Sunday, September 20, 2009

TundraVision QuickHits: The Cincinnati Aftermath

"Don't rush me, sonny. You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles." - Miracle Max, The Princess Bride

After an exhilarating come-from-behind win against the Bears in Week 1, the Packers continued their struggles on offense and were not able to pull out a last-second victory against the Cincinnati Bengals, losing in the final seconds 31-24.

The game finished on a desperate passing flurry by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who seemed nearly set to repeat last week's miracle ending. This time, however, the clock ran out. Ed Hochuli, whom you can always tell is officiating a game by the number of flags per minute, explained it well enough at the end. They ran out of time, and even if they had gotten the play off, Jermichael Finley didn't have enough time to get set.

And even if he had been set, there was no guarantee that they would have scored. It was too deep of a hole, too late in the game. Sure, it was possible to pull it out, but as I stated last week, the Packers cannot afford to keep placing the game on Aaron Rodgers' shoulders week after week to pull off miracle endings.

And against mediocre competition like the Bears and Bengals, there simply shouldn't be any need to require miracle endings to pull these games out.

All in all, a difficult game to watch, one that brings up more questions than answers after last week's game. With that, here are this week's QuickHits:

* This game, quite simply, was won and lost along the offensive lines. The Packers weren't able to get much penetration, especially as the game went on, and allowed Cedric Benson to run like an All-Pro all game long. The Bengals, on the other hand, provided tons of pressure and sacks of Aaron Rodgers, and stymied the running game, from start to finish.

The pressure allowed on Rodgers is frightening. Yes, Antwan Odom getting five sacks is inexcusable, but the sacks are just a symptom of the overall problem. From the beginning of the game, the Packers were allowing leaky penetration, forcing Rodgers to dip and dart in the pocket, rush outside, and get hurries and hits after throwing. This has a way of not only affecting the quarterback, making him jumpy and rushing his progressions, but also giving more and more confidence to the opposing defensive line.

As the game went on, the Bengals were able to rush four or five more often, rather than big blitz packages, and still manage to get pressure on Rodgers. Against a rather unheralded defensive line (and a defense that managed only 17 sacks in 2008), this is very concerning.

Meanwhile, Ryan Grant rushed for a paltry 46 yards on 14 carries (a 3.3 ypc) that placed the onus on Rodgers' shoulders, and therefore, on the shoulders of the offensive line's pass protection.

* Penalty vs. Lead Rusher totals: Penalty Yardage: 76 Ryan Grant: 46

Now, I will be the first to admit that when Ed Hochuli's crew is officiating a game, you can expect to almost double the number of penalties called. But, regardless, eleven penalties accepted is something the Packers cannot hope to overcome when your offense is struggling.

The larger issue isn't the penalties, but the fact that Ryan Grant is essentially having to earn every yard on his own. The run blocking is as suspect as the pass blocking, and it is turning the run game into the inconsistent factor it has been ever since Ahman Green left the team.

* In late August, I wrote an article citing the five players the Packers could least afford to lose to injury, and one of my top five was tackle Chad Clifton. You might remember I took some criticism for daring to place Clifton on this list, but I think I was right. Unfortunately.

I was as befuddled as anyone when I saw the Packers compensate for Clifton's injury by shuffling the entire line over to bring in Wells at center. The idea works well on paper (you play the best five guys you have), but had disastrous results on the field. Daryn Colledge, who has been serviceable at left guard, was again completely out of his element at the most important position on the line, allowing pressure after pressure, sack after sack of Aaron Rodgers.

Now, Chad Clifton isn't the stalwart he once was, and had his struggles in the early part of the game, too. However, the announcers pinned one of Odom's first sacks on Clifton incorrectly. Odom had come on a stunt around Clifton, and it was actually a missed block by fullback Korey Hall that allowed Rodgers to get hit.

But, without Clifton, the Packers were again in a confounding situation of not having an active tackle to substitute in. Last week, many of us were waiting for someone to come in for a struggling Allen Barbre, but Breno Guacamole was inactive. This week, Clifton was injured and the whole line had to shuffle, instead of keeping your strengths where they should be and maintaining consistency. Again, the Packers had no backup tackles active.

At the moment, the severity of Clifton's ankle injury is unknown, but it will be a very anxious week seeing how McCarthy plans on compensating if he will miss time. Do you bring in a young and raw tackle in Guacamole and bookend your offensive line with two fifth-round kids, or do you continue to put over half your line in square pegs?

* The number of dropped passes by the receivers was completely unacceptable. Completely. That has been the strength of this team for the past several seasons, and Rodgers was let down several times. The drops by Greg Jennings had to be particularly disappointing, as he was shut out for the game. Your primary receiver can't become a non-factor, but today Jennings was as invisible as Ryan Pickett.

* Okay, I'm going to go there.

I am not going to pile on Aaron Rodgers for not being able to pull out a fourth-quarter comeback. There is the temptation, because he had several opportunities to have driven the offense down the field, and failed enough times so that he needed that miracle ending. Let's be honest. He had no running game, terrible pass protection, and his receivers were very unreliable today.

But, those folks who annointed him an elite NFL quarterback last week because he hit one pass in the fourth quarter against the Bears may want to consider retracting that statement. Rodgers had a very mediocre day passing the ball last week, and had another one today. He has continued to protect the ball and hasn't a single interception yet (which keeps his passer rating up), but he looked very out of sync all game. His accuracy has been suspect, with more passes going awry, high, or where guys can't catch it.

Yes, much of that was due to the fact that there were several white jersey in the backfield with him. But, an elite quarterback has to play past that and continue to make the plays he needs to, getting the first downs in crunch time instead of going for home run balls in triple coverage. I must admit, of those interference calls on Chris Crocker, I thought they were both awfully close and were actually decent plays on the ball. We can't hope for interference calls to keep our drives alive. Rodgers is being paid like a top NFL quarterback and he needs to get his most dangerous attribute back: his accuracy.

And the way to get it back is to give him more than a second-and-a-half in the pocket.

* Another player I mentioned in that injury article was how the Packers couldn't afford to lose Nick Collins. Now, I wrote that before the Packers elected to cut Anthony Smith, and before we knew Atari Bigby was going to be out for a month with injury. I think Collins' value would be even higher than it was, then.

Any time you have Jarrett Bush lining up alongside Aaron Rouse as your primary safeties, you are in trouble. I'm not sure where Derrick Martin was, since he was not listed as one of the inactives, but it didn't seem like he was able to play safety yet. That's a risk the Packers took in cutting a guy who knew the defense on the final countdown, and replaced him with a guy who hadn't been in our camp at all. It reminds me a little of the Jon Ryan/Derrick Frost situation last up a known quantity for something of a grab bag of promise. Question has to be if Martin is going to be any more able to play as a serviceable starter than Bush is. That's what happens when you keep a special team player over a guy who can play down-to-down.

Collins also looks like he has the potential for missed time with a shoulder. This is serious. I don't trust Jarrett Bush as far as I can throw him (his double offsides penalties on special teams got him pulled from the game, at least temporarily), and to go into the Viking game with Bush and Rouse as our starters really makes me nervous.

I've seen a lot of folks rally behind the decision to let Anthony Smith go, saying he was not assignment-sure. I think the jury is still out on that move, and the next few weeks will let us know if the Packers had the quality depth they needed without him.

* Speaking of special teams, the two returns by Quan Cosby were game changers. So were the punting efforts of Kevin Huber. Other than the return by Charles Woodson's interception, the Packers offense was looking at long fields on almost every possession.

Special teams are starting to look not all that special again, and given the final roster decisions to keep special teams players over guys you trust to be able to be servicable in the regular lineup (Swain, Martin, three fullbacks, etc.), we have to play better on special teams. Period.

* I didn't expect Mason Crosby to make a 55-yard field goal. If he had made it, I would have been pleasantly surprised.

However, I also didn't expect him to miss it as badly as he did, pushing it so far off to the left I don't think it even landed past the goal post. Simply put, that's unacceptable. For as much is ballyhooed about Crosby's leg strength, and how he could be making field goals of 60-yards-plus when attempting 45-yarders, he has to give those long kicks a chance to go through the uprights.

Even his shorter field goal in the fourth quarter, a kick the Packers needed and expected to be made in order to have a chance, barely squeaked inside the left goalpost from 45 yards out.

On a positive note, Jeremy Kapinos continues to be invisible, which for a punter is a good thing. His three punts averaged 47 yards. Unfortunately, he needed to be in a position to make a tackle on the return on two of those punts, which brings his net down to a disappointing 35.5 ypp. That's not his fault, though. He's no Craig Hentrich, but he's punting as well as anyone we've had back there since Hentrich left. That's not saying much, though.

* The Packers front three looked invisible all game. Our defensive line combined for only five tackles all game, with one of them being the sack by Cullen Jenkins. If you would like a reason why a Bear castoff running back was able to consistently gash our defense for 141 yards and a 4.9 ypc, you need look no further.

The Packers sent every package they could think of at the Bengals, and while it did tend to confuse them (resulting in some holds and false starts), for the most part the Bengals were able to control the clock with the ground game and some timely passes from Carson Palmer.

Our linebackers, in particular, looked worse as the game went on. Nick Barnett had only three tackles and didn't seem to make much of an impact. AJ Hawk was one of the guys who whiffed a tackle on Benson in the backfield when he turned it outside and made a critical first down. Aaron Kampman made seven tackles, but he continues to struggle with the back coming full speed directly at him and having to make plays in space.

But, if you ever want to look at a stat that will tell you how your defense held up in a particular game, look to see where your players in the secondary rank on the tackle chart. You would hope that your linebackers and perhaps your linemen top the list. However, the top three guys on the list are Charles Woodson, Aaron Rouse, and Nick Collins. This usually means that plays are getting through your first two lines of defense and up the field. Certainly, Benson's 4.9 ypc would reflect that.

Dom Capers has a good thing going, but the Bengals were able to dismantle it today with a solid running game. It's time to tighten up the ship this week and get better against the Rams.

* I thought Chad Johnson (I refuse to honor his name change) was pretty funny going up into the stands and doing a Lambeau Leap. I'm glad someone did it, because if I am correct, none of the Packers did today.

Greg Jennings made a comment this week in which he sounded a little exasperated with the Leap. While I don't have a link to it (not sure where I saw it), he mentioned the amount of time it takes with the Leap lately, that he needs to get back to the sideline after a touchdown, but gets held up in the stands.

Last week, you could clearly see Ryan Grant in the stands after his touchdown, clearly and repeatedly asking the fans to let him go.

You have to wonder if the Lambeau Leap is becoming "your dad's celebration", something started by a team in an era long gone in the minds of today's team. It's becoming somewhat clear that the players aren't as excited as Robert Brooks or LeRoy Butler to jump in the stands and get beer poured on them. You have to wonder if they see it as more of an obligation than a true celebration.

I've often pondered if and when the Leap will phase out. You would think it is bound to happen someday, as many such traditions do. When I saw Charles Woodson give the ball to a boy in the stands, it reminded me of the days when James Lofton would throw the ball into the crowd after every touchdown, garnering himself a fine from the NFL each time (can't remember if it was $150 or $1,500, but either way he could afford it). Perhaps, like most things in football, the Leap will phase out and come back in with another generation.


All in all, today's game was a disappointment. It was a sloppy game, with both sides of the ball contributing. But, even moreso, it was to a mediocre talent on our home field that should have been an easy win. Now, as the Packers go on the road to St. Louis next week, the dreams of going to Minnesota in Week 4 undefeated are dashed, and you have to wonder if another pathetic 2008 team is going to give the Packers more than they bargained for. The Rams held the Redskins today to three field goals, and Steven Jackson rushed for 104 yards on 17 carries. A running game disoriented our defense, and a good front four stymied our offense.

In some ways, this is sort of a must-win coming up. It's a should-win, but the Packers do not want to go into the Metrodome with two straight losses to two inferior teams.


Anonymous said...


your description of the game seems to be almost a summary of the NFC championship game, YET.....the pounding on Favre for 'losing' that game continues to this day by far to many 'fans'

and, not to say I told you so but a while ago I did mention that the OL was bad in pre season when another team brought pressure

there was nothing in the last two games that was not obvious in the 4 pre season games

and you should be careful what you wish for

if BRENO had been active and in the game Rodgers would be in the hospital, BRENO is seriously bad

Anonymous said...

As long as our starting safeties are Bush and Rouse, we can expect the defense to struggle. I can't believe that the Packers wanted to bring Bush back. He hasn't been good at any point in his career and yesterday, he showed that he isn't really improving. Maybe it's finally time to make the right move this offseason and get rid of Bush.