Monday, November 4, 2013

Packers lose Rodgers and get outplayed by the Bears

The Green Bay Packers are a third-rate team without Aaron Rodgers on the field. There, I said it. We may not want to believe such a thing, but the truth of it was proven tonight against the Chicago Bears. Once Rodgers went down on the first Packer series, the game was effectively over. Josh McCwon played like the veteran he is, managing the game, making all the throws, standing in the pocket. One might argue that McCown might be a better QB than the emotional and erratic Jay Cutler. If his performance tonight is indicative, they should be looking long and hard at sitting Jay Baby. 

Aaron Rodgers’ back-up, Seneca Wallace, was not as good. Or at least I don’t think he was as good. It’s kind of hard to tell when Mike McCarthy and the Packer staff refused to turn him lose, calling rush after rush and only short, short passes. On his few opportunities to show his arm, Wallace was found lacking, getting two passes tipped, one being picked off. Maybe he’s better in practice or maybe he just needs more reps. The Packers ejected all their pre-season back-up QB’s in favor of Wallace and former Badger Scott Tolzien. They must know something we don’t. One thing we do know for sure: you will only go as far as your back-ups will take you. 

The most puzzling thing about this game was the completely lax way the Packer defense reacted to the loss of Rodgers. Yes, they certainly made some plays and put some pressure on the back-up QB but that pressure was always a few ticks late. When the Packers would blitz, McCown would hang in and inevitably find some great big receiver wide open. When the Packers would drop into coverage, Forte would slam into the line, eventually softening up the line and gashing the Pack for critical yardage. The most puzzling part? How does the loss of Aaron Rodgers turn the Packer defense into a collection of clueless dolts? How does the loss of Aaron Rodgers turn Dom Capers into a confused and forgetful coach? 

You want to see some of the worse defense ever seen at Lambeau? Watch the Bear’s final drive. Almost NINE MINUTES LONG! Nursing a four point lead, the Bears consumed two thirds of the fourth quarter and came away with three points to seal the win. Where was our defense? Where was our defensive coach? Does Aaron Rodgers play D? What the heck?

Injuries, aside from the obvious loss of Rodgers, doomed the Pack. Once Lang went out with a concussion, the offensive line was 
shuffled (Barclay moving to guard and Newhouse coming in at tackle) and they went into an ugly spiral that culminated in back-to-back sacks to put a merciful end to Wallace’s evening. On the rare moments Wallace was allowed to drop back, the Bear pass rush made him uncomfortable and running scared.

There was a point where things could have gone differently: In the second quarter, Wallace had finally gotten the Packers moving. Facing a critical third down, he completed a pass to James Jones who appeared to bobble the ball going out of bounds. However, the replay showed Jones regained control before touching the chalk. Mike McCarthy, unfathomably, did not issue a challenge. Come on, Mike! Your QB is done for the night, your back-up is struggling and you are barely hanging on by your fingernails. What did you have to lose? Sure, there are no guarantees that the Packers would have scored. We do know that after the ensuing punt, the Bears would drive 99 yards and score a field goal. THAT, Mike is what you get paid to do and you blew that one big time.

Such a rush of negative feelings after this game but there were a few positives to take away. First, the Packers came out after halftime and, through the strength of crazy good rushing and a surprise onside kick, scored ten straight points and actually took a 3-point lead. At that point, the offense was doing just enough to survive and the defense was playing with a recognizable physical swagger. That swagger would soon be replaced by weeping puppy eyes and a whimper, but for that shining moment, it almost looked like the Packers might pull this out. 

Another great takeaway was the power of the Packer rushing attack. Eddie Lacy continued his ascendency with 150 yards and a TD and James Starks chipped in 40 and a TD of his own. The absence of Rodgers forced the Packers into a run-first mode and the Bears countered with 8 and 9 men in the box and the Packers still were effective on the ground. I don’t know what the future holds at the QB position (hey, didn’t Matt Flynn get cut by the Bills on Monday? Paging Ted Thompson, Mr. Thompson, call on line one) but the running game seems to be secure.

The strengths of this Packer team were transformed into weaknesses in the blink of an eye tonight. Our All-World QB who can do just about anything with the football was replaced by a washed-up journeyman that the coaches don’t trust to throw the ball. Our steady and effective offensive line was knocked down into a leaky sieve. Our gritty and physical defense morphed into human pinball machines, unable to do anything well or consistently.

The future of this season will be determined in a doctors office on Tuesday when they diagnose the prospects for Rodgers’ return. If he is out for more than a week or two, our season in done. We cannot win with Wallace as the QB. That much is clear. Ted Thompson has been lights-out in player management and development but his one glaring failure (not having a second-string QB worthy of the name ready to play) was exposed on national TV tonight.

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