You may notice that comments from all of you fine APC readers tend to stick in my head and serve as a focal point for many a post. I really should write down and give shout outs to the members responsible for these pithy statements. Anyways, today’s comment running through my head was the notion that McCarthy’s Packers tend to play best when their backs are against the wall. I’m not sure I totally agree with that statement, but if you look at the Super Bowl run of 2010 it’s hard to argue with the assessment (especially when compared to the other two deep playoff runs McCarthy had in 2007 and 2011).
As we start the 2012 season it seems the Packers to be off to a similar start. There is one step forwards, two steps back, and every other week seems to be a "must win" game. This week against the New Orleans Saints is stacking up to be another must win for both sides. The Saints cannot afford to start 0-4 with the NFC West looking strong enough to send two to three teams to the playoffs, the NFC North still looking like one of the most competitive divisions in football (especially now that the Vikings may be a bit better than people expected), the NFC East still looking fluky and talented at the same time, and the Atlanta Falcons jumping to a fast start in the NFC South. Meanwhile the Packers too can’t slip too far back in the NFC North race and get the terrible taste of that Monday night fiasco (both for the ref’ing and the play of the first half). The team that wins may be on the road to right their season and the team that loses may have their playoff hopes dashed too early in the year for any fan base’s comfort.
So what are the keys to making sure the Packers don’t end up in this very deep hole?
1. Control the clock. Drew Brees and this offense is too good to let linger on the field. Long drives and lots of time of possession are going to be the best friends of the Packers. This is also the way the Packers have stayed close in all of the other games this season. The best way to control the clock for the Packers is going to be establishing the run early with Cedric Benson. Lots of early touches with the goal of getting him to about 20-30 carries by the end of the day. Mix this with short passes and challenge the Saints defense to tackle (something they have struggled at so far this year) and stack the box to stop the Packers short yardage attack. This should also include lots of screens to Greg Jennings and Randall Cobb, as well as check downs to Benson, John Kuhn, and D.J. Williams (Jermichael Finley may also be a good option here but he will probably best be used as a way to exploiting the middle in the next phase of the offensive attack). The more the defense tightens to adjust to this now power Packer offense the more susceptible they will be to the quick strike of the Packer deep threats such as Jordy Nelson and Finley.
2. Score in the first quarter. Seriously, it’s time to end this first quarter point draught. It can be something as simple as a Mason Crosby field goal for all I care, just get something on the board. The faster the Packers can score points the more pressure they can put on Brees to keep up….and while Brees is still very good he has been known to make mistakes this year when pressing especially late in games.
3. If you get the lead don’t let up. This isn’t a statement game for the offense, but if it can be then all the better. If the Packers can accomplish the first two keys to victory then it’s time to push down on the accelerator and put up points in bunches. This isn’t some NFC West team that likes to sit on you with defense and win by three points. This is a high powered offense looking to break out as well. The way you beat these teams is notching touchdown after touchdown and sack after sack. The worst thing you can do is start to relax and get conservative on either side of the ball. That only invites a comeback which is something the Saints have come close to in many of their games this year. McCarthy has got to keep the energy up and outright bury the Saints if he can.
4. Survive the trial by fire on defense. The Niners, Bears, and Seahawks all have great defenses and terrible offenses…especially in the passing game. This is going to be the first big test for those young exciting defenders. If Casey Hayward and Jerron McMillian can step up this game and hold in coverage then a big day can be had by the young pass rushers up front.
5. Minimize penalties. The real refs are back! This doesn’t guarantee the right calls, but it does guarantee more consistent calls. It also should mean more defensive penalties….especially for defenders who like to get physical down the field with receivers like the Packers. Charles Woodson has been known to be the culprit many a time, it could also be the place where a rookie mistake could cost the Packers at a critical time. Playing disciplined football is going to be essential to victory…especially in a game where emotions will run high with both teams trying to save their season early on.