Monday, February 7, 2011

Packers' Report Card: Super Bowl Edition

Overall: A

The Packers may have entered this game as the favorites to win, and even played the first half like they were on their way to an easy Lombardi Trophy.  But a string of injuries quickly dampened those thoughts and doubts began to creep into everyone's mind...that is, except the Steelers, who quickly capitalized and captured the momentum from the Packers.  Losing Donald Driver early in the game was bad enough (leaving Aaron Rodgers to pass to James Jones and Jordy Nelson, each afflicted with an acute case of the dropsies), but losing defensive backs Sam Shields and Charles Woodson on consecutive plays late in the first half shook the Packers to their core.  The Steelers racked up 14 unanswered points and pulled within four points of taking the lead, and the Packers didn't look ready to put up much of a fight on offense or on defense.

Now, you may have questioned some of the strategies in the third quarter, like why the Packers' best defensive player, Clay Matthews, was being marginalized as a spy instead of wreaking havok in the pass rush, or why the Packers only ran the ball three times in the third quarter, despite trying to protect a lead.  But one thing you cannot question is the ability of this team to scrap and claw when its back is against the wall, and once again, the Packers delivered.

In Super Bowl XXXI, a similar third-quarter fade by the Packers was saved by Desmond Howard, who lit up the Patriots for a touchdown on a kick return that brought the entire team back to life.  In Super Bowl XLV, it was another Desmond:  Bishop, who opened the fourth quarter by recovering a fumble jarred loose by Matthews from Rashard Mendenhall in Packer territory.  What happened next will go down in Packer lore, as Rodgers led two fourth-quarter scoring drives, leading to an 8-yard touchdown by Greg Jennings and a field goal by Mason Crosby.  No, it wasn't a game-winning drive by Rodgers, per se, but it was a game-preserving drive that gave the defense room to breathe, with the Steelers having to score a touchdown to win, down by six points as time ticked away.

No, it wasn't pretty.  In fact, at times, it was pretty ugly.  But on every play, bodies with both colors of jersey were flying around and laying the hardest hits they could.  Neither team left anything on the field in Super Bowl XLV.  But coach Mike McCarthy's Packers won this game exactly the way they made it to the big game itself: by rising up when things looked bleakest, championing themselves on, if nothing else, pure heart and desire.  No one will ever claim this was the most talented team to ever win a Super Bowl, but no one will question the heart, drive, or determination this team had as it took the hardest possible route to the Lombardi Trophy.

Rushing Offense: C+

The Packers sent a pretty clear signal that the running game would be a secondary weapon when they chose to make power fullback Quinn Johnson inactive for the game.  As the Packers spread out the defense and went primarily with Rodgers throwing from the shotgun, James "Neo" Starks was seldom-called upon, but did well when he was given the ball.  He finished with 52 yards on just 11 carries, but you saw flashes of the playmaking ability he possesses, particularly on a first-half run when he ran up the right side, crashing through tacklers for a first down and looking like he wanted to keep going despite having been pushed out of bounds.  On the Packers final drive (ending in a critical field goal), Starks re-emerged with two rushes for 15 yards on a 75-yard, 10-play drive.

Rushing Defense: C

The Packers' best bet was to stuff Mendenhall like they had so many other quality backs they have faced in this preseason, and force the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger to become one-dimensional against the Packers' secondary.  However, the Packers had trouble containing Mendenhall (63 yards) as well as Mewelde Moore (13 yards on two carries) and Isaac Redman (19 yards on 3 carries).  With Roethlisberger doing damage with his feet as well, the Steelers 5.5 yards per carry.  The Steelers' 50-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter was completed entirely without one pass attempt.  In the end, however, the Steelers were forced to go to the pass in the fourth quarter while trailing, thanks in part to Mendenhall's fumble in Packer territory, the turning point of the entire game.

Passing Offense: B

Aaron Rodgers delivered another sparkling stat line (24/39, 301 yards, 3 TDs, and a 111.5 efficiency rating) that earned him the Super Bowl MVP honors.  But, the passing game gave us plenty of scares, not the least of which was Jordy Nelson's four critical drops (with another added by James Jones).  In fact, while Nelson finished with 140 yards on 9 catches, he was targeted 15 times in the game.  Rodgers himself would probably admit there were a couple of passes he would like to have back, with some hurried throws caused by the 4 sacks, 8 hits, and pressures on seemingly every dropback.  Certainly, the offensive line had its hands full with the Steelers' front seven.  But most of the time, Rodgers was zeroed in and throwing with his usual needle-point accuracy (even if it went through a receiver's hands), with Greg Jennings finding the end zone twice on beautiful passes.  Most importantly, Rodgers did not throw an interception or turn the ball over, and in a game that came down once again to the final drive, taking care of the ball is the difference between a Lombardi Trophy and disappointment.

Passing Defense: B+

The Packers seemed to have their secondary in command of the game throughout much of the first half, forcing Roethlisberger to make mistakes, including two interceptions to Nick Collins and Jarrett Bush and looking more and more frustrated as the game went on.  But, when Sam Shields and Charles Woodson exited the game, Big Ben began gaining confidence, going 4/4 for 41 yards and a touchdown to finish off the half.  The secondary struggled to find its new identity with reserves Pat Lee and Jarrett Bush forced into full-time action, and appeared to come unglued when the Steelers went 6/7 for 66 yards in the fourth quarter to cut the Packers' lead to three points.  But, it was the final drive of the game where Jarrett Bush and Co. stopped Roethisberger from using all that playoff experience we heard so much about, shutting him down and sealing the game for the win.

Special Teams: B

It wouldn't be a normal Packer game if there wasn't something to take Shawn Slocum's name in vain, and a critical unnecessary roughness penalty on Tramon Williams, who retaliated against a player pushing him towards a third-quarter punt about to be downed, made us question why Williams was anywhere near the ball to begin with.  That play put the Packers inside their own 20-yard line and played a key part in giving the Steelers great field position for a go-ahead touchdown.  Williams also muffed the first punt of the game after being run into by Shields, a bullet barely dodged as Williams got it back.  Tim Masthay had an average day, punting for a 40.1 yard average and had difficulty keeping the ball  outside the end zone, only downing one inside the 20 on seven punts.   A forgotten man this postseason, Mason Crosby kicked a 23-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter that put the Steelers behind the eight ball on their final drive.  The Packers passed on a third-quarter field goal attempt from 55 yards away, allowing Masthay to punt instead.  That may have been a wise decision, as Shaun Suisham had just missed a 52-yarder going the other way that gave the Packers good field position.


Rob said...

All that matters now is that the trophy is back home and the Pack are the Champs!! What an amazing ride we had this year and how awesome is was to see this team fight through everything even when they seemed to have been written off by many. This coaching and administrative leadership the Packers have is absolutely amazing. Thanks for an amazing year Pack!

PackersRS said...

Hey, C.D., I've been thinking about this for a while. When you have the time, could you revisit your article about Donald Driver and what's gonna happen when he retires (HoF, Packers HoF, Jersey retired, etc...) and include Charles Woodson?

Winning the SB makes all the difference, and should alter your initial reaction.

C.D. Angeli said...

Absolutely, RS. Will do. Now that Cheesehead Radio is on hiatus for a while, I'm excited to have a bit more time to write again!