Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Big Test Coming up Against the Colts

Using the Ref, Photo by Mark Hoffman, Milw. Journal-Sentinel

Well, the good news is this: the Packers' win over the Jaguars 24-20 last Sunday, combined with the Seahawks' loss, leaves the Packers with the number one seed in the NFC playoffs (as they always say, if the playoffs started today).  The bad news is, the way they played on Sunday, that number one seeding might not last long, maybe not past the upcoming game at Indianapolis on Sunday.  

For the second time in three weeks, in windy and cold conditions at Lambeau Field, the Packers seemed to play without energy or emotion, especially on offense.  And for the second time in three weeks, they played down to the level of an inferior team.  At least this time the Packers were close enough in the fourth quarter to be in a position to be able to rally for the go-ahead touchdown, and then the defense shut down the final Jaguars drives to preserve the win.  I'm sure I was not the only one who was having flashbacks when the Packers had the Jaguars at 4th and 26.  But unlike the more famous 4th and 26 in January of 2004, this time the pass was incomplete and the game was over except for a couple of kneel-downs.

My favorite play on offense has to be the 78 yard TD pass to Valdes-Scantling, depicted in the photo.  He made a little cut that sent the ref flying into the path of one of the pursuing defensive backs.  I laughed at least the first 5 or 6 times I watched this play.  On defense, my favorite series was the final one, when the defense (Rashan Gary and Preston Smith) rose up on back-to-back plays and sacked QB Jake Luton to set up the 4th and 26 play.

I am not as despondent as some other Packers fans I know.  "We suck."  "We'll be one and done in the playoffs."  Yeah, they might.  I am pretty sure they will be one and done if they play like they did against the Jaguars.  I am trying to figure out which playoff-caliber team they could beat with an effort like they made on Sunday, and I am coming up blank.  But look, if the Packers lose all these poor effort games in the middle of the season, maybe they end up with a 9-7 record, playing on the road (if they make the playoffs at all).  But if they win ugly games like the Jaguars game, maybe they get a good enough record to host a home game, and maybe if things break right they end up with home field advantage.  The Packers certainly rode some ugly wins last year all the way to the NFC Championship Game.  And if (and it is a big if) the Packers can use the next seven weeks to get their act together, maybe they become the proverbial team that nobody wants to play in the playoffs.  

One of the things they ought to take a look at is creating more unpredictability in their offense.  This past week, Lamar Jackson of the Ravens complained that defenses are calling out the Ravens' plays at the line of scrimmage.  I wonder if some of that isn't happening with the Packers, too?  I understand the idea of sticking with the run, even if it is not working.  But if the Jaguars have been stopping the Packers' run game all day long, why, on 3rd and 1 with the game hanging in the balance late in the fourth quarter, do you just run Aaron Jones up the middle for no gain?  And how many times can you call a straight-up run on second and ten before the defense knows what to expect?  Four times on Sunday the Packers found themselves at 2nd and 10.  Three times they ran the ball in conventional running plays.  The only first down they gained on 2nd and 10 was the one time they passed the ball.

Anyway, I feel as if we will have a much better feel for who the Packers are after the Colts game.  The Colts lead their division at 6-3, so they are no joke.  They certainly looked good last Thursday in beating the Titans.  I think the Packers are a much better team on offense than the Colts, even if they don't look like it every single week.  I would not trade any of our starting "skill position" players to the Colts for their players at those positions.  But I think the reverse is true on defense.  I think the Colts have a better and more consistent defense than the Packers.  

Having said that, when I re-watched the Jaguars game, I realized that the Packers' defense looked better than I remembered.  While the final drive was the one that initially caught my attention, with the back-to-back sacks, actually the defense played pretty well the entire game.  They only gave up 13 points (the other 7 was on the punt return TD).  The only TD they gave up was on a short, 16 yard drive set up by Adams' fumble.  They gave up no long drives during the entire game.  They kept pretty consistent pressure on Luton, frequently without having to blitz.  Now, you can say, "well, sure, but the Jaguars aren't that good on offense."  Which is true, but in other games this year, all you had to do was hand the ball off and gain a lot of yards.  The Jaguars have a pretty good running back, in James Robinson, and yet he wasn't able to run all over the Packers.  In other words, on further review, it was the offense, with its two turnovers resulting in 10 points for the Jaguars, and the special teams, giving up another 7 points, that were the problems on Sunday, not the defense.

The Packers are actually underdogs this week, and maybe that sort of perceived slight can be used as motivation for the offense to go out and prove something.  We'll see, but if the defense can play as well as it played against the Jaguars, and again show some energy, and if the offense, in the absence of wind and cold, can play a clean game with more energy than they showed on Sunday, then I think the Packers will win this game.

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