Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Could someone please tell Brett he can retire now?

That was hard to watch.  Objectively, it was a great game – apparently the highest rated cable TV program of all time.  Subjectively, as a Packer fan, it was brutal.  Not just because we lost, but because the main drama of the night – Favre vs. Rodgers – was such an unfair fight.  You couldn’t reasonable expect Favre to come out and have the second highest passer rating of his career – though, somehow it didn’t seem surprising either.  It was almost surreal to be on the receiving end of the river of hyperbole that NFL commentators spew about Favre.  Trent Dilfer described him as “magical.”  That should be grounds for immediate termination.  This is football, not opening night of “Mama Mia.”

Certainly, even the most embittered Favre hater has to give him some props for that performance.  But what is tragically and frustratingly overshadowed in the chorus of Brett man crushes is the incredible performance Rodgers put up.   To throw for a career high 384 yards and 2 TDs in the face of constant, unrelenting pressure was impressive.  The two turn-overs, while ultimately the difference in the game since both resulted in Vikings scores, can hardly be put at Rodgers’ feet alone – the fumble was the result of insane, jail-break style pressure; and the INT was a savvy, veteran corner who knew that he could jump the route since Rodgers never had more than about 1.5 seconds to throw.  Which is a good segue into the first of my three observations on the week:

1) Complete inability to stop the pass rush.  8 sacks.  Unbelievable.  Green Bay has given up more sacks (20) than any other team in the league... by far.  In fact, allow me to enlighten you with the other “leaders” at the top of that list – Buffalo at 16 sacks, Cleveland at 13 and Kansas City at 13.  Playing the Packers has become a Probowl springboard for defensive linemen.  Jared Allen had 4.5 sacks.  After playing us again, he’ll be well on his way to the single season sack record.

When Colledge went down and 4th-round rookie T.J. Lang took the field at left tackle, it was like throwing chum into a shark tank.  I felt bad for the guy.  From then on, the Packers ran about half their downs out of a formation I’ve almost never seen before with a TE almost right behind LT and a back right behind him – basically triple teaming the left side of the line and Allen was still busting through.

Everyone who supports, follows, watches, plays for, coaches for, is in any way associated with, or can identify Green Bay on a map, knows that if the Packers can’t get their pass protection fixed, their season is over.  At an average of 5 sacks/week, Rodgers will eventually get injured and there will be way too many turn-overs and stalled drives along the way.  The thought of Matt Flynn stepping into that crossfire almost makes me sick to my stomach.

How do you fix it?  Good question, but here’s what I would focus on:
  • Get healthy – the bye week will help enormously.  Clifton and Colledge should both be back by the Lions game.
  • Get help – Mark Tauscher apparently worked out today.  Not sure he’s the answer, but I feel better about him than I do about T.J.  Have heard a few other names tossed around on NFL Network.  Not likely they’ll get anyone who will be a savior, but some depth and veteran leadership would be useful.
  • Run the damn ball! – Only 11 rushing attempts by Grant Monday, but he got 51 yards against a great run defense.  Why are we abandoning the run so fast?  Best way out of a O-line funk is to let them run downhill and play some smash mouth.
  • Quick release passing – I identified this as a key to victory last week, and they really had it clicking in the opening drive with screens to Grant (13 yards) and Lee (16 yards) and short passes to Jennings and Finley.  But then they seemed to get away from it again. 
2) No pass rush whatsoever. As fierce as the Minnesota pass rush was, ours was non-existent.  No sacks.  In fact, but for a little cage rattle by Kampman, there were hardly any knock downs.  Now, I’m not sure this wasn’t a good game plan coming in – they clearly focused on stopping Peterson, which they did quite effectively (only 55 yards on 25 carries).  And they probably felt that rushing 3 and dropping 8 gave them a great chance of picking Favre off once or twice.  As I said in my pre-game post “Make Favre beat you.”  But after watching Favre get a mani/pedi while waiting for receivers to get open, you need to make some game-time adjustments and manufacture some pressure.

Kampman, for the first time this season, seemed lost in the 3-4.  He was dropping into coverage too much and ended up just dwelling in no-man’s land – neither applying pressure, nor finding a man to cover.  Raji showed me nothing in his first game.  Derrick Martin starting at safety appeared, at least from Harris’s reaction, to have blown a few coverages (maybe Rouse wasn’t so bad after all).  But I thought it was surprising that there were so few of the creative blitz packages we’ve seen in previous games.  I think I only saw Woodson come once, and the linebackers seemed to be in more run blitzes when they came.  Even at 40, Favre is too good to be left un-touched.  Clay Matthews’s "strip 6" was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise lackluster defensive performance.

3) Execution.  It’s a sign of the youthfulness of this team that you still see so many problems with basic execution week after week.  By basic execution I mean too many penalties, too many drops, too many blown assignments, etc.  Green Bay was the most penalized team in the league last year with 984 yards.  They have only improved that slightly this year – currently ranking 7th in league with 229 penalty yards.

They had 7 penalties for 57 yards against Minnesota, but many of those came at crucial times – like the holding penalty on the kick return after the Vikings went up 28-14.  Rather than starting that drive at mid-field after a good Nelson return, they were back at their own 19.  Another example was the double penalties (offsides and pass interference, the latter being complete BS) that took away Woodson’s interception in the end zone – not harmful on the stat sheet (only a one-yard penalty), but effectively cost them 7 points.

Lee’s dropped pass in the end zone on 4th and goal at the 1 (and, for that matter, not being able to get in on the previous three plays) was another example.  There have been too many dropped balls this season.  Drops and penalties can seem small in the context of the game, but collectively they are a death by a thousand cuts that make it really hard to consistently win.

But probably the most painful part of Monday’s game is that despite Favre’s near-perfect game, and the complete inability of our line to stop the pass rush, we still almost won.  Both our losses have come down to an onside kick at the end of regulation.  These are the same hard, close games that we kept losing last year too.  Whatever it is – confidence, aggressiveness, determination, will, etc. – that causes good teams to persevere in those close games seems to be the biggest intangible missing ingredient in this team.  Hopefully, a bye week and games against the Lions and Browns will help them find it.  Because they will need it on November 1 when Brett is back in town.

1 comment:

  1. #4 retire? He is 27-10 over the past 2 1/4 years. That is a .729 winning percentage for the non-math folks out there and he currently has the fourth best QB rating in the NFL. To compare -- Rogers is 8-12 since being coronated and is 8th on the QB rating scale.

    Can Favre carry a team by himself? Probably not, but then even in his prime in GB he didn't. Remeber Reggie White? A line that could block and a consistent run/screen game to keep the defense honest?

    My problem with our current Packer team is what is our identity? Down hill running team? West Coast? Smash mouth defense? Fancy 3-4 scheme with crazy blitz packages. Now I haven't seen every play this year, but teams like the Giants, Jets, Vikings and even Broncos all seem to have a focus. I don't know what our focus is this year.

    Here are some grades for the first quarter of the season:

    1. Offensive Line -- F -- Rogers on track for 80 sacks on the season.
    2. QB -- B- -- still shows potential, but 2-2 start and tendency to hold the ball not helping a weak line.
    3. Defense -- C- -- 17th against the run, 22nd against the pass. Where did Kampman go? Oh yeah he is dropping back in coverage. There goes roughly 10 sacks per year.
    4. Coaching -- D+ -- Leadership still remains weak. Keep talking about accountability and yet to see change on the field. Just a notch above Wade Phillips in Dallas. No playoffs = clean house. Holmgren return? Shannahan? Cower? Dungy? Anyone? Anyone?