Saturday, October 15, 2011
(Photo from the Green Bay Press-Gazette.)
Since I am late in writing about last week's Packers-Falcons game, which the Packers won 25-14, I will offer a few comments about the game before turning my attention to the next couple of games.
When the Falcons got the opening kickoff, and started at the 20, one thing I did not expect to happen was for them to go on an 80 yard, 13 play drive to score a touchdown, then recover a Ryan Grant fumble to end a promising drive, then go on another long drive to go up 14-0.
On the one hand, I did believe, going into the game, that the Packers exposed the weakness of the Falcons' defense in the playoff game last year. And when the Falcons lost 30-12 to the Bears in week 1 of this year, my view of the Falcons' weaknesses were reinforced. But on the other hand, they were the no. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs last year, they still have Michael Turner, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Matt Ryan on offense, and now they have added Julio Jones. So starting with a 14 point lead, they were going to be tough to beat, especially since the Packers were never behind any team all of last year by more than 7 points.
But then just like that, the game changed. We maybe did not realize it at first, because the Packers' first three scoring drives resulted in field goals, not touchdowns. But the bottom line is that the Packers shut out the Falcons during the last 43 minutes of the game, while going on 6 scoring drives of their own, putting up 25 unanswered points. There were big passing touchdowns to Jones and Jennings, and there were a total of 4 field goals. The Falcons could not stop the Packers, all they could do is just contain the damage.
How did the Packers change things around so thoroughly? To counteract the loss of OT Chad Clifton early in the game, the Packers started rolling Rodgers out more, and keeping an extra blocker in the backfield on many occasion, just to make sure he did not get killed back there. Rodgers spread out the ball to 12 different receivers during the game, keeping the Falcons off balance. And most importantly, after the Grant fumble on the first drive, the Packers never gave the ball away again.
On the defensive side, the Packers seemed to keep the Falcons guessing at all times. Sometimes they would rush only 3 or 4, dropping everybody else in coverage, and at other times (increasingly as the game went on), they would bring extra pressure on Ryan. He was very active in changing plays at the line of scrimmage, but he could not out-think Dom Capers, and was picked off twice, and pressured into bad throws many times.
All in all, it was a great example of the Packers' coaching staff adjusting their game plans on the fly, adapting to the changing circumstances on the field. It was, in some ways, the Packers' best game of the year. My biggest concern at this point is that everybody is getting a little too confident about the Packers. My buddy Dick Karth said that this was one of the most impressive games he has seen. Noted Packer blogger Jersey Al, on the Cheesehead Radio broadcast this week, said he is as "giddy as a schoolgirl" about the Packers. That is fine, I feel pretty good about the Packers myself. I just hope that the players are not reading all of their own press clippings, especially going into potential "trap games" like they have both this week against the 0-4 Rams, and next week against the 1-4 Vikings.
As one would expect, the danger is not lost on the coaching staff, which has gone out of its way to remind the Packers of their loss to the 0-7 Buccaneers two years ago. I don't expect the players or the coaches to let that happen again. The Packers are too good to lose to the Rams at home, and I would be nothing short of shocked if they do. The Vikings game next week is a little different, because it is a rivalry game, and it is on the road. Still, I really expect the Packers to be 7-0 next Sunday night, heading into a well-deserved bye week.
Some interesting notes on the Rams game: Rams Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo was the Defensive Coordinator for the Giants at the time of that painful NFC Championship game after the 2007 season (also known as Favre's last game for the Packers). So he is a pretty good coach, but I don't think that he has the horses at the moment. Former Packers Al Harris, Brady Poppinga, and Josh Gordy all play for the Rams. It appears Al Harris may start against the Packers, and I would expect a very warm welcome from the crowd. He was a great player for the Packers during his prime, and he left only because of a combination of injury and advancing age. I don't think I will ever forget his "Thank You Note" to the fans when he was released.