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

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