Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Packers defense and their season turn to s***

After watching the Packers get smacked on Sunday, I have a question for your all: Has our great quarterback, super running game and powerful passing attack masked the fact that we have a mediocre defense?

As soon as Aaron Rodgers hit the turf and heard a sickening “crunch” against the Bears last week, the Packers defense has turned into a bunch of inconsistent, confused and mewling children. How can a team, that has been so stout against the run for the first seven weeks of the season, be so suddenly ineffective. How can a team that made a living with turnovers for the last half-decade suddenly find themselves dead last in takeaways? How can a desperate Green Bay Packer team allow their opponents to gobble up two thirds of the fourth quarter two weeks in a row?

We can all argue about the injuries and the QB situation and not getting the calls...the bottom line here is a simple one: if the Packer defense plays up to their potential, we win both of the last two games. You heard me, Packer fans - the biggest problem in Titletown is not the fact that Aaron Rodgers is on the sideline. It’s the Packer defense and their inability to play the run and their inability to defend the pass when it matters.

Let me be clear: we saw some really good defense from the Pack in the first half of the game. They kept the score close. You could see a path to victory if they could keep it up but they did not. Clay Matthews was a total non-factor in pass rush and in run stop. Tramon Williams leads the world in almost-picks, resulting in first downs. Our previously great defensive line forgets how to play the run late in games. Our Packers gave up nine plays of 20 yards or more, including two touchdown passes into double coverage that should have been picked or easily defended. 

In a game that required our defense to step up and win the game, they failed. Miserably. 

Dom Capers has been given a healthy helping of draft picks over the last two years. Injuries have played a part but you have to start to wonder (to channel Vince Lombardi) what the hell is going on out there. Is it the scheme? Is it the players? Is it the execution? What the hell is it? We have had a second string quarterback and a third string quarterback do almost enough to win two football games. Why haven’t we won? Our defense. How does that happen?

This week the entire Packer Nation was focused on Seneca Wallace. Would he be able to hold things together long enough for Aaron Rodgers to get back? When Wallace went down, the collective reflexive gasp had the same concern about Scott Tolzien. I’m here to tell you, friends, you are barking up the wrong damn tree. The key to the Packers Rodgers-less fortunes will not be found in who is under center. It will be found in Dom Capers, Clay Matthews and Tramon Williams. Based on what I’ve seen in the month of November, I’m not optimistic.

It’s not all on the Packers: I have to give props to the Eagles here. They very adroitly found the soft spots in the Packer defense and exploited them. In that game-winning, soul-crushing drive in the fourth quarter, the Eagles wanted to run the ball to chew clock. The Packers knew exactly what was going to happen yet Philly out-executed the Packers over and over again. Kudos to them.

Many Cheeseheads are going to complain about Scott Tolzien today. I can see the bloviating no-nothings and their on-line commentary already. Thompson and McCarthy must be fired because all they had left was Tolzien. To all of those people, I say “please shut the hell up. You know nothing.” I watched Tolzien lead the Wisconsin Badgers and I found him to be a pretty good quarterback. To be elevated from the practice squad and be charged with running the Packer offense in the span of five days, I would have to grade him A+. Yes, he threw that pick in the end zone. That was a tight, tight play and he might have put that ball a bit higher but it was still a great throw. Let me throw this out there: if that pass doesn’t come up slightly short, if the refs confirm that TD Jordy makes and if the referees understood exactly how to identify pass interference, Scott Tolzien pulls out this win. Yes, as awful as the defense played in the second half, only a few plays on offense meant the difference between an awful defeat and an inspiring victory.

I have to talk about the injuries. The most obvious one was to Wallace and that hurt but you know what? I think that was a positive. If we count the pre-season QB’s, Tolzien was the SIXTH STRING quarterback (Rodgers, Wallace, Young, Harrell, Coleman ahead of him) and I contend he acquitted himself well. No, I think the other injuries were much, much worse. Aside from Wallace, you had Evan Dietrich Smith go out, which shifted the offensive line around and allowed human sieve Marshall Newhouse into the lineup. You had Johnny Jolly go down which limited the D-line rotation. You had Perry get dinged which allowed Matthews to get double-teamed. You had Barclay get hurt and then we had an offensive line in complete chaos. You had the recently-returned Hayward limp off and now your secondary isn’t supporting the run anymore. We’ll have to await the official injury report but you just can’t continue to lose players until “next man up” becomes “who the hell do we have left? At the end of the game, by the count of Brother Russ (official statistician here at The MMQB), the only starters on offense left from the first day of camp were Jones, Nelson, Lang and Sitton. Hard to win with that kind of devastation.

We’ll see what the injury report looks like (I half expected the Packers to ask for volunteers from the fans at Lambeau to finish the game) to see what next week will look like. In this war of attrition, Green Bay is losing. Tolzien will be the starter next week and rightly so. Who will be filling the other 21 starting spots is up in the air. If the Packers could squeak out a few victories while their QB healed, we had a shot. It’s no longer about Rodgers - it’s about the defense and the third- and fourth-string players now taking the field. 

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