Thursday, September 13, 2012

Green Bay Packers Week 1 Recap

Well, no, they didn’t get the win in today’s season opener but it’s worth a look at the “why”.  Overall the 49ers clearly were the better team today and made more plays.  The Packers weren’t completely outmatched coming in but it became obvious early on that they were facing an uphill battle.  Shortly after that, it became even more apparent that they WERE outmatched.  I don’t say that in haste or because they lost.  It’s just a fact.  The Packers didn’t beat themselves.  The refs didn’t hand San Fran the game.  The Packers simply lost and the 9ers won.  It’s an odd feeling and not one that Packer fans are too familiar with over the past 2 years.   Usually it is because of a mistake or something odd that happened or just an occasional off day.  Rarely is it because they weren’t the best team on the field.  But it happens, even to the best of them.  Here’s some bullet points to ponder after Sunday.

The Good

Tim Masthay – That we’re featuring the punter in this section isn’t necessarily the best sign.  But alas, Masthay  landed 4 of his 6 punts inside the 20.  One rolled into the end zone but he pinned the 9ers deep on multiple occasions.  Masthay has been regarded as somewhat of a perfectionist and he seems to already be on his way to earning that contract extension he just received.  While the Pack defense wasn’t able to create any turnovers and capitalize on the 9ers field position today, this will become important as the season rolls on.  If opponents are having to drive 90+ yards to score several times a game, it will wear them down and when the Pack stops, they are getting the ball near midfield. 

Clay Matthews – I’ll stop short of saying “he’s baaaaaaaaaaaaack” but a 2.5 sack performance after he dropped down to 6 total last year was an outstanding way to start the year.  That it came against a good 9er offensive line is even more reason to be optimistic.  Matthews was his usual active self today but he appears to be benefiting from shifting to the right side of the defensive front.  Nick Perry’s presence will likely continue to help as O lines will no longer be able to slide protection to Matthews on every down.

Health – As far as coach McCarthy indicated in the post game press conference, CJ Wilson suffered a groin injury and was the only major injury of the day.  Wilson started the game at RDE and with a short week, he will likely miss Thursday night’s game against the Bears.  The Pack kept DL Mike Daniels inactive today in favor of Philip Merling.  Daniels was a healthy scratch and could be activated to maintain the depth and rotation of the D line against Chicago.  With health having been an issue in years past and after playing a physical 49er team, the Pack should be encouraged that they will have all hands on deck to face the Bears.

The Bad

Tackling – 6 years later we are still talking about tackling woes in Green Bay.  At this point, it’s safe to assume the Packers will continue to struggle with this as long as this coaching staff is in place.  I’m not saying they’re doing a bad job and I’m not taking anything away from what they have accomplished, both coaches and players alike.  But it remains a truth that the Packers just don’t tackle very well and that’s a fundamental that is taught by. . . the coaching staff.  Last year it was one of the defense’s Achilles heels and was masked by a potent offense and MVP performance by Aaron Rodgers.  The Pack routinely put up points early in games and missed tackles weren’t as costly.  Therefore they tended to be forgotten when the game was over and we were analyzing the stats.  Today, a few plays stood out that caused me concern that this issue could continue to plague this team in 2012.  The first was a completion over the middle to Michael Crabtree.  Crabtree made a leaping catch on a hook route in front of LB AJ Hawk.  Hawk virtually stood still until Crabtree landed and turned with the ball in hand before approaching to make the tackle instead of approaching and driving through the play. 

It was almost as though the Packer defenders were so afraid to whiff that they waited for the first move to react and wrap up.  The second was on the Frank Gore touchdown run.  Safety Morgan Burnett approached Gore and threw a glancing blow which did nothing to change his direction nor slow him down.  That he’s a safety and often the last line of defense before the opposing players cross the goal line is concerning.  That he’s a safety and supposed to be one of the team’s biggest hitters is concerning.  This one made me miss Nick Collins.  By today’s standards, Burnett is still young but he’s in his 3rd year and should be stepping up and showing a better effort in a close game and near the goal line.  There were a few other plays where the 49er back appeared to be stopped in the backfield only to eek forward and pick up an extra 2-3 yards.  The Pack simply have to get the ball carriers to the ground.  It may be time to shift the scouting from faster cover backs to those who are more sure tacklers.  It’s obvious that this coaching staff can’t get the players to improve in that area.  And that’s just calling it as I see it.

Play calling to end  1st half – Late in the 2nd quarter, the Pack had the ball at their own 20 with :55 seconds and were down 13-7.  They were going to get the ball to start the 2nd half and had just stopped the 9ers on 3rd and 1 to force a field goal.  Just prior to that, they had scored their first TD of the day after a hard-fought drive.  San Fran was down to just 1 timeout at this point and would not have been able to stop the clock but once at most.  The Pack should have elected to run the ball and at least keep the clock running to avoid giving San Fran another crack with at the ball.  Instead, the Pack came out in the shotgun on 1st down.  They were forced backwards by Bryan Bulaga’s false start penalty on first down.  1st down was a quick incompletion.  2nd down was a 7 yard pass to Finely and 3rd down was another quick incompletion.   Total time taken off the clock was 23 seconds.  Masthay came in to punt and after the return, the 9ers were at their own 38 yard line with 32 seconds left.  The 9ers brought in backup QB Colin Kaepernick on 1st down.  Now I’m no football expert and X’s and O’s aren’t my forte, but I can tell you one thing:  it wasn’t Alex Smith.  Red flags should have been flying everywhere that something out of the ordinary was coming.  But before the Pack could blink, Kaepernick had scampered 17 yards to the Packer 45 yard line and with 18 seconds left.  2 incompletions later and there were 6 seconds left on the clock.  PK David Akers came on to attempt an NFL record-tying 63 yard field goal.  It proved to be a great call as Akers’ kick bounced off the cross bar and went over to add 3 points to the 9ers lead and give the 9ers a huge boost of confidence heading into the locker room at halftime.  Now, not many would have made that kick and call it luck if you want. . but that the 9ers were even within a sniff of a FG attempt and a chance to put more points on the board was the epitome of what was plaguing the Packers all day to that point.  They couldn’t take advantage of opportunities to minimize the damage.  A few running plays would have easily run out the clock and the Pack would have come out with the ball to start half #2 down just 13-7.  Instead they were down 16-7 and the 9ers feeling like they had the Packers reeling.

The Ugly

Penalties – The Packers committed 10 penalties for 77 yards today.  Last year, the Packers were tied for 1st with the fewest number of penalties committed (76) and 2nd in penalty yardage (591).  That’s an average of less than 5 flags per game.  Say what you will about the replacement refs and there were some questionable calls (both ways) today, but most of those flags were valid.  Charles Woodson was flagged for a hold on a 3rd down after what appeared to be a stop.  There was the delay of game penalty that is always untimely.  The roughing the passer call on Matthews was questionable but it’s no secret the refs are looking to protect the QB’s. 

The Pack have struggled in the past with laundry on the field and under coach McCarthy.  To see them take such a huge step backwards is concerning.  If it continues, it will fall under a coaching problem and it won’t be the first time.  Nothing is more deflating to a team or their fans than getting a stop on 3rd down only to keep the offense alive with a mental error or having a big play negated by a hold.  I’m sure coach M is just as frustrated as the rest of us are about the mistakes but we’re all growing tired of “we have to clean that up” in the post game pressers, win or lose.  A physical and fast Bears team comes to Lambeau this Thursday.  The Pack will have a big enough challenge winning as it is without having to overcome giving Chicago 2nd and 3rd chances.  This cannot become a trend for a team that still has legitimate playoff and championship hopes.

Aaron Rodgers INT – Every interception is bad so this goes without saying but often times, Rodgers INT’s are because a ball bounced off a receiver’s hands or maybe a DB just made a spectacular play.  Normally they wouldn’t even make this list.  This one did.  Troy Aikman can try and tell me all day and after 10 replays that Rodgers simply “didn’t see” LB Navarro Bowman lurking in the middle of the field as he tried to toss one to Greg Jennings.  I don’t buy it.  Bowman was in his spot from the snap until he simply leapt and snatched the pass that was thrown right in his direction.  A lot of QB’ing is anticipation and I can understand had Rodgers pump faked or if Bowman had begun shading to one side.  But he literally hadn’t moved.  He hunkered down to cover the middle of the field and Rodgers must have been suffering from momentary blindness.  It was a very untimely interception and the day’s only turnover.  As fate would have it and on the very next play, Frank Gore rumbled 23 yards for a 49er score to make it SF 30, Packers 15 (see above re: tackling).  The Packers never reached 23 points, which was San Fran’s total before the turnover so they may never have tied it anyway, but football is all about momentum and who knows what would have become of that drive had the Pack not turned it over.

Vernon Davis’ attempt to dunk the football after his 3rd quarter TD catch – This is purely in jest and obviously the more important thing was that the 9ers made it a 2 score game at this point.  But it’s never a good thing when a player misses a dunk.  Just ask Dominique Wilkins

The Packers will put this game in the rear view mirror and immediately begin prepping for a short week and a Thursday night game versus the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field.  The Bears were impressive in their home-opening win against the Indianapolis Colts.  Hopefully the bitter taste of defeat motivates the Pack to come out swinging on Thursday.  If they start slowly again, they could find themselves in a big hole with an 0-2 record and with tough games at Seattle and home vs. New Orleans looming.  It’s only week 1 and this is a good Packers football team.  But “good” only gets them so far.  It’s the scoreboard and the W/L column that matter in the end.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

 - Jason Perone (@WSB_Jason)

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