Tuesday, November 30, 1999

Report from 3Com Park

Last night's game was probably boring to anyone but Packer fans. I'm guessing that the TV rating dropped precipitously in the second half. It was certainly boring to the 49er fans in the stands. They were pretty quiet throughout the game. In fact, on the way home, people were calling in to sports radio shows, complaining about how quiet the fans were, as if the "12th man" was the main problem for the 49ers. The other topic on the sports radio shows was who should start at QB for the 49ers next week.

There was a lot left to be desired in the game for the Packers. There was a lot of bending but no breaking on defense, and the offense only scored 2 TDs (plus 2 FGs) out of 5 trips inside the red zone. This could un-do the Packers in a different game. Here, I looked at it as a methodical, pretty conservative game plan on both sides of the ball, with the idea that this was a game they would win unless they screwed it up.

To put it differently, I had the impression that the Packers could have scored a lot more points if they wanted to by opening up the offense. But they decided to stick with a safer, conservative game plan, figuring that the 49ers would not score many points. Except for the first couple of series, the Packers seemed to me to be in total control of the game.

The long ball to Bradford was obviously not a conservative play, except in the sense that people have been throwing long against the 49ers with success all year. And if the defender did not tackle him it might have been a TD (you all must have seen that one better than I did, since they showed no replay of this play in the stadium). So 2 of the possible outcomes are good, plus it a long pass like this tends to loosen up the defense for the short passing game. Certainly in the second half the 49er defenders were playing way off the receivers.

As mentioned, the atmosphere throughout the game was subdued in the stands. There were a lot more Packer fans present than in the playoff game in January, as I had expected. The Packer fans were having a good time, tastefully at least in my area, and the 49er fans were mostly sitting on their hands. The paper here did not publish any "no show" statistics, but I can tell you that there were thousands of empty seats, even at the beginning of the game. The rain, which may have scared some away, did not start to any meaningful extent until the 4th quarter. Once it did, the stands started to empty out, and the percentage of Packer fans present increased dramatically by the end of the game. The Packers got a pretty hearty send-off from the Packer fans at the corner of the field on the other side, where the team goes on its way to the locker room.

Sunday, November 28, 1999

Monday Night 49er Game

As is almost always true, the Packer - 49er game this year is a big one. Not because these two teams are fighting it out for home field advantage in the playoffs. The 49ers are all done, and the Packers are one or two losses away from being in the same boat. But as long as there is a chance for the Packers, every game will be huge, as they fight to keep their playoff possibilities alive.

This game will be an interesting one, because it will tell us whether the newly-healthy right thumb is going to carry the Packers anywhere, or whether last week's victory against the Lions was just a fluke. This 49er team is absolutely awful, and if the Packers can't beat them now, you can forget about the playoffs in any event. The 49ers are at 3-7, with a 6 game losing streak going for them, and things have gotten so bad that the local media is not spending much time actually talking about Monday night's game. They know that the 49er season is over, whether the 49ers effectively end the Packers' season as well or not.

As this season has progressed, I have noticed that the 49er fans are dealing with their adversity better than the Packer fans. On the Packer mailing list, the teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing is enough to keep you awake all night long. The 49er fans are dealing with even more adversity, but they seem to be managing pretty well.

I think there are two reasons for this. First, the 49er fan base is the classic example of a fan base that is a mile wide and 2 inches deep. When I moved to the San Francisco area in 1980, they weren't even selling out the games. Then along came 1981, and all of a sudden everyone was on the Niner bandwagon. But now that the dynasty seems finally to have ended, they will move on and find something else to worry about. In other words, the majority of 49er fans just don't care about the team the way that most Packer fans do.

The other thing, of course, is that the circumstances are very different for the two teams. Favre has been injured all year, but presumably he will be healthy next year. Chmura will be back, Ron Wolf will draft some more people to fill more holes. Ray Rhodes may or may not be back, but as long as this team has Brett Favre, they will be a contender for a long time. In the case of the 49ers, there is no particular reason to hope for the future.

In all likelihood, Steve Young will never suit up again, and there is no heir apparent. Jerry Rice is all through as an impact player, and this will probably be his last year. And the salary cap, long deferred, has finally caught up with the 49ers. They had to cut something like $28 million in salaries this year just to meet the cap, and they have to cut something like another $18 million next year. So the 49er fans know that while they have had a long, unbelievable run, this time it is finally over.

That will be obvious Monday night, as the Packers roll to a 31-10 victory. By the end of the game, the only sound from the stands will be the sound of Packer fans (myself included) yelling GO PACK GO!

Saturday, November 20, 1999

Must Rhodes Go?

The internet has been buzzing for several weeks about the sad state of the 1999 Packers. Most of the flak has been directed at Ray Rhodes and his coaching staff. Many have suggested that Rhodes be fired immediately. I don't think that will happen, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it is hard to see how firing the head coach in the middle of the season will help to salvage this season. No other obvious coaching candidates are available from the outside, and it is certainly not clear that there is an up-and-coming head coach candidate on the Packers' staff (past enthusiasm for Sherman Lewis has been dissipated).

For weeks, I took the view that the main problem is Brett Favre's thumb. I'm not so sure anymore. While I can't claim to have studied game tapes after the fact, something has struck me in watching the last couple of games live. When the Packers are on offense, it seems like the defense is ALWAYS in Favre's face. And when the Packers are on defense, it seems like the Packers NEVER get any pressure on the quarterback without blitzing.

So maybe it is not just the thumb. Maybe it is both lines as well. And this has caused me to ask the next question: how could the offensive and defensive lines deteriorate so badly in less than a year? Granted, Reggie White retired. Mark Chmura is on injured reserve. There have been injuries, etc. But I just cannot believe that these factors have made that much difference. So I am coming to the conclusion, more firmly as every week goes by, that the coaching staff has to shoulder a lot of the blame. This coaching staff is just not get getting much production out of these players, most of whom were in the Super Bowl two years ago.

Every year, some team comes along and achieves more than its talent should allow it to do. The Falcons were probably an example of that last year. And every year, there is a team that never plays up to the level of its talent. Around here, that team is usually the Raiders. Sadly, this year, there is no team that looks like more of an under-achiever than the Packers.

If things don't turn around immediately, this is a lost season. I hate to say it, but I don't see any reason to think that things will turn around. This team is playing like a 4-5 team (or worse), and I can't think of a good reason to think that they will go 7-0 or 6-1 to finish the season. If they don't turn it around, then Rhodes must go.

Wednesday, November 3, 1999

What is Wrong With The Packers?

I suffered through the Denver game, and could not comprehend how the team could be so flat and inept for a game that meant so much to the fans. Why didn't the players play like it?

Then I enjoyed the San Diego game, deluding myself into thinking that the Packers had turned the corner, and would be just fine from here on out.

Then the Monday night disaster [Ed.note - the Packers played the Seahawks, and lost 27-7.] . The Packers played their worst game since, . . . , well, since two weeks before. A disaster in some ways akin to last year's disaster on Monday night against the Vikings. The players had to care about this one, just as a matter of pride, didn't they? Then how could they play like this?

I have talked with others, read some of the post-game comments, read articles online, mostly just listening, trying to make up my own mind about this. None of the people I have talked to or heard from have suggested that the Packers are playing at the level of their talent. Yes, injuries have hurt them, but not this much. They have much more talent than they have shown in two of their last three games.

Some have suggested that the coaching staff is to blame. The "country club atmosphere" has returned, and the team does not have enough discipline (the Earl Dotson debacle fits right in with this theory). The play-calling has been questioned. Why, for example, did the Packers not run more in the second half, before it got too late to recover? Dorsey Levens was gaining big chunks of yards, and the running game would have taken some pressure off of the ineffective Favre?

Others have suggested that the real problem is that Favre's hand is bothering him more than people realize. Certainly one of the fumbles could be attributed to inability to get a proper grip on the ball. I'm not surenif the interceptions could be attributed to the thumb problem, but maybe. The thing that is a bit ominous about the thumb theory is that I remember Favre having made a comment before the San Diego game, suggesting that the warm weather would make it easier to play with his injured thumb. And, maybe not coincidentally, the San Diego game was the Packers' best game of the year. Monday night in Green Bay, it was cold and blustery, and Favre had his worst (or second worst) game of the year. The ominous part is that there are only a couple of truly warm weather games left on the schedule (at Dallas, at Tampa, and at Minnesota if you count a dome game as a warm weather game). So if the thumb is the problem, we could be in for a very long year.

I come out thinking that the thumb is the main problem. The defense has looked alright. I certainly can't blame the defense for giving up 20 points (not counting the 7 points on the blocked field goal), when the offense turned the ball over 7 times. The offense was horrible, but mostly just because of the turnovers. If you could somehow cut the turnovers out of the game, it would have been a very different game. I just have a feeling that the thumb is getting worse, that it acts up more in cold weather, and that Favre is going to have this problem all year long.

Having said that, I am starting to agree with those who criticize the coaching staff, as well. It is becoming apparent that Sherman Lewis is not as good an offensive coordinator as Mike Holmgren was. I think that the Packers have been out-coached in several of the games this year. That was not usually the case with Holmgren. On the lack of discipline, certainly Dotson's outburst was inexcusable. I felt that it single-handedly eliminated any chance the Packers had of coming back to win that game. And to the extent that Favre is doing erratic things like throwing into double coverage instead of being smarter about his decision-making, maybe that is indicative of a lack of discipline as well. I'm going to try to pay more attention to the coaching decisions as the game progresses, and see if I can get a better sense of this question in the next couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, it is Bear week. This game does not have the luster it had a few years back, but the Bears almost always play the Packers tough. I'm looking for a relatively low-scoring game, with a defensive touchdown for the Packers and more of a ball control game on offense. Packers, 21-13.