Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Bowl Win a Microcosm of Packers’ Season

In reviewing the press coverage, box score, highlights, post-game interviews and the rest of the deluge of information and analysis about last night’s game, there is one high-level observation I came away with: the Packers won this game their way.  In fact, the game itself was a microcosm of the Green Bay Packers’ 2010 season.  There were three areas in particular which stood out about Sunday's game that are also emblematic of how the Packers have played all season:

Outstanding Play from Rodgers – Sunday’s game epitomized the consistently outstanding results we’ve come to expect from Rodgers.  It was a virtuoso performance, with near-perfect execution save for a few would-be touchdowns that fell through his receivers’ hands.  As they’ve done all season, McCarthy put the ball in Aaron’s hands and relied heavily on the pass, with just enough efficacy in the running game to keep the defense honest.

This game, this season, is pointed to by many as finally getting the Favre monkey off Rodgers’s back.  Rodgers is the first to admit that his career will be inextricably linked to Favre’s.  But with this Super Bowl win, it’s becoming apparent that Rodgers is simply a better quarterback.  With three seasons as the starter under his belt, Rodgers has outperformed Favre in virtually every relevant passing statistic:

  • Rodgers is both more prolific and more efficient in his passing, leading Favre in yards per game (263.7 to 237.9), average yards per pass attempt (8.0 to 7.1) and completion percentage (64.6% to 62.0%).
  • Rodgers is considerably better at protecting the ball, averaging nearly half the interceptions per game (0.66 to Favre’s 1.11) while nearly doubling Favre in touchdown to interception ratio (2.8 for Rodgers to only 1.5 for Favre).
  • Rodgers is also more accurate and better at completing the long ball, generating pass plays of 20+ yards on 10.1% of attempts (to 8.6% for Favre) and 40+ yards on 2.8% of attempts (to 1.6% for Favre).

About the only statistic in which Favre is better than Rodgers is in sacks.  Rodgers has given up an average of 2.45 sacks per game, compared to Favre’s 1.74 sacks per game.  However, it’s hard to measure how many of those sacks were avoided interceptions.   Plus, Rodgers makes up for the lost sack yardage with better ability to gain yardage with his feet.  Rodgers has averaged 18.7 rushing yards per game, more than 3X Favre’s 6.1 rushing yards per game.  It's hard to contemplate our good fortune as fans to have one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time be followed by another of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Opportunistic Defense – Dom Capers is an undisputed defensive mastermind.  In each game, particularly through these playoffs, he’s had a new scheme that has frazzled opposing quarterbacks, consistently taken away the other team’s best offensive weapons, and created turn-overs.  In the Packers playoff run, it was the defense, not the offense, that consistently had to step up – securing the victory in the final drive against Chicago, Philadelphia, Chicago (again) and Pittsburgh.

Sunday’s game again was a microcosm of the bend-but-don’t-break style of play that has become a Packer signature.  They were one of the toughest defenses to score against all year, and forced opposing offenses to react to them.  The Packers also have an incredible number of playmakers on defense, and all were on display Sunday.  The stars all played lights-out – Woodson, Collins, Matthews, and Williams.  But Zombo, Bishop, Bush, Peprah, Raji, Pickett and Hawk all also had outstanding games.  With the return of their injured players next season, this will truly be one of the best and deepest defensive units in the NFL.

Overcoming Injury – Injuries were an early and often reality in the Packers’ 2010 season, and to have two game-ending injuries to two of the emotional, veteran leaders of the team in Woodson and Driver is just incredible.  But what more fitting end to an injury-riddled season than to have the rest of the team step up in their absence.  In the receiving corps, we’ve come to expect that they can still stretch teams out even with one of their star players sidelined.  But to lose Woodson was an even greater challenge to overcome – in many ways the defensive equivalent of losing Rodgers on offense.  He’s calling audibles, directing players, running his own stunts and schemes, and constantly coming up with big plays.

With Sam Shields out for several plays with injury as well, Jarrett Bush and Pat Lee needed to step up, and they did – just as second-, third- and fourth-string players have stepped up at every position this entire season.  Packers starters missed 91 games due to injuries this season.  Seventeen players were on IR.  There is almost no team that could have weathered that storm, and, yet, the Packers did.  It is testament to Ted Thompson and his team’s ability to scout talent, build depth, and identify players with both the skillset and mindset to fit into the Packers’ system.  Truly remarkable.

What I enjoyed hearing most in the post-game celebration – at the very moment when Thompson, McCarthy and Rodgers all would have been well-justified in a feeling of “I told you so” vindication – was all of them already thinking about and talking about repeating.  This victory didn’t have the cathartic feeling of a long-awaited one-time ending.  It had the feeling of a beginning.  The feeling of “holy crap, think how good they could be with their full complement of players.”  The feeling of the start of an era.

The next achievement is to repeat.  This crew, particularly Rodgers, knows that longevity is the only remaining thing left to prove.  And they seem determined to prove it.  They still seem, despite winning it all, to have just that little bit of chip left on their collective shoulders.  That burning, perfectionist desire to prove something more – not just that they are the greatest for one season, but to etch their names among the greatest of all time.  I already can’t wait for next season.

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