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Late in the second quarter, the Packers led, 21-7, so it is unfortunate that they even put themselves in a position to possibly lose the game. The big play allowing them to build the 21-7 lead was another trick play on special teams. In the second quarter, on 4th and 1 from the Packers' own 17 yard line, McCarthy called a fake punt, a direct snap to John Kuhn who gained 5 yards and the first down. I admire the gutsy nature of the call, and I am glad that Coach McCarthy has enough confidence in his players to make crazy calls like this. But the key word is "crazy." I just think this kind of a call, at that point in the game, is reckless. The play worked, so McCarthy comes out as the hero. I still think it is the wrong call.
At the quarter season mark, here are the things I like best about the way the Packers are playing. I like the renewed emphasis on the running game. It is an interesting question how Cedric Benson matches up with Ryan Grant, or with other Packer running backs in recent history. (A satirical look at this question is here.) But whatever the answer, the Packers seem to be working themselves into a state of mind where they are putting more reliance on the run. This is a very good thing, given the sack totals against Rodgers this year when they forget about the run. I like the gutsy calls on special teams, even though I happen to think the one discussed above was a reckless one. It keeps the other teams guessing, and until the Packers start to get burned on these calls, there is no downside. I also like the way the Packers are finding innovative ways to use Randall Cobb. He is a really talented young player on a team that is overloaded with receivers. So every time they find a different way to use him, it is a plus. I am also beginning to get a good feeling about some of the new defensive players, Nick Perry and Casey Hayward in particular.
My biggest overall concerns about the team so far are these. First, the offense, although effective enough to win most of the time, just has not seemed right. Maybe it is not realistic to compare this year's offense to last year's, which was nearly unstoppable most of the time. But between dropped passes, passes off the mark, and 16 sacks given up, the offense is under-performing. Second is the defensive play-calling, and here I am thinking primarily of the Saints game. I can understand Dom Capers being concerned about leaving his rookie defensive players too exposed, but when you give up 446 passing yards to Drew Brees and almost lose the game, something is not going too well. Capers sometimes has a tendency to rush 3 or 4 against an elite quarterback, and drop everybody else in coverage. In theory this could work, but in practice doesn't it seem as if the elite quarterback always carves up the Packers' defense? You could say that the Packers gave up an 80 yard TD pass to Morgan in the Saints game on a play where they did rush more players, undercutting my argument. But the truth is that the TD resulted from a coverage breakdown by the defensive backs, not as a result of applying more pressure. Finally, there are clock management / challenge issues. In the Saints game in particular, McCarthy made a poor decision on a challenge in the first half, and another challenge later, which left him with no challenges left when Darren Sproles fumbled the kickoff after the Packers went ahead, 28-27. It was a flat-out blown call, but McCarthy had no opportunity to get the call reversed, due to the lack of challenges.
So now the Packers head off on a three game road trip, to Indianapolis (1-2), Houston (4-0) and St. Louis (3-2). It is really important that they come away with at least two wins on the trip, and of course the most obvious game that they "should" win is at the Colts tomorrow. They need to start to re-claim that killer instinct, where they go in and put a game away early on. Let's hope they get it done.