Of all the disappointing statistics to come out of the Buccaneers game, one that stood out to me was the receiving stats for one Donald Driver. It seems unfathomable, especially considering that Greg Jennings has so solidly established himself as a consistent big-play threat to draw most of the double coverage, that Driver can so easily disappear from the field.
But the concerns I have go deeper than seeing our former #1 receiver limited to just one catch for eight yards. He was more than just unproductive. He was invisible in nearly every way on the field. When the announcers talked about how the Packer receivers were not finishing off their routes, I didn't know whether Driver was in that group or not.
It's not just the catches and the yardage that makes Driver so important, especially with what is now a very young offense with young quarterback. It is the intangibles, the emotional leadership that Driver brings to the team, the inspiration he has been so good at, keeping his teammates and Packer fans believing that the game isn't over until the final whistle.
A belief, however, that has slowly been waning the past two games against decent teams, and not coincidentally, two games that have seen Donald Driver more limited. Oh, certainly, he caught that nice 50-yarder against the Cowboys, but the Packers still seemed listless as they tried to finish off that drive.
One of the things that I always concerned myself with when Favre would eventually leave the Green Bay Packers was not as much about replacing or improving upon his stats, but the intangibles that don't show up in a box score.
While those folks who worship at the Altar of Statistics would gnash their teeth at how much a reduction of five interceptions a season would be a great improvement, or a gain of seven percentage points in completion ratio would make the offense so much more efficient, they often failed to see Favre's contributions on the field that were unmeasurable.
One of the most important attributes he brought to the offense was that he was an emotional leader. When things got tough and the team was on the wrong end of the scoreboard, Favre was the kind of player that other players looked to for direction. And, Favre was the kind of player that could deliver that, whether it be gleefully celebrating a touchdown pass, jawing with a defensive lineman who got him with a slightly late hit, or encouraging/disciplining a teammate with just a look. Like it or not, he was bound, set, and determined to make something happen, and was willing to take the risks when playing it safe just wasn't working.
When you start getting outplayed, you need someone that young players can look to and lead you into battle. Reggie White personified this kind of emotional leadership, a guy who inspired an entire squad to keep working together as one, because the rest of the team (and coaches) believed he could do it.
This is not to say that Aaron Rodgers isn't a good leader, or to suggest that I am petitioning for Favre to come back to the Packers. I like Aaron Rodgers and think he has a lot going for him. I think that he has won the support of his teammates and they believe that he can do the job. And he's the guy that is going to get you those five fewer interceptions and seven completion percentage points.
But there is still a difference between support and having ten guys all look to you for inspiration when you fall behind. First of all, I don't think Rodgers has developed that ability yet (neither had Favre at that age), and more importantly, you earn that respect when you've done it before, repeatedly. I think, if everything plays out right, Rodgers will reach that kind of leadership someday.
But, this is now a very young squad. With Favre's departure, the only "old guys" left on the team are Chad Clifton, Mark Tauscher, and Donald Driver. Neither Clifton or Tauscher are fiery leaders (and rarely are offensive linemen looked to in that regard). But Driver has long held that role, particularly his synergistic excitement he had with his former quarterback.
How many times have we seen Double D flash that winning smile, jack up a teammate on the sideline, make a great grab and run, and bring the crowd to its feet with a dramatic "first down" signal? How many years did we see him as the reliable receiver, the go-to man when it seemed no one else could make anything work?
When Donald Driver is limited to one catch, you not only lose his production, you lose that opportunity for leadership. In the last two weeks, we've seen an offense that has looked lost and confused. This squad is made up of young players who are experiencing their first season with without their built-in Leader and Hype Machine, the Three Time MVP and Future Hall of Famer.
And they are struggling to find someone else who is going to bring inspiration to them when the going gets tough.
Often, that role falls on a quarterback, but not always. I'm sure the Redskins look more to Clinton Portis than Jason Campbell for inspiration. Who is going to be the guy that is going to pick the team up emotionally when they start feeling defeated?
And, my guess is that it has to be Donald Driver, a veteran who has been there before and has filled that role for years. But that means, like any other wide receiver, you have to get him the ball.
So, why isn't he? Why is Jordy Nelson getting the attention at crunch time instead of Driver? Could it be that Driver has lost a step, and is unable to get open? Could it be that Jennings is given more hot routes and Driver is becoming the John Jefferson to Jennings' James Lofton?
Or, is a more clandestine conspiracy theory at work? Is Driver, like Laverneus Coles, pouting because he is still loyal to the quarterback that was taken from him? Is Aaron Rodgers showing favoritism to receivers whom he likes more, feeling that Driver was "Brett's guy"?
Mike McCarthy addressed the issue on his weekly television show today. When asked about the receivers who were cutting off their routes, McCarthy singled out Driver as the guy who graded out very, very well that game. He also stated that because of some other receivers not running their routes correctly (*cough* Jordy Nelson *cough*), the primary route was cut off on several plays.
McCarthy did mention that getting Driver more involved is a priority for next week. Getting him more involved, though, shouldn't have been an issue to begin with.
Now, please don't interpret this as me saying that all the woes of the Green Bay Packers are solved by just throwing Driver the *%# ball. The team has a lot of issues that go a lot deeper than just who the ball is being passed to.
But, we can stack up and dissect all the statistics we want to, and still come up with the conclusion that we're not running the ball well at all, and we're not pass protecting like we should, and we're not hanging on to the ball.
The real question that the statistics don't answer is "Why?"
Without Favre, this offense needs to find its identity, and has to find the players that lead that offense. Ted Thompson's young players now anchor this squad, and some might suggest that he has built this team in his own image, trying to make up in quiet execution what he lacks in inspriation and charisma.
The young players need to learn how to become leaders themselves, and Driver has but a few years remaining to pass on the lessons he learned from Robert Brooks his own first season.
A team is more than a sum of its parts, and far more than the sum of the statistics they produce individually. Teamwork, leadership, trust, and inspiration....these are the ties that bind that team together. Donald Driver is a guy who needs to step up and make that happen. But it is up to Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers to make sure that he gets that opportunity.