Sunday, September 12, 2010

Really Quick QuickHits on the Eagles Game

Sorry for the brevity of this post, but if brevity is the essence of wit, it should be essentially witty!

As I watched this game, I kept reminding myself of first-game overreaction.  After all, the 2006 Packers lost their first game of the season, then went on a four game bender to finish the season at a very respectable 8-8.  The 2008 Packers won their first game of the season, before finishing with one of the most disappointing 6-10 records in team history.  Now, it is 2010, and I forced myself to not get too high ("Super Bowl or Die") if the Packers won, nor resort to self-mutilation if they lost.

What did I get for my rational thoughts?  Perhaps one of the most irrational games in recent memory.  Mason Crosby looked like a Pro Bowl kicker.  Jordy Nelson may be leading the league in kick return average after this week.  And Aaron Rodgers looked, at times, like a rookie again.

As seems typical for a McCarthy-coached football team early in the year, this win still left you with as many questions about where the team is going.  When the Packers were up by 17 points, I started to feel that confidence from the preseason coming back.  When Rodgers threw a silly interception and Michael Vick brought back nightmares of the 2003 playoff game (when he gashed the Packers' defense on the ground), I started to get that icky feeling that I felt so many times in the early part of last year.

In the end, however, it was Clay Matthews capping off a very solid first game by stopping Vick dead in his tracks on fourth down, sealing a win and leaving the Packers licking their wounds on the flight back to Green Bay.  Injuries abounded in this game, and while the Eagles were bit more than the Packers, there are a couple of concerning ones that fans will be keeping a close eye on.

*  Rodgers had one of the most inconsistent games I've seen him have.  At times, he confidently fired the ball downfield like he was shooting lasers.  At others, he was throwing them in the ground, off-target, or inexplicably 15 yards too long and into the hands of defenders.

I have little doubt that Rodgers is going to be fine.  But his inconsistency seemed to echo inconsistency throughout the team today.  As Mike McCarthy likes to say, "We have to clean that up."

*  The injury to Ryan Grant's ankle certainly is concerning, especially when he only rushed eight times and was finally starting to get it going before he had to leave.  Being the Packers kept only two running backs, you have to wonder if Kregg Lumpkin makes the active roster next week from the practice squad.

Brandon Jackson rushed for 63 yards in his stead on 18 carries, but he wasn't impressive at all.  Most of those yards were on a couple of carries, and most of the time he was stopped at or near the line of scrimmage.

*  I predicted last week on Cheesehead Radio that the offensive line might have trouble holding the pocket together, and it came true in the first half as Rodgers was under pressure and took several hard sacks.  Kind of funny after Troy Aikman declared this line the best MM has every started a season with, and in essence, he's right.  But the line is still far from a Super Bowl-caliber unit.  McCarthy compensated for the line's issues like he always has:  Jermichael Finley and Crabtree took turns in the backfield to help with pass blocking.

It's not a problem we can expect to be fixed by next week, since it really hasn't been fixed since 2006.  Rodgers simply has to get rid of the ball by his second or third read, as he did much of the preseason.  On one play, I watched Rodgers take the ball from center and look nowhere else but two receivers going up the right sideline until they got open.  It's too bad, because when Rodgers has time to pick apart a defense by going through his reads, he's right up there with Peyton Manning.

*  Speaking of Finley, in the second half,  the Eagles did a nice job neutralizing the guy allegedly apparently no one can neutralize.  Finley looked pretty gassed by the second quarter, so I don't know if it was as much what the Eagles did or if Finley was simply having an off day.

*  There's a reason I fell in love with Greg Jennings when he was a rookie.  After spending years watching Robert Ferguson falling backwards to avoid catching Brett Favre's errant throws, we finally had a receiver that would go up, get the ball, and make the play anyway.  The good news is Jennings is still doing it.  The bad news is that Rodgers is now throwing up errant throws.

*  Good to see BJ Raji and Cullen Jenkins making something happen on the line.  They were far too invisible last year and throughout most of the preseason.  Both had a sack today, something we didn't see much of in big games last year, and they were a presence in the backfield, forcing Kolb out of the pocket.  Unfortunately, Michael Vick turned that collapsing pocket to his advantage, but we're not going to be facing such a mobile quarterback every week.

*  I daresay that without Clay Matthews, I don't know if we win this game today.  Seriously.  He was an animal all day, and I don't know think Frank Zombo could have caused the disruption that he did.  After sitting out much of the preseason and fearing the "sophomore slump", it's pretty clear CM3 should be the NFL Defensive Player of the Week.  At least, it is to me.

*  On Cheesehead Radio last week, I said that the key to the game was going to be the Packers minimizing their mistakes and not beating themselves:  don't put the ball on the carpet, and keep the penalties down.

The Packers had no fumbles, and only two penalties for 15 yards, a pretty amazing feat for an opening day game as ugly as it was.  True, I didn't even mention interceptions because Rodgers never throws them, so the two he threw were a bit of a black mark.

But, in essence, Mike McCarthy outcoached Andy Reid today...not that it took a lot.  Reid seemed to mishandle things all day, from his time outs to his playcalling.  The Eagles had 10 penalties for 80 yards (far more yards than their running backs had rushing), and essentially, he just put the ball in Vick's hands and told him to win the game for him.

The Packers earned this win today, but the Eagles did give them some help with their shoddy play.

*  I anointed a new term today on Twitter...the SPECCON status, or my level of concern with special teams (think DEFCON from "WarGames", a great movie with Ally Sheedy, who was hot).  Over the course of the game, my SPECCON level went from Five to Two, thanks to, quite literally, some Pro Bowl caliber kicking from Mason Crosby (kicking 2/2 on FG, including a career-long 56-yarder), inspiring some Tweeps to ask "where are all the Crosby Haters now?"  The better question might be, where are the Slocum Haters?

Tramon didn't do much with punt returns besides fair catch, but Jordy Nelson blew open a couple returns for a 31.2 average and a long of 51.  Now, as far as I am concerned, this is more than I expect.  All I really expected from the two is to field the ball cleanly and limp up the field for a bit, but Jordy Nelson looked almost like Forrest Gump running that ball back.


The injuries are concerning, but not nearly as daunting as what the Eagles had.  Cullen Jenkins appeared to bust up his hand pretty good, but returned with a club.  Ryan Grant has a sprained ankle, which doesn't sound serious, other than the fact a running back really needs an ankle to perform effectively.

On a never-saw-it-coming note, Justin Harrell left the game with what appeared to be a serious leg injury.  No disrespect intended, because Harrell has had his biggest cheering section ever this offseason, but this kid just seems to be snakebit. 

So, while this was an ugly win and certainly far from polished, there were far more positives to come out of this game than there were negatives.  The Packers went into a stadium they had not won against since 1960, and in front of members of that 1960's Eagles team, got that monkey off their back. 

Don't miss Cheesehead Radio this Thursday night at 8:00 CST, as we break down the game LIVE and get you ready for Buffalo!

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