Sunday, September 30, 2012

Packers win, in spite of the zebras

Brother Russ said it best: the referees are the glue that holds the NFL together. Without them, we’re no better than WWF.

So it’s not surprising that Packer fans and football fans everywhere applauded heartily as the veteran refs took the field on Sunday. And for the most part, they reminded us why we need them: they adjudicated the games efficiently and fairly, with few controversies and mostly invisibly as they should be. And then the Packers took the field...

I’m going to be frank here: If the refs had a full pre-season and three weeks into the regular season, they probably don’t have such a bad day. The Saints scored 10 points off of ref mistakes: 1). First New Orleans touchdown, they miss a obvious push-off (as bad as the one last week? Maybe more obvious). 2). First New Orleans field goal, a poor call on the field gives a reception to Colston when the ball clearly hit the ground before he could gain possession. McCarthy is forced to challenge but the refs inexplicably confirm the call in the face of all video evidence. On top of that, in the fourth quarter, after the Packers had gone up by one, the Saints fumbled on the ensuing kick-off. I can’t say the Packers recovered but Moses certainly ended up the ball after the play. But the head ref (who was buried under a pile of players) declared the returner down by contact. Replay showed the ball was clearly out but McCarthy was out of challenges and could do nothing about it. If the play is called correctly, the Packers probably win the game going away.

As I’m writing this, I realize I am sick to death of having our games decided by the zebras. Aren’t you? So why do we have to deal with this every week? I can tell you why: the Packers simply are not playing well enough to overcome the refs. Through the first three weeks of the season, the defense played well and the offense sputtered and faded. This week, the offense played very well and the defense couldn’t get off the field. It was a curious sight: the team that had been aggressive and mean in how it treated opposing quarterbacks became passive and weak when faced with Drew Brees and his receivers. I just didn’t get it: the Packers consistently dropped seven or eight defenders, eschewing any sort of pressure and were gashed for big play after big play. It seemed that no down and distance was unachievable by the Saints.Was this poor execution or a poor game plan? I tend to think it was the latter. Yes, we did get some sacks but the all-important QB hits and pressures were entirely absent. And the stats showed it: Brees threw for 446 yards and 3 TD’s. Sound familiar? Yes indeed, the 2012 Packer defense devolved into the 2011 Packer defense and that is a very bad thing.

Drew Brees and the Saints are no doubt the best passing attack the Packers have faced and maybe we’ve been fooled by the competition we’ve faced. I just can’t fathom how Brees can have so much time and his receivers can be so wide open. Dom Capers has a tendency and I think every offensive coordinator in the NFL has recognized it: When faced with a topflight quarterback, Capers plays it safe by falling back into a soft zone and depends on making tackles. The problem is not with the tackling, it’s with the scheme. With little to no pressure, an elite QB can rip off completion after completion and eat you alive! Open message to Dom: your team is best when it is getting after the quarterback and playing tight man coverage. If you keep to your flawed scheme, in the face of it’s obvious ineffectiveness, you deserve to get torched. 

The Packer offense, on the other hand, is best when it’s up-tempo and in a rhythm. On all four of the touchdown drives, you could just see it happening...bang, bang, bang...right down the field. It was great to see. We are still missing the big plays from last year but that ball-control West Coast offense was certainly on display today. I have to mention the ballsy call by McCarthy in an obvious punting situation in their own end of the field to call a fake punt on fourth-and-one. Direct snap to Kuhn for six and the drive continues right down the field for an eventual touchdown. That’s twice already this season that the naturally conservative Mike McCarthy has rolled the dice and won. Sometimes, to win the big games, you have to make big decisions and make big plays. This not only shows the evolving character of the coach but the belief his players have in his choices.

For the first game this season, you could see glimpses of the passing attack we’ve come to know and love. We had eight receivers catch passes and four of them with over 50 yards. Jones had the two TD’s and probably the best catch of the day at the very end (somehow caught a pass through the defender while being interfered with for the penultimate first down) and Nelson had the big catches to keep drives alive. Benson had several key check-downs. Finley dropped one again but added some good yardage. A concern would be Greg Jennings who had one catch for a 9-yard TD but would finish the game in street clothes with a re-aggravation of his groin injury. Jones, Nelson and Cobb were more than up to the challenge but Jenning’s ability to stretch the field has been missing from the Packer passing attack this year, much to the detriment of the final scores.

The emergence of Benson as a rushing threat can only do good things for the fortunes of the Packers. He’s not breaking any big runs but that’s not his role. He had 84 yards on 19 carries for a 4.66 average. That’s a solid two yards more than Starks had last year. If you think about that in down-and-distance terms, that’s the difference between second-and-eight and second-and-five. That’s miles in the grand scheme of offensive football. Plus, he’s developed into a real asset in the passing game, something we haven’t had since the high point of Ryan Grant’s tenure.

So we’ve made it through the rough September that the NFL schedulers saw fit to saddle us with. We should be 3-1, (thank you very much Roger Goodell and his replacement refs) but 2-2 ain’t too bad. You and I both know that the loss to the Seahawks will have a negative affect on the Packers’ post-season fortunes but we can’t do anything about that right now. All we need to do is focus on the next game and forget about the last ones and take care of business. Three road games loom ahead and coming out of that with a 5-2 record would be fantastic. If the offense can continue it’s ascendence and the defense can get back to early season form, it’s an attainable goal. 

No comments:

Post a Comment