Sunday, September 28, 2008

TundraVision QuickHits: Buccaneers Aftermath

In a down and depressing day, the Packers fell to 2-2 with a disappointing loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 30-21. The pirates stole our booty, injured our players, and clearly outlined the weak spots on our team.

After drowning myself in some beverages and cheering myself up by watching the end of the Brewer game, I'm ready to deliver the down and dirty of this week's QuickHits:

* Of all the numbers you want to dissect this week, look at these first: 15 rushes, 20 yards, 0 TD, 1 fumble. These are the numbers of Green Bay starting running back Ryan Grant, after holding out and getting a big payday. The Bucs have a strong defensive line, but come on...this is completely ridiculous.

We can't possibly expect Aaron Rodgers to carry this team by himself. The zone blocking scheme that was implemented several seasons ago has been reschemed, retooled, and rezoned over and over. Not only is the scheme not effective, we don't have the offensive line talent to make it work against a playoff-caliber defense.

Ryan Grant and this offensive line are killing this team. Meanwhile, the Bucs piled up another 178 yards rushing this week against our own defensive line. This kind of disparity is not the sign of a true contender for the playoffs.

* I predicted many, many times that Aaron Rodgers was going to get himself hurt by rushing the ball in a panic and not being aware of the hits coming. This time, it cost him and quite possibly, cost the team in the future. There's no reason we should have to rely on Rodgers to run for our first downs, and the only reason he is rushing for them is because he's the only one who can.

The early fear as of publishing is that it may be a separated shoulder, and this is very, very bad news indeed. Matt Flynn didn't look anything better than the seventh round draft pick out of his league that he is, and if Rodgers is out for any extended period of time, this team is in serious, serious trouble.

* Further digressing on Rodgers and his line, I think Rodgers has something in common with his predecessor, Brett Favre. Rodgers is adept at making his line look a lot better than it is, simply with his ability to move around and make good throws.

That is, when there is anyone open and there isn't rusher in his face, which is what seemed to happen from the second quarter on. Rodgers is very good at taking what the defense gives him, but for the second game in a row, he faced a defense that didn't give him anything.

Favre excelled at sensing pressure, moving the pocket around and leading rushers right into blockers. He also was noted for choosing to force the ball upfield over taking a sack, often to the detriment of his interception statistics (but the the boon of the line's sacks allowed).

Rodgers doesn't sense pressure as well, but is so quick and agile with his feet that he is able to move away from a lot of the rush. But, we're seeing that as defenses are learning how to play Rodgers (including using Derrick Brooks as a quarterback spy), his opportunities to move around was limited, and thus, so was his effectiveness.

* I know the umpire has to be somewhere on the field, but that head-shot was both hilarious.

Of course, I noticed that the Bucs seemed to run a lot of routes around the umpire today, trying to use him somewhat as a pick play. I guess that's a natural consequence of that kind of strategy.

* The pass protection, once again, was porous, no matter how much the FOX commentators tried to make them out as a great line since 2002 that McCarthy trusts in every situation (they sure were singing a different tune by the end of the game, weren't they?)

The Bucs, like the Cowboys last week, were able to create pressure with just a four-man rush, and caused a lot problems with a fifth man on a blitz. This is simply something that a NFL line has to be able to handle. The Bucs are a top-10 defensive line, for sure, but you have to be able to hold a four-man rush and give your quarterback time to throw.

* Nick Collins is starting to make a believer out of me. Almost.

He's making plays, and that's something we've rarely seen from him. He has only faced one truly good quarterback this season (Romo), and it is his coverage skills that has been his glaring weakness in the past. If he shows that he's more than a ball hawk and is securing the last line of defense consistently against top-flight offenses, I will take back all the bad things I've said about him.

* I don't know if Ted Thompson is the kind of guy who admits mistakes. It's kind of hard to get a slam-dunk call against him, because Thompson's defenders always seem to have some sort of rationale for why not signing a certain free agent was wise, or why letting a veteran go was ingenious. We usually have to take a wait-and-see approach to see if those work out or not.

But, I'm failing to see any wisdom in letting your veteran punter go in the final cuts, coming off two very strong preseason games, only to pick up a guy because you think he might be better. You do last-minute pickups like that for a 4th running back or a 6th linebacker, not your only punter.

How Darren Frost could be grading out better than Jon Ryan is beyond me. I'm starting to think that if Thompson isn't wishing he had that one back, Mike McCarthy sure is.

* Speaking of McCarthy, I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon against his playcalling like many others are doing. Any time you lose, you have 20,000 second-guessers who find it obvious what should have been called at a certain time, with 20/20 hindsight.

However, I am going to express my concern that McCarthy still lags terribly at in-game adjustments. I really thought, for once, this team was going to fix things up at halftime. In tough games in the past, the Packers have usually played with a team through the first half, and then the other team made adjustments that McCarthy doesn't keep up with. Today, I thought the Bucs had wrestled control of the game long before halftime, and MM was going to mix it up in the second half.

But the Packers continued to approach the game the same way offensively, with McCarthy simply getting angrier and more frustrated on the sideline. Because, you know, if it doesn't work once, its supposed to work later on, right?

I think McCarthy is excellent at game-to-game adjustments, and has shown that over this career. But he doesn't do it along the way in the big games when the other team has your number. And this wasn't even against a team that we would have thought of as a prime-time playoff contender.

* Favre Acolyte Sidebar: Speaking of McCarthy's frustration on the sideline, doesn't he have the look of a guy who suddenly has the weight of the team on his shoulders, and no longer has a high-profile lightening rod on the field to take the brunt of the finger-pointing?

* Jordy Nelson has more pass receptions than Donald Driver? What's wrong with this picture? Can both Driver and Jennings be double covered all the time? I think the math doesn't work out...if they are rushing five, keeping Brooks as a spy, that's six. That leaves five players to cover three wide recivers, a tight end, and a running back.

Driver has only five pass receptions in the last two games. Not surprisingly, the Packers have lost both those games. Today, he had only one reception for eight yards.

So, what's the deal? Is Driver losing a step? Is Rodgers not looking his way? Is there something with the schemes that is making Driver a too-early or too-late read? Is Rodgers locking in on one reciever?

Whatever it is, Donald Driver is an emotional leader for this offense, which has sorely needed some leadership the last couple weeks. McCarthy has to get Driver involved in the passing game again.

* Dropped balls were an issue in this game. I remember writing extensively about drops during the 2005 and 2006 seasons, usually in defense of Favre's play and interceptions. Yet, today, it was pretty clear that even the three or four drops we saw were critical, including one interception that came off the hands of Brandon Jackson.

I'm really thinking that going back to 2005 bad habits is a really bad idea.

* Speaking of going back to 2005, I don't think there was a season in this millennium that had as many games missed by starters due to injury than that year, as you can tell when you are counting on Taco Wallace as your major receiving threat.

The injuries we are presently facing are concerning indeed. Scott Wells, Atari Bigby, Al Harris, Aaron Rodgers,Josh Sitton, and James Jones are forcing guys into playing that we would much prefer play on special teams. But, they are getting their chance.

The one thing that I saw as a benefit of Thompson's draft-only, trade-down strategy was that he was building a deep team that would eventually find many of its starters through free agency. The FA parts has never happened, but it is clear that, like any time you have injuries, that you lose something with injuries.

I'll give some kudos to Tramon Williams and Wil Blackmon for holding their own for the most part, and even Aaron Rouse showed some improvement over some forgettable performances the past few weeks. But the falloff to Jordy Nelson, Matt Flynn, Daryn Colldge, and Tony Moll are just too far of drops for a team to maintain a playoff drive.

* If I haven't mentioned this, Greg Jennings is going to be a superstar in this league. I don't care if he has Rich Campbell throwing to him.

* Watching Matt Bryant kicking today while dealing with the emotions of the death of his child made me think of Brett Favre's game against the Raiders after his father has died. I thought FOX's presentation was appropriate and tasteful. The MNF game those years ago was over the top (as most coverage of Favre was), but for some reason, we don't have a problem making Favre's grief into a huge soap opera. Fox captured just enough emotion from Bryant to touch your heart, but didn't make it into something so big that it became uncomfortable.

All our prayers go out to Matt and Melissa Bryant. There's no greater pain for a parent.

* The Packers are 2-0 against teams that did not make the playoffs last year. They are 0-2 against teams that did make the playoffs last year. I don't think a lot of prognosticators are going to be keeping the Packers in the Top Ten of their power rankings this week. At this point, the Packers have shown that they can beat poor teams, but can't beat the good teams.

They might make the playoffs, but at this point, it is only because the rest of the division is so poor.

Or are they? Are we forgetting that the Bears are 5-1 against the Thompson-led Packers over the last three years? And, like the Cowboys and the Bucs, they don't exactly have a bad defense, either (Defensive Hog Index over at Cold Hard Football Facts has them 10th in the league)?

We know right now that the Packers are on an 0-2 skid, and might have a "get-better" game at Atlanta...a team that, unfortunately, might be a true reflection of our peer group than Dallas or Tampa Bay.

Think about that: the team that went to the NFC Championship game last year puts the Falcons as a team that will be evenly matched. That's not a good sign for a team that lost only two starters from last year's team, and allowed every other young player to grow and mature another year.

The Falcons didn't make the playoffs last year, so that bodes well for the Packers, who are undefeated against 2007 non-playoff teams. But after that, then next three games are against playoff teams.

Even if Rodgers returns, it is clear that the problems in the running game and the offensive line far overshadow the quick-strike ability of Jennings in the passing game. And, it is clear that despite being able to count on Nick Collins or Charles Woodson for a big turnover every game, the sieve-like quality of our defensive line trumps the big play.

You can't count on a 70-yard touchdown when you are getting sacked another three times and hurried another dozen, and can't count on more than 20 yards from your running backs.

You can't count on an interception that might go for a touchdown when the opposing team can control the game in the second half with their running game.

Atlanta might be a get-better game. But there's a lot of facets of this team that Mike McCarthy is going to have to get a lot better before then.


Rich Beckman said...

No running game, just like last week. With no running game, the passing game is limited.

Blame the line, but Grant isn't helping much.

It does seem like the team is getting beat up more than usual.

Anonymous said...

Pack needs to blitz more - their front four simply do not bring adequate pressure, especially with our banged up secondary.

Also, they need to pick up the blitz better on the O-line. Blitzers are coming in unblocked-that's totally unacceptable.

Anonymous said...

Is a Packers team that can't run the ball a Packers team at all, really? If the Dallas game had been played in December or January, the result might have been even more lopsided, since Dallas has a huge, powerful O-line and Marion Barber, who is murder. I would not want to be facing this Dallas team in Packers weather.

The drops have been horrendous, blatant and costly. Is some of this because the receivers aren't yet used to Rodgers in game situations?

As for Rodgers not yet sensing pressure as well as Favre did/does: I hope and think he will, eventually. He needs experience. For that reason alone, I hope he can play against Atlanta.

Despite the team's recent struggles, I think it's pretty clear that Rodgers is a first-class item, and we're lucky to have him. He was a gift.

Anonymous said...

Good Stuff as always...Thanks for sharing

One of the interesting things we saw vs Tampa was that Monte Kiffin uses a lot of deception in his pass rush.
While he often brings only four rushers on a play, he keeps the O- line guessing WHICH four it is going to be.
This allowed them to pressure Rodgers with the base defense and still keep a full slate of defenders back.
Maybe Sanders can take a page from this playbook- still bring four, but add a little uncertainty to it for the opposing offense

Joe said...

Phenomenal write-up.

C.D. Angeli said...

Anon and Joe, thanks for the comments.

Agreed...what I think that MM excels at is adjusting game to game. We'll have to see what he has taken from Dallas/TB to counter what defenses have learned and implementing effectively.

I hope it is something. Otherwise, he's just going to be a younger Mike Sherman.