Long-time readers will know that the fact that Stafford and Johnson were out gave me no great pleasure in the lead-up to the game. I have previously written about what I call the Brad Hoover Syndrome (the Packers' incredibly irritating tendency to make back-up players look like hall-of-famers), so if anything, the fact that the Lions would be starting backups at key positions made me nervous.
Having now seen the game, the conventional wisdom is right, in my view. The penalties, in particular, are ridiculous, and it implicates the coaching staff. Sure, penalties are part of the game. You can't eliminate them entirely. I get all that. But the problem is, when the head coach says that they are part of the game (as McCarthy did in his Monday press conference), I am afraid that the message that comes through to the players is that it is not good, but hey, it is not that bad either. Wouldn't it be better for the player to be afraid to come back to the sideline after committing a penalty, as Leroy Butler says he was when playing for Mike Holmgren?
I saw some improvement in some areas. I noticed a few more roll-outs, screen passes and pump fakes, all of which would help deal with the pass rush, given the problems on the offensive line. Speaking of screen passes, shouldn't the Packers be great at screen passes, since they seem to let the rushers through even when they are not trying to do so? I still saw some instances where Rodgers held on to the ball too long, so that is clearly an area where he needs to continue to improve. I did like his presence of mind to throw the long ball on an obvious offsides call in the first drive, resulting in the long TD to James Jones.
There has also been a lot of talk about letting Aaron Kampman be a pass rusher again, with his hand in the dirt, as the announcers were so fond of saying on Sunday. Well, he got a few more chances to rush the passer, with favorable results. So maybe the coaches are paying at least some attention to the criticism out there.
Where do we go from here? The Packers get one more "exhibition" game against the Browns on Sunday, before the re-match with the Vikings. In fairness, with the Packers there are no exhibition games, so they should not take the Browns lightly. My wife pointed out that on local TV in the SF Bay Area last week, they showed a clip of Eagles' coach Andy Reid, talking about the upcoming game with the Raiders. He said that they know what the Raiders' record is (1-4 at the time), but that they have seen the films and know how explosive they can be. At this point they cut back to the sports guys, laughing at their desk, saying they don't know what films he is watching. The Raiders, of course, went on to beat the Eagles, 13-9. The Packers should take a lesson from this.