his own devices, well, Allen had one sack, six tackles and I lost count of the hits and pressures. 
But aside from those two quibbles, I think this is the very first complete game the Packers have put together all season. Offense scored early and often. Defense almost pitched a shut-out. Special teams covered kicks, punted well and Crosby probably will have to spend time in the whirlpool from all the extra points he had to make tonight.
The biggest surprise was the defense, though I’m not sure what adjustments Dom Capers installed this week. Maybe it wasn’t anything new and it was just better, more aggressive play all around. Maybe it was the fact that Ponder isn’t that great, the Vikings wide outs are mediocre and Peterson becomes a non-factor when playing from a large deficit. But you have to be impressed by the play of Charles Woodson all night long. You have to notice that not only did Clay Matthews continue his stellar play at OLB, he also brought the hammer down twice on Ponder. I was wondering if we’d ever get to see that Predator move again but there it was! And the front seven holding AP to only 51 yards, well, that’s just unheard of!

It’s hard to figure out what to write about Rodgers and his receivers that hasn’t already been said a dozen times over. Repeat all the great stats? Call out one or two dynamite plays? Bow respectfully? How about this: On the Packers first offensive possession, they faced a third and one from the Vikings 27. Obvious spot for a run or a QB sneak, since you’re already in field goal range, right? Well the Vikings had such respect for Rodgers’ arm that they had their corners playing off the Packer receivers and the safeties were 20 yards off the line of scrimmage. Rodgers went up the middle for three and the first down, tossing his first TD strike of the game to Jennings across the middle three plays later. That’s just nuts. 
Packers vs. Vikings used to produce an almost visceral reaction for me: I couldn’t wait for the game to start yet I was so apprehensive about it that I couldn’t sit still. It started during all those years when Randy Moss was racking up dozens of touchdowns on us and it came to an ugly head three years ago when the Favre-led Vikings made my Packers look foolish. Since  that day, however, all my anxiety has been pointless as the Packers have owned the Queens. Tonight I could feel the tension in texts from Brother Russ and I’ll admit to some trepidation in the first half and one moment of doubt right before the second half but I never felt like Minnesota was ever going to make anything happen past a few meaningless opportunities. It’s ALWAYS a good feeling, though, when you beat the Vikings. It’s a MUCH BETTER feeling when you humiliate them in front of a prime time TV audience. Yeah, do your little “hog-tie” move, Jarred Allen. Get your kicks, guy. I much prefer a Lambeau Leap and a John Kuhn TD. And then you get to see the absolute best sight there can be: Matt Flynn in victory formation to end the game. Love it!

So, we sit at 9-0 and just played our best game of the year. This is the first of three games in 11 days and it couldn’t have turned out any better. But the challenges abound: a short turn and then Tampa on Sunday, followed by an even shorter turn and Detroit on Turkey Day. Oh, and once you get past that mess, you get to go to New York to play the Giants. If the Packers have indeed started to peak, they picked a perfect time for it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

MMQB: Mid-Season Performance Evaluation

To: The Green Bay Packers
From: The Cheesehead Nation
Re: 2011 Performance Evaluation

We’ve been very pleased with your work so far, Mr. Packer. Our organization takes great pride in providing a nurturing and supportive work environment and your performance over the last year has been exemplary. The numerous award and achievements that you have earned reflects most favorably upon all facets of your work and upon our organization as well. We are, however, required to provide regular feedback to all of our employees and after careful consideration have found some areas that deserve some extra attention on your part as well as some specific areas in which we feel you have excelled.

Quarterback —
Your Mr. Rodgers was very well thought of at the end of last season and we counted ourselves extremely fortunate to have him under contract considering the rather tumultuous and ugly separation problems we had with the previous holder of that position. Many questioned the wisdom of the actions taken at the time and, thankfully, those concerns have proved unfounded and shortsighted. We didn’t think it possible but Rodgers has not only improved upon his work from last year, he has risen to the unquestioned peak of his profession. If we had one comment for Mr. Rodgers it would be that we have noticed, over the last two weeks, an unfortunate tendency to hold the ball too long, a habit from previous years we thought he had gotten past. This can lead to some unfortunate consequences and expose him to possible injury, something that would be disastrous to our goals.

Running back—
This has not been a primary focus of your weekly operations and we realize the wisdom inherit in that course of action: the performance and success of the passing activities precludes the need for a strong rushing game. We also recognize that you try to achieve a balance in the play-calling, necessary to ensure your ultimate success. The return of your Mr. Grant after medical leave has been helpful but we question if he has returned to previous form—at times he seems most tentative in his work. Mr. Starks, who filled in last year and has been working in tandem with Grant this year has lived up to expectations and has largely supplanted Grant as your best back. Mr. Kuhn, a favorite of ours, continues to perform well when needed. We would encourage you to spend some extra time with this facet of your work. We feel that a strong running game can do nothing but enhance our chances for growth and support and protect our number one asset, Aaron Rodgers.

The staff in your receiving department has been nothing short of spectacular this year. The senior member, Mr. Driver, has certainly dropped off his production but his leadership and experience has no doubt enhanced the performance of his less-tenured co-workers and, while he continues to be a valuable asset, we approve of the steps you have taken to ensure no drop-off of production when he eventually decides to retire. The wisdom of retaining Mr. Jones, in danger of being terminated only a few short months ago, has been proven on numerous occasions. Some questioned your faith in him after some issues last year but few do now. Mr. Jennings is and will continue to be your biggest asset (and we encourage you to utilize him even more) but the play of young Mr. Nelson continues to improve and provide timely positive plays when needed most. His work near the end of last year was instrumental in your ultimate success. Your newest acquisition, Mr. Cobb, has proven he can do the job but he needs a bit more seasoning and experience. Getting him into more positions where he can excel would be an important short-term goal for your organization and would cement his role in the eventual post-Driver years. The combined talents and abilities of these five employees are unparalleled in your business segment and provide real challenges to any competing organization.

Tight Ends—
Most of the trade publications were incredulous when you chose to retain five tight ends for this year. Mr. Finely was obviously going to be your lead man and see the majority of the work but to add four more to your employment rolls (at the expense of even one back-up fullback) seemed a bit more out-of-the-box than most would like to see. While we have been pleased with Finley’s performance, the contributions of the other four have been mostly in blocking and special teams, which has been a pleasant surprise. Perhaps a more traditional mix of 3-4 tight ends with at least two fullbacks would be more prudent but it has not been a problem so far this year.

Offensive Line—
With the injury to Mr. Clifton, many of the younger and less-experienced members of your line staff (specifically Mr. Newhouse) have been forced into larger roles that would have been better suited to more veteran personnel. And while Newhouse has played fairly well and this unit has not had the feared precipitous drop in performance, they are young in key areas (notably both tackle positions) and suffer occasional lapses, resulting in challenges for others facets of the operations. They are neither big enough nor skilled enough to dominate the competition, forcing Rodgers and other skill-position players to perform at an even higher level. Injuries and the drop-off in talent behind the thin starting line remains and will continue to remain one of the biggest threats to your continued success. If Mr. Sherrod had come in worthy of his first-round acquisition, (or had been given the opportunity to work at tackle rather than experimented with at guard during the preseason) that would have provided much-needed depth to this unit, but he remains a work-in-progress.

Defensive Line—
It is rare that we find fault lately with the work of your Mr. Thompson but we must point out that the failure to re-sign Mr. Cullen Jenkins (or to even make a serious attempt to do so) must be considered, in hindsight, a major misstep. While you could not have foreseen the continued unavailability of his projected replacement Mr. Neil, we feel that Mr. Jenkins was a better option anyway. The loss of Mr. Jolly to his continuing legal issues has only exacerbated the situation. The lack of “push up the middle” has adversely effected the pass rush, sack and pass coverage facets of the operation. Mr. Jenkins continues to perform well in his new position in Philadelphia and, while we wish him the best in his future endeavors, we also wish he was still with your team. The lack of pass pressure from the three down linemen is of a major concern to us. Their performance on running plays has been adequate and acceptable, bordering on above-expectations on occasion. Until these issues can be corrected (either through scheme, training or personnel moves) it will remain one of our chief concerns.

Considered a major plus during the last year, productivity, especially in the pass rush arena, has severely dropped off. While some of it can be traced to the defensive line issue detailed above, we believe that the continued inability of the company to field a top-flight pass rusher opposite Mr. Matthews is a major factor. Mr. Zombo can’t seem to make it in to work due to injury, Mr. Jones doesn’t seem to be up to the challenge and Mr. Walden’s inconsistency is both puzzling and troubling. Mr. So’oto, while new to the organization, showed in the preseason that he is capable of being a disruptive force and certainly has the size and skills to make an impact larger than the aforementioned trio. I understand there are some concerns over his abilities in pass coverage but he can hardly do worse than has been exhibited in that area already (see below). I would advise you to at least give him an opportunity to prove if he is able. The work of Mr. Hawk and Mr. Bishop in the middle has been solid and consistent, as would be expected of veterans in that position. We are especially pleased with Hawk’s rise as a leader given the departure of Mr. Barnett.

We feel that the loss of Mr. Collins, the early season injuries to Mr. Williams and Mr. Shields and the continuing handicap faced by Mr. Burnett with his hand problem have changed one of your greatest defensive assets last year (your pass coverage) into your greatest liability. Contributing to the lack of production are the factors surrounding the defensive line and the linebacking groups listed previously. You are forced to rely on the likes of Mr. Peprah and Mr. Bush in critical junctures and we do not believe they are up to the task. Another factor has to be the stellar work of Rodgers and his offensive group which forces opponents to rely even more heavily on a pass-centric plan, putting further pressure on this team. Furthermore, the relative youth and injury handicaps of the secondary forces one of your most disruptive and opportunistic employees, Mr. Woodson, to assume a more conventional role, further eliminating the pressure on the opponent’s passing efforts. They are definitely an opportunistic group as seen by their industry-wide lead in hostile acquisition of competitor assets but these opportunities cannot always be counted on to compensate for a lack of execution in coverage. Of all the different units in your firm, the secondary has perhaps the highest proclivity for potentially disastrous actions, leading to an inevitable failure in a key moment. 

Special Teams—
Collectively, your special teams units have performed far above expectations. The work done by Mr. Crosby has been absolutely perfect up to this point. Not long ago, every opportunity for him to make in impact upon outcomes was fraught with trepidation: would he miss the easy opportunity? Could he overcome the elements? Would he let his team down at a critical juncture? He hasn’t been called on to perform under serious pressure yet (thanks to the fine work done by the offense) but there is no reason to suspect that he will buckle. Likewise, Mr. Masthay has been a steady and in some cases a spectacular performer, tilting the playing field in your favor. He has had a decided lack of work this year, but I think we can all agree that that is a good thing. Coverage teams have so far performed well, with only a few lapses in execution, unlike the early performances from 2010 when an excellent offensive performance was usually followed by a special teams collapse. We attribute that mostly to the relatively few injuries endured this year when compared to last. The addition of Mr. Cobb as your return man has also been a plus, although one must question his decision-making at times, based on the depth from which he returns some kicks. His one spectacular success seems to be coloring his judgment perhaps. His obvious physical skills allow him to overcome these lapses and we believe that he can only improve as he gains more experience and hopefully become the asset we envisioned him to be.

Across the board, your coaches, led by Mr. McCarthy, have proven their worth. Even when faced with adversity: your team has fallen behind and come back, gotten out quick and defended a lead and fought off furious late-game challenges. Coming off a previous year at the unassailable peak of your profession tends to make you a target and you get the absolute best effort out of each and every opponent. The continued success this year has only enhanced this factor. Despite (or maybe because of) this challenge, your organization continues to excel, week in and week out. It remains to be seen if this level of excellence can be maintained throughout the rest of this year and the adjustments made by you defensive staff to correct some of the shortcomings in that arena will be key. The level of adversity faced by your organization in the 2010 season made everyone in it stronger. If that tempering still exists and carries over into a year with fewer catastrophic injuries, there is practically no limit to what you can achieve.

While significant challenges remain in the year ahead, we cannot quibble with the results of your efforts, individually, as distinct departments and as a whole. We have not and will not expect perfection of you but are delighted in your potential to deliver it. On a weekly basis, we look forward to watching you compete and grow as a team. The unprecedented success you have achieved is no accident: The seeds were sown in 2010 and in previous years and now all the planning and effort put forth are paying off. Many in the industry media have gone to great lengths to tout your strengths and prowess but we are sure those same sources will be just as quick to diminish you if you would happen to have a setback. While we expect and demand a high level of performance and we tend to let our concerns overshadow our pride at times, please know that we are fully committed to you and have been so for as far as we can remember and will remain so for as long as we are physically able. We look forward to a long and profitable relationship.

The Cheesehead Nation

Sunday, November 6, 2011

MMQB: The Green Bay Packers remain undefeated, but that’s not going to last long.

We all hoped that after the Packer bye week, our defense would start playing like the 2010 team. Sunday they sure found that turnover groove but they were exposed as mere impostors by the arm of Phillip Rivers and the hands of Antonio Gates.
I’m going to throw this out there and I know I will catch a lot of flack for it but I only speak the truth: The Packers will not go 16-0 this year. In fact, I highly doubt they will make a deep run in the playoffs with the quality of play on the defensive side of the ball. 
Oh, I love the turnovers this group generates. Who doesn’t love that? And two pick-sixes in the first half were simply exquisite. But if you throw 14 points onto the scoreboard but then get torched for 4 TD’s, which side of a plus/minus equation would your performance land under? Seriously: 385 yards on 26 catches for almost 15 yards each. Unacceptable! I’ve been railing all year long that someday some quarterback was going to come along and make the Packers pay for their lack of coverage and Rivers almost did it. 
The Packer pass defenders often look like first year practice squad guys, unsure of the play, unsure of their responsibilities and acting like the game is going to fast for them. I also see a lack of intelligence in the scheme: Even a keyboard blowhard like myself can tell you that you can’t cover Antonio Gates with a linebacker. And if I could just have a minute to address Dom Capers directly: Mr. Capers...can I call you Dom? Yes? OK, Dom, I have a little suggestion here: If you are sending five, six and seven guys at Rivers and they are picking up the blitz every time and he’s playing catch with Jackson and Gates, you need to quit doing that. You spent the entire third quarter trying to hit him and what was the result? 21 points on three TD passes. Your offense was doing everything it could to outscore them but your guys looked lost. And I know Tolbert is a tough, tough guy to tackle but if some of your men could actually put their arms around him, that would go a long way, you know?
Speaking of the offense, I think Aaron Rodgers deserves better than the blocking he’s getting. Yes, he held the ball way, way too long on multiple occasions but I detected whiffed blocks, missed blocks and just plain awful blocks, many of which led to hits on the most valuable man on the Packer team. The line gave up four sacks, one that was just barely over the line of scrimmage and another blind-side hit that got wiped out on a penalty. I don’t have the stats on other hits and hurries but they must be ugly. Aaron could have helped himself with a quicker release and some better decisions but a little more help from the big guys up from would have been nice.
But even given the amount of pressure he was under, Rodgers threw so many other-worldly passes I kept expecting a penalty flag to fly for witchcraft or illegal use of laser targeting systems. The TD to Jones: Perfect throw. The TD to Jennings: Perfect throw. The long completion to Nelson: Perfect throw. Aaron Rodgers was not only good, he was great. I could reel off the stats but this one strikes me: He only had five incompletions and four TD’s. If he completes one more pass, he has the same number of scores and incompletions. That’s just sick.
The missing component in the offense this day was the ability to close out the game. With a defense surrendering buckets of yards and bushels of TD’s, Rodgers and his offense could have won the game with a couple of first downs in the fourth quarter but they were unable to do it. Two weeks ago, they put the ball into the hands of Starks and he gained the yardage needed. This week, the punting of the Chargers put the Packers into unfavorable field position and only a penalty gave the Packers the ability to force the Chargers into burning timeouts. On the last Packer possession, he gained 16 yards on  five carries. Yes, San Diego had stacked the line but the Packer o-line and Starks were not up for challenge. 
Finding ways to win is important for any team to be successful. If you have weapons like Aaron Rodgers and his receivers, you can afford to be lackluster on defense. But when the weather gets colder and the teams get tougher, we are going to need this defense to actually stop somebody one of these days and that DAGGER interception can’t always be counted on. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

How good can the Packers Get?

I read an online comment yesterday and it kind of caught my eye: the writer was responding to an article on asking the question, “Who is the best team in the NFC after the Packers?” Putting aside the implications for the Packers from an article like that, a bunch of sportswriters gave it their all, putting Philly, New Orleans, New York and San Francisco up as their likely candidates. But the person commenting (who I inferred was not a Packer fan due to the context of his remarks) made the most salient point: The reasons the Packers are so scary formidable right now is that they are 7-0 and are only playing in third gear. Think about that—how good would the Packers be if they could kick in that higher gear? Aaron Rodgers said in an interview this week that one of his goals this year was to make the gap between good games and bad games larger. I would say MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, Aaron! But what if the offensive line was just a tad more solid at pass protecting? How many more completed passes does that mean? What if James Starks or Ryan Grant got into a groove? How many opponent opportunities does a great running game eliminate? What if Dom Capers truly has been holding back his best stuff for the second half of the season? How many turnovers and sacks is that worth? What if our “bend but don’t break” attitude on pass coverage becomes “we’re not bending anymore, chum”? How many drives does that stymie?

You can ask yourself, “how can you get any better than 7-0?” The answer is a simple one: you can’t. But if you improve in just one of the above phases of the game, you make it that much harder for your opponents to spoil that record. The Packer’s goal is not a 16-0 season. It’s not that elusive “perfect” season. No, the Green Bay Packers have only one goal: beat the next opponent and then climb over their still-warm corpse to get to the next challenger. Shifting into that highest gear will allow them to do that.