Friday, December 25, 2015

Playoff-Bound Packers Looking for More

Photo by Jim Biever,
To the left is a shot of James Jones racing down the field against the Raiders, presumably on his touchdown catch.  It might be just my imagination, but I think he plays better when he is wearing his hoody.  I hope he wears it Sunday against the Cardinals, as the Packers will need any edge they can get.

The Packers got off to a shockingly good start on Sunday, in the rain, at Oakland.  Two interceptions of Derek Carr led to a 14 point lead in the first quarter.  After that, while the Packers continued to lead for the entire first half, they effectively blew the entire lead, ending the half at 14-13.  Along the way, they were completely ineffective on offense, and trailed the Raiders in yards gained by 225 to 97 at the half.  The weird thing about that stat is that almost two-thirds of those yards were gained on the Packers' last full possession of the half, which ended when Charles Woodson knocked the ball out of Starks' hands, and the Raiders recovered.
From the Fox game broadcast

Fortunately for the Packers, they got their act together in the second half, and ended up winning the game by the score of 30-20, after trailing the Raiders only once, and very briefly (for about one minute of game clock time in the third quarter).  The best part of this game, from my perspective, was that I got to witness what seems like a rare occurrence: the Packers actually made halftime adjustments that worked!  It was obvious to everyone that the Packers' offense wasn't working in the first half.  The run game was almost non-existent, with the Raiders stuffing the box with defenders to prevent the run.  Normally, you would turn to the passing game, but that wasn't working either, with the recurring problem of the Packers' receivers not getting open, but this time compounded by a wet ball and a wet field.

From the Fox game broadcast
McCarthy changed things up by lining up Cobb in the backfield, which seemed to loosen everything up in the Raiders' defense.  The Packers' running backs are pretty good pass-catchers, but Cobb coming out of the backfield is an exponentially greater pass-receiving threat.  Putting Cobb back there seemed to open up both the running game and the passing game, and the defense performed well in the second half, giving up one touchdown drive, but shutting out the Raiders for the last 22 minutes of the game!

I made a last minute decision to go to the Raiders game.  I had an enjoyable, if wet, afternoon.  There were plenty of Packers fans I saw on the way to the stadium, in the stands, and after the game on the way to my hotel.  The funny thing about my time in the stands was that I found myself sitting next to some old time Raiders fans.  They started peppering me with questions as soon as I sat down.  "Who is your nose tackle?"  "What is the story with your rookie defensive backs?"  "Do you realize what happened the last time the Packers played here in Oakland?"  I apparently passed their little test, which I assume was designed to figure out if I was a real fan with some knowledge, or just some johnny-come-lately without much knowledge of football or the team.  We had some very pleasant conversations after that throughout the game.
My photo, after the game

If we had any doubt about whether Charles Woodson is coming back after this season, he made it clear early this week that he will not.  He has had a shoulder injury all year long, which was clearly evident on one play where he upended Randall Cobb but came up wincing and holding his shoulder awkwardly.  Because the Christmas eve Raiders game against the Chargers was the last Raiders home game of the year, Woodson announced that he will retire, in order to give the fans a chance to say goodbye (something that the fans did not have a chance to do in Green Bay after his last year there).  This turned a meaningless Christmas eve game into something of a Charles Woodson tribute.  He was one of my favorite Packers' players, and a significant contributor to the 2010 Super Bowl season.  He has been described as one of the most instinctive players in the history of the game.  I have interspersed some photos of Woodson, from the Packers game and from the Christmas eve game, into this post.

From the NFL Network game broadcast
While the Raiders are improving, and look like they are definitely on the upswing in the AFC West and in the league in general, the Packers' next opponents, the Cardinals, have already arrived, and are trying to secure a bye week in the playoffs by winning one more game out of their remaining two.  Win or lose, the Packers will still be playing for the division title next week against Minnesota, unless the Packers win on Sunday and the Vikings lose Sunday night to the Beckham-less Giants.  So at the moment, both Packers and Cardinals have something to play for, and it should be a good test.

It is stating the obvious to say that the Packers are going to have to play better than they did on Sunday, if they want to beat the Cardinals.  The Cardinals have a better overall offense, better overall defense, and have scored way more points than the Packers have this year.  The Cardinals did lose the "Honey Badger" for the year, and that gives the Packers' passing game a little break, but it is no accident that the Cardinals are sitting at 12-2 so far this year,  But if the Rams and Steelers can beat the Cardinals, as they did earlier this year, surely the Packers have some chance.

It might feel a little like Lambeau West in Arizona on Sunday, as prices for the game are the highest in five years for a Cardinals regular season home game.  I will give you one guess as to who is buying those tickets.  I have been waiting for weeks to see if the Packers end up being one of those "hot teams" going into the playoffs that "nobody wants to play."  Cliches aside, the Packers may have a three game winning streak going right now, but they just don't look like one of those teams.  If I have to predict, I would predict a Packers' loss, but if they are going to get hot, Sunday afternoon would be an excellent time to do it.


  1. Would help if you explained more of WHY putting Cobb in the backfield got the offense untracked. What I saw was that it forced the Raiders to play more defensive backs, which did 2 things: 1) DBs were not as stout vs. the run as LBs would be 2) It got us to match-ups (James Jones) that we could finally win

  2. Without re-watching ever play again, I think you are exactly right. It appeared to me, too, that they preferred to cover Cobb with a defensive back rather than a linebacker, and this did have the effect of opening up the running game with less beef in the middle on tackles.