Friday, January 4, 2013

Exorcise the Demon

Going into the final week of the regular season, the Packers had the chance to secure a week off and get some rest before starting the playoffs.  Of course, they blew that chance and let the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson run wild all over the Metrodome, leading to a 37-34 loss to the Vikings.  At times, one could be forgiven for wondering if the Packers had just decided to let Adrian Peterson get the all-time single season rushing record, as some kind of twisted and belated Christmas present.  Sort of like Brett Favre falling to the turf to give up a sack to his pal Michael Strahan.

I ran out of time this week to go back and re-watch the game, so I haven’t counted up the number of times Peterson bounced a run to the outside, whereupon the Packers defender realized that he had an impossible angle to get to Peterson, and had to adjust the angle so as to give up another 10 or 20 yards, but at least have a chance to catch up to Peterson.  Suffice it to say that it seemed like it happened a lot. 

Heading into the playoffs, there were a lot of potential revenge games that could have materialized for the Packers’ first game.  Would it be a chance to pay back Seattle, for (as it turns out) costing the Packers a bye week, and coming darn close to ruining the Packers’ season?  Would it be the Giants, with the Packers getting one more chance to show that the Giants’ defense does not really have the Packers’ number?  How about a flashback to all those Packers-49ers playoff games from the 1990’s and a chance to avenge the disastrous Terrell Owens game?

Nope.  Instead, the Packers get a do-over.  Another chance to show that the Packers don’t always give up 200 yards rushing to Adrian Peterson.  Another chance to stop the otherwise unimpressive Christian Ponder from carving them up.  And (forgive me for this) a chance to “wipe away” the Randy Moss playoff game from January 2005. 

To get it done, the first thing they have to do is do a better job of tackling.  The Packers showed in week 13 that you can give up a lot of yards to Adrian Peterson and still win the game, so long as you don’t also let Christian Ponder have time for a shoe shine and a shave while sitting back comfortably in the pocket.  Ponder had what was probably his best day in the NFL against the Packers last Sunday.  

The most interesting article I have read this week is by Kevin Seifert of ESPN.  He brings the stats to show that, in the first game between the two teams, the Packers blitzed 75% of the time on third down, and on those downs, Ponder was horrible.  For reasons known only to Dom Capers, on third down in the second game, the Packers only blitzed 25% of the time.  We all saw the results.  I am sure that Ponder has improved over the course of the year, and in particular he has looked much better in the last month, but he is not as good as he looked in that game.  So the second necessary change is to get in Ponder's face some more, and the turnovers will come.  One interception is all it would have taken to turn around the game last week.  Move the game outside in the cold, give the Packers a home crowd, rush more than three on third down, and the Packers should win this game.  It might not even be close, but given the way that the Packers rarely put away a lesser opponent, it probably will be.  Something like 31-24.

My wish list for the game includes a lot of rushing yards for Grant and Harris (I would love to see the first 100 yard rushing game for the Packers in a long time), a few catches for Donald Driver in what will most likely be his last home game, more sacks for Clay Matthews, a smashing return for Randall Cobb, and a sack or an interception (or both!) for Charles Woodson.  The most important item on my list is probably the rushing game for the Packers.  With Evan Dietrich-Smith and Don Barclay now starting on the offensive line, it is to be expected that these young players are more advanced in run blocking than they are in pass protection.  So rather than have Rodgers drop back 50 times and take 5 or 6 sacks, it would be great if the Packers could get the running game going, with the one-two punch of Grant and Harris, and take some pressure off of Rodgers.  If the Packers win Saturday night, they take a trip to my backyard to play the 49ers the following Saturday night.  That matchup will be a tough one for the Packers, if it happens.  But first things first.  Time to exorcise the Adrian Peterson-monster.

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