Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pack on Track

I, like many Packer fans, was getting a little panicky after the Colts loss last week.  It felt like the season could suddenly be in question.  That another road loss to the undefeated Texans could send us reeling.  Aaron Rodgers's response?  "Shhhhh..."

The Packers came out with both fists blazing Sunday night.  Part of it was the law of averages -- after so many bad calls and bizarre plays this season, the luck of the draw finally seemed to be on our side with multiple Houston mistakes and 3 Packer take-aways.  But with Jennings, Benson and Raji out, Finley limited, and Williams, Shields and Perry leaving the game with injuries, the Packers still put a beat-down on the team many thought was the best in the NFL -- demonstrating on national television why they should still be in the discussion for Super Bowl favorites.

Rodgers' 338-yard, 6 touchdown performance was epic (bonus for me: he's on my fantasy team as well!).  Putting the league on notice that even with half his horses nursing injuries, Rodgers can shred one of the best defenses in the NFL.  In fact, by yards allowed, the Texans were the top defense in the league coming in to Sunday.  Which brings us to a very important point: the Packers have faced some seriously talented defenses so far this season -- having now played 4 of the top 5 defenses in the NFL: the Texans, 49ers, Cowboys, Bears, and Seahawks.  One might reasonably expect the offense to struggle at times against these opponents.

As emphatic as Sunday's win was, the Packers need to maintain their intensity over the next 3 weeks.  The Rams in St. Louis next week are always tough, and have a very stout defense (#7 in the league).  Then the Jaguars and Cardinals at home, and the Cardinals also are very solid defensively (#10 in the league).  If Green Bay can hold serve through these three games, they would go into their bye week 6-3 and in very reasonable shape to contend for the NFC North.  But it will be a battle.  With 5 of their last 7 games against NFC North opponents, the season will likely be decided late.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Maybe We're Just Not That Good

This is what I remember thinking after the Packers lost to the Redskins on October 10, 2010 on a last-second field goal.  The Packers lost several of their players to injury that game, and it seemed like a downward turn in the season.  That feeling was amplified when the Packers lost again at home the following week to the Dolphins.  And that's how I felt today -- questioning whether the Packers are really as good as everyone thought.

This game was on ice.  A 21-3 lead at halftime against the worst team in the NFL last year with a rookie quarterback.  But two key injuries to Benson and Raji seemed to sway the game -- making the Packers one-dimensional (except for Green's long run in the fourth quarter) and resulting in 5 sacks in the second half, while the Colts were able to consistently rush the ball, setting up Reggie Wayne for big gains.

The Packers defense continues to be a work in progress.  They just don't seem to be able to get the stops when they need them.  Shields was inconsistent -- some nice plays, but victimized too much including a critical 25-yard pass interference penalty.  Nobody in the secondary seemed to be able to tuck away interceptions.  Although Casey Hayward got one, the usually sure-handed Tramon Williams dropped at least two, as did Woodson.  Luck is good, but no defense should be picked apart by a rookie.  He finished with 362 yards of passing.  Ugh.  Feels like this is going to be another long season on the defensive side.

The offense, which operated like a the well-oiled machine we've come to expect in the first half, completely stalled in the second half.  The inability to run the ball after halftime made the Packers look inept.  They just couldn't get anything going.  It was like a different team.  Were they over-confident?  Did they mail it in for the second half?  Were the injuries to Benson and Finley too much to overcome? I just don't have answers to these questions.  But if, as a team, they are so precarious, it does not bode well for the season.

Going to Houston to face the undefeated Texans next week is going to be a tough order.  We could be staring at 2-4.  And the NFC is going to be tough this year.  Just in our division, the Bears, Vikings and Lions all are looking good.  The Falcons and 49ers are rolling.  It's still early to hit the panic button -- after all, they managed to come back from a 3-3 start in 2010 to win the Super Bowl.  But they better get it going here soon, or it could be a challenge to even make the playoffs.

Monday, October 1, 2012


That was close.  A 1-3 start would have been a problem.  And we were, once again, only one or two calls from it going the other way.  McCarthy's relief was palpable.  Although it was impressive that the Packers were able to put the Seattle debacle behind them (at least in their offensive performance), hopefully the Saints game served as a "teaching moment" for the team.  Key take-aways:

  1. Replacement refs can still screw you over -- three really big mistakes by the "real" officials: the push-off against Morgan Burnett on the Saints' opening touchdown, the un-willingness to over-turn Jimmy Graham's catch that was clearly pinned between his ass and the ground, and the failure to call Sproles's fumble on the kick-off return.  All atrocious.  The crowd at Lambeau was seething.  God help them if those calls had been made by replacement officials.
  2. Be more prudent with your challenges -- I find McCarthy can be a little aggressive with the challenges at times.  His first challenge seemed to be more of a time-out than a challenge.  That seemed unlikely to be over-turned.  His second challenge was more sound and he had to throw the flag, but when it didn't get over-ruled he was done.  And, of course, that decision almost cost the Packers the game when they were out of challenges and could not get another look at what even the most brain-dead replay official could see was a Sproles fumble that would have sealed the game.  I, by the way, think it's time to update the challenge rule, but will save that for another rant.
  3. Zone defense sucks -- last week in Seattle it was the offense that was stubborn to adjust their game plan as Seattle mauled Rodgers in the first half, but they eventually did in the second half.  About 3 long Colston receptions into this game, it was obvious that the zone coverage the Packers were employing on defense was not going to work.  Yet they stuck with it all day, giving up multiple 3rd-and-long conversions and 429 yards through the air in the process.  The Packers' defensive secondary continues to look confused.  Sam Shields' blown coverage on the 80-yard touchdown was inexcusable -- just a pure, obvious mental lapse thinking he had safety help.
  4. Gotta get big plays -- the Packers thrived on big plays last year.  Long passes on offense.  Take-aways on defense.  They aren't getting or creating those plays as much this year.   The turn of events where Harrell fumbled on the goal line ("Just, whatever you do, don't turn the ball over!!!" were without doubt the last words he heard from McCarthy before taking the field for his first regular season NFL snap) to be shortly followed up by a Drew Brees bomb for a touchdown was a 14-point swing that the Packers were truly lucky to overcome.
So the win is a relief, but the team still feels like it needs to get their heads on right.  Indianapolis will be playing with emotion after their head coach was diagnosed with leukemia, and the Colts have put up a pretty good fight.  Losing to an inferior team to start a 3-game road stretch would not be a good next chapter to this season.