Sunday, October 10, 2010
TundraVision QuickHits: The Redskins Aftermath
In what was a heart-wrenching experience for the second week in a row, the Packers squandered an early lead against inferior competition. Only this time, the inferior competition came out on top in overtime, as the Washington Redskins kicked a chip-shot field goal set up as much by Packer mistakes as Washington playmaking.
As we look back as an opportunity lost, the Packers must look in the mirror and see a 3-2 team that is not only looking up at the 4-1 Chicago Bears, but wondering how they are going to fare when the playoff-caliber competition is on the other sideline. The Packers have proven they can play down to the level of their competition, and there has to be some serious doubt if they can raise their game when they need it, especially in the face of mounting injuries.
With that, here are this week's QuickHits:
* I disagreed with Aaron Rodgers on many fronts last week when he decided to announce his desire to have the ball more often in a shotgun formation, because it put the ball in the hands of the playmakers. First of all, I disagreed when Brett Favre made such public questioning of the coaching strategies, so I don't plan on changing my beliefs simply because it is Rodgers now. But moreso, I disagree wholeheartedly that turning the Packers effectively into a run-and-shoot team is the best strategy for Rodgers, much less the team.
When a terrible pass-defending team like Washington starts launching itself into your backfield, as it began doing in the fourth quarter and in overtime, it is because they know they have little to fear from your run game. The Packers took their 71-yard run by Brandon Jackson early in the game and squandered both the respect it should have garnered from Washington, as well as any rhythm Jackson may have gotten from regular carries.
* Rodgers seemed determined in the first half to back up his claims that he not only wanted to throw out of the shotgun, but wanted to throw the ball to his fourth and fifth reads. And so, we spent much of that second quarter throwing the ball to James Jones, who had four drops. It didn't help that the usually-reliable Donald Driver had four drops himself. However, as the Packers kept on passing, even piling up a blistering pace of yardage in the first quarter, the points didn't end up on the scoreboard.
Look, I know that there are a lot of targets and a lot of egos to feed in the passing game. But trying to "prove your point" in the regular season is a poor decision. Rodgers needs to get back in the habit of going back and throwing the ball to the first person open in his progressions, not James Jones just...because.
And, sadly, given the injuries to Finley and Lee, there's a lot less egos to feed next week.
* I will harp on this forever, so forgive me if it sounds repetitive. Once the Packers went up 13-3, they had a ten point lead. What is the wise thing to do in this situation? Go in a run-and-shoot and keep going for touchdowns, or establish a balance of run/pass that eats up clock and ends up with some sort of score at the end? Personally, I'm old-school, and would like to see the balanced attack. But the Packers, from the time they went up by ten points until the Redskins tied it, ran three run plays (four, if you include a Rodgers scramble) to fourteen passing plays, twelve of them out of the shotgun.
And they scored zero points in that time. They had two three-and-outs. And, they lost the game. This is a pattern that McCarthy had even back when #4 was under center, and it isn't working when it counts.
* I stopped to think what this offense was reminding me of, since so many people said Rodgers' overtime interception reminded them of a former Packer quarterback. The thing that came to my mind was the 1999 Packers, when Ray Rhodes was coach, Sherm Lewis was the OC, McCarthy was the QB coach, and they all announced that they were going to break from the WCO and turn the Favre-led offense into a more vertical game. As we know, the offense got every single one of those coaches fired, as Favre piled up 4,000 yards passing but added 23 interceptions.
With six interceptions in five games, Rodgers is now on pace for 19 picks this year, which would almost equal as many as he has thrown over his entire career prior to 2010. A vertical game is important, and Rodgers is more than capable of doing it. But letting the quarterback design the offense isn't the smartest thing in the world for McCarthy to do, and you'd think he have learned that eleven years ago.
* Brandon Jackson's 71-yard one was scintillating. He showed vision, and turned on the burners to run away from tacklers. Yes, he had good blocking, but that just got him through the first level...he made everything else on his own.
* Donald Driver seems to have one game like this a year. I don't know where his head was today, but it sure wasn't in the game. He dropped at least four passes that I saw, while James Jones dropped nearly as many. This is one of those games that you certainly can't blame Rodgers' 75.7 efficiency rating completely on Rodgers. Meanwhile, Greg Jennings continues to be underused and a non-factor in the game. Someone tweeted during the game that Jennings needed to step it up. I responded by saying, "How can he step it up when Rodgers keeps throwing it at Jones?"
* Clay Matthews may be the MVP of this team, because it seemed like all other injuries were fairly well compensated for. Not CM3's. As many of us have suspected, Matthews IS our pass rush, and when he's not in the game, we don't have players that can get any level of consistent pressure on the quarterback.
In the first half, McNabb looked old and beaten, as Matthews and Co. found themselves racking up pressures, hits, and sacks. But when Clay went out, McNabb seemed to be the only one who could stop himself. So, A) We need Clay back soon. And, B) Why the heck does our pass rush depend on only one guy?
* I thought Charlie Peprah did well, particularly in the first half. I'm always sensitive to safety play, and Peprah made a habit of making hard sticks, wrapping up, and making the tackle...not something that has always been a trait of McCarthy teams. While he got beat badly on the touchdown to Armstrong, he closed quickly on the play and almost broke it up. If you see how far he was from Armstrong when he went too far outside, you see how much ground he made up while both were running full-board.
* McCarthy's playcalling has to be questioned when Jordy Nelson went out of bounds on the one-yard line in the first half. First of all, I don't know why he didn't challenge the call on the field that he was out of bounds, because it looked like he was in for a touchdown. For all the challenges that McCarthy has been criticized for throwing the flag on, he dropped the ball there.
But the next three plays were appalling. John Kuhn couldn't get in on a dive. Then Rodgers tried to get in on a dive. The Redskins, with their terrible run defense, stopped them. Then, up 7-0 on the road, McCarthy decided he'd give it one more shot on fourth down, and had immediate pressure up the middle that rushed a throw to Andrew Quarless, who was well guarded.
That decision spelled the difference in the ballgame. A challenge and reversal put the Packers up 14-0 and the Packers win 20-13 at the end of regulation. A chip shot field goal means the final score is 16-13, Packers.
It seemed to be the spirit of the whole first half, a sense of overconfidence that the team could make mistakes, could experiment, take silly chances, but still recover because the opposition was so weak. In the end, the Packers got taken to school by that weak opposition, and the opportunity looms very large in the rear-view mirror.
* Overtime sucked. A foolish pass by Rodgers to set up the Redskins on the wrong side of the field, couple with a foolish Poppinga penalty on third down kept the drive alive. Without the Poppinga penalty, the Redskins would have attempted a 28-yard field goal, not the chip-shot they eventually got. And without the interception, the Packers could have still won.
In a nutshell, when focus mattered most, it showed itself the least.
* Packnic tweeted during the game that all Crosby Haters should apologize (or something to that effect), as Crosby has been having a great year. I have never been a Crosby Hater, but I have been pretty critical of how Slocum has handled a great talent like Crosby.
Now that Crosby has choked on two field goals that would have spelled the difference in the game, including missing a 52-yard potential game winner, the microscope goes back on Mason, and in the mind of a kicker, that's a really tough thing. I've been very happy with Mason this year, but I've had the feeling that he was going to keep kicking well until something bad happened. Now this is in his head, and both he and Slocum are going to try and "correct" it. Keep a very close eye on Crosby next week, and see if he isn't battling mental rushers as well as the ones on the field.
* Our offensive line came apart in the second half, and Bryan Bulaga showed that he is still a work in progress, taking on two key penalties and whiffing on a couple of rushes that looked like jailbreaks for Rodgers.
* The injury situation is becoming pretty critical. You've already lost Grant, Barnett, and Burnett, can't count on Harris or Bigby, and the outlook is unclear for Shields, Pickett, Matthews, Tauscher, and Finley. That's a lot of starters that are looking to be sitting in street clothes.
Alex Tallitsch used to tell me that you "don't plan for injuries", especially when determining your final 53. I don't know if TT and MM have done that or not, but I sure hope they did.
* As many have already said, it is time to end "Super Bowl or Die" (because the player that coined it is out for the season), and "YOTTO" (because the player that coined it looks like he may be out for the season). I never bought in to the hype of this being a Super Bowl team, simply because it seemed very Minnesota Vikings of us. You don't win championships in the offseason, and you don't win them on paper or because prognosticators insist you're the best one out there.
It's a long season where anything can happen (and you only need to look at the surges of 2006 and 2009, along with the collapse of 2008 to realize it). Championships are won one game at a time, and as fans, we should be hanging on the outcome of each game, not penciling in expectations before they even take the field. Now, you hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth of fans who feel like they've been cheated out of their Super Bowl bets they've made with their buddies.
It's okay to go in with excitement and hopes and dreams of a great season. But those who expected it are the ones screaming the loudest.
I'm concerned, and will be watching the news over the next few days to see the outcomes of players like Rodgers, Finley, and Pickett, praying they will be back and healthy for the Miami game. But, there's no reason to jump off the bandwagon.
In fact, I'm driving the bandwagon yet. But, I'm a crabby driver right now. If you don't like it, get out and walk. I'll drive slow for you.