November 30, 2010

Lessons Learned From a Packers Loss in Atlanta

Sunday's 20-17 loss to Atlanta hurts, but Packer Nation should be feeling as good as they possibly can after a loss. Green Bay played at the highest level it has all year, showed relentless fight and made very few mistakes.

But those few mistakes were glaringly obvious against an Atlanta team that played nothing short of flawless. The Falcons did not disappoint, but prepared and executed a game plan. Mike Smith's plan allowed Matt Ryan to command the game by making efficient throws and watching bowling-ball like back Michael Turner bounce in between and through the Packers defense.

For the first time this season, Dom Capers had to be second-guessing many of his calls. The Packers defense was off balance the entire afternoon and might have had better luck flipping a coin to guess run v. pass. This is the biggest point of concern for the Packers defense - now exists a tape clearly showing how to frazzle Capers, Claymaker and Chuck.

Back to what Packer fans, myself included, learned from this game. Here are a few insights:
  • Short to go playcalling: The Packers have struggled mightily on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1 at critical points throughout the season. Mike McCarthy needs to throw away every call he's made in these situations up to this point in the season. Fullback dive, QB sneak, toss right, sweep left - anything that forces the offensive line to run block must be avoided because they are incapable of pushing the defense. Put the ball in Rodgers' hands and allow him space to potentially run for the first down or have a few dump options short as well as a deep option. 
  • Aaron Rodgers' most impressive game as a pro: He orchestrated a 16-play, 90-yard COMEBACK drive in the fourth quarter, on the road, against an excellent team, without a running game while methodically working the clock and spreading the ball to different receivers. He converted two fourth downs, including a 4th-and-10 ball seemingly shot from a cannon that precisely pierced a football sized hole in Atlanta's defense for the game-tying touchdown. Wow. I'm no longer worried about whether A-Rod can step up under pressure.
  • Resilient can describe this team: After two trips to the red zone netted just three points in the first half, the Packers could have mentally collapsed. Instead the Packers responded to every Falcon score, never gave up a big play and converted tough 3rd and 4th downs to keep them in the game.
A loss hurts, but with five games left in the season the Packers will have plenty of opportunities to finally put together a complete game and win a significant game.