Change doesn’t occur overnight in the NFL, and the Green Bay Packers found out the hard way.
It was a promising year seemingly gone wrong for head coach Mike McCarthy. First an injury bug swept through the team like a hurricane down south, and then the Packers old time enemy, penalties, began to haunt them once again.
Seventeen weeks later, McCarthy is now staring down the barrel at a possible Head Coach of the Year Award.
Change didn’t come easy for the Packers, though. Tireless hours of practice and hard work fortunately accumulated into development on the field, begging the question of numerous other head coaching souls that have seen their contract terminated in the past two months.
Perhaps the real legends do rise to the top after all.
However, while McCarthy may never be mentioned in the same breath as Vince Lombardi or have his name plastered in yellow high above Lambeau Field, some outstand problems still remain ahead of the Packers trip to the Georgia Dome this Saturday.
Yet again, those problems come in three’s.
Green Bay’s turnover issue last week against Philadelphia proved to be both scary and concerning for all Packer fans. Against a battered and bruised Eagle defense, Green Bay turned the ball over four times thanks to fumbles, two of which wound up to be recovered.
At the end of the day, this acted as one of the main reasons the Eagles were given a last minute shot to rally a comeback.
Last time the Packers met the Atlanta Falcons during Week 12 Rodgers wound up with two fumbles to his name. Uncharacteristically Rodgers also fumbled whilst trying to convert for a touchdown, one of Green Bay’s rare missed chances to score points this season.
Given that Green Bay has been fairly solid on the turnover front this year, the Packers can’t afford to gamble in this game. Last Sunday some nervous moments shone through when rookie running back James Starks was trying to run some clock against Philadelphia. Expect the same feeling throughout all four quarters this weekend.
In 2009 the Packers were +24 when it came to turnover ratio – this season Green Bay is a mere +10. Maybe last week against Philadelphia was a one off occurrence.
One of McCarthy’s biggest issues with the Packers Week 12 meeting in Atlanta was his team’s poor attitude toward tackling.
On several instances Green Bay were considerably poor when it came to making open field tackles, resulting in a lackadaisical approach on just about every drive.
During the first half on third and 19, the Packers allowed quarterback Matt Ryan to pass to fullback Ovie Mughelli, that would normally have resulted in a small five to six yard pickup. Instead, the Falcons found themselves with a 16 yard gain, and a favorable situation to go for it on forth and three.
According to linebacker Desmond Bishop, the Packers blown coverage can be attributed to both a lack of focus and a new found mental laziness that has never been a problem on defense for coordinator Dom Capers.
“I think you’re more mentally aware of it” Bishop said. “Sometimes your fundamentals can slip a little bit if you’re not conscious of it. I think just making a conscious effort at practice to come up with the proper technique, and in the game just know that it’s important you use your technique, or the type of back that we’re playing against can easily break a tackle.”
On Saturday that “back” will be Michael Turner, a player that rushed for 110 yards and one touchdown against Green Bay’s unhealthy defense six weeks ago.
Tackling has never really been a problem throughout Green Bay’s history. So again, don’t be surprised if this concern is eliminated and discussed heavily in Packer practice this week.
During Week 15 against the New England Patriots, McCarthy chose to take an early risk in deciding to partake in an onside kick during the games opening kickoff. Not only did this grant the Packers the ball, it also led to a very quick swing in momentum.
Unfortunately, though, these types of plays aren’t necessary when taking on a team like Atlanta.
In Week 12 the Packers blew numerous opportunities to convert on third down situations. Early in the first quarter Green Bay were faced with third and one, but failed to convert off the back of a Dmitri Nance “ground and pound” play that resulted in a short field goal.
This kind of inconsistency mustn’t be a factor if the Packers are to win on Saturday.
As if the first quarter stop wasn’t enough, the Packers also encountered other issues throughout the game. After Nance’s poor running efforts, tight end Andrew Quarless and fullback Quinn Johnson became tied up in the endzone as Rodgers failed to complete the pass. Next, Rodgers fumbled the ball, ending any hopes of a scoring drive.
It will be these types of poor calls that will cost the Packers a potential shot at the NFC Championship. McCarthy has been on top of every problem in the past month, so let’s see if the gambling issue remains a focus.
Don’t Panic, Yet
If you can’t tell already, all three of these problems were never a major factor in any other games this season. Whether or not the Georgia Dome withholds some kind of magical power remains to be seen, but the Packers have been solid in all of these problematic areas during the course of the regular season.
Therefore, don’t panic.
The run game is back thanks to Starks, the defense is at full strength behind Clay Matthews, the special teams is solid under Tim Masthay, and Rodgers looks likely to post points again similar to Week 12.
Yes, these issues are outstanding. But don’t for one minute think they will cost the Packers the game.
Ryan Cook is an Australian author for Acme Packing Company, and a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also a guest writer on PackerChatters, and a contributing writer to Detroit Lions Talk, Gack Sports and Sports Haze.