Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Thoughts on Packers-Saints Opener

Having watched the Packers' preseason games this year, I have mixed feelings leading up to Thursday night's opening game.  On the one hand, the Packers' starters looked pretty good in all four games, especially on offense when they were in the no-huddle.  On the other hand, the Packers ended up behind in all 4 games, lost one, and had to have the second and third-stringers stage rallies to win the other three.  So what does that tell us?  Probably very little.  While I think Mike McCarthy was trying to win every game, his primary focus had to be on player evaluation (given the limited preseason evaluation time available), and on keeping his starters healthy which, for the most part, he did.

It seemed to many of us that Mike McCarthy evolved as a coach last season, culminating in him putting together a six-game win streak to become World Champions.  I felt that McCarthy and Dom Capers got to a point where they had enough confidence in their starters (even their starters after all of the injuries), that they felt comfortable enough to have all options on the table (onside kicks, aggressive blitzing packages, aggressive offensive play-calling including the no-huddle offense).  That evolution was a long time in coming and, in fairness, would not have been a good move earlier in the Aaron Rodgers era when McCarthy didn't have as much confidence in his offense, and when Capers knew that his defense was not quite ready.

Now the question is: will the coaches remember those lessons learned, and continue with the aggressive approach they used at the end of the season?  Or will they start out playing their cards close to the vest, hoping to come out of their shells later?

I thought back to an interesting Packers.com article from February, in which the author, Mike Spofford, describes a conversation McCarthy had with Aaron Rodgers before the Super Bowl.  McCarthy told Rodgers that he (McCarthy) would be the aggressive one with the play calling, but Rodgers would have to be the disciplined one with the decisions.  Not to pick old scabs off old wounds, but can you imagine McCarthy, or Mike Sherman, putting the burden on Brett Favre to be the disciplined one?  Yeah, neither can I.

So the challenge for McCarthy is to continue that same approach Thursday night.  The Saints are a great football team, despite their shocking playoff loss to the Seahawks.  If McCarthy and the Packers come out playing tentatively, the result could be bad.  They need to come out aggressively and take the game right to the Saints.  With Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant back, and with the emergence of James Starks, it is hard to see how the Packers' offense can be contained, so long as Aaron Rodgers gets some time.  And even after the loss of Cullen Jenkins, there are still enough playmakers on defense to cause some problems.

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