Saturday, November 14, 2015

Time for the Packers to Stop the Slide

Press-Gazette Cover, 11-9-15
I had just about finished this post on Friday, when the news of the terrorist attacks in Paris started hitting the screen.  All of a sudden, a two-game Packers losing streak didn't seem like such a big deal after all, and I decided to wait a day before posting this.  Prayers for the victims and survivors, comfort to the families, and may France and the west be "impitoyable √† l’√©gard des barbares de Daesh" (ruthless against the ISIS barbarians).  Having gotten that off my chest, back to football.

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Cam Newton rips down and destroys an expensive Packer fan banner in the stadium (and the fan reports him to the police, and the Panthers later agree to replace the banner).  Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Julius Peppers yelling at each other on the sidelines, with B.J. Raji and Mike Pennel doing some pushing and shoving to try to break it up. Randall Cobb and Aaron Rodgers arguing with each other on the sidelines.  Rodgers, upon seeing that he had missed a wide open Cobb on the decisive play of the game, throwing his tablet to the ground (and apparently destroying it in the process).  Packer fans are in full panic mode after the Packers lose 2 games in a row for the first time since 2010, this one by the score of 37-29 to the still-undefeated Carolina Panthers.  Then later this week, Eddie Lacy gets demoted to RB number 2.  All is not well in Titletown, that is for sure.

Will a visit by the Lions make everything OK?  Well, it will take more than a win against the Lions to make everything OK with the Packers.  But the Lions have not won in the state of Wisconsin since 1991.  This sets up a sort of a football Rorschach test.  Glass-half-full types would say, the Packers are not about to lose to the Lions in Green Bay, particularly not this year's Lions team, which is in disarray at 1-7.  While glass-half-empty types would say that the Lions are due after all those years.  Or, here is another Rorschach test.  The Packers' 6 wins have come against 6 teams, none of which currently have a winning record (the best among them are the Seahawks and Rams at 4-4).  While the Packers' two losses have come against teams that were undefeated at the time of the games.  Does that make you feel better or worse about the 2015 Packers?

Put me in the glass-half-full group.  I expect the Packers to beat the Lions, but I have to be honest in saying that nothing would shock me after the last two games.  And it is good not to forget that the Lions were 11-5 last year and only lost to the Cowboys in the playoffs on a controversial play.  So it is not as if they are as bad a team as their 1-7 record would suggest.

As for the Packers, everybody knows that there is something wrong with Eddie Lacy and with the receivers.  Eddie Lacy is some combination of too fat/too out of shape/too injured.  I love Lacy, but it is probably a good thing for right now that Starks is going to be the starter.  Starks has looked much better than Lacy for several games in a row.

The problem with the receivers is a little different.  The receivers who are starting are not very fast, and the receivers who are fast are not playing much and don't seem to have the trust factor with Rodgers or the coaching staff.  I do think that this will improve over time as some of the players continue to get healthier after their injuries (Cobb, Adams, Montgomery) and as the faster players gain more trust (Janis, Abbrederis).

But what about Aaron Rodgers?  My wife Judy has been saying for weeks that there is something wrong with him.  I did not think so at first, but I am coming around to her point of view.  He frequently seems jumpy in the pocket.  He seems to hesitate in pulling the trigger on passes (I saw this several times in the Carolina game - instances where he had open receivers available to him).  Why?  Is that a conscious decision by Rodgers, because he is looking for a longer pass, or the play call by the coaches?  Even when he does pull the trigger, he is frequently just a little off target, more so than we are used to.  It would be a violation of league injury policies for Rodgers to be injured and for the Packers not to report it.  So let's not assume that that is the case.  But if it is not, then what is the answer?  Could it be that he is taking too many hits and sacks, and getting inadequate protection from the offensive line, and that this has affected his psyche?  Perhaps, but that would not be a good answer.

Beyond this, the coaching staff continues to under-perform.  Once again, I saw insufficient offensive plays designed to take the pressure off of Rodgers (screen passes, draw plays, roll-outs, slants and other quick release passes).  They were a little better on this against the Panthers than against the Broncos, but I want to see more protective and creative play calls against the Lions.

And the defense, which a few weeks ago looked like one of the best in the league, now looks like one of the worst.  They have not had a single sack in the last two games, and they have given up 1,475 yards over the last three games.  I have never been a member of the "fire Dom Capers" club, but I might be getting closer to it if things don't improve.  They need to be more aggressive.  They need to get after Matthew Stafford.  He is not likely to look like Cam Newton when under pressure.

The next four games, all against division opponents, will in effect decide how the 2015 season will go.  To borrow from Kevin Greene in Super Bowl XLV, "it is time."

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