Sunday, October 12, 2008

TundraVision QuickHits: Seahawks Aftermath

Two collective sighs of relief were heard throughout Packerland this Sunday. The first was the get-better win over the Seattle Seahawks, a 27-17 victory that saw some improvements in almost every phase of the game that had been concerning us. Secondly, we saw Aaron Rodgers come out healthy after literally willing the team to that victory, despite playing with a painful shoulder that got far more hits than it should have.

Seattle's sixth-ranked rushing attack was held to only 116 yards by a Packer run defense that has been embarrassing of late. The Packers forced two interceptions late in the game and didn't give up any huge passes all day. Even the special teams seemed to have a slightly better day. And, the offensive line only had only two penalties called on it all day.

The Packers have pulled to 3-3 and tied for "first place" in the NFC North, if you can call it that. The Seahawks are a pretty bad team, and having Charlie Frye as your quarterback doesn't exactly make it any better. Next week's game against an Indianapolis team will give us a pretty firm idea where the Packers stand going into the bye.

Until then, here are this week's QuickHits:

* You have to start with Aaron Rodgers. Literally. I called for him to take a seat earlier today, but as usual, no one ever listens to me. The kid played his heart out despite the pain. There were a couple of passes that looked like they sailed or fell short on him...particularly at the beginning of the second half when it looks like it might have still been a bit tight from halftime.

But, there is no denying what we have in Rodgers: a guy who takes what the defense gives him, has nice zip and has perhaps the best accuracy of any Packers quarterback I've ever had the pleasure of watching in my lifetime.

There's also no denying what Rodgers has in the offense around him, and that is some great receivers and no running game. The Packers were able to give him some moderate protection against one of the poorest pass defenses in the league (ranked 30th in the league according to Cold Hard Football Facts Defensive Passer Ratings), getting sacked twice and losing a fumble. But he was able to move around and put a lot of his passes on the money, the biggest being the 45-yard strike to Greg Jennings in the third quarter that essentially put the game away.

That was 44 yards through the air, and one yard after the catch. It's amazing what Rodgers can do with a bum shoulder.

He had a hand in all three touchdowns today, two passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown that was a pretty amazing sneak that saw him keep his knees off the ground and extend the ball past the goal line. Any thought of the whistle stopping the play early was off: checked the DVR myself and he had it.

That play, along with other plays (including another quarterback sneak for a touchdown and several tough hits after the throw) were deemed necessary by head coach Mike McCarthy, but like every other Packer fan, I stopped breathing every time he took a beating and exhaled when he got up.

As much as I hate the risk, the sad truth is this. I don't think the Packers would have won today without Rodgers in there. The running game was again ineffective, and the Packers can't seem to get a first down (much less a touchdown) unless Rodgers appears to do it himself.

That's good news for the Packers, I guess. I just hope that shoulder holds out and he doesn't end up not only putting himself out extended time, but degenerates the ability he has shown.

A win against a terrible team to pull us to 3-3 with ten games to go seems like a high price to pay if this ends up turning Rodgers into the next Chad Pennington.

But, one thing for sure, there's nothing going wrong with this team that you can pin on the arm (or the shoulder) of Aaron Rodgers.

* Mike McCarthy announced to the world today, "You may be able to stop our running game, but we are committed to continue running it against you, no matter how ineffective it is!"

Yes, Ryan Grant finished with 90 yards rushing today, but 20 of those came on the final, time killing drive against a demoralized and exhausted Seahawks defense. That left the bulk of the game giving Grant 70 yards on 29 carries, a 2.4 yard per carry average.

For a guy who ran for over 200 yards against the Seahawks in the playoffs last year, this is a continuation of the problems of the rushing game. Give McCarthy credit, playing with a lead he committed to giving Grant the ball, no matter how well it went. Luckily, Rodgers was there to bail the running game out, but this may be a first step towards getting our running game going...actually committing to it, something the Packers have been inconsistent with for years.

Until then, however, the running game continues to be something we can't count on, and that's not a hallmark of a playoff team.

* Grant was the only running back to get a carry today. Apparently, DeShawn Wynn, just promoted from the practice squad to replace an ill Brandon Jackson didn't get enough reps to be trusted much with the ball, despite playing quite a bit on third-down passing plays.

* For years, I have loved watching Donald Driver go over the middle and take a huge hit that would have knocked Don Beebe cold. Driver comes from the school of Brett Favre and Michael Jordan, knowing you take the hardest hit your opponent can give and always get up...never let them see you hurt.

But, as Driver advances in years, I hope that these hits come a lot less often than they did today. While the hit he took over the middle bounces his head like a basketball resulted him popping up immediately and doing his patented "shimmy" to show the world he can take a lickin' and keep on tickin', the hit he took on the sideline had his eyes looking a lot more glazed over.

I always thought that one of Favre's weaknesses was his penchant for leading his receivers into big hits, and that was something I was hoping Rodgers would do less of. He has shown, with his accuracy, the ability to actually throw behind a receiver, stopping his momentum and taking him away from a hit the Favre might have led him right into.

Today, however, Driver took hits that I really hope he doesn't have to keep having to get up from to prove how tough he is.

* In the event I haven't said it before, Greg Jennings is going to be a superstar in this league. I don't care if he has John Hadl throwing it to him.

After a quiet first half, Jennings finished with 5 receptions for 84 yards and a TD, and continues to lead the NFL in receiving yards.

* As James Jones continues to lose opportunities due to injuries (inactive today), Jordy Nelson continues to take advantage of them. I have been a little critical of Nelson because he seems to be often used as a safety valve receiver, out in the flat for little yardage...not a lot of help when you are trying to come from behind.

Today, however, he seemed to be fitting right in with the other receivers, and is looking more and more comfortable and fluid with the ball. On a day when you want your quarterback to make the safer throws, its nice to have a guy like Nelson to take those plays.

* The offensive line looked a little better today, despite the aforementioned two penalties. Given the Almighty Mike Wahle also had a critical holding call today, we'll let those go. While the line still couldn't get the running game going, they did tend to keep the pass rush limited. By my unofficial count, Rodgers looked like he was hurried around 5-6 times, and did take several hits at the end of plays.

But, until this line can establish itself up front and block effectively for a running back, the microscope can't come off it. I will admit, though, the blocking on Rodgers' sneaks both looked like the line can develop a pretty strong forward push if they want. It appears to be whenever the line requires any lateral movement that they tend to suffer.

* Donald Lee caught two passes today for nine yards. Tony Humphrey was virtually invisible, and Jermichael Finley was, thankfully, not called for any penalties today.

The Chiefs announced that tight end Tony Gonzalez can be had for the right price. I wonder if Ted Thompson would even consider it. Might be worth a thought, though, because I don't see Finley ready for at least another couple of seasons, and for some reason, our tight ends have been kind of quiet this year.

Remember Keith Jackson in 1996?

* Jarrett Bush drives me nuts. He always seems to be on the verge of a stupid penalty every time he is on the field.

I understand he has the "ability" to play both corner and safety, but he doesn't seem disciplined at all. Today's 15 yard face mask penalty put the Packers inside their own 20 yard line after a punt.

I just find it hard to believe that there isn't someone out there who isn't an upgrade over Bush.

* Boy, was it nice to see Aaron Kampman showing some of that giddyup today. Two sacks put a smile back on his face, and it was great to see.

You think about a Seattle offensive line that has Walter Jones and Mike Wahle on it, and you wouldn't think it would be a bad squad. However, it has had its struggles this year, intensified when Charlie Frye and Seneca Wallace are the men under center. Colin Cole got a sack on a four man rush, if you can believe it, and at times, the Packer pass rush looked impressive.

We'll get a very different line to rush next week, and a very different quarterback when we play the Colts. But, the line definately had a get-better game this week. Let's hope they can take that momentum and keep it going.

* Bobby Engram has two large cinder blocks for hands. Inexcusable.

Then, after essentially whipping Charles Woodson down on a block and getting into a fight with him, I'm convinced he also has a cinder block for a head.

* The Packers finished with only five penalties for 45 yards, season lows on both counts.

The Seahawks finished with 6 penalties for 50 yards. Is this a sign of improvement for that "messy house" we heard so much about, or did we have a refereeing crew that is more prone to letting them play?

* Having Aaron Rouse take a seat isn't a good sign. No offense to Charlie Peprah, but Peyton Manning is going to have a field day with him next week. Not that Rouse is that much of an improvment, but he does have more big play potential.

Never thought I would say this, but I hope Bigby comes back soon. But, that's the trouble with hamstring injuries....this will likely bug him the rest of the season, off and on.

* I am very encouraged by Tramon Williams. Both starting corners got an interception today against Frye, and it seems like Williams is able to handle the bump and run well in Al Harris's absence.

I also loved the handshake deal that the secondary used to celebrate their interceptions. Good to see the esprit de corps isn't dead.

* When Charles Woodson arrived in Green Bay, I had the feeling that he was only here for a year or two, that his heart wasn't in this town or with this team, and that he was looking for a revival and to move on to a different team as soon as he could. I think he's admitted as much.

What I am seeing now is a very committed Packer who is making plays and enjoying it. Most of all, I think he is taking on a much needed leadership role for that defense. Nick Barnett has tried to fill that role for years and I think he somehow lacked in it. Woodson is leading by example and with enthusiasm.

It's good to see, and a good role model for young guys like Williams and Blackmon to see, especially if they are they guys who will be lining up when Woodson and Harris are gone.

* Frost continued to kick short, though you can give field position some blame for that. Of his four punts, he put two inside the 20 yard line, as the Packers had reached midfield and had that room for him to do so. He only averaged a net of 35 yards per punt, though.

On the other side of the ball, Jon Ryan kicked 5 times for a 48.8 net, and had none inside the 20. He had one 62 yarder and one clunker...just like the Ryan we remember. However, the Seahawks were kicking from inside their own 20 much more often than the Packers today.

* Anyone else slink to the floor when they brought out Mason Crosby to kick a 60 yard field goal? I wonder how that radio conversation went on the sideline...

MM: Wait...send out Crosby...we'll try and kick this one.
Mike Stock: Yay!
Bob Sanders: Um, you do realize if he misses this, Seattle gets the ball from the point of the kick.
MM: Really?
MS: Really???
MM: time out....

It was tempting, but obviously, not wise that early in the game and on the road. The fact they were out there, and then the Packers called their own time out to change their mind was kind of funny, kind of sad, both at the same time.

Maybe it was see what kind of defense they would show in a 60 yard field goal formation....

* Seattle has a cool stadium. Love Lambeau, it is still the best in the league, but the Hawks have a nice home, too. Fans seem cool, too. Hopefully, they don't lose the Seahawks to Oklahoma, too. What a bummer that would be.


In conclusion, the Packers got a needed win against a subpar team. This was, in many ways, a must-win...not just for the standings and playoff hopes, but just for the fact that a good football teams has to win the games it should. After last week's loss to the then-2-2 Falcons, the Packers had to prove they are still a worthy team.

I am still uncomfortable with Rodgers continuing to play in pain, and having Packer Nation hold its breath every time he takes a hit. But, that is the cost of having Rodgers be the centerpiece of an offense that needs him to operate, and the failure of having any viable options behind him.

The running offense and running defense continues to look vulnerable, and will be tested by a Colts team that seemed to find its offensive identity today against Baltimore, while holding the Ravens to just 51 rushing yards.

The Packers will either go into their bye with a winning record and a lot of momentum to build on, or with a losing record, having gone 1-4 in their last five games.

But for today, we're going to savor the feeling of victory. We haven't felt it for a while, and it feels good. And, with this team, you can't be sure when you'll feel it again.

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