Sunday, December 9, 2012

Another come-from-behind effort vs. the Lions puts the Packers solidly in first place in the North.

The Green Bay Packer defense couldn’t stop the Lions’ offense in the first half. Not once. The two turnovers committed by Detroit were entirely the fault of Matthew Stafford. Aside from that, the Lions drove effortlessly for two easy TD’s and held the ball to end the half. The great and powerful Packer offense could only muster one drive that ended in a strip-sack and another that ended in a long field goal. To be honest, the Packers had no business being only four points down at halftime. Their offensive line was a liability, committing holding and false-start fouls when they weren’t letting rushers make Rodgers skitter around in the pocket. The defense couldn’t stop the run, never pressured the quarterback and was unable to cover all of Stafford’s receivers, always leaving at least one open. This is a team that had been handed golden gift when the Vikings beat the Lions earlier. “Coming out flat” is a uber-cliche but it’s an accurate description of the Packers at Lambeau on Sunday night.

So would Dom Capers have any answers? Would Mike McCarthy be able to make an adjustment, anything at all, to jump start his lethargic offense? Obviously his first-half game plan (aka: The Find Cobb and Throw Him The Ball plan) was flawed and poorly executed. 

Down by only four and playing like crap on both sides of the ball, the Packers came out and drove right down the field, scoring on a huge 23-yard QB run by Rodgers and the defense, while still not themselves, quit allowing Detroit doing whatever they hell they wanted. I can’t put my finger on the precise changes, but whatever they were, they worked.

Perhaps the biggest change was the emergence of the running game. It came on so strong, they Packers actually scored a TD on a drive that consisted solely of rushing attempts. Whaaaaa? The PACKERS scored on an all-running drive??? Green Bay went from a “who the heck is going to run the ball this week?” to having a four-headed attack with Green, Harris, Grant and Rodgers himself combining for 145 yards on 24 attempts. By creating some balance, it slowed the potentially-devastating Lions’ pass rush and with the ability of Rodgers to move the pocket and throw on the run, the passing game become much more effective.

I have to say that I was not impressed with the way Mike McCarthy called this football game, even in the second half. This is (supposedly) a WEST COAST OFFENSE! You have the best QB in the NFL under center and you limit him by focusing too much on one receiver (Cobb) and then, when that doesn’t work, you swing for the fences again and again. Listen: Aaron Rodgers can make the long throws. We get it. He doesn’t have to prove anything to us. But this consistent game plan of forcing him to stand in the pocket, scramble about and throw the ball 20+ yards on almost every down is nuts. West Coast-style football is all about ball control. Short, high-percentage throws, effective running, spread the ball around, keep the chains moving, take total control of the game clock. Once the defense adjusts and tries to take that away, you can take your shots downfield. But MM seemingly forgets those first parts and goes right for the end zone. Come on, Mike! I saw a couple perfect opportunities for you to put this game away in the second half and you couldn’t do it because you wanted to put up six instead of getting the first down. 

The long wait for a completely healthy Packer team will not, I’m afraid, come to an end any time soon. But you have to be encouraged by the looming return of Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson and maybe even Jordy Nelson. Without Matthews, the Packers simply do not have a pass rush. I know those guys are trying and I know that Capers dialed up some blitzes but it just isn’t there. Without Woodson, the defensive backs are in a pretty passive mode back there and the picks they are getting are more about opposing QB mistakes than great play by them. Without Nelson (or Jennings: it’s been a see-saw year with them) the Packers passing offense is only partly as effective as it can be and leans much too heavily on Randall Cobb. With a healthy cadre of receivers, the Packers become a crazy passing machine, capable of almost anything. The only sore spot is (and will continue to be) the offensive line. Nobody is coming back from injury there to save the day. There is no Tauscher or Clifton coming back into the lineup next or any other week. That is truly the wild card here. I will say it again (for those that have never heard it all the other 97 times I’ve said it) that the Packers will only go as far as their offensive line will take them. Ted Thompson made a conscious decision to carry fewer linemen this year and that’s come back to bite him in the ass. Don Barclay was not bad again tonight (he was impressive on running plays) and he may yet prove to be that savior for this line. One more injury, one more strain, one more pulled pinky  muscle and the Packers are pretty much toast on the line.

So, as expected, the winner of the North for this season will be decided by the Packers vs. Bears game next Sunday at noon in Chicago. The Bears, after tearing up the NFL with their opportunistic defense, have gotten into a slump - those breaks that were all going their way earlier in the year are not falling in place for them now. Like the Packers, injuries have played a major role. Brain Urlacher may not make it back and now Cutler has a neck injury that might put him back on the sidelines again. Their two most important players on either side of the ball out and that’s a huge blow. The Packers, whether they get those injured guys back or not, will need to play their best game of the year because I do not for one minute believe that even an undermanned Bear team will lay down and give up without a fight. 

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