Thursday, December 31, 2015

Last Chance to Get Hot!

Press-Gazette Cover, Dec. 28, 2015
The question that has to be asked is: how bad are the Green Bay Packers right now? In losing to the Cardinals by 30 points on Sunday (38-8), they suffered their worst defeat since being blown out by the Lions by the same margin on Thanksgiving Day 2013.  And Matt Flynn was the QB that day, with Aaron Rodgers still recovering from his broken collarbone.  In fact, this is the worst points deficit the Packers have ever had with Rodgers at QB.  To find a bigger points deficit for a Packers team, you have to go all the way back to 2006, when the Patriots beat the Packers 35-0.  If you are a glutton for punishment, you can pile on other stats to show how bad the game was; for example, when the other team has more sacks than your team has points, or when the opposing defense scores more than your entire team, you have a real problem.

But what exactly is the problem, and, more importantly, what is the solution?  Indeed, is there any solution in the short run, or is this a situation where the team has to wait until next year's return of injured players, or worse yet, be torn down and reconstructed?
Before answering that question, let's consider Colin Kaepernick and Chip Kelly for a minute.  Kaepernick, two or three years ago, was almost on top of the world.  He had narrowly lost the "Harbaugh Bowl" Super Bowl to the Ravens, and the following year narrowly lost the NFC Championship game to the Seahawks, who went on to win the Super Bowl.  Less than two years after that, he was benched, then put on injured reserve (apparently at his own request), and has almost certainly played his last game for the 49ers.  Sure, there were injuries, retirements, the loss of a head coach, etc.  But what happened to Kaepernick himself?  He certainly knew how to destroy the Packers in particular, so how did he get so bad so quickly?

As to Chip Kelly, he was the head coach of the Eagles for one week short of 3 years before being fired this week, and while he never took them near the Super Bowl, the new tempo of the Eagles looked unstoppable for a short period of time, and the Eagles finished their first two seasons with him as coach at 10-6.  But this year, they were 6-9 with one game to go, when the Monday sports cover page of the Philadelphia Daily News asked, "Abandon Chip?" while helpfully noting that Andy Reid's Chiefs have made the playoffs.  A day later, he was gone.  Again, there are all kinds of reasons having to do with players coming and going, and with defensive coordinators learning how to adjust to the fast-paced offense, but still, it is remarkable how quickly things soured in Philly.

The reason I bring up Kaepernick and Kelly is to point out how fast things can change in the Not For Long league.  Could we be in a similar spot with Aaron Rodgers/Mike McCarthy/Dom Capers?  Look, the offensive line is in triage mode, so is the defensive backfield, the receivers can't get open, and the running back position has been the subject of a lot of drama.  But the Packers have had most or all of these problems before, and for a long time this season, and why is it that, all of a sudden, the play-calling seems so bad and Rodgers' performance is so sub-par?  Has Aaron Rodgers suddenly lost his confidence, so that he will never be the same player again?

I'm not ready to reach that conclusion, and I think it is more likely that we will learn, in the off-season, that he has been suffering from some lingering injury most of the year.  If he is not hurt, then the injury to Jordy Nelson, and the musical chairs on the offensive line certainly are factors.  But the play-calling by Tom Clements (earlier) and now Mike McCarthy is not giving much help to the Packers' offense.  Where are the screen passes, the quick slants, the quick outs, or any quick release pass?  They generally work when we try them, but we are just not calling them nearly enough.  And since it is pretty well established that Eddie Lacy runs better out of a conventional pro set than from the shotgun, why is Rodgers in the shotgun almost all the time, and how much of an impact does that have on the running game?  It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Packers are not very good right now, and not destined to go far in the playoffs.  Could they still get hot now that it matters and do some damage in the playoffs?  Sure, but I can't point to any evidence that that is likely to happen.  They are 4-4 over their last 8 games, and really only looked good in 2 of those games (including the Vikings game).

Every game obviously has its own ebb and flow.  The Packers aren't really as bad as they looked against the Cardinals (right?).  But they got behind early, and when they had a chance to make it close, they gave up an interception in the end zone, and the Cardinals scored again, and suddenly it was 17-0 at halftime, when hypothetically it could have been 10-7.  At that point, the rout was on.

Contrast this with the last Vikings game.  While the Packers won the game, 30-13, they had their problems in that game.  They lost some players during the game, too (Linsley and Hyde) and they didn't put the game away until the early 4th quarter.  But the difference is that they were in a position to put the game away that time, and didn't need a miracle to do it.  The biggest factors in that game were a resurgent running game led by Eddie Lacy, more quick passes, controlling Adrian Peterson, and a fearsome pass rush featuring 6 sacks by the Packers.

There isn't any reason that the Packers can't do the same thing on Sunday night against the Vikings, this time at home.  I'm just fresh out of confidence that they will do it.  I have seen some suggestions that maybe the Packers would be better off losing against the Vikings, because they would then play the Redskins on the road in the first round of the playoffs.  I hope that the Packers are not looking at it that way.  Winning the division for the fifth straight season, and hosting a home playoff game, are big deals.

Go Pack Go!  And Happy New Year to everyone, especially to the Green Bay Packers.

No comments:

Post a Comment