Shortly after I woke up this morning, I remembered that I had to write this post and began shivering (and not just because I left my windows open overnight in 50-degree temperatures). Be forewarned: this list may not be balanced after yesterday afternoon's performance, but that's something you should probably expect when your team loses in the manner that the Packers did yesterday.
Let's look at some problem areas first, before trying to find some glimmers of hope after the jump.
Bad: Pass Defense
That was a truly abysmal performance yesterday against a quarterback who has taken a lot of heat for being a "game manager". The problem wasn't that Alex Smith carved up the Packers defense because he was awesome; he just took what he was given, and he was consistently given wide-open receivers 10 to 15 yards downfield. The Packers may have produced four sacks (2.5 courtesy of Clay Matthews), but the defensive line didn't really have anything to do with that. The pass rush as a whole showed some glimmers of promise, but personally I thought they were highly inconsistent. Aside from the sacks, I can only remember of a handful of other snaps where Smith looked remotely hurried in his decision-making, and that includes several plays where Dom Capers brought all-out blitzes.
Really Bad: Running Game
I didn't exactly expect Cedric Benson and company to put up a banner day against the 49ers' stout run defense, but I was hoping for a little more than 45 yards on 14 carries, especially considering only 18 yards and 9 carries were run by people not named Aaron Rodgers. There will undoubtedly be games where the Packers will need to run the ball to either get a win or secure a win late in the game, and there's no sign that they can do so yet.
Agonizingly Bad: Tackling
Looking at you, D.J. Smith. You were supposed to be a tackling machine, but had a couple of bad whiffs that should have kept runners in the backfield. A.J. Hawk looked like his normal, hesitant self. Sure, he collected 14 total tackles, but when presented with a one-on-one situation, he looked to be waiting for the runner to make the first move instead of being aggressive and bringing the guy down. The secondary has their share of blame for this issue as well.
"HOLY BALLS, TAKE YOUR LIVES" Bad: The officiating
This one affected both teams. Let's look at all the plays that I can clearly remember, despite already trying to block out the memory of yesterday afternoon. They blew a play dead for a delay of game with what appeared to be a second left on the play clock. They consistently made highly questionable calls (and non-calls) in both secondaries. The blew the block in the back call on Randall Cobb's punt return (more on that later). They apparently didn't notice that Kendall Hunter didn't put the ball anywhere near the end zone pylon, requiring an official review on a touchdown that clearly wasn't. I had been willing to defend the replacement refs to this point, but on Sunday they made a complete mockery of NFL officiating.
If you haven't gouged your eyes out yet, there are some positives coming after the jump.
Good: Sam Shields tackled somebody
Remember the play right in front of Jim Harbaugh where Frank Gore was taken down just short of a first down? The one where Harbaugh blew a challenge on a rare good call by the refs? That was Sam Shields who stepped up on the edge, laid a shoulder into Gore, and brought him down short of the sticks. Those types of plays are what he needs to do in order to earn his starting spot back over Jarrett Bush.
Really Good: Randall Cobb
If you asked me for a Packers player of the game, there would be no other choice: Randall Cobb looked to me to be the best player wearing Green and Gold yesterday, and it wasn't even close. He was great out of the slot, making a few big first-down catches, and even played a third-down running back role really well, making a handful of big plays out of the backfield. From a fantasy perspective, he should be owned in all leagues now, and if you are in a PPR league, you need to get him on your team any way you can.
"Wow, that was awesome" Good: Randall Cobb
Have I mentioned that Cobb was awesome? That punt return he took back for six was a very impressive display of speed and agility. Obviously that play got the benefit of the block in the back flag that was picked up, but Cobb shook off a couple of tackles before showing great awareness tip-toeing down the sideline and displaying the breakaway speed that makes him a threat to go the distance on any play.
I was asked over the weekend on a radio interview if I thought Cobb would be ready to take over as a starter if Greg Jennings leaves in the off-season, and I thought he needed more time to adjust, build trust with Aaron Rodgers, and work on his route-running; It may only have been one game, but I'm a lot more comfortable with the idea of Cobb as a starter now than I was 24 hours ago.
I hate to say it, but I didn't see a whole lot else to be really excited about. What were your thoughts on the positives and negatives from yesterday's game?
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