October 24, 2010

Three Keys to the Packers’ Fate Sunday Night and For Remaining Schedule

As painful of a start as 3-3 is for the Packers, if a handful of footballs bounce another way, if a few knick-knack penalties don’t get called or if a few more footballs are caught by the Packers receivers – Green Bay could easily be sitting at 5-1.

But they aren’t. And the little things are signs of different trends and subplots that have festered throughout the first six weeks of the season. The following three issues will need to be fixed if the Packers expect to beat the Vikings. They are also keys for the Packers if they expect to survive this current critical stretch in their 2010-2011 schedule.

We’ll monitor these keys for the next few weeks and analyze how wins/losses compare with the Packers performance in these categories.

Be Average on Special Teams
Yes that’s right, average. If the Packers can manage to not make a huge mistake on special teams tonight – their chances to win this game increase significantly. No botched punts, no fumbles, no big returns by Percy Harvin. Sounds pretty easy right? The Packers punting, coverage and not being able to secure the ball have caused game-changing moments such as when Devin Hester returned a punt for a TD to take the lead early in the fourth quarter in Week 3 in Chicago.

Convert on Third Down
Week after week in 2009, I marveled at Aaron Rodgers’ third down passing statistics. He consistently led the league in third down passer rating and the Packers enjoyed one of the most effective third down conversion rates in the NFL.

Rodgers’ and the Packers success on third down in 2010 have been dismal – to put it kindly. Not having trusted offensive weapons obviously makes converting more difficult, but at some point this must become an emphasis for the coaching staff. Last year it seemed Rodgers had a keen sense of when to escape the pocket, (especially on third down) but in 2010 Rodgers seems tentative, indecisive and unwilling to run for first downs.

Rodgers needs to recapture the mindset of doing whatever it takes to convert on third down – even if it means tucking the ball, using his legs and diving for the marker. It’s on your shoulders #12.

Control Time of Possession 
Looking at the Packers first six games – it makes sense they haven’t been able to control the clock. No running game coupled with an inconsistent defense has slashed the number of offensive plays the Packers run in a game.

More importantly, Green Bay’s crippled defense has been forced to spend far too much time on the field. Considering the slew of injuries, the Packers defense has played valiantly for about 65-80 percent of every game this year – but when it’s time to make a fourth quarter stop (against below average offenses) fatigue clearly catches up with them and they wilt.

The Packers will need to keep Peterson off the field, force Favre’s hand by bringing early and consistent pressure and eat clock by sustaining long drives. It’s less important if points come out of the possessions (although that’s always a plus) but more essential that the Packers dictate the pace of the game.

Packers edge the Purple People on a sweet bit of redemption for Mason Crosby as he drains a 49-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter. Packers finally get a late, close victory.

Packers 27, Vikings 24

October 9, 2010

Pondering the Packers' Remaining Schedule and Injuries

Packer fans make rationalizations to defend their team in times of trouble. These rationalizations come from loyalty and love for their team. Packer fans are the last to make excuses and first to fight and believe. Hence, here’s my rationalization to explain why the Packers will overcome their latest struggles and injuries.

It’s time for a momentum shift – This Packer team is too talented NOT to have a breakout game in the first half of the season. No question that after this Sunday’s trip to D.C., the Packers begin a grueling stretch of games that they’ll be underdogs in.  Home games against Miami (10/17), Minnesota (10/24) and Dallas (11/7); And on the road at the Jets (10/31) and Minnesota (11/21). But because this team plays better without the pressure, they’ll manage to go 3-2 in this stretch and come out 7-3 overall.  Rodgers will come to life in at least two of these games and lead the Pack, from behind, to a few surprising victories (a la at the Jets and at home against Minnesota).

Playmakers get back on the field – Atari Bigby and Al Harris will return late October and give the defense a much needed boost. Hopefully other Packers injuries will subside by then as well allowing the unit to gain momentum going into the playoffs.

The team will start to play like a team – It’s better that the Packers got the rust out in the first quarter of the season and managed to post a 3-1 record. The inexcusable mistakes like fumbles, penalties and missed assignments will not be reoccurring themes. The offensive game plan will shift more and more into Rodgers’ hands, meaning higher utilization of the offense’s most potent players. So why will it come together?

The Packers will glean confidence from a few clutch wins as mentioned above, manage to cut down on stupid mistakes, find their offensive rhythm and make enough plays on defense to carry them into the playoffs at 11-6.

October 3, 2010

Packers vs. Lions

Can the Packers contain Vandenbosh and Suh? That is the question that'll determine whether this game stays close for a while.

Expect the Lions to mimic the bears defensive style in rushing just their front four and dropping everyone  else back in coverage. Except the Lions have an awful secondary and LB core.

McCarthy will likely try to establish the running game early and often mixed with play action deep shots. Packers will connect on at least two huge plays of 40+ yards today and put up a big number.

Rodgers' dominance of the Lions continues and the Packers win 38-10. 

October 2, 2010

Damn it McCarthy, Just Make it Work

No game in the NFL should be deemed an automatic win for one team. Anything can happen and the Packers need this week's matchup against Detroit to prove to themselves that they are still a Superbowl contender.

In last week's post about the Bears vs. Packers game, I said the Packers and Aaron Rodgers specifically had a statement to make. Rodgers made his statement by elusivley shaking the Bears pressure and making accurate, clutch throws throughout the entire game. He looked like the MVP caliber QB the media has claimed he is, but the rest of the team played like it was their first game under the spotlight.

Overall the Packers crumbled under pressure in every way that Aaron Rodgers couldn't directly control. Penalties, a costly fumble, poor blocking - the list goes on. These inconsistencies are the result of inexperience, poor coaching and lack of preparation. Quoted from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
"Coach Mike McCarthy felt that part of the reason for the special teams letdown was that several players who looked on Wednesday as if they might be able to play Sunday, wound up being ruled out Friday because of injury. Eventually, it became a board game trying to move players in and out and around."
Thanks for the thought Mike, but it's your damn fault. As the head coach of an NFL team, it's your responsibility to ensure your players can step in and account for injuries. Every team faces injuries every year, but it's the teams and the coaches who adjust and trust their players, that end up not making embarassing mistakes like the Packers made Monday night. At least Charlie Peprah understands this idea:
"Right now, we have so many guys that play special teams well that if somebody goes down someone who's just as good should be able to step right in," Peprah said. "So that shouldn't be an excuse. We try not to use that as an excuse."
Well clearly, Peprah's head coach is making this very excuse. And it won't be acceptable to keep making excuses all year. Great coaches don't make excuses. Great coaches fix problems before they blow up. McCarthy has every piece of the puzzle he needs right now (except a consistent RB) to make a deep playoff run. As long as the Packers avoid the big mistakes and let their Pro Bowl QB run the show - they won't have any issues winning lots of football games.

Stay tuned for my specific pre-grame analysis post of the Detroit vs. Packers game, including personnel matchups and game predictions.