Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Join Cheesehead Radio Thursday Night to Talk Bears...LIVE!

At 8:00 CST on Thursday, visit Cheesehead Radio over at BlogTalkRadio with C.D., Jayme, Jersey Al, John, and Holly as we prep you for the Packers play-in game against the rival Chicago Bears and dissect the Packers Pro Bowl picks and snubs.  We'll give you your Packer News, Cheese Curds rants, Extra Points of Contention, and Holly's always-perfect Opposition Research Minute.

As a special guest, we'll be talking with Jeff Fisher of BearsGab, a Bears Blogger who loves the game of football and is willing to break this game down, talk about the impact of Mike Martz on the Bears' offense, and give us in the inside scoop if Lovie Smith is going to rest his starters, or be who we thought he was and play to beat the Packers.

Join us at BlogTalkRadio, and call in with your questions or comments at 917.932.8401!  See you then...GO PACK!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Packers Grades Vs. The Giants


The Packers came into Sunday’s game against the Giants treating it as a sudden-death game to make to the playoffs, against the very team they are competing against for that likely sixth seed wild-card spot. They didn’t play a perfect game, but in the end, the Packers wore down the Giants’ offense with timely turnovers and transformed what was looking like another close battle into a statement game. The Packers won the turnover battle (6-1), the time of possession battle (37:00-23:00), and the yardage battle (515-386) convincingly, overcoming some early gaffes and frustrating the Giants into making more mistakes. Big players made big plays and a raucous crowd transformed Lambeau Field into a playoff atmosphere, and the Packers played with a spirit to match.


The Packers started out in the first quarter with a balance between the run and pass, running up a 14-0 lead by running Dimitri Nance on first downs and John Kuhn on short-yardage to set up the pass. However, the Packers went away from the pass in the second quarter, and slowly, the pass protection began to crumble, leading to the Giants tying the game up 14-14. Brandon Jackson was given the bulk of carries for little impact (18 carries/39 yards), but with the game out of reach, the Lambeau faithful called for Kuhn to return, who scored two touchdowns to put the game away.


The three-man front of BJ Raji, Howard Green, and Ryan Pickett didn’t shut down the Giants running game, who averaged 4.3 yards per carry on their way to a 90-yard day, but they contained the running game enough to limit them to only three first downs via the run. More importantly, Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson each forced a fumble from the Giants’ running backs, changing the momentum of the game and pushing the Giants to throw the ball with Eli Manning...a winning deal for the Packers.


Concussion? What concussion? Aaron Rogers quickly managed to make everyone forget any uncertainty there may have been surrounding his play as he threw for 404 yards, four touchdowns, and a sparkling 139.9 efficiency rating. He was plagued with a couple of receiver drops that might have cost the Packers in a close game (yes, we’re looking at you, James Jones), but nine receivers got into the act as Rodgers put on a clinic on how to avoid the pass rush, only taking one sack and throwing no picks. Perhaps the biggest cheer from the crowd was when he slid feet-first on a scramble instead of diving for the end zone.


In the first half, the secondary was up-and-down, at one point smothering receivers downfield, then completely breaking down and allowing long passes to untouched receivers, tying up the game. Charles Woodson, in particular, had a rough series in which he committed a illegal contact penalty, then allowed a touchdown to Hakeem Nicks. But he, like the rest of the secondary, redeemed themselves in the second half, compiling four interceptions against Eli Manning (and dropping a few others), completely frustrating the Giants’ offense. The pass rush should have gotten more pressure on Manning, only notching one sack and four hits.


After a miserable game last week, the Packers’ special teams came back this week and very mercifully nondescript. The coverage teams kept the Giants on their side of the field, and the Packers’ return teams kept the Packers on theirs. Mason Crosby kicked a 31-yard field goal, and Tim Masthay punted five times for a 41.6 average. It appeared the Packers had recovered a fumble by Hicks on a kick return in the third quarter, but the Giants challenged the ruling on the field and won.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Packers' Grades vs. the Patriots

Without Aaron Rodgers, the prospects of going into Gillette Stadium to play the hottest team in the NFL and coming away with a win were slim at best.  But Matt Flynn acquitted himself admirably at quarterback as the Packers jumped out to an early lead.  Coach Mike McCarthy’s willingness to commit to the run game and control the clock put Flynn in the position to make plays through the air.  The Packers played inspired ball through much of the game; a sharp contrast to the flat game they had last week. The Packers dominated nearly every statistical category. Unfortunately, the Patriots were the better team in the fourth quarter as the in-game coaching decisions reared its ugly head.

When you see Brandon Jackson rushing for 99 yards and John Kuhn picking up first downs and touchdowns on the ground of off screen passes, it makes you wonder where the commitment to the running game has been all season.  The Packers ran a near-50/50 run/pass split, rushing the ball 38 times against a tough defense and kept the Pats’ early pass rush at bay for Flynn.  Give the offensive line, particularly Josh Sitton and Chad Clifton, for bouncing back this week.  The Packers couldn’t punch it in from the two-yard line, settling for a field goal on 4th-and-1 that spelled the difference in the game.

BJ Raji had a career day, notching a sack and blowing up several runs in the backfield.  But he wasn’t in on every play, and the Patriots made the Packers’ defense pay with backbreaking runs, including shoddy tackling all around.  Linebacker Eric Walden, the fourth-string OLB in for injured Frank Zombo was only in on running plays, and fell victim time and time again to misdirection plays by the Patriots.  The 33-yard dash by Green-Ellis the put the Pats ahead for good in the fourth quarter was the dagger for the Packers.

Once Matt Flynn got over his early panic in handling the Patriot pass rush, he passed for 251 yards and three touchdowns, notching an impressive 100.3 efficiency rating in his first NFL start.  He was surprisingly accurate, threading the needle at times on some short passes and a nice touchdown to Greg Jennings.  His touch pass to James Jones for his first touchdown might have been aided by the defenders tackling each other, but it was beautiful nonetheless.  McCarthy kept going away from what was working, trying to get Flynn to pass longer, resulting in one pick-six and having his passes float away from receivers.  Despite a great game, he and the offensive line melted down in the game’s final minutes as time ticked away.

The Packers did a decent job keeping Wes Welker from doing too much damage by gluing Charles Woodson to him, and the pass rush got to Brady, notching three sacks and three hits (including a particularly satisfying sack by Desmond Bishop).  But in the end, Brady didn’t turn the ball over and did just enough to keep the Patriots in the game, converting two third-downs on their go-ahead fourth quarter drive.  Dropped interceptions by Charles Woodson and Eric Walden led directly to ten points for the Patriots.   

It looked to be a great start with a successful onside kick to begin the game, but the decision to have Mason Crosby pooching kickoffs backfired in embarrassing fashion when a burly lineman Dan Connolly picked up the ball and rumbled for a 71-yard return, setting up a late first-half touchdown.  On the play, Quinn Johnson blindly missed Connolly and blocked out a few of his own teammates from making a play.  Mason Crosby (2/2 on field goals) and Tim Masthay (2/4 punts inside the 20) each had decent days. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hard Lessons with the Lions and Matt Flynn

Oh, what a week it has been.  Last Saturday, we were excited at the thought of punching our playoff tickets, hosting a game, and how deep this team might be able to go toward that whole "Super Bowl or Die" concept.

Seven days later, the Packers are not only reeling from a devastating loss to the 2-10 Detroit Lions, but have finally announced that the twice-concussed Aaron Rodgers will not be starting on Sunday night against perhaps the best team in the NFL on national television.  The Packers' playoff chances were already dim, with only a Bears win over the Vikings necessary to knock them out of the division race, and the Giants, Eagles, and Saints all with pole position for the wild card spots.  The loss of Rodgers all but shuts the door on that glimmer of hope.

But it is in these times the Packers need to learn their hardest lessons, and only a fool doesn't take anything from loss and failure.

The Lions:  Michael Schottey, the excellent Lions' blogger for Bleacher Report, was indignant at Packer fans last Sunday who kept offering excuses for their loss, and he was in the right.  The Lions have suffered far more over the last ten years than the Packers, and nearly every excuse they could have used over that time was exhausted.

The Packers had no excuse, the Rodgers injury notwithstanding.  The Lions, 2-10 all they were, came out and hung in there.  They didn't do a whole lot offensively....other than just what they needed to in order to win the game.  On paper, the Packers outclassed in nearly every facet of the game, both tangible and intangible.  And they lost.

And there's a huge lesson to be learned from this loss:  tenacity. 

The Packers have had their own issues with tenacity, losing several close games by thin margins.  In fact, the loss to the Lions was the largest margin of the season:  four points.

But take a look at the Lions, with their losing culture and struggles to keep up.  The Packers are a good team that sinks to the level of their opposition.  The Lions are a bad team that rises up and makes teams have to defeat them.  The Lions have faced several teams that would make the playoffs today, and played them pretty well:  two losses to the Bears by a combined 9 points, a loss to the Eagles by 3, the Giants by 8, and the Jets by 3.  And the Rams, still a playoff contender, lost to the Lions by a score of 44-6.

The Lions don't have half the talent of, say, the Vikings or Dallas; but when it comes to bad teams, they are in a totally different class.  When the Packers played the Vikings and the Cowboys, the Packers had them demoralized halfway through their games.  They were defeated, then fired their coaches the next day.  They quit.

But the Lions are throwing third-string quarterbacks in there and scrapping to stay in games.  They force teams to exert their will and prevail at the end.  You think the Jets weren't scared for a while?  The Lions certainly may wither at the end of games against decent competition, but not without a fight.

And, as Packer fans, I don't think we've given enough credit to the Lions for that very trait.  The Packers have faced poorer teams and kept them in games by not putting them away, not exerting their will upon them.  A series of three-point losses earlier in the season put the Packers behind the eight-ball, and the Packers now face the tough games: the losses to the Redskins, Dolphins, and Lions seem extraordinarily costly.

The Packers can learn something from the Lions and the loss they suffered to them.  The Packers have to learn that they cannot allow poor teams to stay in games.  They have to learn that playoff-caliber teams aren't supposed to struggle against the also-rans in the NFL. 

And you can't blame injuries on this front:  injuries deplete the talent you might be able to put on the field, but not the tenacity of the players who still remain.  If you begin to believe, "Oh, well...we have a lot of injuries.  We can't play as well as we should be playing,"... you may as well join the Vikings and Cowboys as the poster children of giving up.

Give Jim Schwartz credit: he's maximized what talent he has to stay in games mentally and make the other guys have to beat you to win the game, even playoff teams.  It's a lesson the Packers could do well to learn.

Matt Flynn:  Many Packer fans see the emergence of Matt Flynn as the starting quarterback as the final nail in the coffin for the Packers' playoff hopes.  And it might well be.

But it doesn't mean that Packers don't have an opportunity to learn some lessons here, too...and some pretty important ones at that.

Just as there is a losing culture in Detroit, the Packers have an interesting culture too, and it revolves around the quarterback position.  Throughout Mike Sherman's reign as head coach, I often noticed the heavy burden placed on Brett Favre at the end of games.  When the going got tough, Sherman and the rest of the team seemed to put their arms at their sides and wait for Favre to deliver in the second half.  Sometimes he did.  Sometimes, he threw a game-ending interception.  But, in the end, the hero or goat was invariably #4.

The culture has continued with Aaron Rodgers, and to be honest, I think it has gotten even worse.  It always became the Favre Show in the second half, but it seems to become the Rodgers Show in the second quarter.  The offense doesn't just feature Aaron Rodgers as quarterback, it revolves around him.

The Packers offense has scored 32 touchdowns this year, and all but five have come either on the arm or legs of Aaron Rodgers.  Rodgers has gone back to pass 437 times this year, and rushed the ball another 55.  Those 492 offensive plays account for nearly 70% of the offense this year, and some games, he's been accountable for almost 90% of the offense.

Yes, the running game keeps disappearing and McCarthy keeps giving up on it, game after game.  He keeps saying how important it is and that they need to "fix it".  But why do you have to fix it when Rodgers can just keeps running the ball for you?  He's the second-leading rusher on the team, has the best yard-per-carry average, and has the most rushing touchdowns on the team.

Not much of an impetus to commit or "fix" a running game, is it?

The offensive line has been, at best, a patchwork deal that, has declined as the season has gone on.  Rodgers has taken 27 sacks this year (far less than last year at this time), but has also rushed more due to being flushed out of the pocket.  Sure, McCarthy says they have to tighten up that line, week after week, and give the running backs room to run and Rodgers more time to pass.  But when Rodgers can compensate for it by running or passing his way out of it, or taking a sack...and they've kept winning, mostly on the strength of the defense.

Not much of an impetus to "tighten up" that offensive line, is it?

No, the Packers have been getting away with overlooking one important thing:  teaching this offense to play as a unit, a full unit that doesn't centralize around one player that everyone else waits to win or lose the game for you.

Has the security blanket of Aaron Rodgers given Ted Thompson to freedom to overlook certain areas on the offense that he might have been able to address in free agency or the draft, like depth at running back, quarterback, or along the offensive line?  Sure, he has. 

Has the security blanket of Aaron Rodgers given Mike McCarthy the luxury of putting the ball in his hands to compensate for the failings of the players and units around him?  Sure, he has.

And now, with  Matt Flynn in at quarterback, the Packers have an opportunity to give him a trial by fire against the Patriots.  And if McCarthy continues to do the idiotic, such as continuing to run the offense as if it were run by Rodgers with Flynn under center, the Packers' lesson will be even harder (and may end up being pretty hard on McCarthy's job security).

But this is an chance for the Packers to get the team around Flynn to rally around him and do what they SHOULD have been doing along with protect Rodgers instead of just watching him.  The line has to stop letting defenders into the backfield within the first two seconds of the ball snap, either to bother Flynn in the pocket, or to make the running backs have to juke and change direction five yards in the backfield.

The running game is going to have to something different than what they've been doing, which has mostly been a set of pitches on zone runs that end up going for little yardage, if any.  The Packers may have to line up those fullbacks and tight ends in the backfield and power some straight-ahead rushes.  It might even make the Packers realize that the ZBS has run its course and needs to change.

In the end, this might be what the offense actually needs:  the loss of their crutch.  If having Flynn in the game, even for one week, makes McCarthy do more to fix things than just lip service, the offense would be that much better when #12 returns under center.

I said on Cheesehead Radio this week that Matt Flynn might be good enough to get the Packers to the playoffs, and I stand by that.  But, in reality, he might just be limited enough to make the rest of the Packers' offense good enough to make it to the playoffs.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Don't Do It, Aaron

I love Aaron Rodgers.  I love the Packers.

I love the Packers in the playoffs.  With Aaron Rodgers playing.

But, if given my druthers, I'm far more happy with the idea of Aaron Rodgers in playoff games for the Packers for years to come, not being led to the slaughter against the Patriots with only a paper-thin offensive line in front of him.

I'm not a doctor.  I don't even play one on TV.  I don't know the severity of his concussion, the amount of bruising of the brain, how his tests are going, or even if he wants to play.

Sit down, Aaron.  Unless you are given a complete free and clear pass to play, don't push it.  Don't rush it.  Don't be a hero.

I remember several times through the nineties when Reggie White would be listed as "doubtful" on the injury report on Tuesday.  By Saturday, he'd be "questionable", and Sunday morning he'd run out the tunnel at Lambeau to a roaring crowd.  I also remember one conspicuous time when Brett Favre was injured during the week, and the television network intentionally hid him deep in the tunnel to make it a surprise whether or not he'd start.  Naturally, the crowd loved it and it added to his legend.

That was then.  And those weren't concussion.  This isn't coming back from a hyperextended knee.  This is Merrill Hoge-land.  This is the rest of your career and the rest of your life.

You have nothing to prove to me.  I am not comparing you to Ironman Brett Favre.  You have convinced me you've got what it takes to lead a football team adequately...certainly more adequately than most of the quarterbacks presently playing in the NFL.  You don't need to convince me you're tough.  You need to convince me that you can make better decisions when rushing the ball, yes, but not that you're tough.

The Packers need to deal with life without you, if you cannot play.  They had little in the cupboard for backups for you, for Ryan Grant, and the offensive line has been a struggling work in progress since Rivera and Wahle left.  Between you and Favre, you've always been there to bail them out when the running game disappeared.  It's time we get a look at this team without you.

No, Matt Flynn may not be the answer.  But endangering your career just to establish your own "legend" is stupid.  You're a good man and a good quarterback.

Let's keep it that way.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Visit with Greg Bedard on Cheesehead Radio Thursday Night!

At 8:00 CST, visit Cheesehead Radio over at BlogTalkRadio for a special guest appearance by a fan favorite of Packer fans and regular viewers of Packer Transplants, Boston Globe NFL/Patriots writer Greg Bedard.

In addition to cultivating a fervent fan base being being one of the first mainstream media members to embrace the blogging and internet fan base, Bedard brings a unique perspective, having effectively covered the Packers for the first half of the season, then covering the Patriots since.  He's going to be able to give us all insight both on how the Packers got to where they are today, as well as sizing up this Sunday's Matchup.

In addition, join C.D., Jayme, Jersey Al, John, and Holly as we run through our Packer News, Cheese Curds rants, Extra Points of Contention, and Holly's always-perfect Opposition Research Minute.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Injury Excuse Doesn't Work With Me

Had a good exchange with Packer Therapy host Chris Richards in the aftermath of the Packer Debacle yesterday.  Naturally, the conversation headed towards the inordinate number of Packers on the injury list this year.

CD: I think the legitimate present concern is if this team is living up to its potential it could achieve this year.

Chris: Hard to do that with 13 guys on IR. 

CD: Ack. No one talks about the injuries when we beat the Jets, Vikes, and 49ers. We didn't lose to the Lions b/c of the IR today.

Chris: I've cited the injuries all season as why I don't believe in this team. Given the IR roster, I'd say they've overachieved. 

Now, I have tons of respect for Chris, who does a nice job over at Therapy.  I just think this sells the Packers far short of where they should be.

Alex Tallitsch harps on the mantra, "You don't plan for injuries."  They do affect a team, especially in bunches, no doubt.  But there's different ways that you mentally deal with those injuries, as well as simply making adjustments with your personnel and schemes.

There's been what I will call a "rash of injuries" a couple of times earlier in the Thompson era.  If you think 13 players on IR is bad, look back at 2005 when no less than 19 players (including five running backs) finished the season on IR.  The Packer limped to a 4-12 season that year, and certainly, injuries were a factor.

But, that's not the point.  This was a team that gave up early.  The whole Sherman-apalooza and "NFL-E talent and stumblebums" had brought this team way down, and as the season wore on, you could tell some players just decided to feign injury to save themselves the trauma of having to keep going out every Sunday.

That is not the 2010 Packers.

 Just two years ago, in the face of Favre-apalooza, the Packers again saw the injuries pile up as the season went on.  While only 10 players finished on IR, they were key players (Barnett, Bigby, Tauscher, Jenkins), and were accompanied by plenty of games missed by starters.  Again, you could see the psychological struggle over the course of the season, with Aaron Rodgers under the microscope and team administration under fire.  The Packers started out 4-3, but finished the season 2-7 with a lot of close losses (not unlike this year). 

It was another season where you could see the hurt in the eyes of the players, where expectations got lower and lower as the season went on.   

That is not the 2010 Packers.

Yes, the Packers suffered a lot of critical injuries: Ryan Grant, Jermichael Finley, and Nick Barnett come to mind.  But the Packers haven't seemed to really take a downturn all year.  The expectations were extraordinarily high to start, indeed, but their somewhat inconsistent play started long before anyone found themselves on IR.  

In fact, after falling to 3-3, the Packers went on a tear, taking out division rival Minnesota twice, the Cowboys, and the 49ers.  Most convincing, though, was a road victory against the New York Jets.  Even a road loss to the NFC-leading Falcons was played solidly by the team with a narrow three-point margin.

Why, just last week we were still touting Aaron Rodgers as MVP, Mike McCarthy as a Coach of the Year candidate, and praising Ted Thompson up and down for the tremendous depth he provided the team with to compensate for the key injuries.

And then, we lay an embarrassing egg against the lowly Lions, and NOW suddenly we're supposed to believe that injuries were the reason?  No. Flipping. Way.

This Packer team has never stopped believing in itself all season, regardless of who was on the field.  You saw young players like Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree step in for, nowhere near the same level of play, but they didn't give up, nor did the Packers try and hide them or not use them.  Brandon Jackson has been getting probably the same number of carries Ryan Grant would have gotten, and Desmond Bishop, Frank Zombo, and Charlie Peprah have all made us forget about Barnett, Jones, and Bigby.

Yes, the machine was running with different pistons, but it was still running, and the playoffs were clearly in sight.  There was no let-up.

Until Sunday.  For whatever reason, the Packers let up.  Don't blame it on Rodgers' injury, either, because he was having one of his worst games in his career before he made a error we all pray he doesn't make again.  No, this loss had nothing to do with the 13 players on the injured reserve list.  If it did, the Packers would have looked like the December Packers in 2005 and 2008 all along.

But, they haven't.  The reason and rationale for this stunning letdown against one of the worst teams in the league, especially in the face of such serious playoff implications, may have yet to be known.  But it wasn't injuries.

And I do agree with Chris wholeheartedly on his main point;  this team HAS overachieved in spite of its injuries.  Especially when compared with the 2005 quitters and the 2008 empty-tankers, the 2010 Packers have persevered.

But is it over-achieving as much as simply doing what you're supposed to be doing:  playing the game, having reserves ready to go, and continuing to play each game to win?  Maybe 2010 is what the Packers should be doing when there are massive injuries, and 2005 and 2008 were perfect examples of underachieving and quitting.

No matter how you slice it, the Packers did wrong on Sunday.  But the last thing I want Mike McCarthy to do is hide behind his injury list.  He has done a fantastic job keeping this team focused, spit-and-wiring a team together that stays in every game, and keeping the playoffs a reality.  Give him credit, up until 11:59 A.M. on Sunday.

Because at noon, the Packers came out and did everything wrong.  They played unfocused and half-assed.  They committed foolish penalties and had brain-numbing playcalls.  They turned the ball over.  And they did all this against a 2-10 team that appeared ready to roll over as soon as the Packers figured out how to walk in a straight line without falling.  

That had nothing to do with injuries.  All we needed was preparation, motivation, perspiration, and execution.  All we got, though, was exasperation.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Packers' Grades vs. the Lions

Going up against a divisional foe with a 2-10 record with playoff hopes on the line, there’s no other way to grade this but with an epic fail.  The Packers seemed to do everything they shouldn’t have, and kept a poor team charged up and in the game.  The players seemed unfocused and unprepared for the game, and some head-scratcher playcalls from coach Mike McCarthy will lead to this critical loss being laid firmly on his shoulders. The Packers now need plenty of help to make the playoffs, and may be without quarterback Aaron Rodgers for their most critical games of the season.

The Packers shuffled in James Starks, Dimitri Nance, and Brandon Jackson, and none of them could establish anything on the ground.  In particular, Starks (who was the darling after a strong debut last week) couldn’t seem to find any footing on the artificial surface at Ford Field, contributing only eight yards to the 31 yards compiled by the three running backs.  To their credit, the offensive line, which lost G Daryn Colledge early to injury, had the backs avoiding defenders in the backfield almost immediately.

With the Lions’ passing attack mostly subdued, coach Jim Schwartz went to his running attack early and often (190 yards on 41 carries).  Maurice Morris did the most damage with 51 yards on the ground, but the Lions went for broke on several occasions by rushing quarterback Drew Stanton and diminutive returner Stefan Logan for some backbreaking gains.  Their run game didn’t help put up many points, but it did keep the Packers looking at long fields when they got the ball back.

Aaron Rodgers was already having one of his worst games of his career when he foolishly dove head-first on a scramble and suffered his second concussion of the season.  Backup Matt Flynn was called on to save the day, but forced a costly interception in the red zone, then badly overthrew Greg Jennings on a fourth down, potentially game-winning play.  Jennings also bobbled a ball for an interception, and Donald Driver looked terrible, catching only two passes on nine targets.  Again, the line was sieve-like, with aging LT Chad Clifton having a terrible game. 

For the most part, the Packers’ secondary kept third-string quarterback Drew Stanton off balance, at one point compiling a 0.0 efficiency rating in the third quarter.  Charles Woodson blanketed uber-receiver Calvin Johnson, who was limited to one catch on eight targets.  Tramon Williams and Charlie Peprah each had picks on poorly thrown passes.  But in the fourth quarter, the weary defense allowed Stanton to convert two third downs as he went 5-for-6 for 49 yards on the game-winning drive that covered 80 yards, culminating in the only touchdown on the day, a 13-yard pass to TE Will Heller.

The Packers’ special teams units couldn’t pull this game out for the Packers, but they did their part to keep the game close.  Punter Tim Masthay was busy, punting eight times for an impressive 50.5 average, putting three inside the twenty-yard line.  The punt coverage unit also did a good job keeping star returner Logan bottled up, making the Lions start in their own territory on every drive.  Mason Crosby made his only field goal attempt.  Tramon Williams had a lot of punt return opportunities, but returned only two as the Lions’ coverage teams were downfield in a hurry.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Packers Cannot Afford to Go Backwards Against Lions

I caused a little stir this Thursday on Cheesehead Radio when I made my Packer/Lion game prediction.  You see, I predicted a win.  A big win.  Packers 45, Lions 17.

Now, this caused a little bit of a collective jaw-drop among my co-hosts, who are used to me being the "pessimist" in the group.  Yes, usually I'm the one who thinks the Packers will struggle against good teams, and fret about trap games with bad teams.

But, I think sometimes I get the "negative" label because I am a realist...and the big score I predicted isn't one out of blind faith, it's one out of necessity.  The Packers need to win, and they need to win big.  Yes, over the Lions.

The Packers have a huge problem, and it is a problem they helped create.  They are sitting a game behind the Bears in the NFC North, a situation completely attributable to a Monday Night loss to the Bears back on September 27.  A three-point loss to a team that should have been whipped soundly, even if it was in Soldier Field.  The fact that a wild-card is a tenuous situation is because the NFC West will likely take a playoff spot from a more deserving team, and that team could well be the Packers if they don't win the division outright.

But the biggest problem is that this game against the Lions is the last of the gimmee-games the Pack will have this year.  There are no more Buffalos, no more 49ers, no more Vikings from this point on.  The Packers have four more games and only one of them, this game against the Lions, is the last of the lesser opponents.

It's not a trap game.  This is an easily winnable game.  That's not the point.  The Packers have to win, and they have to play their hardest, start to finish.  The Packers cannot afford to escape from Michigan with a win...they need to conquer the Lions, defeat them soundly, and carry all that momentum into next week against the Patriots.

In the mid-90's, I signed a contract to coach our local eighth grade basketball team.  I did it at the behest of the seventh grade coach, who couldn't convince anyone else to coach with him.  You see, he was a bit of a jerk, and convinced me that the low number of eighth graders coming out meant they would likely dissolve the team.  I figured I'd collect a paycheck for a couple of weeks and be done.

Well, they didn't dissolve the team, and I was signed on for the entire season.  For the most part, the three boys that came out for eighth grade team were merged into the seventh grade team, and essentially played exhibitions with the backup seventh graders.  I was the "assistant coach" with this guy who just liked to win.

He actually had a pretty talented group among the seventh graders.  Oh, we took our lumps when we went to play some of the tougher teams in the league, but most of the time, they won.  I watched as we rode our way to a 9-3 record and won the conference championship.

But the one thing that always stood out to me was the day we played one of the poorest teams in the could have been the eighth grade team I was supposed to be coaching.  Not having a ton of height, we ran a pretty innovative motion offense that was ahead of its time, and the boys ran it well.  When we played another team that didn't have much height either, there was no stopping our dribble-drive offense.

I watched as our team poured it on, 20-2, 30-2, 40-5.  Yes, he substituted in the backups, but because of the eighth grade team's need for the seventh grade backups (and each player was limited to four quarters of play), the seventh grade starters had to play much of the game.

He had a wicked smile on his face, as did the players and their parents cheering loudly behind us, clapping each other on the back.  But, having coached many times on the other side of a score like that, I found myself looking at the dejected faces of the other team, the angry, frustrated shouts of the other coach, and the grumbles coming from the stands.

As you can probably imagine, I didn't have the "killer instinct" at that time, and probably still don't.  I finally tugged on my co-coach's shirt as he stood up to argue a call with the ref while up by forty points and asked if we should "call off the dogs".

It was at that point he said something to me that stuck with me for a long, long time.  He looked at me and said, "You can never coach a team to go backwards."

Now, he said a lot of other things that were far more full of bravado, like, "If you don't play to win, take down the scoreboard," and "It's their job to stop us, not the other way around."  But that "backwards" statement made a lot of sense to me.  When you coach a team to do the opposite of what they are supposed to do, that's what they are practicing and learning.

Now, perhaps seventh grade is a little young to be playing like that (but you've watched youth sports lately, you'll see he was also ahead of his time).  But it is a concept that is easily applied to a professional team like the Packers, who will be facing an opponent so inferior this week that we could expect to see Matt Flynn handing off to Dimitri Nance by the middle of the third quarter.

Yes, it is a nice thing to do, putting in your scrubs and running out the clock.  But this is a critical game, not for the game itself, but because of what the Packers will take from it.  The Packers will leave Ford Field and face three games against opponents that are a combined  27-9, and the Packers need every single win.

The first battle is to not lower yourself to the level of your competition, something the Packers had a lot of trouble with early in the season (and why they are in the situation they are in right now).  Yes, the Lions are the best 2-10 team in football and stay in every game...blah, blah, blah.  It doesn't matter.  The Packers need to win this game like they belong with those 27-9 teams, not like they belong with the teams that aren't going to make the playoffs (the scenario they find themselves in anyway).

The second battle is not to let up.  Yes, it sounds cruel and unsportsmanlike.  But the Packers have made enough mistakes this season letting up and playing unfocused.  If  this team expects to make the playoffs, much less advance (as so many of us predicted in the preseason), the Packers must practice they way they wish to play.

I don't want to see smiling faces and messing around on the sideline while the game is still going on.  I want to see more touchdowns thrown by Rodgers.  I want to see James Starks run for 100 yards and then have Brandon Jackson gash them for a long touchdown on a screen.  I want to see Clay Matthews set the NFL single-season sack record.  And I don't want to see Matt Flynn until there's a few minutes left in the game.

I sincerely feel sorry for the Lions, especially if this is the scenario that happens tomorrow.  They've been a team that simply doesn't know how to win, coming off of a decade of complete mismanagement.  Sincerely, I root for them to get some wins here and there, and wished like heck they would have gotten a couple against the Bears.

But this isn't about the Lions.  They have their own issues, and at the end of Week 17, their season is done.  The Packers need to train to win games against what looks to be three playoff teams in order to even make the playoffs, and then they'll need to beat actual playoff teams.  This is no time to allow any level of mediocrity in your play.  The Lions are the win we expect, but they are also the win we need to set the table for the rest of the path to the playoffs.

The Packers are in a completely different league than the Lions.  Tomorrow, they have to play like it.

Because if you play at their level, you're going backwards.  The Packers need to keep going forward, and the Lions are simply the team in the way.

Time to Quit Comparing Rodgers with Old, Cranky Quarterbacks

The Packer Blogosphere is always an interesting place to inhabit.  There's always room for a little debate, which is healthy.  What's nice is that there seems to finally be a relaxing of the polarization of the fan base that was wrought upon us a few years ago.  For the most part, we're all Packer fans again.

Which brings up the conversation of the week:  whether or not Aaron Rodgers has the "right" to lambast teammates on the field, as we've seen him do a couple times recently with Andrew Quarrless and Quinn Johnson.  Now, I have feelings about that particular issue, but I have stronger feeling about the reaction from others when QB1 gets a little criticism.

Now, we've seen the emotional (read: vehement) side of Aaron Rodgers when a pass intended for the back of the endzone to Quarless was dangerously tipped by Johnson a few weeks ago.  Television cameras caught Rodgers angrily shouting at one of the two players and pointing where they should have gone.  Then, this past week, as Rodgers tried repeatedly to put Johnson in the right pre-snap position in the backfield, he resorted to a time-out and spun on Johnson, before composing himself and patting him on the shoulder and letting him know where he was supposed to be.

Is this within Rodgers' rights as a starting quarterback?  Is it his duty and role to be that type of emotional leader on the field?  Regardless of your feelings, there was a pretty significant backlash to the question even being proposed.  Claims of "jumping down Rodgers' throat" and "why all the hate on AR?" were tossed around on Twitter and the blogs without even addressing the issue at hand.  It was a knee-jerk reflex that, unfortunately, we've been pretty well conditioned to act out each and every time a Packers' quarterback gets a little criticism.

And it is time to stop.

Had someone questioned whether or not Don Majkowski was being too demonstrative towards young players, would we have jumped down their throat for even suggesting it?  How about Randy Wright?  Or Lynn Dickey?  Of course we wouldn't, because criticism of any player, when warranted, is and should be fair game.

But, we don't compare Rodgers to Majkowski or Wright.  We apparently are now comparing him to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, who also have done the "angry quarterback" routine over the years.  Because we all know if Tom Brady does it, it must be okay for everyone else to do it, too.  Right?

Come on.  Remember watching Manning in the preseason game when it was evident (with a game on national television) he was going to make a demonstrative show of how much he didn't like the whole "umpire standing over the ball" rule?  He was right, it was and is a stupid rule.  But he used his status to essentially be an ass about it.  Didn't you come away at some point thinking, "Okay, Peyton, you made your point.  Quit being a jerk and play ball."

I started following the Packers and the NFL religiously in 1980, and in 1981, I began my first "job" as a Green Bay Press-Gazette carrier.  I loved that route, and was particularly proud that I delivered to Judge Robert Parins, who at that time was on the Packers' Board and was eventually elected President during my "tenure".

At the end of school each day, I'd walk over in the shadow of St. Vincent's hospital, sit on my stack of newspapers, and read the sports section front-to-back before starting delivery.  I not only knew everything about the Packers, but about most players in the NFL.  And one guy who certainly captured your imagination was a young quarterback named Dan Marino.

He was a joy to watch in those days, particularly during his 1984 sophomore season when he broke nearly every single-season passing record and led the Dolphins to the Super Bowl (in those days, you lived vicariously through other teams when the playoffs started, as the Packers were never even close).  When the Dolphins lost to the 49ers, Marino fans reassured themselves by saying that there was no way this could ever be Marino's last Super Bowl appearance.  He'd have many more.

That proved to be wrong, as we all know, but we still watched Marino play over the years.  He was a Christmas commercial regular, always telling us how much he loved buying leather gloves for his offensive linemen.  He was accessible, personable, and talented.  He was a hard guy to hate.

That is, until the latter part of his career, when the vertical passing game was limited by evolving defenses and the infamous "Marks Brothers" moved on to greener (or whiter) pastures: Clayton left to go to the Packers, while Duper was charged with intent to sell cocaine.  A more youthful cast of characters surrounded him, and Jimmy Johnson replaced his longtime coach, Don Shula.

For those of us that grew up watching Dan Marino as an all-american NFL golden boy, there was nothing worse than watching him struggle, fighting his coaches, and regularly screaming at his teammates on the field.  It was the last gasps of an old gunslinger trying to catch lightning in a bottle, to return to the days of his youth and glory.  But the screaming at teammates was a reminder that time moves on, and that not everyone will honor a past that featured a lot of individual records but precious few team honors.

In 2000, I was far removed from that 15 year-old paper carrier that breathlessly watched a young Marino capture my imagination.  I was grown-up, married, and the father of three young children.  But, when Marino finally retired, I would doubt that many of the young players who had bought into the new era of Dolphin football mourned his departure.  It would seem that time marched on for everyone.

When I see Rodgers (or Brady or Manning) screaming at teammates on the field, I don't see a natural leader.  I see Dan Marino thinking about how those young kids were making him look bad, stealing his chance at one more Super Bowl.  Brady and Manning each have at least one ring on their finger, and maybe that gives them the "right" to act like Marino.

But, I don't care if Brady and Manning scream at teammates, though.  I care about our quarterback and how he represents the Green Bay Packers on and off the field.  And one vibe that Rodgers has never given off is being self-righteous.  This isn't the time to start.

Yes, Brady and Manning have also had to deal with the departures and arrivals of new teammates.  But the idea that Aaron Rodgers may already be approaching the "old veteran quarterback" status is even more magnified when you look at who is his general manager.  The Packers are consistently one of the youngest teams in the NFL, and when it seems every player from Ted Thompson's draft classes make the roster somehow, its clear to see that the Packers are going to turn over quickly and keep getting younger.

Soon, the old vets still left over from the 2007 NFC Championship game will be perhaps as soon as 2012, guys like Nick Barnett, Donald Driver, Donald Lee, Mark Tauscher, Chad Clifton, Charles Woodson, and Ryan Pickett will be gone and replaced.  Replaced not with high-priced UFA's, but with draft picks and young street free agents.  Throw in the expected injury or two, and Rodgers is going to be forced to play with young kids like Quarless and Johnson more and more.  Constantly starting over.

At age 27, Rodgers is moving very quickly from young upstart starting quarterback to the perhaps one of the older players on the team, and the bulk of players alongside him aren't going to remember (or care about) the Favregate summer.  They are going to need guidance, trust, and support from a veteran leader.

It doesn't behoove Rodgers to start barking at Quarless and Johnson when they mix up in the endzone (especially when you consider the pass Rodgers threw had a more likely chance of being intercepted had Johnson not touched it).  Those kinds of discussions can wait until the sideline, instead of played out for the fans and the television cameras.  No young kid likes being called out in public by a coach (and Mike McCarthy avoids doing so, nearly at all costs), much less their quarterback.

Rodgers plays like he has a chip on his shoulder, and he always has.  But he's also always walked the finest line of being the ultimate humble team player.  Do you really want our Aaron Rodgers to turn into Tom Brady or Peyton Manning?  Personally, I'd rather he stay exactly as he has been....a guy I love to root for.

Which brings me back to the reaction of the fans to criticism of Rodgers.  I've touched on this before, but now, I think it is truly time for Packer fans to cease and desist the ultra-sensitive protectiveness of Rodgers.  We all know why it is there to begin with, and that reason is nothing more than a shadow of his former self, a punch-line instead of a measuring stick.

And it is time to put the memories of Favre to rest, if not for our own sake, but for Rodgers' sake.  Any player should be open to criticism, but it seems that because of Favregate, Rodgers still has a protective bubble around him.  According to a pretty reliable source within the media, that insulating "no criticism allowed" starts right within the Packers organization.

How does this benefit Aaron Rodgers?  How does it help his career for him to be protected from criticism, when he's blowing up teammates right on the field?  I think of it as the one final curse that keeps the Favre Legacy hanging on:  we've been conditioned that Rodgers is the anti-Favre, the "right decision", the one who is the Yin to Favre's Yang.  And when someone tries to bring up that Favre is "good" or Rodgers is "not as good", we immediately jump to Aaron's defense.

It's time to end this.  Rodgers has proven more than enough that he is good enough to stand on his own two feet, both in the face of an oncoming pass rusher or criticism from the media or fan base.  And it needs to start with the organization and finish with us, the fans.

I myself must admit to many years of Favre defending.  Now, mind you, I was provoked by some fans who liked to see me try and punch my way out of a paper bag sometimes, but the facts are still eerie:  Favre was a guy who had a large group of people that flew to his defense in the face of any criticism.  Favre walked on water, could do no wrong, and any interception was the fault of the receiver.

In the end, how did that help Favre over the latter half of his career?  It made him above the rules, above his teammates, and gave him the entitlement to suggest, "What are they going to do, bench me?"  As Favre's behavior and ego spun out of control in his post-Packers career, we have sat back, enjoyed the show, and laughed as Favre's actions and hubris have blown up in his face.

And yet, we have to take some accountability for that.  As human beings, we love building up the Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohans of the world into untouchable beings, then laughing and mocking them when they crash back down to earth.

Is this what you want for Aaron Rodgers?  It's not what I want for him at all.  He's a big boy and can take a little criticism or questioning without having folks defending him just for the sake of defending him.  If someone offers a criticism that is valid, offer a counter-argument and defend it intelligently: don't play the Favre Card...because that is all it is.

Frankly, Rodgers deserves better than that.  And maybe a little deserved criticism is what he needs more than a free pass.

Because we've seen how well quarterbacks with free passes end up, haven't we?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Packers' Grades vs. the 49ers

If you only looked at the Packers in the first quarter, you might not have expected the convincing 34-16 final score.  It wasn’t a dominating performance as much as a series of big plays that gradually demoralized the 49ers as the game went on.  As has been the case this year, the Packers had to fall behind 6-0 before they got their brown helmets on straight.  Green Bay had another game without a turnover, and more importantly, Aaron Rodgers was not the leading rusher for the team: with 73 yards, it is clear the James Starks era has begun.

Starks, who hadn’t played in a game since the Bush administration, came off the PUP list and carried the ball 18 times, the most carries by a Packer running back since Week 1. The offensive line seemed to respond to the change, as the Packers utilized more backfield blockers to help Starks out and generate positive yardage.  With a 4.1 yards-per-carry average on the day, it looks like the bulk of carries will be going to Starks.  Brandon Jackson returned to his usual role as a productive third-down target out of the backfield (4 rec./63 yards), while John Kuhn excelled as short-yardage back: five of his six rushes were either first downs or a touchdown.

With Frank Gore out for the season, the stout Packers’ defense limited 49ers’ running backs Brian Westbook and Anthony Dixon to 64 yards on 18 carries, bottling up the inside runs and forcing them outside to find any yardage.  It was inspiring seeing BJ Raji firing up the crowd.  You can tell their confidence is building. As teams are focusing more on Clay Matthews as a pass rusher, he is falling back into coverage and run support, leading the team in tackles today.

It was another sparkling stat line for Aaron Rodgers.  Jumpstarting the sluggish start was the use of the spread no-huddle offense, which seemed to take the 49er defense completely out of rhythm.  False-start penalties led to a beautiful 57-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings. All those who were penciling Brett Swain in for Donald Driver after last week only need see Driver’s amazing 61-yard touchdown, in which he broke no less than four tackles on the way to the end zone.  Pass protection was inconsistent again, as Rodgers took four sacks.

With Matthews falling back into coverage, other players got into the pass rushing mix, with three of four sacks coming from the defensive line.  Frank Zombo continues to impress, getting another sack and putting pressure in the backfield.  The tackling still had some issues, and TE Vernon Davis seemed to make enough big plays to keep the 49ers close in the first half.  In the end, young QB Troy Smith couldn’t handle the pressure and completed only ten passes on the day on 25 attempts.

It was another forgettable day for the Packers’ special teams, with kicker Mason Crosby thumping a chip-shot 29-yard field goal attempt off the left upright (but did go on to make two other attempts).  The Packers appeared afraid of kick returner Ted Ginn, Jr., and pooched kickoffs away from him, giving the 49ers good field position all day. After last week, you wonder if the Packers doubt their return teams’ ability.  Tim Masthay’s punts looked weak all day, and Ginn made him pay with some good returns.

Press-Gazette Features the Packer Blogosphere!

How exciting...for years I've been citing the Green Bay Press-Gazette for my posts, and finally, they've decided to return the favor by citing me!

Great article featuring many of the great Packer voices in the Blogosphere, including Corey Behnke, Aaron Nagler, and Holly Phelps at Cheesehead TV, Chris Lempesis from Ol' Bag of Donuts, Jersey Al Bracco from over at Jersey Al's Blog, and Larry Garot from PackerChatters.  Oh, and me, too.

The success of the blogosphere has been pioneered by these fine folks, but it is here today because of the work of many other great Packer bloggers, tweeters, commentors, and fans.  There's a reason Packer fans create an online world like this, and its because there are no other fans like us in the world.

Oh, and the pictures of Nagler and Behnke are priceless.

Over-reliance on Rodgers Hurts Packers in Long Run

I came out of the Falcons game with a pretty good feeling overall about the Green Bay Packers.  Yes, it was a tough loss, but in the end, I came to a pretty comforting conclusion:  all things being equal, the Packers were the better team.

Seriously.  The Packers should have, and would have won that game, all things being equal..."all things equal" being not making mistakes.  For the most part, the Packers played a pretty good game:  but the two critical mistakes...Rodgers' fumble in the end zone and McCarthy's failure to challenge Gonzalez's catch...directly resulted in a 14-point swing.  Think about that: if not for those two missed opportunities, the score would have been Packers 31, Falcons 13.  That's a huge victory on the road against a pretty good team.

But, it didn't happen, because all things weren't equal.  The Falcons didn't make any critical errors in that game.  They played safe and didn't make the big mistake.  They played to their strengths and in the end, it was enough to defeat what I believe was the superior team.

And, therein lies the issue with the Packers.  Too many times, the Packers commit those costly errors, especially in close games.  Fair or not, even though Rodgers led a game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter, our quarterback is still gaining the reputation as a non-clutch quarterback, while Matt Ryan is becoming "Matty Ice" for leading comebacks and preserving leads.

While I wouldn't trade our defense for anyone else's right now, comparing our offense to what the Falcons have is certainly worth a look.  While the Packers, even without Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley, still have more marquee names on that side of the ball than the Falcons, it is Atlanta who I believe is built for the playoffs.

And the reason is simple: the Packers simply have built this offense completely around Aaron Rodgers.  On every play, Rodgers is expected to deliver, in some way, on his own.  On the other hand, Matt Ryan has been placed in a position to allow the players around him to make plays for him.

Now, let's get two knee-jerk reactions out of the way.  Yes, every NFL offense is "built around the quarterback", as he obviously is the one who has to handle every snap outside of a wildcat formation.  The quarterback is the lynchpin, and no other position on the offense compares when you have poor quarterback play.  However, the Packers don't have to put Rodgers in the position to make every play himself, and the Falcons proved that last Sunday. 

Secondly, yes, Rodgers is a special talent, just as you might consider Adrian Peterson of the Vikings or Michael Turner of the Falcons.  Because Peterson and Turner are special talents, their offenses feature them.  It makes sense to "feature" Aaron Rodgers.  Look, I love Aaron Rodgers.  There is no hate for him whatsoever, and I love watching him play.  But the Packers are centralizing everything on him, in part because of their inability to run the ball.  Obviously, this is the aspect of the team that is hurting them the most.

Statistically, let's take a look at both quarterbacks last week, and see if the numbers help back up my point.

Matt Ryan had an ultra-efficient day passing, going 24-28 for 197 yards: certainly not an air attack worthy of Marino, but hearkening back to another efficient quarterback, Troy Aikman.  Now the Falcons added 117 yards on the ground, and not one rushing yard came from Matt Ryan.  This means that the Ryan's arm was responsible for about 62% of the Falcons' offense yardage (discounting the sack yardage).

But, let's take into account how much Ryan's receivers helped him out.  We didn't see Ryan toss it downfield too many times, choosing to use the short, safe passing game to methodically help out his running game.  While I don't have official YAC stats for the game, I did review the DVR and estimated that out of Ryan's 197 passing yards, 83 were based on what the receivers gained after catching the ball.  If you subtract that from his totals, Ryan was only responsible for 114 yards of offense purely with his arm or legs, or 36% of the offense.

Conversely, Aaron Rodgers went 26-25 for 344 yards, a prolific day to be sure.  The Packers' "rushing game" added 77 yards, but 51 of those yards came on Rodgers' sneaks and scrambles.  This means that a staggering 94% of the Packers' offensive yardage came directly from what Aaron Rodgers' did with his legs and arm.

To be fair, I also charted the YAC for Packers' receivers, which was a little higher than I had expected.  Rodgers has made more use out of screens the past few weeks, and helped put his receivers in position to snag a couple more yards after catching the ball.  In all, the Packers' receivers gained 164 YAC last Sunday, reducing Rodgers' ownership to 55% of the offense.

It's a testament to the Packers' receivers, to be sure, but the percentage of YAC-to-total-passing-yards is pretty consistent for both teams: 42% for the Falcons, 47% for the Packers.  But in the end, those YAC yards are still dependent on the quarterback delivering the ball, and that still rides on Rodgers' shoulders.

Having 94% of your offense coming directly from your quarterback may be enough to beat the Lions, Vikings, Cowboys, and hopefully, the 49ers.  But it isn't going to win you playoff games, as we saw last year against the Cardinals, when Rodgers was responsible for 85% of the Packers' offensive yardage.

In the end, the Falcons may not be the better team.  But they are built better for the playoffs, in part because they have a running game they can depend on.  I'm guessing "Matty Ice" would melt down pretty quickly if he had to be responsible for 90% of the offense in a critical game.

Now, Brandon Jackson is not Michael Turner, but it's pretty clear to see that when you are changing direction five yards deep in your own backfield to avoid tacklers, the problem is less with your running back than with the effectiveness of your run blocking.  The Packers have been married to the Zone Blocking Scheme for almost five years now, and we've never seen a full season of 1990's-Denver-Bronco's-style rushing attacks.  Despite having the personnel to deliver a power blocking game (Quinn Johnson, Tom Crabtree, and Korey Hall come to mind), the Packers continue to eschew such a scheme for five-wide sets with an empty backfield.

Against good teams, depending totally on your quarterback to win games for you is simply not going to be good enough.  Heck, the Cardinals depended on Kurt Warner for most of their offensive attack against the Packers, too, and then got shellacked by the Saints the following week. 

As good as Aaron Rodgers is, and he is mightily good, the Packers are doing him and the team a disservice by making excuses for the running game instead of fixing it.  Continually abandoning the run and going empty backfield will get you through the plodding regular season games against spiritless opponents, but against the best, it just isn't going to be enough.  Eventually, the defense is going to figure out a way to neutralize the quarterback...and it doesn't have to be at the end of the game, it can be just enough times during the course of a game ...because there isn't another legitimate option.

James Starks, the 6th round pick who hasn't played since George W. Bush was still in office, is being touted as the answer to the running game.  I don't believe it is going to happen unless the Packers make other adjustments, too.  The problem has to be not only along the offensive line, but in the focus of the offense.  Starks isn't going to farE any better than Jackson until the Packers change their approach and find a more balanced attack.   No running back is going to get into a groove getting five rushes in the first half, than perhaps one rush in each of the other three quarters.

If Starks and the rest of the running backs continue to account for less than 20% of the offense, they're not built for the playoffs.