Sunday, January 15, 2012

MMQB: The Packer team that dominated the regular season disappears in the playoffs

The Green Bay Packers went 15-1 through the regular season by doing two things consistently: making big plays on offense while piling tons of yards and many, many scores and surrendering tons of yards on defense while piling up big plays. So when the game started at the most hallowed of grounds for the Packers vs. Giants in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, you can forgive me if I thought there would be more of the same.
Unfortunately, not so much. In fact, I wondered where the team that went 15-1 went on Sunday...
  • That team always won the turnover battle. The team I saw tonight put the ball on the ground so many times I almost lost count.
  • That 15-1 team scored an average of 35 points per game. This other team I was watching could barely make it to 20.
  • The best team in the NFC had a dominating passing attack. The team I saw today dropped at least 7 passes (and you could argue that total should be 9 or 10).
  • The worst defense in the NFL was best when defending in the red zone but surrendered a whopping 37 points, some of which were almost uncontested.
How do you get a handle on a loss like this? Can you take anything positive away?  I can’t think of a thing. The most humiliating moment came when the Giants were merely trying to run out the clock and the almost accidentally scored a touchdown in the final minutes. At one point in the dark moments at the end, the Packers put 11 men in the box, snuffed the point of attack and should have had a stop for a loss...but gave up a 23 yard running play. Think about what that means: your defense, with 11 men all keying on the run, got whipped by 10 guys and 1ball carrier when you kew exactly what the other guy was going to do.
That debacle in the last two minutes of the first half...can you play any worse defense? That sequence was the worst I’ve seen the Packers play all year. Maybe in two years. How does that happen in the post season???
The turning point was when the Packer defense finally put some pressure on Eli Manning and forced a pick. Yes, great, high-fives all around and then John Kuhn fumbles the ball back to the Giants a few plays later. Then it was a TD and the rout was on.
Aaron Rodgers was harassed all day, and did what he could. The Giants’ pass rush was far better than our offensive line. The Packer defense had a few moments of pressure but the Giant protection was far better than the almost pointless effort put forth by our team. When the Giants passed, there was always a man open. When the Packers passed, it was always into coverage. When the Giants made a play, there was always a Packer there to miss a tackle. When the Packers made a play, there was always a Giant defender there to strip the ball.
I’m sorry to be so negative here: the Packers had a GREAT regular season! They set team records for wins, consecutive wins, yards, points, passer rating...the list goes on and on. But the team that did all that through 17 weeks in the regular season was not the team that showed up this Sunday. Sad to say it but it’s true.
I’m not usually the one to point the finger of blame but in this contest there are fingers a-plenty to go around:
  • Mike McCarthy had two weeks to get his team ready to play this game. And they looked like scared play-off newbies from the opening kick-off. The Giants are a pretty good team playing their best ball of the season, but they are just not that good.
  • Dom Capers has had four months to try to develop some kind of defense. ANY defense. And, if you are to judge this season by any objective measure, he has failed miserably. One of the best defenses in the NFL in 2010 devolves into one of the worst in 2011. You have to place a lot of the burden on the coaching for that failure.
  • Where were the stars in this game? Where were the playmakers? I can tell you where: they were on the visitors side of the field. Woodson? Missing. Matthews? Absent. Rodgers? Not firing on all cylinders. Jennings? Who? Read the stats and down the line and you will notice the usual suspects to have played an exceedingly mediocre game.
To see the Giants celebrating at Lambeau with blue-cheese headed fans after this win was almost too much to bear. The Packer team that had brought us so much joy in a 15-1 season was absent from the friendly environs of Lambeau Field Sunday and we sincerely missed their attendance. If the team we enjoyed watching this year had just shown up, this  would have been a better game. But, alas, they fumbled away any chance to repeat the glory of the 2010 season. I hope each and every player who missed a tackle, dropped a pass or put the ball on the turf is taking a good, long look at themselves in the mirror as I write this. The window of opportunity to win a Super Bowl is very tight. The 2011 Green Bay Packers just slammed that window shut on themselves and they all have to live with that.
I give a lot of credit to the New York Giants for developing a superb game plan and executing it to perfection but, in the final analysis, it was the Green Bay Packers that handed this victory to them in the form of turnovers, missed tackles and dropped passes.
As always, it’s been a great time reporting on the Packers for you this season. Despite the final outcome, I think we can all say this was a great season, one for the record books. We here at The MMQB compound will watch the conference championships with interest (did you hear the Lambeau faithful set up a cheer for the Niners late in the contest?) and, as always, enjoy the Super Bowl for more than just the commercials. Tonight the Packers booted away any chance to be a team of destiny, a team of dynasty. Now all we can do is trust that Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy can learn from this defeat and build a better future for us in 2012: that’s all we’ve got, after all.
See you on Draft Day!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

MMQB:The First Annual MMQB Awards

I’ve got more to say!
While the AFC contenders and pretenders fight it out to see who will face the Packers in Indianapolis and the Giants get ready to test their mettle at Lambeau next week, I thought I’d take the opportunity of the bye to reflect back on the regular season just completed to see who were the best (and the worst) players and influences on this team. So without further ado, (or at least minimal ado and in no particular order), we now present The First Annual MMQB Awards. (Cue the NFL Films inspirational music)
  • Dual tri-fecta Award of Merit: Not only did the Packers win three professional football games in 11 days (Vikings 11/14, Bucs 11/20 and Lions 11/24) but they won on Thanksgiving Day (Lions), Christmas Day (Bears) and New Years Day (Lions again). I have no way of researching this but I can’t imagine that any team in the history of the NFL has done either of those things, much less both in one year.
  • Lineman of the year: Center Scott Wells. At one time I considered Wells the weak link on the offensive line. As the only lineman to start every game for the Packers, he has not only shown his durability but he has been consistently effective. Can you remember any bad snaps from  this guy? All year? Neither can I.
  • Worst Loss to Injury: Nick Collins. After reviewing some highlights from 2010, I can see clearly why our defensive secondary can’t cover anybody. They are missing the leadership and skills of Nick Collins back there. With him on the DL and not the football field, you’ve got the likes of Jarrett Bush trying to cover people.
  • Worst Loss to Free Agency: Cullen Jenkins. Look at the Packer front seven in 2010. Now look at that same group in 2011. Who is missing? Jenkins. Look at the sack total from both years. See anything? I don’t care about Ted Thompson’s reputation for penny-pinching on the veteran free agents and I don’t care about those that tell me it doesn’t matter, we’re 15-1. It does matter. With his push up the middle, there is no way QB’s are throwing for 400+ yards against our team every week. The sack totals go up (not from Jenkins but from his busting of pockets and forcing QB’s into the arms of our linebackers) and all those UGLY defensive performances are much less so.
  • Best Back-UP: Matt Flynn. If you don’t know why, you didn’t see the franchise record-setting performance against the Lions. If you didn’t see that, I don’t want to talk to you.
  • Biggest Disappointment, Offense: Jermichael Finely. This was to be his year. He stayed healthy and he had a pretty good year, but not a dominating one. J-Mike should have been dominating. Dropped passes in several contests exposed his hands. He still has the tools and the talent but I don’t believe he is the elite TE he thinks he is.
  • Biggest Disappointment, Defense: Tie - Frank Zombo, Brad Jones, Vic So’oto, Erik Walden. We needed someone to step up and bring a credible pass rush opposite Clay Matthews. Haven’t seen it happen yet. So we’ve gone through two full seasons looking for another OLB  and we have yet to find the guy.
  • Rookie Of The Year: Randall Cobb. He has made a minor impact as a receiver (as would be expected for a rookie with four great receivers in front of him) but his contributions as a return man have been outstanding. He’s got a kick return for a TD and a punt return for a score as well. In the last decade, the Packers haven’t even had a sniff at this kind of weapon. Sure, he’s had a few fumbles and made some poor decisions, but overall, he’s been a 1000% improvement.
  • Best Running Back: Ryan Grant. Coming back from a season-ending injury in 2010, Grant was expected to compete with James Starks for the starting spot but he failed to impress in any way. But Starks had nagging injuries of his own and Grant came back and made valuable contributions, especially late in the season.
  • Defensive MVP: Clay Matthews. His sack totals are way down but his impact on the game as a whole is way up. He requires a double-team or at the very least a chip on every play. That imposes a limit on what opposing offenses can do. He’s #9 on the team in tackles and #1 in sacks. He’s got three interceptions and a pick-six. He is around just about every play on defense. He’s a leader on and off the field. You could make an argument that Charles Woodson is a close second but his fading talents in coverage make me give Mathews the edge.
  • Offensive MVP: Aaron Rodgers. No surprises here. A-Rodg has had, arguably, the best season ever for an NFL QB. Others may lead in certain statistical categories but if you look at yards, yards per catch, TD passes, interceptions, passer rating and (most importantly) wins, you cannot make an argument for any other QB. Not Brees, not Brady. Tim Tebow, the media darling, isn’t a pimple on Rodgers’ ass. After watching Matt Flynn dismantle the Lions, you could argue that it’s the team and the system that make Aaron so good. And you would be right. But you can have the best receivers, the best coaches and the best game plan in the world and if you don’t have that topflight guy under center, it’s not going to be pretty.
  • Late-to-the-party Award: The MMQB. On Tuesday, January 3rd at approximately 1935 local standard time, I finally (FINALLY) made it official and became an owner of the Green Bay Packers. To be a very small part of such a long-standing and storied organization is truly a humbling experience. I know there are thousands of owners and I know that this piece of paper isn’t even worth the paper it’s printed on. I can’t sell it and it will never make me a red cent. That doesn’t matter. I’ve bought houses, cars, toys, computers and phones that I was absolutely lusting after and I’ve never had the kind of thrill I had when I finalized that purchase. And if you are worrying about the “cannot criticize NFL teams or officials” clause in the stock offering, don’t: I used my alter ego’s name on the document, so yer ever-lovin’ MMQB is free to let the rants fly!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

MMQB: Matt Flynn leads the Green Bay Packers to a stirring victory over the Lions

This was a day that should have been all about playing it safe. With absolutely nothing to play for, Mike McCarthy chose to sit his two biggest playmakers on defense, two ailing offensive skill players and his MVP quarterback. Just to make sure he’d have all of them available in two weeks when the post-season really opens up at Lambeau Field. Putting back-up QB Matt Flynn in as your starter isn’t necessarily saying “we just want to get out of here without too much damage” and tank the game: he’s a pretty good quarterback, based on his performance last year against the Patriots. Little did we know that while MM was putting in his second and third stringers, he was not backing off of going for a victory one iota.
Flynn, after a slow start (one-for-three and a fumble) played most of the game in a passable imitation of Aaron Rodgers. He did have the one pick but he would end the day with the most yards and most TD’s in one game for any quarterback in Packer history. Yes, you read that right: Flynn went 31-44, 480 yards and threw for six TD’s. That’s with only three receivers dressed, a makeshift offensive line and a highly motivated and full-strength Lions team wanting nothing more than to lock up the 5th seed and get their first win in Wisconsin since 1991.
This game was basically an opportunity for Flynn to put a highlight reel together for potential teams next season: he is free-agent after this season ends and is likely to be highly sought-after by teams looking for a starting-caliber QB. Well, he got the best collection of clips to ever grace a coach’s film projector. 
You, me and everybody else look at Aaron Rodgers as the heart and soul of that offense and we would all be right. We also assumed that if anything happened to A-Rodg, our season would be over. How wrong we were! Little did we know that lurking just behind our on-field leader was a lieutenant who was more than capable of stepping in without a bit of fall-off in production. We are a lucky bunch of fans! If the unthinkable would happen somewhere along the way, we can rest assured that Flynn can handle it. Too bad he won’t be with the team next year but Flynn has earned his shot to be a starter somewhere today.
Unfortunately, the Packer defense had no such answers on their side of the ball. With Woodson and Matthews in street clothes, the Packer defenders, already the second-worst in terms of yardage in the entire NFL, set new standards for wretchedness. How bad was it? Well, we get to celebrate Flynn’s achievement along with Matthew Stafford’s: He set franchise records for completions, yardage and touchdowns. The Packer D gave up an obscene 571 yards in total offense including 244 by Calvin Johnson who they pretty much shut down on Thanksgiving. It probably didn’t help that we had special-teamers off the third string trying to cover guys. It also didn’t help that we saw defensive linemen and linebackers attempting to cover Johnson while guys like Tramon Williams sat back in coverage and whiffed on tackles like high-school freshmen in their first August practice. That is bad scheming and bad coaching. Yes, they did  have their usual allotment of turnovers and you have to be thankful for that. But this defense, even at full strength is going to get TORCHED by someone like Drew Brees. Remember, this defense gives up 400 yards to third-stringers and rookies. You can argue that the bend-but-don’t-break style has worked so far in terms of wins but look at the game today: Matt Flynn, our back-up QB, had to have the best day of any Packer QB ever to just barely win this game. You just cannot expect that is going to happen in the playoffs. The Packers were bent, creased, spindled and fully mutilated and they might just face this team again!
But enough about the defense as quite frankly, I’m sick and tired of watching them get smacked around. No, I want to mention Jordy Nelson (9 catches, 162 yards and 3 TD’s) who is rapidly becoming an even bigger weapon than Jennings. I want to give props to Ryan Grant (12 runs for only 48 yards but an 80 yard TD on a little bitty screen) who may not have the burst he once did but he’s proven his worth with Starks out. How about Donald Driver? He only had two catches for 52 yards but one was for a 35-yard TD. 
On the bad side, you have to point a finger at Pat Lee, pressed into kick return duty with Cobb on the bench. He mis-handles the opening kick and can only swat it out of the end zone. The next kick, he lets it bounce off his shin and then pulls it back into the endzone for a safety. He was instrumental in staking the Lions to a 9-point lead before Flynn could even get his jock strap on. Welcome to the waiver wire. And, Mr. Suh, I’m so darn glad you were able to get a sack and then do a mock-Rodgers celebration. Good for you for getting that done without pulling a knife or drowning a puppy. You’ve really grown up. Your defense still sucks.
I am a firm believer in playing each and every game to win. I was of the opinion that McCarthy should not have sat a single starter and gone right for the throat and for the win. Well, he sat his most valuable guys, let his injured rest and still went for the win. Nicely done. The Packer second and third teams took it to the Lion starters and, while it certainly wasn’t pretty in places, we still came away with a win and end the season 15-1. I can’t imagine a better outcome.
Now we all have a few weeks off to figure out how this team will fare in the post season. After watching them tonight, I think our offense can score on anybody and that includes the Niners. I think any opposing offense will have to put up crazy numbers to even get close. Hopefully, our defense can rise to the occasion.