Saturday, November 7, 2015

Bouncing Back Against the Panthers

Packers Arrive in Charlotte, Photo by Duke Bobber,
In the first of two consecutive road games for the Packers against undefeated opponents, the Packers crashed and burned last Sunday night at Denver, losing 29-10.  Among many other problems for the Packers, Aaron Rodgers could not find anyone open downfield, took many hits and sacks, and scored a career low of 77 yards passing.  But stop and think, how many times on Sunday night did the Packers run plays on offense that were designed to take the pressure off of Rodgers?  I am talking about screen passes, draw plays, quick release passes, play action passes, outlet passes to a running back?  I re-watched the game, and the answer is, not nearly enough.  Part of the Packers' problem on Sunday night was that their game plan was, in some ways, too aggressive, involving too many long-developing offensive plays.  But they couldn't get away with them against a defense as good as that of the Broncos, so eventually Rodgers had to throw the ball away, and/or get hit in the process.

At that point, two additional problems kicked in.  The first has been a "problem," off and on, since Rodgers has been the starting quarterback.  Rodgers is cautious, occasionally to a fault.  He doesn't like to take reckless chances.  When he had Jordy Nelson available, he had the trust he needed to throw a ball up and count on Nelson to make a play.  I am calling it a "problem" here, but it is also his greatest strength.  Unlike his predecessor, who we all remember had a tendency to make a huge mistake at the wrong time, Rodgers is much more careful about throwing the ball up for grabs.  But when the Packers fall into a 17-0 hole against the number 1 defense, as they did Sunday night, something has to change and, I am arguing, you have to take some chances and give the receivers the opportunity to make a play, even if you don't have the same degree of trust in them that you have in Jordy Nelson.

Speaking of things needing to change, the second problem was (to my eye, anyway) the lack of in-game adjustments.  Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers have both frequently been criticized for not making enough in-game adjustments.   Some of us hoped that relinquishing the play-calling duties might free Mike McCarthy up to concentrate more on broad strategy issues during the game, rather than having to focus on calling each individual play.  But there was no evidence of that on Sunday night.  Either McCarthy is too stubborn to try to adjust his game plan during the game, or if he was adjusting the game plan, then either Tom Clements, in play-calling, or Aaron Rodgers, in calling audibles, was undermining the adjusted game plan.  

Obviously, if the Packers had to lose their first game, it is just as well that they would lose to an AFC opponent, since that loss has no playoff implications.  But now they travel to Charlotte to face the undefeated Panthers, knowing that a loss there will put the Packers two games behind the Panthers, plus a tie-breaker, in the race for home-field advantage.  So this is the game that really counts.  The Panthers, meanwhile, had an interesting game of their own this past week.  They were beating the Colts so badly that I actually turned off the game to do other things.  I then noticed that the Colts had closed to within 3 points with less than a minute to go.  They tied it up, went into overtime, exchanged a pair of field goals, and then Luck was intercepted on a tipped ball, resulting in the winning field goal for the Panthers.

The Panthers are probably playing better than the Packers have over the last few weeks, but the Packers have a more talented team.  If they play up to their talent level, the Packers should win this game easily.  But it is hard, as a fan, to have a lot of confidence in the Packers right now.  They have won 6 out of 7 games, sure, but they have looked at least somewhat bad in each of the last 4 games.  The Packers have something to prove, to me and to the rest of their fan base.  Let them show that they can bounce back after a tough road loss (they do have a pretty good record of doing this).  Let them show that they can make in-game adjustments when things are not going their way.  Let them show that they can insert some plays, when necessary, to take some pressure off Rodgers.  And let them show that they can stick to a balanced offense even when they have some trouble making it work.  Go ahead, show us.

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