Sunday, January 23, 2011

Packers Report Card: B for "Bears Down", and "Bound for the Super Bowl"

Overall: B

The Packers are going to the Super Bowl, and beat their longtime division rivals in order to do it. But the game was far from a piece of art. After a fast start, marked by touchdown drives with excellent playcalling through the air and on the ground (the naked bootleg by Rodgers after bringing in BJ Raji as a blocker was brilliant), the Packers' offense seemed to flounder after Rodgers threw a red-zone interception in the third quarter. The pressure fell up on the defense, who had to stay on the field and defend after five consecutive punts. When the Bears benched Jay Cutler and brought in third-stringer Caleb Hanie, the team rallied around him and scored touchdowns on two drives in the fourth quarter. But heroic interceptions by BJ Raji (returned for a touchdown) and Sam Shields (stopping a game-tying drive) spelled the difference in the game.

Rushing Offense: C+

You could easily give the Packers' run game an A in the first half, when James Starks ran for 51 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. But in the second half (and actually, starting at the end of the second quarter), the run game gets an F for Starks' 12-for-23 yard showing.  More importantly, the run game was unable to help generate the clock-eating drives a championship team needs to put a reeling opponent away. Starks demonstrated his ability to chug forward in the first half, turning short gains into long runs, as well as making something out of hits in the backfield. But when the Bears defense turned up the intensity, both Starks and the run game turned into a non-factor.

Rushing Defense: B

The Packers have made their post-season sweep a possibility by neutralizing the opposition's running back and forcing them to pass their way against a very formidable secondary. While the Packers were very effective stopping the Eagles' LeSean McCoy and the Falcons' Michael Turner, they had mixed results with the Bears' all-purpose back Matt Forte. After being mostly limited in the first half, Forte finished with 70 yards on 17 carries, but added another 90 yards on 10 receptions. Using the screen as an extended run game, it opened up the offense for a second-half comeback with Forte leading the charge. Third-string quarterback Hanie seemed to energize the offense around him, and Forte became the focal point.

Passing Offense: C

Much like the running game, Aaron Rodgers picked up where he left off in Atlanta, immediately targeting Greg Jennings on his first drive, eating up chunks of yardage for two touchdowns early. Jennings finished with 8 receptions and 130 yards on the day, but he and Jordy Nelson seemed to be the only receivers he could consistently get the ball to. After Chad Clifton was hurt in the first quarter, Julius Peppers beat TJ Lang and got a hit on Rodgers that seemed to rattle him the rest of the day. Rodgers threw two out-of-character interceptions that could have been far more costly than they were, including the foolish force in the red zone, picked off by Brian Urlacher. This was easily Aaron Rodgers' worst game in quite some time.

Passing Defense: B+

The Packers were on their way, stopping Forte on the ground, then frustrating Jay Cutler, who was 6-of-14 with an interception.  Eventually Cutler was benched for the game. Second-string quarterback Todd Collins fared even worse, leading Bears coach Lovie Smith to make the gutsy decision to go with Hanie the rest of the way. It proved to be a good decision, as Hanie caught the Packers' defense off-guard and exhausted after having to be on the field so much of the second half.   Hanie finished 13-for-20 for 153 and led two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, but also made two critical mistakes: interceptions by BJ Raji and Sam Shields ended the Disney-esque comeback for the Bears.

Special Teams: A

Once again, the Packers' special teams came to play against the Bears, just as they did in Week 17. If not for Raji and Shields, punter Tim Masthay might be the game's MVP, punting eight times for a 41.8 average and placing five punts inside the 20-yard line. Jarrett Bush downed a punt on the one, and almost downed another, but was unable to get two feet back in bounds before touching the ball.. Deven Hester, the Bears' dangerous returner, was kept at bay with a combination of directional kickoffs and deep, high-hanging punts that gave him little room to maneuver. The Packers' returners were again mediocre, with Starks stumbling on the poor Soldier Field turf (later replaced by Charles Woodson), while Tramon Williams made a dangerous catch on a bounce in front of two Bear players, fumbling the ball on the hit (luckily recovered by the Packers' Brett Swain).

1 comment:

Chris Richards said...

Indeed, that Red Zone INT by Rodgers was uncharacteristic -- Favrian, even. But the other one was classic Rodgers: He threw a catchable ball that bounced off his receiver into the hands of a defender. Seems like we've seen a lot of that this season, so there was nothing uncharacteristic about that. For whatever reason, AR's receivers have a knack for drops and unfortunate deflections.