Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Will the 2013 Packers Survive the Next Few Weeks Without Rodgers?

AP Photo by Morry Gash
The news as of Tuesday afternoon was that Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was injured in the opening minutes of the Monday night loss to the Chicago Bears (27-20), will be out 3-6 weeks with a broken clavicle.  To add insult to injury, Jermichael Finley was placed on IR on Tuesday, as well.  We probably all knew that was coming, but still, just what we needed to hear Tuesday.

Maybe Bears Head Coach Marc Trestman is the Boy Genius after all.  Josh McCown looked good last week when pressed into service against the Redskins (although the Redskins did pull out a win at the end of the game), and he looked very solid Monday night in beating the Packers.  Meanwhile, Mike McCarthy, who has always had the reputation of being a great developer of quarterbacks, has had 8 weeks to work with Seneca Wallace as his backup quarterback, and yet he clearly was not ready to step in and perform at an adequate level.

To make matters worse, McCarthy seemed unwilling to let Wallace air it out.  Or at least, he seemed unwilling to let him pass most of the time until it was third down.  As in, "run, run, pass, punt."  Now I can understand that, when one of Wallace's first passes was tipped up and intercepted by Julius Peppers, it tended to reinforce McCarthy's cautious nature.  But he did the team's chances to win no favors when he pulled the reins so tight with Wallace.  Football fans talk all the time about the prevent defense, and how all it does is prevent a win.  Monday night, I am afraid we saw something that amounts to a prevent offense.  The way I see it, when Rodgers went out, there were two ways that the Packers were going to end up winning this game.  Either the defense and/or special teams were going to step up and make the difference in the game, or the offense was going to have to play aggressively and get a little lucky.

The special teams actually had a pretty good night.  There were two great special teams plays, the blocked punt, and the surprise onside kick the Packers recovered in the third quarter.  And McCarthy certainly gets all the credit for having the guts to call the onside kick.  These two plays led to 10 points for the Packers, half of their total for the night.  I think you could make a pretty good case that the special teams kept the Packers in the game, despite very pedestrian results kicking and receiving the ball.

The defense, on the other hand, picked a hell of a time to play their worse game since the opening day loss to the 49ers.  The defense had been improving all year, until Monday night.  After giving up 494 yards and 34 points to the 49ers in week 1 (a loss), they dialed it back to 422 yards but only 20 points in beating the Redskins in week 2.  In games 3 through 7. the Packers never gave up more than 360 total yards in any game, and in 4 of those 5 games, they held their opponent to less than 300 yards.  Monday night, the Packers gave up 442 yards and 27 points to the Bears playing with a backup quarterback of their own.  The Packers rarely got any pressure on McCown (he was sacked only once), and there were many instances of poor tackling by Packer defenders.

So, seeing how things were going, you would think that McCarthy would realize that more creativity and aggressiveness would be required on offense to have a good chance to win the game.  More play action passes, since it was obvious that the Packers were going to run the ball most of the time.  More screen passes or bootleg plays, or designed rollouts, to take a little starch out of the Bears' pass rush.  Maybe a trick play or two.  After re-watching the game, I now know that Wallace dropped back to pass 23 times, including plays where he was sacked.  He dropped back in the pocket 22 times.  Rollouts: 1.  Screens: 0.  Trick plays: 0.  He may have had a play action pass or two, but in general he just dropped straight back.

McCarthy's innate cautiousness made him shy away from being too aggressive with his backup quarterback. He probably would say that his strategy almost worked, given the Packers' strong running game, which frankly was a surprise given that the Bears knew it was coming.  The Packers led in the 3rd quarter.  They got as far as the Bear's 40 yard line, in the 4th quarter, while trailing by only 4 points.  So they weren't far away from squeaking out a win.  Still, I believe that this approach was a mistake.  Sure, if McCarthy got aggressive, there might be some big negative plays (a pick-6, for example).  But really, it may feel worse to get beat by 20 points than by 7, but they both count as a single loss.  And if you take some chances, you also create the chance to have a real shot at winning the game.

In contrast to McCarthy's overly cautious approach, take a look at the bold play Trestman pulled in the 4th quarter, going for it on 4th and inches, in the Bears' own territory, while holding a 4 point lead.  That is something that is very rarely seen, even though statistically you can make a good case for going for it on 4th and 1 from any position on the field.  But most NFL coaches are way too risk-averse to do it.

The bottom line is that the Packers were outcoached Monday night, their backup quarterback outplayed the Packers' backup quarterback, and the Packers' defense was woefully inadequate to make up the difference.  Congratulations to Marc Trestman and the Bears.

I have to assume that McCarthy will open it up at least a little in the coming weeks.  McCarthy will have a week, albeit a short one, to get Wallace ready to start against the Eagles on Sunday.  Over the next 3.5 weeks, the Packers will play 4 games against mediocre (or worse) teams: the Eagles (4-5) at home, at the Giants (2-6), at home against the Vikings (1-7), and at Detroit (5-3) on Thanksgiving.  Could the Packers win at least two of those games?  I think so, and if they do, they would be 7-5 and in pretty decent shape by the time Rodgers is about ready to come back.  The Eagles game would be an excellent time to start.


  1. Points well taken. And there were a few third and short yardage downs in which McCarthy called poorly chosen pass plays instead of running.

  2. Thanks, Reg. I can recall at least one of those.