Sunday, December 30, 2012

Packers end the season with a lackluster performance that falls just short of victory.

The Green Bay Packers had everything in front of them on Sunday: they were playing for the #2 seed in the NFC playoffs and the much-needed bye week to get healthy. All they needed to do was beat the Minnesota Vikings. You would think the coaching staff would have them primed and ready to play. Sure, it wasn’t do-or-die, win-or-go-home but it was still a pretty important game. Instead, the Packers came out flat, committed stupid mistakes and saddled themselves with self-inflicted damage time and time again.

All the Vikings needed to do was win and they were in. And they did so they are. And guess what? They get to play the Packers again next week. Oh, joy. I can’t tell you how much that pleases me.

The Packer defense had one plan going in and it was a good one: stop Adrian Peterson and make Christian Ponder beat them. Unfortunately, they could not accomplish the former and made it easy for the latter to occur. AP is a fantastic athlete and a dominating football player but I cannot believe he is THAT good! He is invisible, has deflector shields and some sort of mind control device that makes would-be tacklers try to take him down with fingers and hands. So many Packers whiffed on tackle attempts there will probably be a major logjam in the training room tomorrow for guys with severe windburn. Peterson did not get the single-season rushing record (he fell 9-yards short) but it wasn’t because the Packers had anything to say about it. There were times, I swear, when our defense would have been just as effective if they all fell down and prayed Peterson would accidentally trip over them. Our front seven was not only ineffective through large stretches of this game, they were absent.

Our pass defense was very inconsistent. In key moments, they let second- and third-string wideouts school them. One key moment on the penultimate drive for the win, the Vikings were facing 3rd-and-11 and the Packers dropped eight men deep in a prevent scheme. Instead of keeping everybody in front of them, they let one guy slip in behind and pick up the first, which led to more Peterson runs which led to the winning field goal. All the fantastic theatrics to allow the Packer offense to claw their way to a tie was pissed away in a fairly easy drive that ate up all the clock and set up the most accurate kicker in the NFL with a chip-shot field goal.

Aaron Rodgers had a pretty good day, if you look at his stats (28 for 40, 365 yards, 4 TDs and no picks) but that was not the whole story. Hammered all afternoon and sacked five times, Rodgers also lost a fumble on one of those sacks, which set up a short field for Minnesota and eventually a touchdown. This pressure on him also caused several penalties by the line and forced Rodgers to fight against long down-and-distance all day long. The play-calling early in the game was puzzling at best. McCarthy’s favorite play (the first down run) was never successful for more than two yards until the third quarter. The early scheme seemed to confused and it showed in the lack of production. They spotted the Vikes 10 points before anything happened at all. Is this the mark of a championship team? A championship coach? I’d have to say “no” to both.

And even with all that awful play, the Packers were still in it in the end. A few more defensive stops and they win. A few more clean pockets for Rodgers and they win. The margin was that slim.

I cannot in good conscience say I will be picking the Packers to win next Saturday night. Sure, they will be home in the friendly confines of Lambeau Field and the huge advantage the Vikings get from their loud, artificially full (and atrificially loud for that matter), dome will be flipped. Sure, the playoffs are a bigger deal and our team should be much more ready to play. But take a look at which team has the momentum: The Packers just got smacked around and the Vikings just pulled off an emotional, last second victory. The Packers had their win streak snapped and lost their first North game since 2010. The Vikings won their last four games and defeated their biggest rival to get into the playoffs. Which team would you be picking? I’m probably the biggest Packer fan you know but I’m also a student of the game and there is a lot to be said about getting hot and staying hot. Right now, the Packers look extremely cold to me. Coming off the destruction of the Titans last week, the Packers have fallen from a hot, powerful team to a team that has to depend on clutch plays on every series just to stay even with a team like the Vikings who, to be honest, we should have dominated. The Packers looked lackluster and, to be frank, overwhelmed today. I can’t say that fills me with a great deal of confidence. 

Of course, the Packers can win and here is how they do it: TACKLE and BLOCK. The two most basic skills in the game of football and they are at the root of the Packer loss today. IF they can improve their tackling by a modest amount (say 10%), they can win the game. IF they can improve their blocking (let’s be greedy and say by 25%) they can win the game. If they can do BOTH of those things, I believe they have a shot at a decisive victory. 

IF, however, Adrian Peterson is allowed to run wild, there will be problems. IF Rodgers is harassed and sacked often, there will be problems. Here’s another way to win: don’t make stupid mistakes. And how about an aggressive game plan and play-calling from our coaches?

There is no way the Packers want to go one-and-done in the playoffs again. That happened in 2009 and again in 2011 and to lose a playoff game to a North foe, our biggest rival, would be too painful to even contemplate. So Mike McCarthy had better pull out all the stops. Dom Capers had better unleash the dogs of war. Aaron Rodgers needs to be ON. The running game needs to CONTRIBUTE. Clay Matthews needs to make Christian Ponder UNCOMFORTABLE. 

The defensive line needs to tackle and the offensive line needs to block. Do these things and we will win. Fail to do them and we will lose. Again. 

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