Monday, September 21, 2009

Week 2 is in the Bag

Until proven otherwise, teams that consider themselves playoff caliber should not lose to the Cincinnati Bengals at home. During former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s term, a group of owners on the league's Competition Committee actually proposed this as a rule change – that any team that lost to the Bengals would immediately lose post-season eligibility. But a contingent of AFC North owners, who relied on the Bengals to bolster their records, shot down the proposal.

Where does one start with this game? Chad Johnson’s (I refuse to call him “Ochocinco”) Lambeau Leap was the greatest desecration perpetrated on those hallowed sidelines since Randy Moss faux-mooned the crowd in the 2004 NFC wild card game against the Vikings. Chad is a tool. And when a tool talks trash at you, says he’s going to mock a sacred team ritual, and then backs it up on Sunday, your entire organization needs to take a good, long, hard look in the mirror.

I had the good fortune of being at the game against the Raiders on December 26, 1993 when the Lambeau Leap was inaugurated. LeRoy Butler, after taking a lateral by the late, great Reggie White, scampered into the end zone and straight into the bleachers. It was about 22 below zero, but nobody in that stadium cared – the place went wild. Even if you weren’t in the stands, it’s a moment when many Packers fans remember where they were. It’s hard to expect someone who wears gold shoes with teeth to match to understand, let alone respect, that kind of tradition.

(Speaking of respecting tradition, I haven’t decided whether the Packer fan that flipped the bird to the cameras was an oaf or a genius. Probably an oaf who inadvertently had the genius to ruin that clip for most of the highlight shows. I think they must have Photoshopped out his middle finger in this shot.)

Anyway, just to continue my rant, anyone who actually changes his name to get a not-particularly-clever, self-proclaimed nickname on the back of his jersey should be taken behind the wood shed. I recall in about 2nd grade, after an inspirational viewing of the Burt Reynolds classic Smokey and the Bandit wanting to be nicknamed “the Bandit.” I even went so far as to paint “Bandit” on my banana seat Schwinn. It only took one morning of relentless mocking by my classmates to realize the error of my ways and paint over it. Giving yourself an idiotic nickname is silly… at age 8. Changing your legal name to an idiotic nickname as a grown man should be grounds for the state putting you into an adult-living facility with no shoelaces.

Back to the point, my 3 observations of Week 2:

1) Chad Clifton. When I saw Clifton being carted off the field in the meat wagon, I thought at first I saw the Packers’ 2009 season riding shotgun. To describe the offensive line play as an abomination would be an understatement. And that was before they lost arguably their best lineman at the critical left tackle position for the game. Reports are that it was a sprained ankle, which gives me some hope he’ll return soon.

They will need him. Someone better versed in the strengths and tactics of offensive line play can perhaps explain to me the crazy domino scheme that Clifton’s injury triggered – with Colledge kicking out from guard to tackle, Spitz moving to left guard, and a new center showing up in Scott Wells. What the hell was that? I thought the exchange between center and QB was one of the most important things for the rhythm of an offense. Now you’ve not only altered that, but have two other players trying to remember new positions. They barely remember their own assignments, let alone their neighbors’.

About the only bright spot was I didn’t hear Allen Barbre’s name too much (apart from making himself useful and recovering a fumble after watching Rodgers get sacked). Probably because Antwan Odom was so busy blasting through the porous left side of the line this week. Five sacks by Odom – that’s a season’s worth for most players. When your team pretty much single-handedly sends a guy to the Pro Bowl, you better start digging around for Mark Tauscher’s phone number in your BlackBerry. The Associated Press noted, “Odom said he was surprised the Packers didn't assign other players to help Colledge.” I’d say. How do you not adjust to that if you’re the coaches? Six sacks on the day for the Bengals. Ridiculous. And Rodgers is a mobile quarterback – he probably avoided a half dozen more.

If Rodgers keeps getting hit like this, he’s not going to make it through the season, let alone make it to the playoffs. And, you know what really helps struggling pass protection? When your receivers drop the damn ball! Jermichael and Jennings both had drops in the first possession that would have both gone for first downs. That set the tone for a day with more dropped passes than I can remember.

2) Ryan Grant. I can’t tell yet if this is a “typical” Ryan Grant year (sample size = 1.5 seasons), where he doesn’t really get his juices flowing till the end of the season, or if Grant is simply a mediocre back behind a rapidly deteriorating offensive line. Probably the biggest thing I was hoping to see Sunday from the Packers was to establish the run. I’m no expert, but 14 carries for 46 yards is not “establishing the run.” Establishing the run is what Cedric Benson did (on my fantasy team, thank you very much, but didn’t start him) with 59 yards in the first quarter and 141 on the day.

Grant just looks tentative to me. Gaping, the holes have not been. But he seems to consistently hesitate right at the line, before being engulfed in defenders. He runs to the edge with a little more determination, but he really doesn’t have the speed to break those. I happened to be at the 49ers game Sunday (more on that debacle later if I have time to write another post), but watching Gore pop off two 80-yard TDs was a reminder that Green Bay just doesn’t have that kind of threat in Grant.

Some of this is on McCarthy too. Is he too impatient? The play calling right now is trending over 2:1 – 39 pass attempts by Rodgers to 14 rushes by Grant. The fact they’re getting stuffed on the run and/or sacked early each series doesn’t help, of course. But both these were close games. I’d expect that ratio to be more balanced. Bottom line: they’ve got to get the running game going soon. Everything flows from that.

3) Charles Woodson. What can you say about him other than "stud." He single-handedly kept the Packers in that game – accounting for 14 of the Packers’ 24 points with his two interceptions. He was also in on almost every tackle. Of course, he needed to be, since the rest of the defense had a pretty lackluster afternoon.

Two weeks into the season, and we’re already right back into the injury-riddled musical chairs in the secondary that plagued us last year. Sounds like Bigby is out a month. Collins went down with clavicle sprain (how does one do that?), and could miss time as well. On the positive side, Blackmon is back, Tramon looked good again, and the Packers are experimenting with Clay Matthews’ hair as a distraction for opposing quarterbacks. Dom Capers reportedly told reporters after practice, “Clay’s hair is electrifying. We need to figure out more ways to get it on the field, if possible with fans and mist.”

I knew this game was in jeopardy when, facing a 3rd and 34 from about their own 5-yard line with 3:42 left in the first half, the Bengals converted. Then flea-flickered their way to the Green Bay 5, and scored with a pass to a convicted felon. That was an extreme case, but emblematic of the day. The Bengals converted 9 of 14 third downs. Green Bay’s defense just couldn’t get them off the field.

The problem with a blitzing, scheming, high-pressure defense, like Dom has implemented, is they run out of gas if your offense can’t put together a series of more than 3 sacks and a punt. Johnny Jolly can only be on the field so many minutes before the dude needs a cheeseburger… stat. Via IV drip if possible. You can’t expect Big Sexy to be making one-handed interceptions on an empty tank.

So, in summary, get the O-line fixed, so we can establish the run, so our defense can rest and get medieval on folks when they finally hit the field. Simple as that.

Other game notes:
• The overhead blimp pan camera angle of the Lambeau crowd after Grant’s TD was sweet.
• Am I the only one who saw Carson Palmer obviously fumble the ball on his QB sneak?
• Crosby has some accuracy issues. Need to correct that.
• Nick Barnett’s swashbuckling celebration of an average tackle late in a Bengals drive that was killing Green Bay’s last chance to win after being absent all afternoon. Not cool.
• Finley finally getting involved towards the end after another rocky start.
• 11 penalties for 76 yards – ugh.
• Special teams giving up multiple penalties and two long punt returns. Those guys better be running wind sprints right now.
• “Childress says Favre has bent fingernail, won't miss start” – seriously, this is a story. He apparently hurt it handing off to Adrian Peterson.

1 comment:

  1. Check this out from today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

    Turns out Ochocinco stacked the stands for his Lambeau Leap. He even had the gall in a post-game interview to claim that he was respectful of Packer fans by not jumping to a spot where he wasn't wanted! This guy really is whacked!