Thursday, October 3, 2019

Eagles Bring High-Flying Packers Back to Earth

One of two Critical Turnovers, Photo by Dan Powers, USA Today
What with going to the Broncos game on September 22, and returning from the midwest, and heavy involvement with family event planning, I never got a chance to write up a summary of the Packers 27-16 win over the Broncos.  Suffice it to say that my favorite moment was when the defense was waiting patiently through what was probably a TV timeout, orchestrating their end zone celebration, if the replay call was that the Packers got a turnover.  I think it was on the interception by Darnell Savage in the third quarter.  The Packers got the call, and hilarity ensued in the end zone.

But the good taste in my mouth left by the 3-0 start to the season, punctuated by a member of the defense saying the defense was "as comfortable as a Tempur-Pedic," was wiped away Thursday night when the Packers failed twice to tie up the game late in the 4th quarter, and instead lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 34-27, in a game marred by Packers turnovers, the defense's inability to generate turnovers or sacks, and a spate of injuries, two of which were serious enough to require players to be carted off the field with straps constraining them.

We watched the Eagles game with our good friend Al, who is a Lions fan.  When some of the nasty hits started happening, he made the comment that the thing about (former Lions head coach) Jim Schwartz is that his defenses always play on the nasty side.  And the way I read it, Cheesehead TV's Aaron Nagler agrees, proving that great minds think alike: "That whole defense is very . . . Jim Schwartz."

Remember last year when, early on, officials were making questionable calls of roughing the passer, mostly on Clay Matthews?  And then, after a few weeks, the message somehow got out to officials, and they stopped making those calls except in truly egregious cases?  I think the league has a sort of similar problem this year.  First, the league overreacted to the terrible non-call in the Saints-Rams playoff game by making calls or non-calls of pass interference reviewable.  But now, coaches are wasting challenges on obvious pass interference non-calls, like the one against Marquez Valdes-Scantling, or the one against Alshon Jeffery later in the game.  In both cases, the receiver was interfered with in a way that made the ball more difficult, if not impossible, to catch.  In both cases, the coaches challenged the non-call.  In both cases, the call was not overturned, so the challenges were wasted.

There may be some reluctance of coaches now to challenge pass interference calls or non-calls, since the league evidently will not overturn them most of the time.  But in a critical situation like a long gain or a long incompletion at a critical point in the game, coaches will feel compelled to challenge.  As a result, we will continue to get data from the league as to what will or will not be overturned.  Will the league silently and subtly adjust the criteria for overturning calls, as evidently happened last year with the roughing calls, to match up with what football viewers can see with their own eyes?  My hunch is that what will happen is that the consensus will develop that minor contact, even if it is significant to the receiver's ability to catch the ball, will not result in a reversal into a pass interference call.  Only major contact will result in a call.  I am not sure that is what the league intended in changing the rule, but it seems after four weeks as if that is where we will end up.

The thing that really stings about the Eagles loss is that, as many of us have been predicting, the offense finally seemed to find its rhythm Thursday night, at least in the passing game, with Rodgers throwing for over 400 yards.  Obviously the loss of Jamaal Williams early, and Davante Adams late, were harmful to the effort to tie the game and take it to overtime.  And the sudden inability of the defense to stop the run, or sack the quarterback, or generate any turnovers, was just shocking after the first three games of the season.

But if you give Aaron Rodgers two sets of first and goal downs to get a touchdown, you don't expect a 4 and out on the first, and an interception on the second set of downs.  The score was there to be had, and the Packers could not get it done.  When you notice, on replay, that Darrius Shepherd was wide open on the pass to Valdes-Scantling that was intercepted, it makes the loss that much tougher to swallow.  Sure, the Packers might have gone on to lose the game in overtime, and the loss would count just the same.  But if you give Rodgers (potentially) 8 chances to convert first and goal opportunities, I take it as just about a given that the Packers would score and send the game to overtime.  Yes, Valdes-Scantling was interfered with on the play.  But as noted above, the league is not going to reverse non-calls where relatively minor pass interference takes place.

Green Bay at Dallas looked like a marquee matchup in Week 5, and I think it still is.  A pair of wannabe undefeated teams are still division-leading 3-1 teams, with a lot of glorious history between them.  I wish the Packers were at full strength for this game, but instead the Packers' chances of having Davante Adams, Jamaal Williams, and Kevin King on the field Sunday look iffy.  The absence of Adams and Williams in those final two series Thursday night was arguably critical in the Packers' inability to score.  Stopping Ezekiel Elliott will be a tough task for a defense that has given up 144 yards rushing to the Broncos' tandem of running backs, and 163 yards to the Eagles' running backs.   But if they can stop him enough to force Dak Prescott to have to throw the ball, they can still win this game.  After all, the Saints, with a backup quarterback, beat the Cowboys last week.  The Packers, with Aaron Rodgers, have a good chance, too, even if some weapons are missing.

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