If the Green Bay Packers are to win this afternoon and avenge last season’s shocking home defeat to the Detroit Lions,a few things are going to have to happen:
1. Aaron Rodgers needs to snap out of it. It’s up to the quarterback to make this Packers offense look like an actual offense again,not a bunch of kids drawing up plays in the sandlot.
2. Personnel looks must be diversified. Remember when Mike McCarthy used to line up with a full-house backfield? Or five wide receivers? Or two tight ends? He rarely does that any more. These days,it’s 3 wide and a tight end virtually every snap. Yawn….
3. The field position battle must be won. I’m tired of seeing the Packers constantly starting inside their own 10-yard line and watching Jake Schum’s punts die after 35 yards at the opponent’s 25.
4. Mike McCarthy needs to –
(At this point,the author of this post slaps himself in the face and dumps a bucket of cold water over his head. He gets up from his chair,walks around,takes a deep breath,eats a bratwurst,washes it down with some cheese,and sits back in his chair.)
Whoa! Wait just a minute! Sorry,I went out of my mind momentarily. I was actually writing a post that insinuated the Packers might have a tough time beating the Lions today. IT’S THE FREAKING LIONS! PLAYING AT LAMBEAU FIELD!
I don’t care how shaky Rodgers and this offense has looked,they’re not going to lose to the Lions at home two years in a row.
Not gonna happen.
Here are five reasons why:
As fun as it is watching Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah take on Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari in a battle of player’s names I can’t pronounce,it’s a big deal that Ansah will miss today’s game. He had five tackles and one of his 14.5 sacks against the Packers in 2015. He’s a good one.
The Packers have been getting after quarterbacks this season,and that should continue against the Lions less-than-stellar front. The Lions have allowed five sacks through two games – not a huge number,but Indianapolis and Tennessee aren’t exactly known for their explosive pass rush.
That’s how many rushing yards per game the Packers have allowed so far,and one of those games was against Adrian Peterson. The duo of Theo Riddick and Dwayne Washington definitely won’t be striking fear into Green Bay’s hearts. However,I almost hope the Lions have some success running the ball so they don’t throw it on every down and try to exploit a secondary missing Sam Shields and Morgan Burnett.
Where’d these guys come from?
The Packers are getting solid contributions from the likes of Joe Thomas,Nick Perry and Kenny Clark on defense. Nobody expected much from these players,so the fact that they appear to be reliable pieces should help the Packers cover for some banged-up regulars on D (Burnett,Clay Matthews,Datone Jones and Letroy Guion).
Remember R-E-L-A-X? Or “Shhhhh?” What’s Rodgers’ catch phrase going to be this time when he explodes for 400 yards and five touchdowns? Whenever Rodgers and the offense have come under fire in the past,they usually come through and rebound in a big way,followed by some type of smart-alekey postgame interview from the QB to quiet all the detractors.
Remember when the Lions actually beat the Packers at Lambeau last season? I try not to remember,but unfortunately,it’s a nightmare that I can’t forget. If a similar defeat is to happen today,here’s why:
The Cooter effect
Ever since Jim Bob Cooter took over play-calling duties for the Lions halfway through last season,their offense has been effective. Matthew Stafford has cut down on the Cutler-like mistakes and become very dangerous in the red zone. Taking on a short-handed Packers defense,look for Cooter to get Stafford going early and a steady does of short to mid-range passes.
Have we reached a point where it’s time to admit that the Green Bay Packers are a different team than the one we’ve become accustomed to? Instead of beating teams with a high-flying offense and an opportunistic defense that excels when playing with a lead,are the Packers now a team that leans on its defense and hopes its offense can scrape together enough positive plays to pull out a victory?
It feels weird typing that. We’re used to Aaron Rodgers playing like a MVP and using his talented selection of receivers and backs to march up and down the field. But since about Week 4 of last season,the Packers offense has been a weird mix of three-and-outs,frustrating moments of miscommunication,back-shoulder throws that fall harmlessly to the ground,a lackadaisical running game,and,worst of all,a fundamentally flawed quarterback.
Every now and then the offense’s ineptitude is interrupted by brief stretches of brilliance – usually some type of improvised sandlot play after Rodgers wriggles out of the pocket — that give us all hope of a return to form. Then another back-shoulder pass flies out of bounds while the receiver never turns around,a timeout is wasted as the play clock winds down,and we’re right back to square one.
I’m not ready to change the identity of this team yet. But it’s nearly been a full season of the Packers offense looking like Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn in Major League before he figured out that he needed glasses. We’ve long passed the point where we can simply write this off as a slump.
Good thing the Packers Stock Report isn’t in a slump. Let’s make like Pedro Cerrano after he figured out how to hit a curve ball and knock this outta the park:
Here’s hoping that 1) Perry can finally stay healthy for a full season and 2) that he continues playing with the intensity and disruptiveness in both the pass and run game that he’s shown these first two weeks.
Where would the Packers defensive line be without Daniels? Daniels owned both whoever was trying to block him and Adrian Peterson on Sunday.
Well,isn’t this a nice surprise? I forgot that Thomas even made the team out of training camp. Not only did he make the team,he’s making plays.
When Matthews hobbled off the field after the first series on Sunday,I said,”Well,three goes his hamstring.” Thankfully,Matthews returned and was his usual solid self. Sounds like Matthews’ ankle is a bit gimpy,though…
Unless it’s a freestyle,sandlot type of play or a defensive pass interference,Rodgers isn’t able to get the Packers offense moving. He’s also been uncharacteristically inaccurate and his fundamentals are way out of whack. I’m worried. I want Rodgers to tell me to R-E-L-A-X,and then torch the Lions for 400 yards and five touchdowns. Then do it again the following week…and the following week…and the following week…
I was perfectly fine with McCarthy’s decision to skip the field goal and for it on fourth down late in the game. But a shotgun run up the gut to James Starks? With Eddie Lacy standing on the sideline? You’re killing me,Mike.
Looks like Ted Thompson simply replaced one struggling punter with another struggling punter.
Can a stadium help inspire a team to victory? The Minnesota Vikings are hoping so.
The Vikings open the more than $1 billion
Zygi Palace Metrodome II U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday night,and they’re hoping all the hype,hoopla and excitement (the Vikings have lined up some foreign soccer player to lead a chant,a “Game of Thrones” actor and some type of knock-off version of Prince as part of the opening game festivities) will carry them to a rare win over the hated Packers.
But let’s cut through the nonsense for a minute: Are the Vikings really going to play harder and more inspired because it’s their first game in a new stadium? A stadium that was funded by taxpayers and will make their team owner even more filthy rich than he already is? Will the Vikings go that extra mile because coach Mike Zimmer rallies his troops with a rousing pregame speech that goes something like this: “Men,our great leader,Mr. Zygi Wilf,reached into the pockets of the good taxpayers of Minneapolis to build us this giant palace. He then charged these same taxpayers thousands of dollars for seat licenses and $11 for a beer. If we don’t at least win our first freaking game here,people may tear this place down!”
The answer is no. I don’t think a generic billion-dollar building gifted to a greedy multi-billionaire by the good folks of Minneapolis is going to inspire the Vikings to play well and beat the Packers tonight. Yes,U.S. Bank Stadium will be loud. Yes,fake noise will be piped in. Yes,it’ll be hard for the Packers to communicate on offense.
But guess what? All of that also happened at the Metrodome whenever the Packers played the Vikings. And all of that happens at just about every NFL stadium. U.S. Bank Stadium is going to be loud and crazy whenever the Vikings play at home,whether it’s the first game,eight game for 452nd game. The impact the stadium will have on tonight’s opening game is being vastly overblown. If the Vikings do (gulp) beat the Packers,it will have little to do with the opening of the new Zygi World,and everything to do with the Vikings defense,coaching and on-field execution.
Here are five reasons why the Packers will overcome whatever the Vikings throw at them– stadium included — and improve to 2-0:
Old Man Adrian
Don’t get me wrong,whenever Peterson takes a handoff and glides forward,I hold my breath,grip the couch real tight and say a prayer. Even at 31 years old,Peterson remains a physical specimen and a scary player. But Peterson’s numbers are fading. Over his last nine games,he’s averaging just 66.7 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry. He’s gone over 70 yards just once in his last seven games and looked rusty last week against Tennessee. I’ll still cringe whenever Peterson gets the ball,but age might be finally catching up with him.
What is wrong with you people?
As long as we’re talking about Peterson we need to address another issue: Why do so many Vikings fans continue to dress their children in No. 28 Peterson jerseys? THE MAN ADMITTED TO BEATING HIS OWN CHILD BLOODY WITH A TREE BRANCH!!!! The last thing you want to do as a parent is dress your kid in that monster’s jersey. Now,I’m not going to pretend that I wouldn’t cheer every time Peterson ran for a first down if he played for the Packers — I have no problem with Vikings fans continuing to cheer Peterson whenever he helps their team — but I damn sure wouldn’t dress my children in his jersey. Vikings fans,I tell ya…
Vikings kicker Blair Walsh whiffed wide left on a 27-yard field goal that would have beat Seattle in the playoffs last season. Last week he missed two more field goals and an extra point. If Walsh’s whiffing ways continue Sunday night,it could be the difference in what likely will be a close game.
Two words: Damarious Randall
A lot has been made about the fact that Packers CB Sam Shields will likely miss tonight’s game with a concussion. Whenever a player of Shields’ caliber is out,he will be missed,but I think Damarious Randall is ready to break out. If Randall can guard Vikings WR Stefon Diggs as well as he covered the Jags two big receivers last week,the QB-strapped Vikings will have an even tougher time moving the ball and scoring points. Is Randall — long sleeves and all — up for the challenge? I think so.
Keep it up,coach
Packers coach Mike McCarthy is 15-5-1 against the Vikings and 3-1 against the Vikings with Mike Zimmer as head coach. The dominance McCarthy’s teams have had over the Vikings have many people questioning whether Packers vs. Vikings is even a rivalry game any more. Heck,Zimmer himself even questioned it this week. When the Packers need to squash the “rival” Vikings,McCarthy knows what buttons to push. Here’s hoping he pushes the right one later tonight.
Yeah,yeah,yeah,every now and then the Vikings sneak out a win in this “rivalry” game. It happened a few times with a certain No. 4 who dressed in purple for a few games and played QB in Minnesota. And it happened at the end of last season when the Packers offense decided to take the last two months of the year off. If it happens again tonight,this might be why:
The Vikings defensive line led by Everson Griffen and his 22.5 sacks over the last two seasons is legit. If they can get pressure by only rushing four,forcing Aaron Rodgers to rely on his improvisational skills instead of getting into a rhythm on offense,it’ll be tough for the Packers to pull this one out.
Sunday was a good day. Check that,Sunday was a great day.
I got to watch the Packers with my wife and two children. It was 4-month-old Baby Reggie’s first Packers game (yep,that’s Reggie in the picture. He gets his cuteness from his mother),and he got to see the Packers win in a nail-biter. Almost 3-year-old Big Brother Edward even awoke from his nap just in time to give the Packers a motivational “Go Pack Go!” on the game’s decisive final drive.
Watching the Packers with my family has always been a big deal,but it was an even bigger deal on Sunday. I had a massive surgery in New York to remove all visible cancer from my body on July 29. In addition to the cancer,the surgeons also removed 70 percent of my colon,my spleen,appendix,gall bladder,a sliver of my liver (that’d be a catchy song title) and some of my bladder.
After that was all done,I had chemotherapy pumped directly into my abdomen through a port for three consecutive days. That port remained in my abdomen and became infected,which has landed me in the hospital twice over the last two weeks. This is in addition to all the other challenges and complications that make recovery from this surgery so challenging.
I’m trying to abide by the old cliché and take things day by day as I continue to work at finally turning the corner in my recovery. On Sunday,that meant watching the Packers with my family. And it made me happy. Very happy.
But enough about me and my various ailments. Let’s get to the Packers Stock Report:
It wasn’t the best – or most consistent – game for Rodgers,but how can you leave him off the rising list after that throw he made to Davante Adams at the end of the first half? Unbelievable.
Randall showed no signs of a sophomore slump on Sunday. Whenever Blake Bortles threw to Randall’s receiver,the second-year corner was there to contest the pass. On the game’s decisive final play,Randall blew up a bubble screen pass and held tight until teammates arrived to finish off the tackle and secure the Packers win.
The only questionable move made by Randall on Sunday was his decision to wear long sleeves in the 100-degree heat.
I liked that the Packers didn’t use Matthews exclusively outside. Yes,rushing from the edge was his primary duty,but Dom Capers still moved Matthews around enough to take advantage of his playmaking skills. Matthews’ versatility,and Capers willingness to move him around every now and then,resulted in several impactful plays from the Jeff Hanneman look-a-like.
Damn. Another concussion for Shields,the fourth of his career. Here’s hoping he bounces back and he doesn’t suffer and short- or long-term effects.
Yeah,Burnett had a bad holding penalty that enabled the Jags to extend the game’s final drive,but I was really impressed with No. 42’s energy and explosiveness. I thought he brought a lot of heat when he lined up closer to the line of scrimmage like a hybrid linebacker and flew around the secondary in the passing game. I’m looking forward to how the experiment of using Burnett in a variety of ways evolves.
Don’t worry,young fella. Many Packers players who are now stars have ended up in the falling category at some point in their careers. You’ll bounce back and become the playmaker many think you can be.
Unlike Rollins,Mike McCarthy Rodgers and the offense don’t have the excuse of youth to explain away their communication issues on Sunday. What the heck was that on Green Bay’s final drive? Back-to-back time outs? An audible to a run where the entire offensive line was pass-blocking. Yuck. Ick. Bleh.
For the past several preseasons,the Jacksonville Jaguars have fooled football analysts into thinking that they’ll actually be good. That notion inevitably went out the window by week three when it became obvious that the Jaguars would be the same old terrible Jaguars,not the young,upstart team with a bevy of high draft picks ready to break out that many thought they’d be.
The Jags no longer hold the preseason “bad team ready to finally be good” title belt. The Oakland Raiders stole it from them. Now the Jags are just the Jags again: boring,nondescript,and destined to win no more than six games.
Here are five reasons why one of those six wins will not come against the Green Bay Packers this afternoon:
Because Jordy’s back
Don’t expect Jordy Nelson to go for 10 catches and 150 yards in his return,but he doesn’t have to in order to make an impact. Having Nelson back gives Jags defensive coordinator Todd Wash another impact player to scheme for,which will result in things opening up for Randall Cobb in the slot and maybe even Davante Adams as he begins his bounce-back season.
Speaking of bounce-back seasons,Eddie Lacy’s begins today. Lacy doesn’t appear to be drastically slimmed down,but he’s playing for a new contract and to show that last season was an aberration. It’s also going to be hot in Jacksonville,meaning Lacy will probably be so sweaty that defenders will slide right off of him.
Since 2014,1,331 of the 2,000 offensive plays Jacksonville has run have been run with the Jags trailing. If the Packers can jump ahead early,look for Aaron Rodgers and the offense to maintain the lead and the defense to force a few key turnovers to seal the victory.
Shushing the whispers
Let’s be clear about something: The Packers are an elite football team. They’re legitimate Super Bowl contenders every season. But the Packers postseason shortcomings since winning Super Bowl XLV have many people whispering that Mike McCarthy isn’t the coach to deliver another championship to Titletown. “Sure the Packers are good,” these people say. “They’ll win 10-13 regular season games,then collapse in the playoffs.” Beating the Jags in week one won’t silence those whispers,but you have to start somewhere. If the Packers lose to Jacksonville,those whispers will get louder,and nobody in the Green Bay locker room wants to start the season like that.
Because it’s Jacksonville…
C’mon. It’s the Jaguars. The Packers aren’t going to lose to the freaking Jaguars.
If,for some reason,God wants to punish the Packers by having them lose to the freaking Jaguars today,this might be how it happens:
Two guys named Allen
Receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns combined for 144 catches,2,431 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2015. Throw in tight end Julius Thomas and his 46 receptions in just 12 games and the Jags have plenty of big receiving targets to torment the Packers defense and possibly steal a victory.
College: South Carolina St.
NFL Experience: 1 year
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Expectations coming into the season: Thomas didn’t make the Packers out of training camp,but returned once the Packers snatched him off the Cowboys practice squad early in the season. The Packers brought Thomas back to provide extra coverage in their dime package. Bringing back a familiar player from another team’s practice squad is a very Ted Thompson thing to do. When you’re an inside linebacker who only weights 227 pounds,you better stand out in coverage because odds are,you’re not going to see the field much in running situations.
Player’s highlights/low-lights: Thomas never did nab an interception of his own,but he did deflect a pass that Ha Ha Clinton-Dix picked off against the Rams. Thomas also recorded his first career sack against Alex Smith and the Chiefs and proved to be a decent blizter. Unfortunately,Thomas didn’t turn out to be the reliable dime coverage linebacker he was brought in to be. Speed and quickness wasn’t an issue. Reaction time was.
Level of Expectations met: At this point,do Packers fans expect anything from the inside linebacker position? It’s been season after season of complaining about the gaping hole inside,and seeing players like Thomas cycle through and contribute here and there,but make minimal impact overall.
Player’s contributions to team success: Thomas was feisty on the blitz,which was something I don’t think teams expected from a guy who weighs at least 20 pounds less than the Packers starting running back. However,when it came to standing out in pass coverage in space,which is difficult for any linebacker,let alone a guy off another team’s practice squad,Thomas missed more often than he hit. Overall,Thomas was just another guy passing through the Packers’ rotation of mediocrity at inside linebacker.
Player’s contributions in the playoffs: Thomas was decent against both Washington and Arizona. Nothing spectacular or game-changing,but solid.
Intangibles/misc: You rarely saw Thomas line up incorrectly or completely blow an assignment in Dom Capers’ notoriously complex defensive scheme. That’s important for a middle linebacker on a defense that relies heavily on blitzing and several moving parts.
Overall Grade: D+
NFL Experience: Rookie
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Expectations coming into the season: Normally,a rookie middle linebacker selected in the fourth round of the draft wouldn’t generate much buzz. But since the Packers inside linebacker situation has been so dismal in recent seasons,Ryan managed to get a little more attention than the usual obscure mid-round pick. I don’t think he was expected to be a savior inside,but he was expected to contribute and provide hope for the future.
Player’s highlights/low-lights: Would you believe me if I told you that Jake Ryan’s tackles per snap (5.8) were more than twice the rate of Clay Matthews? Well,it’s true. That’s an obvious highlight. Ryan’s lowlight came in week 16 against Arizona where he looked totally overmatched in space against any Arizona offensive player he was asked to cover or tackle. Getting back to the highlights,Ryan looked much better during the playoff re-match with Arizona,notching five solo tackles.
Level of Expectations met: It took a while,but Ryan eventually got his shot. He didn’t make Packers fans forget about all the struggles the team has had at middle linebacker,but he did do some nice things. Is Ryan the answer for the Packers at middle linebacker? Not by himself. Can he be part of the solution inside that allows Matthews to move back outside? I think so. That’s hardly high praise,but it’s a step in the right direction.
Player’s contributions to team success: There weren’t any games where we said to ourselves,”Man,Jake Ryan sure dominated today.” There also weren’t many instances where we threw things at our television sets following another Ryan blunder. After Nate Palmer spun his wheels and Joe Thomas didn’t appear to be an every-down player,Ryan at least showed he belonged when he finally was given the opportunity. Is Ryan’s ceiling higher than simply a player who belongs? I don’t think so,but you’re not going to have an All-Pro at every position. For a kid in his first season on a team desperate for inside linebacker help,just showing you belonged is pretty damn good.
Player’s contributions in the playoffs: Ryan totaled 11 tackles in two playoff games and only got burned badly once in pass coverage (early in the Arizona game,Carson Palmer overthrew the receiver). Much like he did in the regular season,Ryan was solid,but unspectacular.
Intangibles/misc: We’ll know more about Ryan’s intangibles when training camp opens this summer. Ryan’s going to need a little time in the weight room to help him better shed blocks. He also could benefit from impact training that helps him become more explosive in tight spaces. To this fan’s eye,nothing appeared to be wrong with Ryan’s attitude or preparedness,but I think Ryan’s true test when it comes to intangibles is happening now as he prepares for the 2016 season. Will he put in the time to take the next step?
Overall Grade: C
College: Illinois St.
NFL Experience: 3 years
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Expectations coming into the season: After moving to inside linebacker,2015 was supposed to be a season where Palmer continued to learn the ropes of his (somewhat) new position and provide some coverage help when called upon. After Sam Barrington got hurt,that all went out the window and Palmer was called up to start and contribute. It didn’t go well.
Player’s highlights/low-lights: Palmer got benched against Carolina,but managed to still hang onto his starting job for a couple more weeks before Jake Ryan took his spot full time. After struggling against the Bears in week 1 when he initially took over for Barrington,Palmer played OK over the next three games. Then Todd Gurley ran rampant for 159 yards in week 5 and Palmer’s play never really picked back up.
Level of Expectations met: You could say it was unfair to expect Palmer — a player new to the inside linebacker position coming off a recent major injury — to hold serve when called upon following Barrington’s injury. You could also blame Ted Thompson for failing to fix the inside linebacker position in the first place,which forced Palmer into a role he was not ready for. Both of those things would be true,but life often isn’t fair in the NFL. Palmer had a job to do when thrust into the starting job and he didn’t do it.
Player’s contributions to team success: Most pegged Palmer as a linebacker who could excel in pass coverage. Well,he didn’t. He also looked lost in the run game. Overall,Palmer didn’t appear to posses the natural instincts and reaction time to play inside,which isn’t surprising since he has minimal experience at the position. When Ryan supplanted Palmer in the starting lineup,it wasn’t an immediate and obvious upgrade,but Ryan was clearly the better,and more natural,player.
Player’s contributions in the playoffs: Palmer played on special teams,but that’s it.
Intangibles/misc: Palmer plays hard. Effort and want-to wasn’t an issue at all. You also have to give a player credit whenever he’s asked to play a new position and forced into a bigger role than he or the team probably planned for. Unfortunately,effort,flexibility and attitude wasn’t enough to turn Palmer into a contributing player in 2015
Overall Grade: D
NFL Experience: 7 years
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Expectations coming into the season: Packers general manager Ted Thompson once again did not address the inside linebacker position,leaving it up to Matthews to play the spot instead of his usual outside linebacker/pass rush position. Not only was Matthews expected to fill the void inside,he was expected to play well and help hold together the run defense. Matthews delivered. Unfortunately,Matthews didn’t have too many moments where he went beyond simply delivering.
Player’s highlights/low-lights: Matthews’ six tackles helped hold Adrian Peterson to 45 yards in a must-win game against the Vikings on Nov. 22. Matthews’ two sacks against Kansas City in week three contributed to the Packers hot start. Down the stretch,Matthews failed to record a tackle in games against Oakland and Arizona. He also rarely beat his man when rushing from the edge as the season wore on.
Level of Expectations met: I can confidently say that Matthews met expectations. He even had a few games and key moments where he exceeded expectations. That said,I didn’t feel like Matthews made the impact of a star defensive player consistently enough. With a star player like Matthews,you expect expectations to be exceeded — especially during big moments. Is it unfair to expect a player to exceed expectations,especially when that player is playing a new position? Maybe. But I didn’t feel like Matthews made the impact that he typically makes. He rarely won his matchup when he did rush from the outside (especially late in the season) and he had too many moments in later weeks where he disappeared. Overall,it was a good season for Matthews,but not quite the type of Clay Matthews season we’ve grown accustomed to.
Player’s contributions to team success: Who knows what would have happened to the Packers defense if they were forced to play Nate Palmer,Joe Thomas or Jake Ryan full time inside instead of Matthews? I know I sounded critical of Matthews in the expectation section,but he really did everthing the Packers asked him to do. Without him,the Packers defense would not have had the type of year it had.
Player’s contributions in the playoffs: The main thing preventing Matthews from earning an “A” for the postseason was his inability to win his matchup when rushing from the edge. How nice would it have been to have Matthews discard an Arizona tackle and sack Palmer late in that game?
Intangibles/misc: Matthews made himself a star by becoming one of the NFL’s best edge pass rushers. Midway through last season,the Packers moved him inside. Matthews wasn’t exactly overjoyed about the decision,but he’s played his tail off and did exactly what the Packers needed him to do inside. Matthews has also turned into an ornery son of a gun as he’s gotten older. Matthews attitude and aggressiveness has helped the Packers’ defense shed the “soft” label.
Overall Grade: B
After the Green Bay Packers lost the 1960 NFL championship,head coach Vince Lombardi told his team that they would never lose another championship game.
He was right. Lombardi and the Packers won their next nine postseason games.
Under current head coach Mike McCarthy,the Packers have lost seven playoff games. Of those defeats,five have come on the game’s final play.
When it comes to postseason success,McCarthy is no Lombardi. But are the Packers playoff shortcomings – especially in close games – really McCarthy’s fault? Would Lombardi have fared different if he were transplanted to the modern era and roamed the sidelines during each of the Packers heartbreaking playoff defeats?
I have no idea. But I do know this: The Packers shortcomings during clutch playoff situations is maddening. Even after another miracle Hail Mary on Saturday night,in the back of my mind,I kept thinking,“That was awesome,but the Packers typically don’t win these types of games. Things will go south in overtime.”
Unfortunately,my negative mindset proved to be correct. Why have the Packers typically come up short when it matters most in the playoffs under McCarthy? Let’s try and figure it out.
We’ve touched on it a bit already,but is McCarthy the one to blame?
I pointed the finger at the coach after last season’s NFC title game meltdown. I’ve also been critical of McCarthy after other playoff defeats,but what coach isn’t going to face criticism after his team loses in the playoffs?
There wasn’t much to be mad at McCarthy about following the loss to the Cardinals. He added a few wrinkles to his normally static game plan that helped keep his team in it despite a long list of injuries.
I believe any criticism of McCarthy cannot be strictly based on his postseason results. What gets me frustrated at McCarthy is his stubbornness,unwillingness to make pass-protection adjustments in-game and set-in-stone pass concepts that don’t adjust to the personnel available to him or what the defense is doing.
When those criticisms carry over from the regular season to the postseason (and sometimes they do),then McCarthy definitely shares in a big chunk of the blame for the Packers playoff failures. But to say these problems are exclusive to McCarthy’s playoff game plans and that they happen every single playoff game is shortsighted.
The Packers typically have one of the youngest teams in the NFL. Does youth and inexperience contribute to late-game postseason meltdowns?
Maybe. But look closer at who’s been screwing up in the big spots during these nail-biting contests.
· On Saturday,Sam Shields – a veteran – dropped three interceptions that would have wiped 10 points off the board for Arizona.
· In last season’s NFC title game collapse,Morgan Burnett (veteran) picked off a pass late,then followed the instruction of Julius Peppers (another veteran) to kneel down despite a wide open field in front of him.
· In 2013,Micah Hyde had a game-winning interception slip through his hands late in the game. Hyde was a rookie,so maybe we can chalk that mistake up to youth.
· The overtime period of the 2009 wild-card game loss to Arizona saw Aaron Rodgers – in only his second season as a starter but his fifth season overall – overthrow an open Greg Jennings for a touchdown,then fumble on the game’s final play to give the Cardinals the win.
· Finally,it was Brett Favre – the most veteran of veteran players – who threw the overtime interception that cost the Packers the 2007 NFC title game against New York.
Obviously,there were more plays that led to each Packers loss in the aforementioned games than the ones I’ve highlighted,but it’s been more than the Packers young guys messing up when the game is on the line.
Nobody likes to use injuries as an excuse,but do the Packers have a case?
On Saturday,the Packers top four receivers when training camp opened were hurt. Rodgers was,basically,playing on one leg against Seattle in 2014. The 2013 loss to San Francisco featured a laundry list of injured Packers.
Every team is banged up when January rolls around,but the Packers seem to always be a little more banged up than others.
Whether it’s the regular season or the postseason,almost every NFL game comes down to a handful of key plays. For some reason,with the exception of the 2010 Super Bowl run,most of these plays have not gone the Packers’ way.
Was it luck that the Cardinals got two first downs by a single chain-link on Saturday night? Or that Russell Wilson’s desperation heave in 2014 on a late two-point conversion was caught by one of his own players instead of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix? Or that Arizona got away with an obvious offensive pass interference on their last regulation touchdown on Saturday and a facemask on the game’s final play in 2009?
When the ball bounces late in these playoff games,it typically doesn’t bounce the Packers’ way (Saturday’s Hail Mary being a major exception,of course).
All of the above
If the Packers struggles could be tied to just one issue,they probably would have solved it by now. Unfortunately,it’s not that simple.
Everything I’ve mentioned here,and likely several other issues I haven’t even thought about,contribute to the Packers late-game postseason shortcomings.
Is this something that can be fixed? Can a study be conducted and specific changes made that will turn things around? Or is it just a matter of players stepping up,the coaches coaching better and the Packers’ late-game luck turning around?
That’s a question McCarthy will have to address this offseason. Maybe he needs to try a Lombardi-style speech where he tells his team that “They will never lose another postseason game on the final play again.”
Whatever might work,I’m all for it. We’re all sick of seeing the Packers walk off the field in defeat after another late-game playoff loss.