Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Packers Are 2-0 Thanks to the "Next Men Up"

Photo from Seattle Times Sept. 21, 2015
For the last couple years, no team has been more of a thorn in the side of the Green Bay Packers than the Seattle Seahawks.  I still shudder when I think of the "Fail Mary" game and the monumental collapse in the NFC Championship game.  It was no surprise when the NFL put the Seahawks-Packers game in prime time.  In the rematch of the NFC Championship game, the Packers (finally hosting the Seahawks in Green Bay) won the game, 27-17. They concentrated on keeping Marshawn Lynch in check, did so successfully and led for most of the game.

But if any of us thought at halftime that the second half would be easy, we made a bad call on that.  Right after halftime, it seemed that the Seahawks had made better halftime adjustments, and scored on successive drives to take the lead, 17-13, primarily by getting Russell Wilson moving around, and having him take off with the ball when necessary.

At that point, it was the Packers' turn to adjust their game plan, which they did by making frequent use of the no-back backfield on offense.  James Starks, who had replaced Eddie Lacy early after Lacy injured his ankle, needed a rest anyway.  But more importantly, the no-back set allowed the Packers to line up with Randall Cobb, Richard Rodgers and even Ty Montgomery in the backfield,  creating uncertainty if not confusion by the defense as to where they might go on pass routes.  This adjustment led to the Packers retaking the lead on a clutch fourth quarter drive, with a TD pass to Richard Rodgers, followed by a 2 point conversion to Rodgers.  The Packers then salted the victory away by wiping almost 5 of the last 7 minutes off the clock and scoring a a field goal at the two minute warning to reach the final score of 27-17.

To me, the largest story line of this game was "next man up." James Jones is only in Green Bay because of the season-ending injury to Jordy Nelson, and he was again a large factor in his second game back.  Tackle Bryan Bulaga hurt himself in practice and missed the game. Don Barclay, who many times has struggled when pressed into action, played pretty well.  He was the weakest player on the offensive line, but he played better than we might have expected.  Eddie Lacy was knocked out of the game in the first quarter with an ankle injury, and James Starks looked really good in relief.  Davante Adams was knocked out temporarily, and came back gimpy late in the game, but rookie Ty Montgomery (who has appeared primarily as a kick returner up to now) played the no. 3 wide receiver for a while and looked good, made some plays, and broke some tackles.  Defensive tackle Josh Boyd was knocked out of the game (and lost for the season), but Mike Pennel and Datone Jones picked up the slack.

But most impressively, in part because of the loss of linebacker Sam Barrington in week 1, second year player Jayrone Elliott got extra snaps, and boy, did he make the most of them. All he did was generate two turnovers, first intercepting a Wilson pass with one hand, and then later stripping the ball on a passing play to clinch the game.  This is the same guy that Matthews and Peppers started calling "the Playmaker" last year, while the trainers started calling him "Shakespeare."  Why, you ask? "Because all he does is make plays."

 After two weeks the Packers lead the division at 2-0, the Vikings are 1-1, and the Bears and Lions are 0-2.  The fact that the Seahawks are 0-2 is a nice added bonus.  Obviously it is a long season, but the two game lead, plus a tiebreaker, over the Seahawks makes it much less likely that the Packers would have to go back to Seattle for a hypothetical Championship game.  A very nice start to the season, fully consistent with McCarthy's desire to get off to a faster start this year.

The Chiefs come to town next Monday night, as the Packers play their second consecutive home night game.  The Chiefs were poised to go 2-0 themselves, before giving up a fourth quarter touchdown to tie the game, and then fumbling the ball and the game away in the closing seconds.

The Chiefs will be a tough matchup for the Packers.  I am sure that we all remember the Chiefs spoiling the Packers' perfect season a couple of years back. They obviously have some talent.  Andy Reid is an excellent coach.  Alex Smith is not a bad quarterback, but he is no Aaron Rodgers.  Jamaal Charles is excellent, except when he fumbles away the ballgame.  But I don't think they have the same number of playmakers as the Packers have.  And I think that will be the difference in the game.

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