Sunday, September 8, 2013

Packers fight it out with their new arch-rivals and come out on the short end of the stick

The Green Bay Packers  have a new nemesis and it’s not the Vikings and it’s not the Bears. The team the Packers would most like to beat these days is the San Francisco Forty-Niners.

The Packers have been beaten by the Niners three times in the last 12 months (game 1 in 2012, the playoffs and now game 1 in 2013) and if they were to meet again in the post-season this year, I would hope somehow they could break up that streak.

I have to admit that I was not filled with a great deal of confidence going in and was pleasantly surprised to see how close this game was. The Packers were very successful in making the Niners, the best rushing team of 2012, one-dimensional. You have to count that as a pretty big win, considering they ran at will against the Pack in the playoffs. The problem, unfortunately, was that the passing dimension was extremely profitable. 

Kaepernick was able to torch the Packers for 412 yards through the air and three TD’s. They were only able to put up 68 yards on the ground but the passing was enough to win the game. The Packer defensive backs seemed to have trouble locating Mr. Anquan Boldin all day long. Even after he had emerged as the main threat, he was running uncovered in the secondary, seemingly in some sort of stealth mode. So any time Kaepernick went back, he was able to find his primary wide open. Boldin accounted for 208 yards and 1 TD. Many of those 208 yards happened on third down, which just made those catches that much more impactful.

The short-handed situation in the Packer safety corps was supposed to be somewhat mitigated by the depth at cornerback but it just didn’t matter. The lack of any sort of pressure on the SF QB allowed him to wait, survey, wait some more and then find Boldin or Davis wide open for big chunks of yardage.

Aaron Rodgers wasn’t so lucky. I saw a stat come up showing Kaepernick hadn’t been hurried, hit or sacked in the first half. Rodgers’ same stat was chock full of pressure. Part of the problem is a rookie left tackle and an inexperienced right tackle. I think, though, the biggest issue is the lack of running production.

What? Is that right? The running game sucked? It still sucked after highly touted running backs were drafted and Mike McCarthy’s promise that the Packers would be better at the run? Yup, still sucked. 

Eddie Lacy ran for a grand total of 41 yards, most of those coming on the Packer’s last touchdown drive. Aaron Rodgers, as the second most prolific Packer runner, chipped in a whopping 12 yards. Why so poor? Well, first of all, Mike McCarthy is the world’s most predictable play-caller. In the first half of any football game, he will call a running play on first down 90% of the time. In his first series of the second half, he will call a run 99% of the time. So the defenders are standing there, in the backfield, waiting for the runner to arrive. Secondly, the Packer offensive line is just not that good. They can’t open holes consistently without holding. Third, our new rushing attack is going to need time to gel. Lacy might be the next coming of Edgar Bennett but he’s still a rookie. When he got a hole or when he got out in space (as he did on a great screen pass for 31 yards) he looked great. So maybe we just need to be a little bit patient and allow the new run attack to develop. It sure didn’t look very promising today, but maybe it will in the weeks to come.

I’m very disappointed that the Packers were never able to take advantage of the opportunities the Niners presented them. When the Niners mis-fired, the Packers stalled. When the Packers answered a Niner score with one of their own, the defense would disappear. When the Packers finally got ahead on the scoreboard, the Niners were able to drive quickly down the field and put themselves up for good. There were many turning points, but it just seemed like the Packers were never able to put together that key drive or that key stop when they needed them most. Call it early season jitters or a poor plan or maybe they are getting intimidated by the Niners as a team. Whatever. It was a real and tangible phenomenon Sunday afternoon.

I would be remiss if I didn’t show some well-deserved loathing for the referee crew. They blew a call in the first half, giving the Niners an extra play on third and six that should have been fourth and two after offsetting dead ball penalties. Instead of attempting a field goal, they scored a touchdown. With a tight, tight football game going on, that’s an egregious error on the part of an NFL officiating crew. Who knows how differently the game ends up if maybe the Niners go for it on fourth and fail or miss the field goal. Might have been the turning point of the entire game but we’ll never know, will we? Thanks, zebras. Up to your usually high standards already I can see.

I’m busy tearing apart the effort of our team and, to be honest, I really shouldn’t be. After that pathetic performance in the playoffs, the Packers looked like a team that shouldn’t even be on the same field and the Forty-Niners. For this game to be close in the fourth quarter and for the Packers to have a shot at victory right up until the final play is a HUGE improvement! This was a tough, hard-fought game and it was a privilege to watch the back-and-forth as each team sought advantage. The final result might be disappointing but the progress we witnessed bodes well for this team. 

So, as 2012 started with a loss to the Niners, 2013 also begins with the same result. San Francisco is a consensus contender to win the NFC and the Packers played them right down to the wire. Someone had to win that game and you have to look up and down the stats and admit the Niners were the better team in every phase - they deserved the win. We can build on this, take pride in the effort and start getting ready for the Redskins next week, maybe with a hope in the back of our minds that we might just get a shot at redemption in January, which would not be such a bad thing.

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