Seriously, you look at this team on paper, and you can see why there are so many folks around the Blogosphere calling the lemmings back from the cliff. There are a lot of statistical and subjective positives that the Packers have going for them right now.
Aaron Rodgers has a 100+ efficiency rating and is on pace to throw 32 TDs and only 10 INTs.
Ryan Grant is on pace for another 1,200+ yard season.
The Packers have had some feel-good stories the past few weeks: Donald Driver breaking the team receptions record, while Ahman Green set the team career rushing record.
Charles Woodson has five interceptions, and some veteran players have come out of their shell the past few weeks: Ryan Pickett, Nick Barnett, even AJ Hawk.
The defensive line has been one of the most stout against the run, ranking 8th on the FootballOutsiders rankings. In fact, other than Cedric Benson, no opposing running back has really gashed the Packers, including Adrian Peterson twice.
In fact, if you don't believe me that the Packers have the 8th-ranked offense and the 3rd-ranked defense, just ask Mike McCarthy. He'll be glad to tell you.
But anyone that knows me also knows that the first thing I will tell you is that a bunch of statistics and a dollar will get you pretty much what that guy in the McDonald's commercial got for a dollar, too. You know, the little hula girl, the empty hanger...
The difficult truth in the pace of so many positives about this team is that the negatives are starting to outweigh those positives.
Again, the Packers are leading the league in penalties. Simply no excuse for not cleaning up that house.
For what Rodgers offers the team in protecting the ball, he isn't keeping his body protected. He is now on pace for 74 sacks, just two off the NFL record, and his discipline is beginning to fade.
The offensive line struggles to pass protect, and they usually struggle to open holes for the run. When they do open holes, the Packers stop running the ball anyway. They rank 32nd in pass protection, according to FootballOutsiders.
The Packers' special teams rank 32nd out of 32 teams.
Second-to-most-importantly, the Packers' injuries are starting to pile up, as they always tend to do in a bad season. Those little twinges hurt a lot more when you are getting beatas opposed to when you are winning. Injuries were taking their toll on depth players earlier in the season, but now we are seeing some starters having to battle through injuries, including Aaron Kampman and Brady Poppinga. Jason Spitz is already on the IR, and Rodgers looks as though he's running on borrowed time right now, as his two sprained feet are bound to endure more punishment this week.
And finally, most importantly, this team is looking like they don't know how to win anymore. With a 3-10 record in quality wins since the start of the 2008 season, the Packers gave the game away to a previously winless team last week. The Packers emotional state appears to be going into survival mode.
The story about a part-time worker at Lambeau Field being fired for allegedly criticizing Mike McCarthy is a cautionary tale on how those at 1265 are starting to circle the wagons. Whether McCarthy is involved or not is irrelevant. McCarthy is being protected right now. I wonder if he is going to have his own private locker room soon, too.
So, what we have is not a terrible team. If you want to see a terrible team, look at the Lions or the Browns, teams that can't seem to function in any aspect of the game. Teams that have no chance as soon as they hit the field. Teams that are mathematically eliminated before their bye week.
No, the Packers are not terrible. They are frustrating. They have every sign of being the team that we saw in the preseason, and every now and then they start hitting all cylinders and actually play like it. But, eventually, someone breaks down. Maybe it's the special teams. Maybe it's the offensive line. Maybe it's the defense giving up a big play.
But, regardless of whoever it is, it drags the rest of the team down with them. Nobody appears ready to step up and put this team on their shoulders and inspire them to all play their best. It's a disjointed concert out there, with players and coaches not appearing to always be on the same page, yet connected to each other at the most critical times. Momentum is suddenly crucial and fleeting...just one penalty or punt return seems to turn the entire tide of a game.
When the Packers take on the Cowboys, I actually give them a chance in the game, if only for one reason: they shouldn't get blown out. They have enough going for them to keep the game close, and when you look at it, their four losses have only been by an average of nine points.
The Packers have a lot of key players at positions to make an impact: Rodgers, Jennings, Driver, Barnett, Harris, Woodson, Pickett...but it just isn't enough when your line can't pass protect, your special teams gaffe at least three times a game, and you can't get off the field on a defensive third down late in a game. Penalties, injuries, sacks, even playcalling...all just seem to be holding this team back.
There's some great undercurrents in this story tomorrow: TJ Lang moving across the OL, Brad Jones at linebacker, Ahman Green getting more established in the offense, the return of Jordy Nelson. Those may have to be enough to entertain us, however, as I don't know if the larger game will.
The Packers will have a tough time in this game. They are too good to get blown out, but not good enough to establish a solid attack against a quality opponent. It may be time to lower our expectations, and consider getting out of this game with Aaron Rodgers in one piece as a moral victory.
Let's stop thinking about this week as the pivotal game of the season, get it over with, and look forward to facing the 4-5 49ers next week, a game that we, unfortunately, have to look at now as being against an opponent on our own level.