Sunday, December 4, 2011

MMQB: The Packers Pass the "Character" Test

The Green Bay Packers are the undefeated, consensus class of the NFL. You’ve got folks that talk about the Ravens and the Pats, some who put up the Steelers or the Saints and even the Niner-lovers. And if I hear one more word about the Tee-Broncos, I will absolutely vomit. But all of these teams are in the running for the Best Team Not Named Packers award. 
But there was one thing missing from the Packer’s win portfolio: the gritty come-from-behind, fourth quarter victory. This, to me, is the ultimate test of character for an NFL team. Can you absorb the bets shot from an opponent, get down and find a way to win at that very end. And they haven’t had that opportunity to pass that test for one very good reason: the Packers have not trailed in the fourth quarter for the entire 2011 season.
So when the Packer defense went into “please don’t hurt me” mode late in the game and pretty much handed a tie to the Giants, it was up to Aaron Rodgers and the offense with the ball on their 20, only 58 seconds remaining and one time out to go get the win. Four plays later Mason Crosby was set up with a 31-yard game-winner and the Packers were 12-0. They had passed the test.
Should the Packers have been in that position? No way. How did they get there? The reasons are many:
  • The Packers had six dropped passes (I actually counted eight) with Finely being the worst offender. You just can’t drop that many passes and expect to win many football games.
  • The Packer defense was torched repeatedly for long passes. Completions of 42 and 51 yards and a TD to former Wisconsin Badger for 67 made the Packers secondary looks foolish. I kept hearing the Benny Hill theme watching the DB’s attempt to cover and tackle.
  • Mason Crosby has suddenly become a 50-50 kicker, missing a field goal as time expired in the first half off of fumble recovery. He looked so great through ten games but he’s missed two over the span of that many weeks.
  • Aaron Rodgers was off target in several critical moments. The pick he threw was a pure and simple mis-read.
  • The Packer offensive line, patched together after injuries have ripped up the starting line, is not doing well. Rodgers was facing more pressure that he should. The run game was almost laughable in places. Smith and Newhouse are not starter-worthy and it showed big time tonight.
  • The play calling of Mike McCarthy was surprisingly pedestrian. How many times do you run the ball for under two yards on first down? Why call a reverse/wide receiver pass and take the ball out of Aaron Rodgers hands? I appreciate MM trying to create balance but he has to go with what’s working and not with what isn’t.
  • The lack of pressure on Eli Manning was a huge factor. The younger Manning brother is well known for making errors when hit and sacked. The Packers made valiant attempts to rush him and they were successful in many instances but all too often the Giants double-teamed Matthews and then watched the rest of the Packer front seven flop around ineffectively and BOOM! Another big pass play!
So with all that going on, how did the Packers win this game? How did they win the battle of character on the last drive of the game?
  • Clay Matthews and his pick-six in the first quarter was a huge turning point. If Eli Manning has time to make the correct read (one of those rare QB pressures) he might have a TD going the other way. A 14-point swing on one play.
  • Donald Driver has four catches for only 34 yards but two of those were for TD’s. Double D stepped up for the second game in a row.
  • Catches by Jordy Nelson on the last two Packer drives were absolutely crucial to the win. As with the phenominal run into and through the playoffs last year, Nelson knows when to step up his level of play.
  • Rodgers, even with his slightly erratic play, was able to put together not one but TWO scoring drives to win this game. The passes to Finley, Nelson and Jennings to set up the winning field goal were as precise as you can get. When it was most important, Rodgers as most effective. Mason Crosby may have put that game winner between the uprights but it was Aaron Rodgers who made it possible.
There were some pretty big injuries in this game and as I write I have no idea how severe they are. Starks went out on the cart and it doesn’t look so great for him. Grant needs to step up. Quarless’ injury looks to my uneducated eye to be season-ending. Good thing we have five tight ends on the roster. Woodson got his head impacted and we might be looking at a concussion. I’d love to point to someone in the secondary that is able to fill in but I don’t see them. But the way Woodson was playing today, it was probably an upgrade to the Packer defense. These are all worrisome.
Again, this game was touted by some as “the one the Packers are going to lose” and again, the Packers found a way to the W. With four games to go, the Packers have locked up a playoff berth and will win the North if the Lions drop one to the Saints tonight. Three of the four remaining games are in the friendly confines of Lambeau Field, so you have to give the Packers the edge. Can they go all the way? Sure. Does it have to be this exciting? No, but why would you want it to be boring? This is a special season and a special team. Let’s hope it can all result in a special trophy. 

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