Sunday, October 25, 2009

The most complete game yet

Granted, Cleveland stinks.  But that was the most satisfying, all-around win so far this year.  This was the Packer team I’ve been waiting to see all season.  And the timing couldn’t be better – with the Vikings dropping their first game on a Favre interception against the Steelers, Green Bay is poised to get right back into the NFC North mix with a win next week.

As an aside, how do Browns fans do it?  It’s one thing to wear a foam wedge of cheese on your head – at least you can retain some dignity.  But when you’re sporting a dog mask, and you continue to watch a beat down along with approximately 75 remaining fans in the stadium, you need to question your priorities.  The only thing this dude needs more than a life is a gastric bypass.

But I digress.  Through the first 6 weeks, I could be accused of overly high expectations, of not appreciating the wins we’ve had, of nit picking.  So I’m happy to be taking a glass-is-half-full approach this week with my three observations.

1) No sacks.  Hallelujah.  T.J. Lang gets his first start at left tackle, and it was a great one.  The way an offensive lineman gets noticed in my book, is by not getting noticed.  Lang and the rest of the O-line had a great day.  Not only did they pass protect, but they busted open some serious holes in the “Cleave”-land defense.

And Rodgers made the most of it.  I have felt all season that the only thing holding him back from a Pro-Bowl year has been pass protection.  Wow, was that ever apparent today – 246 yards, three touchdowns, and a career-high 155.4 passer rating.  If the line can continue to protect like that, Rodgers will emerge this year as a premier QB in the league.  Apart from the helmet dislodging on the failed 4th and 1 in the opening drive, Rodgers was un-stoppable today.

I need to watch the game again, but I think T.J. Lang was a difference-maker.  Compared to Clifton’s abysmal performance last week, Lang was impressive – particularly for a rookie.  Maybe that’s the spark the O-line needed.

2) Running game.  Green Bay clearly came out to establish the run against the league's worst run defense.  And that they did, with 9 runs on their first 10 plays.  The O-line was playing downhill for the first time this season, and getting a great push on every play.  Grant missed a few cuts, but had a fantastic day – 148 yards on the day, one of his best performances ever.  Brandon Jackson had some kick in his step too, appearing to be fully healthy for the first time this season.

As a team, the Packers went over the 200-yard mark for the first time this season, averaging almost 5 yards per carry.  I don’t care if the Browns are the worst run defense, that’s a solid performance.  The nit picker in me can still get a little concerned that they struggled to get yards when they needed them – for example, they needed six plays from a 1st and goal at the Browns 3, and only barely got the TD; and failed to get in from the 1-yard line in the second quarter.

But overall, it was a great rushing performance, which controlled the clock, which opened up play-action, which thwarted the blitz, and so on.  The last few seasons, there has been a game in which the O-line finally asserts itself, playing smash mouth football and opening up the holes for Grant.  I’m hopeful that this was that game.

3) 3 points.  Another stellar week for the defense -- three points in two weeks now.  The Browns put up just 139 yards of total offense, only 57 in the second half.  The Packers created turn-overs.  They created pressure.  They stiffened when they needed to – included a Cleveland 4th and goal from the 1, which was turned around into a 99-yard drive scoring drive by the offense.

The maturation of the defense has been exciting to watch this year.  They really seem to be coming together as a unit.  Woodson and Harris’s ability to play one-on-one opens up all sorts of interesting schemes.  The linebacker corps is second to none.  Matthews is showing signs of blossoming into a bona fide stud.  Barnett seems to be getting healthier, more aggressive, and less swash-buckling every week.  A.J. Hawk’s penetration down by the goal line was beautiful.  And Poppinga, Chillar and Bishop are all impact players as well.  Their linebackers have gone from a weakness to a strength of this defense – they are fast, aggressive, and gaining confidence.

The secondary is really gelling as well.  Getting Bigby back was huge.  He’s such a difference-maker in both the run game and pass protection.  Tramon Williams, though tentative on punt returns today, is legit in nickel coverage with a great nose for the ball.  The only complaint I could make all day on defense was some penalties.  There were a few key ones – including Harris’s facemask that set up the first and only Browns score; a PI and un-necessary roughness penalty that got the Browns into scoring position; and the 12-man on the field penalty that kept a Browns drive alive.  But none of those proved too costly, and most I’ll accept in exchange for an aggressive style of play that creates opportunities.

Aaron Rodgers said it best in the post-game press conference, “I felt like we got back to the kind of football we’re capable of.”  That is the kind of football that got us all so excited in the pre-season.  That is the kind of football that will beat the Vikings next weekend.  That is the kind of football that will get us to the post-season.  And you could feel the energy, the confidence.  If Rodgers rides that three-piece-suit swagger into next Sunday’s game, we could be within a half game of the NFC North.

Final note: Really hope Finley can get back next week.  It’s being described as a knee sprain that could put him out for “a couple weeks.”  He’s getting an MRI tomorrow.  Although Spencer Havner did an admirable job in replacement, going 45 yards for their first TD, Finley will be a critical asset against the Vikings.

1 comment:

  1. OK I know it was a dissapointing loss to the purple queens, but WHERE IS TRIGGPACK?