Well, how was that for a season opener? Everyone, finally, doing all right about now? After looking at #Packers on twitter at half time, I’m glad that some who jumped off the nearest bridge ended up flying and those who took a long walk of the short pier were able to swim. I’m sure right about now your heart rates are close to back to normal. I’m more talking to fellow APC writer Matub on that one. For a little context, he sent our APC group chat updates on his bpm during the fourth quarter. He hit 121 on the Cobb touchdown and 109 after the Nick Perry sack to end the game.
Reading the papers on Monday morning, there were many articles on how the Packers won Sunday night. Mostly, they were talking about how amazing Aaron Rodgers played, on one leg, after being carted off the field. Some were about how Matt Nagy played so conservative when he should have went for the throat and there were even some giving credit to how stout Mike Pettine’s defense played after the first quarter.
All are noteworthy reasons to why the Packers had one of the most remarkable comebacks in recent memory. However, the real reason the Packers won that game was BECAUSE of the Aaron Rodgers injury. That’s right, if Aaron Rodgers would not have gotten injured and carted off, the Packers would have lost the game.
Before you head to the comments to roast me on that take, let me explain. Mike McCarthy and Joe Philbin’s game plan for the start of the game was an absolute mess. Nothing was working in the first half and the Bears defense absolutely dominated the Packers in every facet of the game.
I don’t know if it was lack of playing time in the preseason, but the offensive line was a mess. Corey Linsley and Justin McCray made Akiem Hicks look like he was Warren Sapp. They had no answer what so ever for his bull rush. Bryan Bulaga just didn’t have the speed or time to prepare for the freak of nature that is Khalil Mack.
As for the play calling, there were far too many deep drop backs for Rodgers. That gave Mack and the Bears plenty of time to get to Rodgers as the secondary was able to keep the Packer receivers in check for any of the mid to deep routes. The lack of blocking and good coverage led to a lot of scrambling and improvisation, and that played right into the hands of the pass rush of the Bears.
Further proof of that is what happened to DeShone Kizer in his limited action. The pass rush and coverages led to Kizer making some very questionable decisions. While some will blame Kizer for the way he played rather than the play calling, I see that as a ridiculous argument. He’s only 22 years old and been with the team and playbook for about six months. He’s basically a rookie out there and it’s unrealistic to expect him to play at a NFL starting caliber right now. Brett Hundley had been with the team for three years and, arguably, had a better grasp on using his talent and the fundamentals of the offense — and we know how that ended. Stay patient with Kizer this year.
McCarthy tried to call the game the same for Kizer as he did for Rodgers and it gift wrapped a Khalil Mack pick-six (something McCarthy admitted regretting in his Monday press conference). It just added insult to the Rodgers injury and now everyone was not just wondering what the future held with Rodgers but how bad would this game get before it was over.
Now, usually McCarthy and company usually don’t completely abandon their game plans. They like to make small tweaks here and there but never completely change the way they are calling the game...that is, until Rodgers was injured but was deemed healthy enough to play in the second half.
The second half started and it was like a completely different coaching staff was calling the plays. The reason it seemed that way was because the injury forced them to call the plays differently. The Rodgers injury limited his mobility and that made McCarthy and Philbin look at plays to make Rodgers get rid of the ball as quickly as possible.
Gone were the snaps under center, gone were the deep drops, and while Rodgers did scramble when he had to, gone was anything with rolling out or excessive movement. As Rodgers put it after the game, “I was basically a statue out there.” The most unexpected thing was that it was just what the Packers needed.
The quick passes neutralized the pass rush. Rodgers was barely touched because he was getting rid of the ball so quickly. Other than the Geronimo Allison touchdown and the Davante Adams 51-yard reception, there were very few, if any, passes that were actually caught more than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. The Randall Cobb touchdown happened on third and ten; Cobb caught the ball at the sticks and he made everyone miss for the last 65 yards. Those short passes showcased the playmaking ability of the receivers and showed that short routes could be turned to gold.
Now, would McCarthy and Philbin have changed the play calling if Rodgers didn’t get hurt? As I mentioned earlier, McCarthy has been frustratingly stubborn at making wholesale adjustments during a game and why would you ever call plays to limit the mobility of Aaron Rodgers? You wouldn’t. So it’s easy to imagine that they wouldn’t have changed as much as they had to and it would have been a similar story to the first half for the Packers.
While the Aaron Rodgers injury scared Packer Nation to it’s core, be hopeful that it appears to be nothing serious and be thankful because it delivered a victory over the Bears. And for those like me, who live on the Wisconsin/Illinois border where half the area cheers for the Packers and the other half for the Bears, be thankful you don’t have to listen to Bears fans gloat until the Week 15 rematch.