Sunday, September 15, 2013

Packers turn on the offensive jets and blow out the Redskins

The Green Bay Packers did NOT want to go to 0-2. You just cannot dig yourself a deep hole like that in September and expect to control your own fate in December. You had a feeling that going into their home opener, the Pack would be ready to rumble.

Except they weren’t! Starting the game with three straight passes (who the heck was calling the plays? MM LOVES to run on first down, especially the first first down), losing Eddie Lacy to a concussion, having a TD by Cobb called back, driving down inside the ten, giving up back-to-back sacks and then having to settle for a Mason Crosby field all just looked flat, unsettled. 

Our inexperienced tackles were one display early for all the NFL to see. The Skins brought the pressure early and often and got home with alarming frequency. Rodgers was so rattled early he started getting happy feet in the pocket, something that never comes out well. A funny thing happened, though: McCarthy and his coaches saw what was happening and actually (!!!) made adjustments! That’s right, the coaching staff that sticks to its guns even in the face of overwhelming evidence it shouldn’t, started calling quick throws, quick outs, receiver screens and anything else that would get the ball out of Rodgers hands faster. And it worked! The pass rush slowed down, the wide-outs began to pile up yards and (wonder of wonders!) the running game started to bust wide open.

James Starks, in relief of the concussed Lacy, started to rip off great runs. There where holes to run through, there were tackles broken and there was speed. All the things we expected to happen when Eddie Lacy began running the ball happened when Starks came in for him. For the first time in 44 games (that’s all the way back to the Super Bowl season of 2010) a Green Bay Packer running back rushed for over 100 yards. Starks ended his day with 132 yards and so many of those yards led to advantageous down-and-distance situations that allowed Rodgers to get his groove on.

And groove he did! Official NFL stats put him at 34-for-42, 480 yards, 4 TD’s and no interceptions and a passer rating you could only match playing Madden against a toddler. Those 480 yards equals the Packer record set two years ago by Matt Flynn when Rodgers was a healthy scratch against the Lions. One comment on that - Rodgers had tied the record by the time the Packers hit the two minute warning, up by 18 and on the ten yard line. After the time out, McCarthy chose to call kneel downs on three consecutive plays to run out the clock. The victory was in hand, but I think he owed his indispensable QB a shot at the record. Even three shots and the record. I’m sure some stats guy knew where they were. What was the worst that could happen? Three incompletions and a field goal? An interception and a 102-yard runback for a TD? NFL pundits accusing Green Bay of running up the score? The Packers still win the game and maybe Rodgers gets one more (or ten more) yards and another score and he has a career afternoon. Why the hell not, Coach?

Another guy having a career afternoon was James Jones, (11 catches for 178 yards) who was skunked last week and Nelson had the great day. This just goes to show that if you take one guy away, another one is there. Cobb was doing his usual job, as were Nelson and Finley. Those four guys, when things are clicking, seem almost machine-like. Boom, boom, boom, right down the field and then someone breaks one. As I’ve said so many times before, the running game can set up the passing game and never was that proven more true than today.

Another word about Cobb: he reminds me more and more of Donald Driver in his prime - the possession guy, willing to go over middle, out in the flat, wherever. That play where Cobb split the D down the middle and went for a 35-yard TD in the first half was vintage Driver.

A few words about the defense - as dominating and powerful as they were in the first half, they came out flat and soft in the second. Is this how our team puts people away? Big lead and pitching a shut-out at the half and they come out and allow three TD’s in the second? I understand playing a bit off and relaxed with a lead but that was nuts. And can someone explain to me how Pierre Garçon can be so freakin’ wide open on every single down? He must have borrowed the cloaking device that Anquan Boldin was wearing last week. If this is going to become a habit (leaving the opponents best receiver uncovered all afternoon) the Packer defense is going to be torched every single Sunday.

And a few words about the refs, those lovable and sight-challenged zebras. It seemed like they had blinders on when the Redskins were committing fouls. I saw one great Washington run that could have drawn four separate holding calls. James Jones had his jersey practically removed trying to run under a Rodgers pass, no flag. Brandon Merriwether took out Lacy with a helmet-to-helmet hit and almost did the same to Starks, no flags. He will no doubt be fined heavily by the league but wasn’t h-to-h hits supposed to be a point of emphasis with the refs this year? Even with replay, the Redskins were given a TD on a close play when Moss failed to gain possession with both feet down in the end zone. 

The Packers started playing run-out-the-clock with over eight minutes to go, to the glee of the Redskins who quickly converted that tactic into their own points. Props to MM and his staff for adjusting again, letting Rodgers complete passes and chew up the clock. A good running day is one thing but when they are stacking nine men in the box, you have to take what they give you and throw the ball.

So we are back to even at 1-1 going into Cincinnati next week after this convincing victory. The Bengals are 0-1 going into Pittsburgh Monday night and we’ll have to wait and see if they are for real this year or not. The Packers will have to build off their successes and learn from the miscues. I get the feeling they will.

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