Monday, November 6, 2006

Twenty Things I Learned From the Buffalo Game

Green Bay - Well, now that the dust has settled from Sunday's frustrating loss to the Buffalo Bills, I will offer up the twenty most important things I think that I thought about the game:

1) Cancel the airline reservations for Miami. It’s nice to have hope for making the playoffs after a couple of wins, but I think we can safely say that winning against the Cardinals is like beating a Division III college team. We played a team that was much more on our own level today, and got beat.

2) The defense, overall, looked relatively solid against a rather inept offense. We sent their punter up to kick eight times, allowed only 64 passing yards, and making J.P. Losman look like he was ready to cry back there. If only they would force turnovers….

3) Ahman Green not only gained 122 yards rushing today, he did it on only 23 carries. He took the bulk of the carries today: Noah Herron only had five carries, though he did seem to take most of the plays where the running back was designed to catch the ball (7 receptions). However, Green had only 4 rushes for 8 yards in the first quarter, and 5 rushes for 16 yards in the second quarter until he blasted off two consecutive rushes for 20 yards in the two-minute offense as time ran out. The announcers mentioned that at halftime, McCarthy was going to be telling the team they needed to commit to the running game. Who should have been telling McCarthy that, then?

4) Like Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and sacks, apparently quarterback Brett Favre likes his turnovers to come in bunches after long droughts.

5) Favre definitely takes the lion’s share of credibility on his two interceptions, as he’s the one who threw them. And, Favre was quite noble about that in his post-game press conference in taking accountability for them. However, the playcalling has to be accounted for.

On the Fletcher interception, we’ve seen that same play run successfully many times over the past few weeks, and saw it again run successfully again after the interception. London Fletcher sold out and went for the pick, and got it. Despite that play being run again right in front of him, he didn’t sell out for it again. Perhaps, this is because he was told to watch his coverage areas, because selling out meant leaving someone else wide open.

On the Simpson interception, we’ve seen the exact same play run several times, last week successfully to David Martin, and this week to Donald Driver. I’m not sure why you pass on the goal line, especially when you have Ahman Green in the backfield, but once again, Nate Clements sold out on the play, and made it happen with the tip.

This is the NFL, and if you go to the well too often, eventually someone will make you pay.

6) Scottie Wells shouldn’t be thrown under the bus for his poor snaps, and even Favre went out of his way in his post-game to defend him. But, it came down to Favre sitting in the shotgun, in the red zone, on the five yard line, with first down, on the road, after Ahman Green had just gained 20 yards on two carries. Favre explained that Wells preferred an audible count, while he himself would have preferred a silent count. Apparently, with the crowd noise, Wells misinterpreted a sound as the second count, and bonked Favre in the face with a snap that rivaled Favre’s own arm speed.

This is another area that simply has to be communicated ahead of time with the coaches. You have to account for crowd noise and the snap count. Also, you should also strongly consider handing the ball off in the red zone.

7) I thought this was actually one of Favre’s more accurate games. While he made many plays that were in traffic, he actually connected on a lot of them. He’s been under a lot of criticism for throwing too high, behind, ahead, etc., and yet very few passes were off. Even the long throw to Driver was right on, in stride, and the only reason it wasn’t a catch and touchdown was because of a pinpoint-perfect play by the defender.

8) The progress of the offensive line in pass protection isn’t quite keeping up with the progress of the line in the run game. FOX put up some pretty uncomfortable “Under Pressure” numbers, and while the sacks weren’t high, the pressures and hurries were. We also saw Favre make some of his most athletic and savvy evading of pressure we’ve seen this season. It’s too bad we had to see it that often today.

9) Bubba Franks is slowly becoming a liability both as a receiver and as a blocker. If you’re a tight end, what else is there to cash your check on?

10) David Martin is finally playing with some level of consistency and reliability. He’s become a solid receiving threat, and has filled in as a fullback and as an extra blocker for pass protection. Did I mention David Martin is in a contract year? Funny how timing works out like that.

11) Watching the replay of Big Stiffie William Henderson making a veteran choice of a block that springs Green for an 11 yard gain brought a smile to my face. I don’t think we’ll be seeing Henderson wearing #33 next year any more than we’ll see Doug Evans wearing #33 next year, but this class act has left a legacy as proportionally large as Favre’s, and the next fullback will have some big shoes to fill.

12) Our starting wide receivers looked great. Neither had a 100-yard game, and Driver was the intended target on both interceptions, but what you’re seeing is more and more passes hitting hands and getting caught. Greg Jennings, in particular, has an ability to take those passes that are just a little over his head and snag them like a fly caught by a bullfrog’s tongue. If Jennings is this good as a rookie, we may have a future All-Pro if he develops like he should over the years.

13) If Al Harris is pushing for a contract extension, his me-me-me attitude combined with two burns today (one of which cost the team an important seven points) isn’t exactly doing a whole lot to earn him that new deal. Too bad that Patrick Dendy didn’t do more to establish himself today as a viable alternative at corner.

14) Aaron Kampman is a stud. This guy seemed to be constantly in the backfield. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same thing for the defensive end on the other side. What was his name again?

15) If there is anything that I am most encouraged by on defense, or at least surprised by, it is the development of the interior line. Ryan Pickett has been quietly solid (7 tackles today), often taking on the double-team, which is allowing a bunch of no-names to make some big plays, particularly Corey Williams. Wasn’t he written off not too long ago?

16) A.J. Hawk has proven he was worth the #5 pick, but I think he got schooled a bit today. On more than one occasion, I saw him blocked out of the play. He still had four tackles, and he’s going to do nothing more than get better.

17) One of the most telling stats I look at on defense is tackles. Not simply as a number, but what positions are being called on to make the most of them. Last season, despite having a top-ranked pass defense, three of the top seven tacklers on the defense were in the secondary. What does that tell you about your defense?

This season, presently, three of our top six tacklers are in the secondary, but they are being called on less and less. Against the Bills, the top tacklers were Aaron Kampman and Ryan Pickett, followed by Brady Poppinga. When your top tacklers are along your defensive line, you’re doing something right on defense.

18) Turnovers decided who won this game. Not only the turnovers our offense gave away, but the complete lack of turnovers forced by our defense. Our 13 giveaways rank 14th in the NFL, but our 11 takeaways rank 20th. When you consider how terrible our starting field position was today (our own 24, our own 15 in the first half), missed opportunities (like Tyrone Culver’s dropped interception) are critical. It’s easy to amass offensive yards when you are constantly throwing from a longer field.

19) This is a young and inexperienced team. We saw this when, once playing against NFL-talent, that the wind completely left the sails once the final interception happened. Down by only one score with over four minutes left, our defense allowed a backup running back to stroll 27 yards on three straight runs for a touchdown. Our offense, including our quarterback, looked disjointed, off-kilter, as the down-by-two scores drive stalled at the Bills’ 39. Finally, our defense, after calling timeouts to try and get the ball back, allowed Anthony Thomas to run for 6 yards on 3rd and 5.

Why bother calling the time outs? Marquand Manuel, Brady Poppinga, and Tyronne Culver all looked foolish trying to bring down the backup running back. Nick Barnett made a fool of himself on the final kneel-down.

Winners look at setbacks as just that…setbacks. This team has been playing against inferior talent for a couple of weeks, and has been allowed to continue its fragile momentum because the other team couldn’t make a play. This team has to find the intestinal fortitude to overcome mistakes. Otherwise, I don’t care if we get the #6 seed in the playoffs…I can tell you exactly what will happen once we engage a real playoff team.

20) The Packers now sit at 3-5, on pace for a 6-10 season (as I predicted). This was an important game for the Packers, as they now take on two teams in a row that are considerably more talented than they: the Vikings (at the Metrodome) and the Patriots. That will be followed by two more challenging games against the Seahawks and the Jets, before we see another “should-win” game against the 49ers.

It is very possible that this team will lose three games in a row and be 3-7 two weeks from now. We could lose against the Hawks and Jets and be 3-9. It is adversity that brings out the true character of a team, and we will see how a rookie head coach and a team with 31 first- and second-year players will respond to this challenge. Will there be finger-pointing, or will this team hold its head high? Will we see players cashing it in, seeing player after player going on the IR, like last year, or will this team continue to fight all the way to the end?

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