Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The ABCs of the Packers’ Perfect Start

How we learned the ABCs in the Trigg household.

Through 5 games and the Packers’ perfect season remains intact.  It wasn’t the blowout we witnessed the last time McCarthy and company visited Atlanta, and moments in that first quarter were downright tense.  But they emerged victorious and are off to their best start since 1965.  The Packers have started 5-0 six previous times in team history, and each of those previous years culminated in a championship.

The win got my gears spinning about why the Packers have been on an 11-game winning streak dating back to last season.  There are the obvious factors – a stud franchise QB, multiple Pro-bowlers on both sides of the line, and an excellent coaching staff.  But many NFL teams have those factors.  There is a deeper set of less tangible attributes that combined to catalyze last year’s Super Bowl run and have carried over into this year’s quick start, and they were on display Sunday night.  Because I can’t resist a mildly clever little hook, I shall call these the “ABCs of the Packers’ Perfect Start.”

A is for Adjustments – Nobody, with a nod to Bill Belichick and the Patriots, is better at in-game adjustments than the Packers.  Sunday against the Falcons was a classic example – the Falcons came out strong with two long drives that resulted in touchdowns.  Rather than panicking, the Packers’ coaching staff immediately switched into strategy mode on the sidelines.  Players got their new assignments – most notably switching to bump-and-run coverage on the corners (Williams and Shields shut down Roddy White and Julio Jones) and freeing up the inside linebackers to slash into gaps and eliminate the Falcon’s running game.  The Falcons didn’t score again.

B is for Back-ups – The Packers’ story last year couldn’t have been written without their bench, and the Packers’ back-ups are already playing just as important a role this year.  This goes beyond having capable players behind the starters.  This is the NFL, after all – everyone is good or they wouldn’t be in the league.  The Packers not only scout great talent, but they fit that talent into their system – allowing them to continue the same game plan with the “next man up.”  Packer back-ups are not just prepared to play, they prepare as if they are the starter every week.  When Clifton went down Sunday, in came Derek Sherrod at right tackle and Marshall Newhouse shifted to left tackle.  After a hiccup or two, the offense clicked right back into gear and continued their march.

C is for Composure – This is probably the most impossible attribute to teach, and very difficult to identify in a prospective player until he is in game-time circumstances.  Composure is even more elusive in a team sport, where the emotional dynamics of players, incidents, and situations intermingle in very unpredictable ways.  But the Packers have captured it.  They know that they will get every team’s best shot this year – particularly the Falcons, who wanted revenge in what B.J. Raji described as “their Super Bowl.”  To go down 14-0 on the road in a raucous dome on a national stage is not an easy place to be.  But the Packers took the Falcons’ best punch and didn’t flinch.  At no point in that game did the Packers show any crack in their confidence.  They didn’t get flustered.  They didn’t get scared.  They simply made their adjustments, made their plays, and made up for their slow start with 25 unanswered points.

Of course, A is also for Aaron and A.J., B is for B.J. and Bishop, C is for Charles and Clay, and if we got to the J’s that would be Jones, Jennings and Jordy territory.  Every team is the sum of its players.  But this set of players, and the coaches who coach them, have a chemistry that is greater than the sum of the parts.  Like every great team, these players are great not only because of their individual talent, but because of the unique circumstances that enable them to succeed.

Not to get all schadenfreude-ish but to see the inverse of the example set by the Packers, look no further than the Eagles.  Dream teams are not automatic outcomes of a group of outstanding individuals, they are the result of outstanding individuals that fully embrace their role and play together as a team.  The Packers as a team continue their march.

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