Friday, September 18, 2009

Observations from Week 1

I've been thinking about documenting my thoughts, rants, and opinions about the Green Bay Packers in a blog for a while. The start of a new season seems as good a time as any to actually do this. Particularly this season, when optimism about the Packers' possibilities are running high.

I wanted to call this blog "3-Pack" -- highlighting three key observations I had about the week's game. Of course, 3-Pack and Three-Pack were taken, so were 4-Pack and Four-Pack. And five just seemed like a lot of observations to have to make each week. So, hence, the lamely titled "Trigg Pack"... doesn't exactly roll off your tongue, does it? Maybe it will make more sense when I have millions of devoted followers.

It really all started with the Arizona game. After a 6-10 record in 2008, I can't say that I was picking the Pack as Super Bowl contenders. I was optimistic, as I am every season. But I wasn't pumped. The Arizona pre-season game changed that. Don't get me wrong, the Cardinals are hardly the benchmark against which all NFL prowess should be measured, but they are the defending NFC champions. And the Packers just punished them. Pure domination on both sides of the ball. Suddenly, I was day dreaming about Lombardi trophies.

Week 1 -- Packers 21, Bears 15

I think like many Packer fans, and many Packer players, I expected a big win against the Bears. Jay Cutler is an over-rated jackass. I fully expected him to stink it up out there, which he did. What I didn't expect was for the Packer offense to look so inept. The Packers first team offense scored something like 9 touchdowns on 12 offensive series in the pre-season. Which brings me to the first observation of the week:

1) Allen Barbre -- wow. You don't need to know much about football to know that Allen Barbre was atrocious out there. One look at a 300-lb man flopping to his butt like a teddy bear is all you need to see. Barbre has been much maligned in the press this week. Further analyzing his numerous breakdowns would be flogging a dead horse. What I want to talk about is his hair. I'm just not sure I can trust an offensive lineman with a pony tail. Full stop.

Defensive players are a different matter. You want that "I'm just too busy psycho-mauling people to bother with personal hygiene" look from a defensive player. And, no doubt, we've got plenty of that on the defensive side of the ball -- from the sweet dreads on Harris and Bigby, to the tweener 'do of Nick Barnett, to the mallrat-ish rocker looks of A.J. Hawk and Clay Matthews. It's all good. Kind of sets a tone.

I don't like it on offense. For whatever reason, I want my offensive linemen to be clean cut. These are supposed to be the smart kids. The ones who study plays and pay attention in class. You want them to have crew cuts and execute with military-like precision, not be taking bong hits behind the bleachers. Barbre (pictured right) looks like the guys in my fraternity who couldn't be bothered to wake up before noon, rising from a pool of their own drool and empty beer cans, to devour a breakfast of beef chili and Frosted Flakes with a fork.

I put Barbre, and the rest of the o-line for that matter, #1 on my list of observations, because I truly think his play made the difference between a tight win and a blow-out. There were at least two plays downfield -- one overthrown to Driver, the other underthrown to Jennings -- that were touchdowns if Rodgers didn't have Adewale Ogunleye crashing into his chest.

However, unlike most Packer fans who are calling for the return of Mark Tauscher (who had his own hair issues, BTW), I somehow believe Barbre is going to get this corrected. He at least managed not to be embarrassed for most of the second half. And anyone who can stand and take the locker room interview barrage he took without going Brett Myers on some reporter must have a decent head on his shoulders. So, with little evidence to talk me off the ledge, I'm going to withhold judgment on Barbre for at least another week or two.

2) Dom Capers. All you hand-wringers about the switch to the 3-4 can sit down now. Yeah, Kampman and Harris and the rest of the defense looked really uncomfortable in that system. How are they possibly going to adjust??? I was more excited to watch the defense than to watch the offense for most of that game. The schemes and blitzes were brilliant. I can't ever remember a Packer team that swarmed the ball like that. Four INTs -- even against Cutler that's impressive.

Any analysis of the Packers defense has to start with the line -- J&J. Jolly and Jenkins were just simply dominant. Jolly's interception was one of the most athletic plays I've ever seen a guy that size make. Ridiculous. They were tossing linemen aside like Allen Barbres. Everything starts with them, Picket and Raji. If that line can hold up, stay healthy, and stop the run with just 3 guys, it opens up all sorts of crazy possibilities. Suddenly, you can line up Kampman wherever you want. You can run corner blitzes with Harris and Woodson. You can stunt in a Brandon Chillar. And all that craziness forces turn-overs.

Next, the linebacker play was off the hook. Between Hawk, Barnett, Poppinga, Chillar, Matthews and Bishop, not to mention Kampman, they have one of the most athletic, fast, agile and hard-hitting linebacking corps in football. Chillar's hurdle-sack against Cutler was epic. I really feel these guys, particularly with the front line holding its gaps, can both stuff the run and shore up one of our big vulnerabilities the last few years -- pass coverage on big TEs.

Finally, the backfield is deeper than it's been in years. Obviously, Woodson and Harris are solid. I've heard some grousing about Woodson giving up the long pass play to Johnny Knox -- to which I say: A) he had 1:1 coverage against one of the fastest guys in the league with no safety help, B) he stopped the guy short of a touchdown, and C) the Bears came away with no points. So shut up. It was great to see Atari and Collins back, though slightly discouraging that both seem to have slipped right back into that perpetually mildly injured mode (and Collins' breakdown on the Devin Hester touchdown was surprising -- let's attribute that to a strained hammy for now). Then you've got Tramon Williams, who looked great; Aaron Rouse, who I'm still not fully sold on but got a lot of playing time last year; and the interesting Ravens pick-up in Derrick Martin. I'm worried about the defensive backfield staying healthy, but if they do there will be 2-3 guys going to the Pro Bowl from it.

3) Aaron Rodgers. A lot of people were disappointed in Rodgers' play Sunday, himself included. I am not one of them. The reality is, even the best quarterbacks don't light it up with 358 yards passing and 6 touchdowns every week, unless you're playing the Lions. You're going to have off weeks -- particularly against defensively dominant division rivals who have your playbook photocopied to their eyelids. I would have liked to see a stronger overall game from Rodgers, sure (and, as noted above, I believe he was only a missed block or two from blowing the lid off), but there were three things that really impressed me about Rodgers.

First, he played within the game. He was patient. Although he showed some frustration on the sideline, he didn't show it on the field in the form of ill-advised plays. He took what the defense gave him. And, when they needed it, he got it done.

Second, no turn-overs. The 4-0 turn-over margin was the difference in the game. There were relatively few passes that were even intercept-able. And, even under significant pressure, he was sure-handed with the ball -- particularly on that safety that could have easily been 7 points had he not had the strength and athleticism to hold on to the ball.

Third, winning with the 2-minute offense. This was one of the big knocks on him last year. He came out for that final drive with a lot of poise and confidence. And the coaches were confident in him -- calling the gutsy play-action to Jennings on a third-and-one to win the game. He set that up with his scramble the previous play, and despite being battered around all night, stood in there to deliver that last pass.

The reality is that last year the Packers lose that game. And it's not just because Orton wouldn't have handed the ball over to them 4 times the way Cutler did. It's that they're more mature, more confident, and more opportunistic. These are the kind of games you need to figure out a way to win, and they did. And I believe they will build on it. Looking forward to the Bengals game this week.

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