Sunday, November 25, 2012

Repeat of the playoff loss last season leaves the Packers searching for answers.

The Green Bay Packers lost only two games last year. The first, against the clearly awful Chiefs where neither the offense or defense showed up to play, was seen by many (including myself) to be a fluke. The second, against the New York Giants in the playoffs, was a case where a clearly superior team had an exceptional game plan and executed it to perfection. The Packer coaching staff could not (or would not) adjust, the defense never showed up and the offense was out-of-synch and harassed all day long. It was an awful, awful game for Packer fans to watch. I think I speak for many of us when I say my reaction could best be described as “dumbfounded”. 

That was then, this is now. Then, the Giants were on a late-season roll that would carry a modestly successful team on to claim the Lombardi Trophy. Sound familiar? The Packers, at the time, were hugely successful team but had stumbled and looked like a team that had peaked too soon. So what would 2012 bring? The Packers, battling injuries but on a 5-0 run versus the Giants who shot out of the gate with a slew of early victories but had completely lost their offensive mojo. How did it go?

Different season, same result as the Packers were completely embarrassed on both sides of the ball.

The real key to the Packers ineffectiveness starts and ends with the men in the trenches. The Packer offensive line vs. the Giants defensive line was a complete joke. Exactly like last year, NY dropped seven into coverage and rushed four. They could do that because our five offensive linemen (and sometimes a back and sometimes one or two tight ends) are not capable of blocking their four guys. As an extra added bonus, they can tackle our running backs on the way to the quarterback. So Rodgers, if he isn’t being crushed and hit by the pass rush, is being chased all over the field. Add in a bunch of drops, several poor passes and the inevitable penalty whenever something actually did go right and you have the worst performance by a Packer offense since, well, since they last played the Giants.

On the other side of the ball, it was a 2011 flashback all over again. Remember that crazy Packer defense from last year? The one that couldn’t put pressure on opposing QB’s if they rushed 11? The one that gave up more passing yards than any team in NFL history? Yeah, you remember them, don’t you? Well, they came back with a vengeance. Watching the Giant offense, so ineffective over the last month, explode for 31 points in the first half, running the ball at will, completing pass after pass and walking all over our defense was horrifying. 

If Clay Matthews can’t get back on the football field next week, they might as well just put him on the IR and start thinking about next year. If Marshall Newhouse and TJ Lange are unable to block premier pass rushers, they’d better just put Harrell in right now or Rodgers is going to get killed. I know this is just one game and it was a really, really bad game but I think the injuries have finally caught up with the Packers: too many holes, not enough quality guys to fill them. The offensive line, barely able to give Rodgers time against the Lions last week, will be hard pressed the rest of the season. If Rodgers can’t throw the ball, the Packers will not be winning, pure and simple.

This game might have been different if the Packers were able to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them:  In the first half, there were three almost-interceptions. There were two punts muffed by the Giants the Packers couldn’t jump on. McCarthy put Crosby out there to attempt a 58-yard field goal with predictable results, then, down by 17 in the first half, he doesn’t go for it on fourth and short and settles for three. They were the last points the Packers would score. If any one of these goest the other way, it might have shifted momentum.

It’s unfathomable to me that our coaching staff has no plays to make an aggressive defensive front pay for it. It’s inconceivable to me that our coaching staff has no way to put pressure on an opposing quarterback without Clay Matthews. 

This game may or may not be a fluke. It may or may not be a harbinger of things to come. It may or may not mean the Packers have regressed to the worst performance of an otherwise outstanding season last year. It does mean that they Vikings and their pass rush and their running game are no doubt salivating at the prospect of facing the Packers next week and I sure can’t blame them.


Visit The Packers Sandlot ( for the new home of The MMQB. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tough, NFC North matchup winds up (somehow) as a Packer victory.

The first half of this big, big North Division game was an exercise in ineptitude for the Green Bay Packers. How did they fail? Let me count ways:

  • Jordy Nelson dropped an easy pass that would have been a first down.
  • There were two holding calls and a false start on the offense.
  • There was a blow to Stafford’s head that resulted in a first down instead of a punt.
  • Mike McCarthy decided to eschew a 49-yard field goal attempt and the offense could not convert the fourth down.
  • He also didn’t challenge a reception by Johnson that sure looked like an incompletion on replay.
  • Tramon Williams forgot he was supposed to be covering Calvin Johnson.
  • Mason Crosby missed the same field goal twice.
  • Aaron Rodgers threw a pick two plays after the Packers had picked off Stafford.

Is that all of them? I’m sure it’s not but that’s all I can remember. Worst of all, six penalties for 50 yards plus two that were declined. HOLY CRAP, Batman! That’s a pretty awful half of football. The worst one was the Rodgers interception as a Packer drive for a score after a turnover would have completely altered the complexion of the game, but the Packers were only down by 3 at the half. 

After giving almost the entire third quarter over to the Lions, (the only scoring the Pack could manage was M.D. Jennings EXCELLENT pick six) and giving them the lead back when Calvin Johnson scored on a 25-yard pass (which somehow magically was not picked off) it set up a big, big fourth quarter.

After a Detroit field goal, the Packers were able to score on a fantastic catch by Cobb and get a one point lead. The defense then came up HUGE on two series with everything coming down to a failed Lions fourth down attempt. With their field position, the Pack were able to tack on a field goal and then just had to withstand some desperation attempts by the Lions to cement the win.

You know, the Lions are not that good of a team. I’ve seen them play and saw quite a bit of their loss to the Vikings last week and I cannot for the life of me figure out why this was such a hard game for the Packers. If you look at their secondary vs. our passing attack, this should have been a track meet with Green Bay racking up score after score. But that’s not how it went down. With the poor first half, the Packers seemed bent on giving the Lions every single opportunity to beat them. It was very telling watching Rodgers get slammed around on most passing plays. The shuffling of the offensive line, so successful last week, had to have some effect on it. Rodgers did not have much time in the pocket and his usual ability to scramble and roll out was negated. Why the Packers did not shift into their normally effective hurry-up offense is a mystery to me. I have to say, there were a few moments in this game where I thought Mike McCarthy was either asleep, drunk or busy playing Star Wars Angry Birds. 

The Packer pass rush, while not stellar, was certainly not awful either. Without the services of Clay Matthews, the Packer pass rush tends to evaporate and opposing QB’s can easily pick apart our secondary. I would have loved to see Stafford on his back a few more times but I’m more than happy with the productivity: Erik Walden had a pair of sacks and Desmond Moses got one, plus two from the secondary. There were many hurries and hits as well. More importantly than the sacks were the interceptions by Hayward and Jennings with the latter going for six. On a day when the defense would be shorthanded and sorely tested, I have to say the Packers won that battle.

And now on to the most painful topic that we are all going to be talking about in the weeks to come: Mason Crosby. Up until this season, Crosby was one of the most accurate kickers in the NFL. For some reason, he has come completely unraveled. Mike McCarthy had obviously lost confidence in him when he passed on a 49-yard FG attempt in order to go for it on fourth-and-and four. Failed. Crosby got his chance later but missed the same field goal twice (thanks to an ill-timed timeout by Detroit) to end the first half. He missed another one in the second half and just about shanked an extra point. When the Packers had an opportunity to cement the win with a 39-yarder with 24 seconds left in the game, you could almost see his entire football career coming to an end. But he made it, thank the football gods, and will live to play another week. Kickers are notorious head-cases and it looks like our guy has gone way ‘round the bend. His confidence is shot, he’s second-guessing himself, overcompensating and I fear we will have to deal with his inconsistency the rest of the year. Will Mike McCarthy make a change? Is Ted Thompson scanning the waiver wire or shopping someone in a trade? We might all hope so but that would be totally out of character for both our coach and our general manager. They are thoughtful, measured men (almost to a fault) and are not prone to panic-induced measures. Crosby is our kicker for the foreseeable future and all we can do is hope he can break out of it (a few short attempts would be nice, offense) and he doesn’t cost us a game down the line.

The Packer season has had several interesting segments: First we had the four-game opening stretch against really tough opponents. The Pack came out of that 2-2, thanks to the replacement refs and The Inaccurate Reception in Seattle. Next came a three-game road trip which ended up 2-1 with the loss coming to the surprisingly tough Colts. Then came a two-game pre-bye stretch where, as expected, the Packers came away 2-0. That was some exciting damn football and while we all wished for a better record, I thing 6-3 was a pretty good tally. Now, we come into the most important segment where we have the final seven games, five of which would come against NFC North teams and one against the New York Giants, the team that so throughly humiliated the Packers in the playoffs last season and would eventually claim the Lombardi Trophy. I have only one way to describe such a schedule: I LOVE IT! You want to find out who the best team in the North is? We’ll find out, won’t we? Not by fighting it out with AFC teams or some bottom-feeders but by playing North teams. Want revenge on the Giants for that drubbing last season? Kick their asses next week! You just can’t ask for a better stretch of football if you are truly a fan of the sport. If the Packers are the better team, ask them to prove themselves in the crucible of this seven-game stretch. If they are not the better team, we will find out. Sure, it would be nice to finish up the season against weak-ass opponents but won’t it be so much more fun to do it like this? Beating the Lions in this gritty, tough game was nerve wracking but, in hindsight, necessary. To both this team and to this season. We will start to see some starters back from injury and we will see just how good this team really is. Saddle-up and strap in tight, football fans; It’s gonna be good!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Packers come out with a big win on the field but suffer more losses to injury

If I told you that Alex Green ran for 53 yards on Sunday, you’d say, “nice afternoon running the ball”. If I told you that James Starks rushed for 61, you’d say “Wow, great job!” If I told you that those things BOTH happened in one game and that Cobb chipped in 29 and Rodgers added 33, you’d probably say, “we’re talkin’ about the Packers, right?” For those of you playing along at home, that’s 176 yards on the ground! In one game!

No doubt about it the Green Bay Packers came to Lambeau Field this afternoon, determined to run the football. And, for once, they were actually effective at it. The return of James Starks to his 2010 form was welcome as Green has been ineffective the last two contests. The Cards, in an attempt to duplicate some of the successful defensive schemes teams have used against the Packers this year and last, followed the Jacksonville example and concentrated on coverage and dared the Packers to run. Unlike last week, this strategy was not effective. Aaron Rodgers did have a rather pedestrian outing (14 for 30 and only 218 yards) but when he connected, it was for scores, racking up four TD strikes (two to Cobb and one each to Jones and Crabtree). 

The injury bug, responsible I think for much of the Packers inconsistent play, continued to hammer away at the roster. It seemed like just about every series the Pack lost another starter. Jordy Nelson, attempting to come back from a hamstring injury, seems to have messed up his ankle. Brain Bulaga got carted off. Randall Cobb spent some time having his shoulder examined. Probably the most impactful injury occurred when Clay Matthews hobbled into the locker room in the third quarter. At that point the Packer pass rush attack went into deep hibernation and the secondary looked like it needed a nap and took one. Sure enough, the Cards walked down the field and scored their second TD of the day. They would come back a bit later on but the damage was done. We’ll have to see the extent of Matthews’ injury because when he is out of the lineup, our defense is pretty pathetic. 

For almost that entire third quarter, the Green Bay Packers looked like they were already thinking about a nice post-game shower, maybe get some dinner and cocktails and then early to bed. This seems to be a pattern with this team: no pop coming out of the locker room with a lead, conservative play calling and lax defense. The Pack never punted once in the first half and then called on Masthay three times in just the third quarter. That period might have been a total loss if Crabtree hadn’t been able to split the defense and race 72 yards for a score on the last play of the quarter. It would be the final points of the day on either side.

I can’t say enough about the impact of Randall Cobb: whether he’s catching TD’s, running the ball or returning kicks and punts, the guy is a tremendous asset. With Jennings out and Nelson newly injured again, this season would be complete free fall if it hadn’t been for the contributions of #18. He had over 200 all-purpose yards today! I’m not running down James Jones here (he had 4 catches for 61 yards and a score) but you can’t even compare him with the Cobbster. 

Finley has needed to step up and step up big the last few weeks since Jennings and then Nelson have been on the sidelines. I cannot report that he has been up to the task. He had one catch for six yards this afternoon. I did see him throw some nice blocks out there, which is expected of a tight end. But a man of his size and talent should be dominating games, not being regulated to a footnote. You have the best QB in the NFL under center and, for large stretches in game, he had absolutely nowhere to throw the football. A security blanket in the form of big #88 would be a nice thing to have. But it is not happening out there. Tom Crabtree is a better blocker and he does have pretty good hands (that TD catch and run was tough) and I thin Mike McCarthy has done more than enough to motivate J-Mike. If I were the coaching staff, I’d be starting Crabtree and trying to provide some alternate motivation. 

A few words about the Packer special teams: Jarrett Bush made a great muff recovery to seal the fate of Cards late. Tim Masthay continues to provide extremely effective punting in all situations. The return game seems to have at least one great effort per game. The coverage teams have been simply outstanding. I can heap praise on just about every special team player except one: Mason Crosby. He had another miss after the Packers’ first series today. It’s got to be in his head. He can be spot-on perfect on one play and then shank badly on the next. The guy has three jobs to do: kick-offs, extra points and field goals. Those first two, I’ve got zero complaints. That last one though...well, it’s always an adventure. He’s had kicks come off his foot and take right angle turns. He is maddeningly inconsistent, much like his team at times.

If any team needed a bye, it’s the Packers. The injury report grows longer and more ugly every day. Losing Bulaga, Nelson and Matthews in one game is going to be devastating. We won’t know the severity of those injuries for a while but having an extra week off to treat and rehab those wounds can be nothing but good. This team looked fairly shaky against the Jags last week and could have lost things in the third quarter today. Two weeks from today, they will be facing a Lions team that will be attempting to recover something of the successes from last year. After that, it’ll be the Giants, a team that humbled the Pack at home in the playoffs last year, rendering their exceptional 15-1 season pointless. By all accounts, New York is even better than they were a year ago. Only a Packers team at full strength and with their best effort will emerge victorious from those contests. The countdown to the second half of the season started as soon as Rodgers knelt down for the last time  this afternoon and Mike McCarthy might have his work cut out for him.