November 30, 2007
A Little Help O-Line?
So the big showdown in big-D has come and gone, along with the Packers' hopes at home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Although there are still four games to be played in the regular season, we are essentially two games behind the Cowboys because of the head-to-head tie breaker. Tony Romo continued to impress, with another four touchdown performance. T.O. torched our secondary (again), and made Al Harris look stupid. Personally, I don't mind seeing Al get burned, perhaps his ego will sink back into this atmosphere after such a beating. The defense, as a whole, did not play well, and could not come up with the big play when we needed it. The defense, however, is not to blame for the loss. In my opinion, all of the blame should be placed on the trio of the offensive game plan (McCarthy), the offensive line, and (to a lesser extent of course) Brett Favre. I'm too pissed to include a pretty picture.
Let's start with the game plan. Defensively, we knew Dallas was going to get their points. Our game plan focused on containing T.O. and Jason Witten, while keeping enough men in the box to stop the run. We did a great job against the run, a pretty good job on Witten, and got scorched by T.O. Enough said on 'd' for now. Offensively, our game plan was far too ambitious, especially considering the pass-rushing capabilities of the team we were playing. I am aware that our five-man pass protection has been phenomenal this year, but at some point McCarthy has to back off of his game plan. The plan early on was clearly designed to exploit mismatches downfield, while protecting Brett with only five men. This high-risk, high-reward plan clearly did not pay dividends. Favre was under constant pressure, was hit several times (AND INJURED), and the deep routes simply did not have enough time to develop. While I don't necessarily hate the game plan, I do hate the fact that McCarthy stubbornly refused to deviate from it despite the fact the Dallas was obviously prepared for it. McCarthy (a very good coach in my mind) has repeatedly shown a lack of ability (or will) to adjust his game plan early on. Perhaps the coaching staff needs a bit of an ego check and a back-up plan in case this happens again.
The offensive line showcased their worst outing of the season last night. Although most of the blame will be placed on embattled guard Daryn Colledge (who was pulled in the second quarter for playing like shit), it was the entire line that could not keep the Cowboys' capable pass rushers off of Brett Favre. Veteran Mark Tauscher (valiantly playing through a nagging injury) was beat on several occasions, along with all four interior linemen that played. In addition to putting our HOF quarterback in serious danger, the line made it nearly impossible for us to sustain a drive early on. As a result, the defense was on the field far too much, and couldn't keep up with the high-flying Dallas offense. You can't blame the 'd' for having to spend so much time on the field. The line did open some holes for Ryan Grant to attack (which he did with reckless abandon), but we couldn't run the ball as much because of the hole we were in. Overall a very discouraging performance by our young offensive line, which didn't seem to improve much even when McCarthy left a tight end and a running back in the back-field to block.
Finally, I suppose some blame needs to fall on Brett Favre for our early struggles. I understand that he was just adhering to the game plan, and trying to win the game. I understand that he is a gunslinger that never knows when to quit. I also understand that his confidence must have been soaring going into this game. What I don't understand is Favre's unwillingness to take a sack or throw the ball away when there is NOTHING open downfield. Brett took some shots in this game from some very big linebackers. He was under attack and wanted to get the ball out. His two picks were just God-awful balls (admittedly affected by pressure) that never should have been thrown. Why throw the deep ball on the flea-flicker when your man was double covered? This 38 year old QB still has some growing up to do in the pocket. Brett, tuck the ball and take a sack once in a while. I know that nobody but the coaches will appreciate it at the time, but you know how important field-position is in this league. It's time to regroup and embrace the humility of losing a big game. I just hope we get the chance to meet again in the playoffs, only with the help of Charles Woodson and KGB.
On a lighter note, I thought that both Aaron Rodgers and Greg Jennings played effective, inspired football. Greg fought with every ounce of his being on Thursday, and Packer fans will not soon forget it. This guy is a high-character, high-performance football player that any squad would be lucky to have. Thank you Greg for continuing the legacy of hard-nosed, never quit football in Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers couldn't have been put in a much more difficult situation than last night. Enter a game down by seventeen in which the previous QB (the toughest man to ever play the game) was beaten up so badly that he had to take a seat, and perform at a high level. I was inspired by his play last night, and enjoyed his demeanor on the field. I really hope we don't trade him before he gets his chance to lead the Green and Gold. Montana-Young anyone?
November 19, 2007
Gadget Play Un-Called For
The Packers' offense has been operating at a high level for most of the season. Over the past few weeks, Brett has been building on a pre-existing chemistry with his receivers and tight ends. This chemistry is allowing Brett to comfortably work through his target progressions on every passing play, and exploit the mismatch he eventually identifies. On top of that, we seem to have finally found a running game with Ryan Grant, who has put up respectable numbers over the past four weeks. Opposing defenses are clearly on their heels, and our defense is proving to be a somewhat dominant counterpart. That being said, I find one particular offensive play call against the Panthers somewhat disconcerting.
It was the first quarter of a game in which our opponent was clearly outmatched on paper. Carolina's most dangerous offensive threat (Steve Smith) was sidelined with an injury, and they were starting a 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde at quarterback. On defense, their starting mike linebacker (Dan Morgan) was also not able to play due to injury. Green Bay should have stuck to their relatively safe passing game, balanced it out with a reasonable amount of running plays, and used what they've already proven capable of to dismantle the Carolina 'd.'
It is for these reasons (among others) that I was completely baffled by Mike McCarthy's gadget play call during the first quarter. Lining up in a three wide receiver, one tight end, one running back set, the Packers looked to be running a fairly routine formation. The first thing that stuck out in my mind was seeing Donald Driver lined up in the backfield, next to Brett Favre. Then, amazingly, McCarthy had the stroke of genius to send Brett in motion to the flat, and snap the ball directly to Donald. Although the play went off as a rather benign five yard run off of the right tackle by Donald, the risks far outweighed the benefits in my mind. First of all, Donald Driver is not a running back. His body is not built to attack the line of scrimmage, and he is not strong enough to sufficiently protect the ball while attempting to burst through the line. I understand that Donald is very talented at picking up YAC, but those yards come downfield, typically away from defensive linemen and linebackers. Second, why take Brett Favre out of the play by splitting him off as a wideout? Does McCarthy really expect Carolina's defensive backs to pay attention to Brett? I'm pretty sure I could out-run Brett, and I might even have better hands. The thought of Brett catching a pass is laughable (yes, I know, he caught his own first pass). I believe, and I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a football fan who doesn't, that Brett is most dangerous while in the pocket, with options to throw to. Finally, why risk an injury to Brett on a silly play that has little chance at creating an explosive gain? Can you imagine the outrage (not to mention embarassment) in Green Bay if Brett Favre's consecutive start streak was ended on a play where he never even touched the ball? If Brett's career is going to end on an injury, at least let it happen while he's hanging in the pocket long enough to throw a touchdown, or running down the field to throw a block on a reverse like the lunatic he is. Don't put him in harm's way if you don't stand to gain much from it.
The only valid reason I could see for calling this play would be to set up a similar, but potentially more explosive play for later on in the season. Possibly an end-around or an option pass. But honestly, is that what this team is about? Last time I checked, the Mike McCarthy Packers were about playing hard-nosed, smart, physical, and fundamentally sound football. I have yet to see a need for gadget plays in our offensive scheme, and would definitely like to see those plays stay where they belong, the practice field. Now don't get me wrong, I love a great gadget play. By all means, continue practicing whatever tricks you've got up your sleeve McCarthy, and if the perfect opportunity presents itself, take a shot. A shot, however, is exactly what a great gadget play should be. All of this silly trickery for a five-yard gain in the first quarter of a less-than-paramount game seems more than a little reckless to me. Please Packers' coaching staff, don't out-think yourselves. Stick to what you know, don't put your marquee players at unnecessary risk, and respect the fundamentals of the game. I swear, if I see another poorly-planned gadget play end up in a turnover or a crippling injury, I might just have to turn the game off for like two or three minutes.