Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Packers Finding Ways to Win Games

Aaron Jones, star of the game, photo by Ed Zurga, Associated Press
Sunday night's game was another game that the Packers, in past lives, might have lost.  They have for many years had a habit of making backup quarterbacks look great, going back to Jason Garrett as the backup quarterback for the Cowboys.  In this case, Andy Reid had smartly devised a game plan where the ball was out of Matt Moore's hands as quickly as possible.  So as a result, he ended up getting hit far less frequently than Rodgers.  And he looked pretty good - like one of the veteran backup quarterbacks we wished we had on the roster during the seasons that Rodgers missed a lot of time.  He certainly looked good enough to have a real chance to manage a game tying drive at the end and send the game to overtime.

Reid had also designed a good defensive game plan, involving a lot of physical man coverage and a lot of blitzes against Rodgers.  So even though the Packers quickly went up 14-0, the Chiefs kept the pressure up and came back to take a 17-14 lead.  In the fourth quarter, the Packers went back on top, first by 24-17, and later by 31-24. 

So when the Packers held the Chiefs and forced a punt with 5 minutes left in the game, and the punt was downed at the Green Bay 2, there were all kinds of things that could go wrong.  A turnover, a safety, a 3 and out giving the Chiefs the ball back at around midfield, a Tyreek Hill punt return.  And in the case of past Packers teams, one of those things would probably have happened - most likely giving the Chiefs the ball back with enough time to at least mount a drive to try to tie the game.

When the Packers found themselves with 3rd and 5 at the two minute warning, I wanted to see a passing play to get the first down and ice the game.  I can see the argument being made that you have to run the ball to keep the clock moving, and anyway your defense should be able to prevent a touchdown.  So run it, hope for the best, and probably have to punt the ball.  But LaFleur obviously decided that, with a Hall of Fame quarterback behind center, a short pass to get the first down is the way to go.  If they call the perfect defense, Rodgers is smart enough not to do something stupid, and at worst he can pull the ball down and hit the turf for a couple yard loss.  I like the philosophy that we will go out and try to win, rather than just avoid all risk and hope to hold them.  As LaFleur apparently told Rodgers, "go win the game."  Which they did, 31-24.

The Packers are doing lots of things right this year, in spite of a defense that is sometimes too porous, an offense that had a slow start to the year, and special teams that are a mess except for Mason Crosby and J.K. Scott.  But if there is one thing that they are doing right better than I have seen in years, it is finding a way to win close games.  Not every game is going to be a blowout, and the Packers have had to come from behind in 5 of their 8 games this year.  Only against the Eagles did they fail to complete the job and win the game, although they had multiple chances to tie up the game.  I have always felt that the really good teams find ways to win those close games, and this year the Packers seem to be doing that.

The evidence becomes more clear every week that there is a silver lining to the absence of Davante Adams.  The Packers have discovered that Aaron Jones is a legitimate receiving threat, and they lined him up as a wideout on numerous occasions during the game.  He ended up being the leading receiver for both teams in the game with 159 receiving yards, two receiving touchdowns, and another one where he stepped out of bounds.  If you imagine the offense being as good as it is right now, and then layer in Davante Adams on top of that, this could turn out to be a very special season if everyone stays healthy after he returns.

I don't think anybody would have predicted that the Packers would be 7-1 at this point in the season.  The next game, against the Chargers at Dignity Health Sports Park in Los Angeles is one of the road games where I expect a win.  The Chargers don't really have a home fan base yet in Los Angeles, and they have had a disappointing season.  So the tiny, 27,000 seat temporary stadium will be filled with Packers fans, including cousins John and Ben, and even my local State Farm agent, Matt.  We would normally go to a game this close to home, but we are out of the country and unable to attend.  The weather should be great (unless it is still smoky from all of the California fires), and I hope I can figure out a way to watch the game.

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