Saturday, January 12, 2013

Niners DESTROY the Packers in every phase of the game in historically bad loss.

So the season for the Green Bay Packers ends, not with a titanic struggle between powerful NFC contenders but with a white flag waved by Dom Capers and his defense.

Everybody (and by “everybody” I mean every single football fan in America from the owners to the fans to my 9-month-old granddaughter Grace) knew that this game was going to be won and lost on the performance of the Niners offense versus the Packer defense. All those people knew that if the Packers could contain the rushing attack of Gore and contain the scrambles of Kaepernick the day would belong to the Green and Gold. Unfortunately, nobody got that message to Dom Capers, the Packer defensive coordinator. Message from Gracie: YOU MESSED UP, DOM! San Francisco outplayed the Packers in every phase of the game, from coaching on down.

One week past a dominating performance versus Adrian Peterson and the Vikings, the Packer defense comes out vanilla and lame, failing in almost every key battle. Stop Gore? Well, he gained 119 yards and a TD on the ground and chipped in two catches for 48 through the air. Stop Kaepernick? He ran for 181 yards and two TD’s on the ground (the BEST day rushing for any quarterback in any NFL game. EVER) and 263 yards and two scores through the air. I’d have to assess that as a monumental FAILURE by the Packer defense and the Packer coaches, led by Dom Capers.

The Niners were thin at wideout but had a huge threat in Crabtree. So the Pack should be able to shut that one guy down, right? Wrong. Crabtree was open all night, catching nine balls for 119 yards and two TD’s. Tramon Williams was tasked with shutting down the SF threat and spent most of the game chasing him from behind. On his TD catch in the second quarter, NOBODY bothered to cover him across the middle. That’s a poor scheme and poor execution.

We saw the Packers come up with a masterful plan to contain Adrian Peterson and the running QB Joe Webb last week but that all went out the window when faced with the even better tandem of Gore and Kaepernick. Why? I couldn’t really tell you. I’m sitting in my home in suburban McFarland, Wisconsin and I could see the failure coming in the second SF series. Our outside linebackers who looked so clueless versus the Vikings in week 17 and so dominating in the Wild Card game last week again lost track of the opposing quarterback time after time. If the Packers blitzed, Kaepernick made them pay with is legs. If they dropped into coverage, Crabtree was always able to get open. In the fourth quarter, when all the Niners wanted to do was run out the clock, Dom Capers and his defense seemed to wave the white flag and signal a wish to cease hostilities. The Niners, wisely, said “up yours, cheese-eating surrender-monkeys” and drove for yet another score. 

It’s painful right now and I’m sure we’ll be talking about this in the off-season but do you think the game has passed Capers by? Seriously: he’s a great defensive coordinator when facing your standard QB and conventional passing attack but get him in a game against one of the new wave of QB’s who can run or throw the ball with equal effectiveness (Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick) and it looks like our guys are rooted to the ground, unable to keep up. It might be our players or it might be our scheme or it might be our coaches but it’s got to be something: on Kaepernick’s 56-yard run for the go-ahead score in the third quarter, he was not only untouched, he was unnoticed until he was already in the secondary. I can’t say I’ve ever seen an easier touchdown scored in the Mike McCarthy era.

Despite the defensive failures, the Packers were tied in the third and certainly could have made a game of it if it weren’t for the disappearance of the vaunted Packer offense. Oh, I’m not dismissing the Niners defense as they are an EXTREMELY good unit. But when Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Greg Jennings are completely absent from your attack through the first two quarters and end up with a combined 124 yards and one score, well, that’s just pathetic. You are not going to win a playoff football game when your biggest threats are not producing.

The Packers that went 2-3 to start the season and clawed their way into the playoffs and dismissed the Vikings so rudely last week were absent in their contest against the Niners tonight. Many things will be different next season and I don’t think most Packer fans are truly aware of that. We are likely to see the departure of Greg Jennings (too expensive, too fragile), Jermichael Finely (too expensive, not productive) AJ Hawk (backloaded contract) and Donald Driver (retirement). Charles Woodson may retire as well. These potential departures will allow the Packers to sign BJ Raji, Clay Matthews and finally give Aaron Rodgers the payday he deserves as an elite quarterback. So we will likely see a much different product on the field in 2013 and I’m sorry to say we didn’t send those guys off in the sort of game they deserved. 

We come to the end of 15 years of The MMQB. It’s seriously been a blast throwing down in this space every week for the last decade-and-a-half and I hope I can keep doing it for many years to come. I hope you’ve enjoyed the rants and raves and maybe been made to pause and think a few times as a result. 

I’ll be talking to you again when the draft rolls around. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Packers DOMINATE the Vikings to win in the Wild Card round!

OK,  I’m a big enough man to admit when I am wrong. In this space last week and to anyone else who would listen, I was picking the Minnesota Vikings to win this Wild Card round game. I had my reasons: the Vikings beat the Packers last week by out-executing them in the basics of tackling and blocking, not something you can correct in a week of practice. Well, I guess you can!

The Packer defense was handed a huge gift 90-minutes before kickoff when the Vikings announced Christian Ponder would be inactive due to an elbow injury he suffered the previous week versus the Packers. It was remarked, when Leslie Frazier in a pre-game interview said they were “saving him for next week” that Ponder was channeling his inner Jay Cutler. Now, make no mistake: Ponder was never going to win this game. It was always going to be about Adrian Peterson. All Ponder had to do was make no mistakes and complete four or five passes in key situations, just as he did last week, but he would not get the chance to repeat that feat--Joe Webb would be under center. Webb, a little-used backup, completed exactly zero passes during the regular season. He’s more of a running threat than a passing threat, something he demonstrated several times on Saturday. He also demonstrated a distinctly not-ready-for-the-NFL passing arm.

With the threat of the pass virtually eliminated, the Packers could concentrate all their efforts on stopping AP. Peterson still had an impact, especially on the Vikings’ first drive and ended up with 99 yards in the contest but the majority of his yards were not impactful. 

One of the Packer’s problems last week was that they were not able to “set the edge” on defense. This is the ability to keep running plays between the tackles and prevent backs from bouncing outside. Peterson did this over and over again last week as our outside defenders crashed down on play after play, hoping to gang tackle. The difference this week was the outside defenders took a patient approach, held their positions and were there waiting for Peterson when he inevitably tried to take the ball outside. You have to give credit to Dom Capers and his coaches for instilling this in their players and to the players for executing it properly. And more props to Charles Woodson, back from his broken collarbone, for sticking his nose into almost every running play, notching four tackles and four assists and a great deal of impact.

Webb, without the Vikings main weapon in Peterson, was not up to the task. His throws were into the dirt, over the heads and in general off-target. Three times, while in the grasp of defenders, he chucked the ball wildly to avoid a sack, something that the Packers should have converted to turnovers and points. If ever a guy was thrust into a situation he wasn’t ready for, it was Webb. 

The Packer offense had some problems early on. Aaron Rodgers could not find any wide receivers open downfield, so he had to keep checking down or handing off to Dujuan Harris. While you could tell A-Rodg was a bit frustrated by his inability to throw longer passes, the short, controlled passing game served a larger purpose in chewing up clock and keeping Peterson on the bench. Once the short game became successful and the running game did it’s (limited) work, the Viking defense began to loosen up and the receivers started to come open. Once the Packers got the lead, the Vikings were pressed into passing more (not good for them) and deemphasizing the run (not good for them again) and the Packers were able to take their foot off the gas in the third quarter. Personally, if my only weapon is Adrian Peterson, I’m riding that horse no matter what the score is. But the Viking coaching staff hasn’t been very smart since Bud Grant retired...

There was a lot to like in this game and very few things to complain about. Rodgers was sacked three times, which is three too many in my book. Finely dropped a sure touchdown pass and was held to one catch for only ten yards. Cobb, relieved of kick-return duties, was also held to one catch. 

You have to love the effort of Greg Jennings (4 catches for 61 yards), including his clutch catch and run on 4th-and-5 in the second quarter, good for 32 yards, to set up a Mason Crosby field goal, which really opened the flood gates. To see Jennings make the catch, dodge a would-be tackler and use that beautiful, long stride of his...just like old times. Many have said (including Jennings himself) that next year he might not be wearing a Packer uniform. His contract is up and, by all reports, the Packers have made no effort to sign him. After watching this game, I’d love for Ted Thompson to at least make the attempt. There are several key guys (Rodgers, Raji, Matthews) that need to get contracts done next year and there may be no cap room for Jennings but you never know: he may be willing to work for less to stay a Packer but you don’t know until you ask!

I would be remiss if I didn’t make a special mention of Harris. This guy is what I call a “nifty” runner: he’s quick to the hole, can cut on a dime and has a burst of speed when he gets in the open field. If we had a better offensive line, capable of opening up actual holes, Harris might have the potential to be a 1000-yard back. If you add in his pass catching ability, this is just the kind of back the Packers need to have in their stable. He had only 47 yards on 17 carries (plus 5 catches for 53 yards) but those were big, big yards. It will be very interesting going forward to see what kind of future this guy has with the Packers. As it stands right now, Harris may be the key guy who provides just the right spark at the right time to propel the Packers even further in the post-season.

Next week against the Niners, there will be no gifts: there will be no last-minute scratches of the starting QB. The Packers lost to San Francisco to open the NFL season, so these two teams are familiar with each other. This will just be a knock-down, drag-out battle. The Niners have a tremendous defense, a great running game and a young quarterback who can get it done with both his arm and his legs. I’m not saying this will be on the same par as some of those epic games in the 90’s between the Packers and Niners but I’m looking forward to it. Randall Cobb will be another week more recovered, Jennings and Nelson are starting to kick out the jams, Harris is adding a new dimension and the Packer defense, if they are able to contain AP, should matchup well against San Francisco.