These next two posts are two that I have been dreading. It’s time to breakdown what happened with the offense and defense in this past weekend’s disaster. Let’s start with the biggest train wreck, the offense, and then move on from there shall we?
Overall this review leaves more questions than answers. Perhaps the biggest answer given by this game though is how a defense can beat the Packers offense. The answer is simple, hit the quarterback as much as you can and make him want to go home. This was true in 2007 when the Giants made Brett Favre look old and want to go home. This was true last January when Rodgers had a similar look in the second half. This was true on Sunday when Rodgers had the same look again. Heck, it was true when the Giants did it to Joe Montana and the 80’s 49ers. It’s the secret of beating the West Coast Offense.
The way a team can beat this? Well, there are a couple ways….the best would be having a power run game. I know this is blasphemy with our high powered passing attack, but a good brute force running game between the tackles does to a defensive line what hits to a QB does. It puts them on their heels, hits them in the mouth, and hits them enough till they want to go home. The Packers don’t have this player on the offense without Cedric Benson. Another solution is to use the aggressiveness against the defense with screens and delayed handoffs. This can work, but it’s tough...and the Packers weren't able to do this effectively on Sunday. Finally you can max protect, but the Packers didn't do this very much. Why? Well, probably because this would work against the notion of our receiving corp. The Packers don’t have a #1 freak receiver like Calvin Johnson or Brandon Marshall who can win against triple teams. Instead they have multiple receivers that can stretch a defense….but it’s less effective if two of those three possible receivers are held back to block.
So there are lots of questions this time around…but most of those are variations on where do we go from here? The good news is that it’s not as ugly as it all sounds (or probably feels right now). The bad news is this offense only goes as far as the offensive line takes us….and after the last two weeks that is not looking great.
Passing Offense Review
Aaron Rodgers – 14/25 219 YDS 8.8 AVG 1 TD 1 INT 81.9 RTG
Randall Cobb – 4 REC 39 YDS 9.8 AVG 15 LG 7 TGTS
Jermichael Finley – 3 REC 51 YDS 17.0 AVG 26 LG 5 TGTS
Jordy Nelson – 2 REC 71 YDS 35.5 AVG 1 TD 61 LG 4 TGTS
There are many ways we could break down the passing game and many fingers of blame to point here, but the offensive line is probably the best place to start. As the story unfolds from Sunday night’s disaster, these guys are quickly becoming the scapegoat. It was another awful performance for the front five, and another God awful performance against the Giants. Both Marshall Newhouse and T.J. Lang have the dubious honor of being named to PFF’s "Had a Bad Day" team. The interior line did better, but not by much. While the pocket did not collapse from the middle as it did in Detroit, the interior line failed to create step up lanes for Rodgers to escape and allowed the Giants’ defensive ends to get their penetration and sacks. For as bad as the Seattle Seahawks game was, this is probably the biggest total failure of the entire offensive line.
That said, they may have a bit too much of the blame assigned to them. PFF is full of interesting stats that tell the story behind the story in the trenches this week and the one that caught my eye the most is the fact that the average sack time for Rodgers was 3.55 seconds on the night. This is actually above his average for the year of 2.55 seconds. Translation? The line held up better than first glance would have it. They were bad. They were beat…..but they weren't beat so bad that it’s time to blow up the line and start over from scratch. No, someone else played a part in that disaster.
This leads to the wide receivers. The Giant pass rush stole the show, and rightly so, but they weren't the bottom line reason why the Packers were absolutely shut down. No, that goes to the Giants secondary. They were able to sit on the short routes and take away the quick pass. They freed up the medium and short routes, but the pass rush was getting there before those were able to develop. Thus the true nature of that "blueprint to beat the Packers" is revealed. Pass rush + stopping the short pass. If the receivers win on the short routes enough last Sunday the Packers probably win the game….but they didn't and the Packers got blown out. It’s a simple as that.
The last issue in all of this is Rodgers himself. For a second week in a row the principle target was Randall Cobb….including another attempt that led to an interception. This is becoming a problem. Cobb is a great weapon but he’s not Andre Johnson. He’s a guy who needs to be in the right situation and have the defense distracted by all the other playmakers to truly shine. This means Rodgers has to start targeting Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and Jermichael Finley more. Nelson and Finley started to come close to Cobb’s targets, but most of that came late in the first half or in the second half when things were just about over. Jones wasn't targeted at all. This isn't good enough. Rodgers is best when the ball is spread evenly throughout the game, and whether it’s Nelson and Jones needing to step up their game and get open more or Rodgers needing to get off his Cobb addiction, it doesn't matter. What matters is that the offense become more balanced in the passing game and use all its weapons instead of the most dynamic one.
Rushing Offense Review
James Starks – 8 CAR 35 YDS 4.4 AVG TD 8 LG
Alex Green – 10 CAR 30 YDS 3.0 AVG 8 LG
It’s becoming funny the argument that there is a significant difference between Starks and Green. There isn't. Starks missed just as many holes as Green did against the Giants. Both go down too easily at first contact (although Starks does do a better job of falling forward). For all the panic there is about the offensive line here and criticism of their run blocking ability, can anyone say the Packers have a starting quality running back? Neither Starks, nor Green look the part there. It’s a problem that’s going to have to be addressed in the offense, with a real 20+ carry back needing to be found….because with an even average back this offensive line can do enough to give the Packers what they need.
Doubt me on that? Go back and watch the week 2 game against the Bears and see what Cedric Benson gave to the offense. Watch the second half of the Seahawk game too. Benson was able to run the ball effectively and average 4 yards a carry with the amount of carries that Green and Starks had combined in those games. He wasn’t Adrian Peterson, but do the Packers need that? Probably not. But they did enough to prevent defenses sitting on the short routes and shake up the pass rush in order to get the offense moving....or at the very least punish the defense for sitting in two deep the entire game.
Special Teams Review – Field Goal Kicking
Mason Crosby – 1/2 28 LG
What is left to say about Crosby? His funk continues. Many will piss and moan about McCarthy kicking the 55 yard attempt instead of going for it or punting. I’m not one of them. It was still early in the game, but the defense was showing to be hit or miss…so backing them up and hoping for the best wasn't a great plan. The offensive line was already showing some questionable signs (with Chris Canty just getting a sack) so on 4th and 5 going for it isn't a great option either. Finally, we can all agree that the Packers need Crosby to get out of his funk, and if you have ever been in a funk you know that the only way to get through it is to bite the bullet and go out and perform….so hiding him on the bench isn't going to help in any way shape or form. To get through this the Packers either need to cut Crosby or kick field goals when the situation calls for it. Crosby was on the team at that point and a 55 yarder attempt is in his range….this means it’s time for his butt to be on the field kicking.
That said, 1/2 is still unacceptable. He’s got to work through this and quick. If he can straighten himself out down the stretch and into the playoffs then he might….might…save his job for next year. If it continues and blows a game or two expect him gone.
Special Teams Review – The Return Game
Randall Cobb – 6 KR 156 YDS 26.0 AVG 30 LG 2 PR 20 YDS 10 AVG 15 LG
Not much to say here. Cobb delivered good kick returns this week and kept a healthy average. Nothing game breaking for the Packers nor the Giants….so no big returns and no costly fumbles.
In the end we are left four basic questions about the Packers: 1) When does Cedric Benson get back...and if he isn't coming back how will the Packers mount a credible running attack? 2) Can the line bounce back and provide adequate protection, especially at LG and RT? 3) Can the receivers win their match ups on short routes on a consistent basis to provide an outlet for shaky offensive line play? 4) Can Rodgers start to spread the ball around to keep the secondary off balance?
Unfortunately there probably aren't good answers to those questions right now, especially the first two. The good news is though the Packers probably won’t face another defense like the one they faced in the Giants until the playoffs. The bad news is that the players and coaches need to come up with good answers to these questions and more if they are to beat some of the heavy hitters in the NFC come playoff time.