Will the Packers make the playoffs for the 2013 season? Is it possible? Is the news of the star quarterback returning after seven long weeks, as well as the possibility of the star wide receiver ready to go any day, some sort of destiny driven message of a YES? Is it in the “stars”? That’s the question on thousands and thousands of minds, mine included. So many voluntary couch cushion coaching staff offering up any bit of positive, or negative, feedback and hope that the answer ultimately screams yes as we scream “Touchdown!” after “Touchdown!” come Sunday afternoon.
The hope is there. The talent has been there. The numbers have even been there week after week to help answer these questions we have been almost desperate to have answered since the losing streak started and the hope continually diminished week after week to get us to this game, this last chance, the final hour if you will. But how did we get here, and what bearing will it have on Sunday’s “destiny” game? Those are the questions we need to answer, and from there move forward with a realistic interpretation of the season as a whole, and the team we stand with against a team that could beat us and trash our hopes of a destiny game. Can it be avoided? Do they have the drive, the game plan, the coaching staff to accomplish the impossible? Here goes…..
Mike McCarthy and the Green Bay Packers offensive strategy resides in the typical West Coast offense. With marksmen like Favre and then Rodgers, this scheme has worked wonders in big games, and produced unthinkable numbers when a season should have said otherwise. Is the mediocre play of the offense this season to rest on the blame of the coaching staff? The numbers would speak otherwise. It is football, and numbers are all you have at the end of the day.
Let’s review the quarterbacks first and foremost. Primarily considering, of course, there have been four starters with different sets of skills, making each of them a new set of coaching needs as well as standards. Aaron Rodgers knows the offense inside and out, and could call plays from a hospital bed in a coma. Matt Flynn is a near shadow, similarly athletic, and risky in pressure situations. He too knows the offense quite well. There was Seneca Wallace, who has a skill set that would be admirable in a run base team, but the West Coast offense relies on passing. He did not do well in finding open receivers. We all saw it, and were secretly glad his injury opened up other opportunities. Scott Tolzein came in under fire, a Wisconsin Badger kid, driven to succeed, just not enough preparation and practice to cash in on his dream. After such a dismal performance, his numbers spoke contrarily true to his potential, and he has it to go very far in this league. Those are just the quarterbacks, all able to produce numbers equal of each other, literally. So, what about the other starting lineup?
Who are the stars aside from Randall Cobb, who was benched too soon in the season due to injury? Jordy Nelson, right? So far this season, he has went for 75 completions totaling 1153 yards and 8 touchdowns. He is the leader in receiving. A majority of those completions and touchdowns came from Aaron Rodgers at the helm. Who else? James Jones of course, who has 53 catches for 776 yards and 3 touchdowns, those coming off the reserve quarterbacks. Then there is that “other” kid, Jarrett Boykin, feet that mirror some of the best plays we have seen from a veteran, and could be compared to Nelson just in basics alone. This kid has 47 receptions for 673 yards and an equal 3 touchdowns, all necessary, all big plays. There are your targets if Cobb is not cleared to return. All three are capable of the trademark slants, the read option screens, and the long haul single or even double coverage deep throws. If you want play calling, there you go. Hit these three and we have a game.
We cannot forget the star of our running game. Or should we say the lifeblood of a drained and dry ground game for decades. He renewed our threat, and gave the organizations of our opponents a reason to stay up all night finding ways to stop him. Yes, Eddie Lacy. He is a rookie running back with 263 attempts and 1112 yards and 10 touchdowns going into the final game of the regular season. He plays hurt, he plays tired, sick, but no matter what you can say, he plays. His veteran counterpart James Starks is equally accountable, just not given the same snaps, for obvious reasons. Starks has 78 attempts for 405 yards and 3 touchdowns. Let’s do the math, given the similar workload; the numbers come out very close. So the Green Bay Packers have a running game, a good one. John Kuhn will always be mentioned for the closer role, he comes through when called, and definitely when needed. There are limited mistakes to be made with this arsenal given the right plays called.
Unfortunately, we are scarce in power in the tight end position. Yes, Jermichael Finley was less than perfect, but in his short-lived season he has 25 catches for 300 yards and 3 touchdowns. Andrew Quarless is nipping on his heels with 30 catches for 281 yards and 2 touchdowns. This is not enough to put points on the board consistently. Quarless can be the go to guy in pressure situations, but to plan a deep throw or even a screen as part of the flow is high school play calling. Look up his drop percentage and come to that conclusion for yourself.
Our offensive line front four is something to either be proud of for matching every defense we have played in sacks allowed, or they are the ones losing their jobs for allowing a 3 to 1 turnover ratio and those same 43 sacks we tie for. It all falls on fundamentals, missed tackles, blown assignments, and most importantly, letting the big guys through….. This is problem number one for the offensive coaching staff. Can they be held accountable for problems on offense?? Yes.
Moving on, since we have covered the lineup on offense, on to the question of the hour. The coach, right? Is it McCarthy’s fault for calling bad plays in 3rd and short, or 4th and 1? No. He relies on the no huddle offense to move the game forward. He puts the work in day in day out with his quarterbacks driving in the playbook, the new plays, the overall plan mixed with a few back pocket trick plays if the rhythm is right. His quarterbacks are well prepared every single game for what he plans to produce. He is calm, he is witty, and he is respected by every player that reports to the active roster. This is the same coach who held 40,000 fans to their honor when he brought the Lombardi trophy out of the tunnel with no protection and trusted the front 4 rows to touch it with no issue. His plays have caused resounding cheering from the masses when it made a big play, and when down, the exact opposite. We all know of his ability to coach a team plagued with adversity. We also know of all the coaches, aside from the original, Curly Lambeau, and the legend, Vince Lombardi, this guy has the stature of a literal statue when his days are done here. Is McCarthy to blame? No, he is not.
We all know where the real problem is. We can take out our best weapon, the quarterback for 7 whole weeks, take out the star receiver, the star tight end, even the second best backup on paper for quarterback, and they still produce the same touchdown ratio as the best team in the NFL. The numbers do not lie. Total tackles by defense? 1008 individual, 720 assists, and 288 sacks. The leader is A.J. Hawk with 116 individual tackles, 72 assists, 44 sacks, and 5 forced fumbles, one for a touchdown. Quietest member of the defense, and he produces beyond Pro Bowl qualifying numbers. He is often overlooked in favor of the star linebacker, Clay Matthews. Matthews is a beast and is deserving of the attention he receives. But getting hurt, missing games and playing hurt has caused statistical suicide. He has 41 solo tackles, 26 assisted tackles, 7.5 sacks and 3 touchdowns. Playmaker, yes. But, this year we so sadly miss our Claymaker. Can our defense survive while he mends from a recurring injury? Yes.
Dom Capers is scheduled to be tarred and feathered if the Packers miss the playoffs, or at minimum quietly put out to pasture. Six weeks ago, I would have agreed completely. He rarely blitzed when it was too easy, simply because Matthews was out. He didn’t put the trust in the hungry linebackers waiting for their turn. He called single coverage on Megatron. He kept Williams in the nickel instead of putting Bush in where he shines. Sam Shields falls for the draw 7 out of 10 times. Stick with Richardson, Daniels, bench Jennings, and have Burnett wear a mic and call the audibles. He is showing mature reads, sticking with the pass option when the run is set up. Oh, and keep Hawk on the right, look at the tape, and see the results. He doesn’t silently lead the defense for no reason. Capers, previously known as “The Dominator” has been nothing short of an embarrassment of even one year ago, and that isn’t saying much. But should they let him go if his defense once again lets a game go to the other team, especially the Chicago Bears? I would say no. The “Dominator” needs to show up, and his players will show up as well. He has a few more great years in him and I would love to see him produce once again.
If there needs to be a section of the coaching staff that can be blamed for huge plays given to the opponent, it is the Special Teams. In fifteen games, Tim Mathsay, a punter, has been relied on to stop a return four times. Last week, it was Mason Crosby deep down the field yielding a huge tackle. This is uncalled for. The Chicago Bears have embarrassed our special teams year after year after year. When will it stop? When the coaches are either replaced, or the lineup is changed. Shawn Slocum has been with the organization for over 7 years, and is given credit for guiding Randall Cobb to an NFL record last year, and is now given the credit for Micah Hyde and his accomplishments. I call hogwash. Ask yourself, if this were true, then why did Jeremy Ross tragically fail with the Packers coaching staff, but thrives with the Detroit Lions? You want a coaching problem, there you have it.
So, yes, there is a coaching issue, they are not all on the same page. This could cost the Packers, and the Packer fans a chance to continue this season. Changes need to be made, and the likelihood of it being fixed within the next 48 hours is a pipe dream. If the players want this game, and the next one to come, they have to not only show up, but step up. Make the big plays, avoid the mistakes, stick to the fundamentals, and challenge the coaching staff when it is necessary. The Chicago Bears have proven in the last few weeks that they can be crushed. So crush them.
I think the questions are all answered with the facts, the numbers, those statistics on the table. Can the Packers take this game and go to the playoffs? They can. Will they? We unfortunately cannot answer that. But if it’s in the “stars”, then I want to see them shine; not only as a bleeding green and gold Packer fan, but as that voluntary couch cushion coach I love to be game after game. I look forward to Sunday, and I look forward to seeing the season continue. GO PACK!