Thursday, December 17, 2015

Building Some Momentum (Finally)

Great Pair of Signs from the Game Broadcast
It would be a mistake to make too much of the Packers' 28-7 win over the Cowboys last Sunday.  With Tony Romo now out for the year, the Cowboys are struggling mightily, and backup Matt Cassel has clearly not been the answer.  The Cowboys had their moments, breaking off some long runs, but the passing game was almost non-existent, and they had little chance to keep up with the Packers.  The Packers' win, coupled with the Vikings' loss, put the Packers back in sole possession of first place in the NFC North, and guaranteed that the Packers will be no worse off, going into the final week Minnesota at Green Bay game, than to be playing to win the division.

To what do we attribute the Packers' rejuvenated offense?  Well, Mike McCarthy took back the play-calling duties for the first time this year, and the Packers had one of their better offensive games of the season.  McCarthy let Eddie Lacy out of the "penalty box" from his missed-curfew incident, and Lacy responded by having his best game of the year.  With two of the Packers' remaining games being potential "weather games," the running game could not be more welcome.  Weather forecasts show that rain is likely for this week's game at Oakland, and the season finale against the Vikings could really be in harsh conditions.

So was McCarthy's play-calling the difference?  He said he felt it was something he had to do; that he thinks spending time concentrating on defense and special teams earlier made the team better and made him a better coach; and that he will take it a week at a time as to who will call the plays going forward.  Rodgers, diplomatically, said that it was not about play-calling, it was about execution.

I have been pretty critical of McCarthy's play-calling in the past.  I found it, at times, unimaginative, timid, and predictable.  So, when McCarthy gave up play-calling duties at the beginning of the year, I thought it was a good move.  But the results suggest otherwise.  Sure, the Packers started out the year 6-0, and they were 8-4 before McCarthy took back play-calling.  But they had won only 2 of their previous 6 games, and it took a miracle to accomplish one of those wins.  The defense was playing well enough to win almost every game, but the offense was not.  In short, based on the 12 games that Tom Clements called, the play-calling was not getting better; it was getting worse.  So, although I did not see it coming, I am glad McCarthy is back in the driver's seat.  If nothing else, Rodgers and McCarthy seem to be more in sync, and had fewer problems with running out of play clock in getting the ball snapped.

The next three weeks are all about making the playoffs and playoff seeding.  The good news, as mentioned above, is that the Packers have put themselves in a position where, regardless of what happens on the road against the Raiders and Cardinals, they can be in no worse shape than to be playing for the division title in the finale against the Vikings.  But the Packers are obviously in no position to just coast into that final game and hope for the best.  Much better to keep winning and build some momentum, maybe lock up the division before the final game, and keep alive the (admittedly slim) hope that they might end up as the second seed and get a bye week.

The first stop is at Oakland.  This will be the Packers' first visit there since the historical "Irvin Favre" game in December, 2003, which I wrote up here.  It would be a huge mistake to look past the Raiders.  They just pulled off a big deal of an upset last week, beating their arch-rivals, the Broncos, in Denver.  And, they are still ever-so-slightly in the hunt for a wild card spot, so they have everything to play for and very little to lose.  Which makes them a dangerous team.  When you consider Khalil Mack and the still impressive Charles Woodson on defense (there is a nice article on Woodson and his continuing connections to Green Bay here), and Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, and Michael Crabtree on offense, you realize that the Raiders are on the upswing.

Still, they have only won 2 of the last 6 games, beating both Denver and Tennessee by 3 points.  They are giving up way too many points to have a winning record, 25 points per game.  The Raiders could obviously beat the Packers.  The way they were playing a few weeks ago, anybody could beat the Packers.  But I don't see it happening.  The Packers are (finally) on a bit of a roll, and I am hoping and expecting that it will continue.


  1. I am expecting a win, too. But I think it will be a struggle, a 24-20 kind of game. The OAK offense is pretty good, and who knows what offense will show up for GB. The Packers truly are a team that is good enough to beat anyone, but in an out-of-sync season, they could lose to just about anyone. So flying two-thirds of the way across the country to face a half-way decent Raiders team is far from a lock for Green Bay.

    1. Chris (I think that is who you are) - I agree. Incidentally, I had not really planned to go to this game. But the closer it gets to Sunday, the more tempted I become.