Monday, December 04, 2006

It Gets Worse

You know that old song lyric, "There's got to be a morning after...", or something like that...yeah, it was sappy...but it was hopeful...pointing to a brighter day. Well, this morning after following the Packers' latest debacle doesn't seem to be hopeful at all. The Packers are 4-8, which includes being 1-5 at home, giving them the worst home record in the league (it's actually worse -- the Packers are 4-12 in the last 16 home games!). And whereas some other young teams seem to be getting better as the season goes along, the Packers seem to be regressing, especially on defense.

As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reminds us, the Pack have a "61-20-1 record in home games in December and January during both the regular season and the post-season. With Favre, they were 34-6." But here's the key stat: "Of those 20 defeats, the most lopsided margin had been 26 points (32-6) against Minnesota in 1986. Thus, this will go down as the worst late-season defeat at home in club annals."

Oh good.

Brett Favre said it best in his post-game press conference: "I was hoping I'd never see anything like that in my career," Favre said in a rambling summation. "Where do we go from here? I don't know where we go from here."

Many, including this writer, said it was a mistake for Coach McCarthy to select the inexperienced Bob Sanders as defensive coordinator over then-incumbent and experienced Jim Bates, who as last season wore on was able to wring better performances out of a so-so defense. This year, with Sanders at the helm, and arguably with better personnel (remember that defense was the focus of much of GM Ted Thompson's personnel moves this year), the Packers at or near the bottom in every defensive category. They look as if they have no confidence in themselves or each other. At the three-quarters mark of the season they continue to be out of position on play after play; this is something you expect in the preseason, not the twelth game of the year.

That means bad coaching. And lots of other Packer fans apparently think so, as well. In today's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel online sports poll, the question asked is: "What best explains the Packers' poor play?" At the time of this posting, here are the results:
Bad coaching (51.7%)
Not enough talented players (25.8%)
Too many young players (15.6%)
Brett Favre is washed up (6.9%)
Total votes: 814

Earlier in the season secondary coach Kurt Schottenheimer was the primary target of defensive criticism for failing to have his players in position game after game. He definitely deserves the criticism still. But as the season has worn on, it becomes apparent that the defensive problems are larger than just the secondary. The entire defensive scheme is problematic. It is vanilla. Despite having a fairly immobile quarterback with a mediocre arm on the opposite side of the line, and after getting ripped possession after possession, it wasn't until the second half that blitzes were called for. As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel points out, "When the Packers did blitz it wasn't very creative. It was usually one or two linebackers coming up the middle. Clearly, Sanders misjudged how the Packers would handle the Jets' spread offense and then failed to make the adjustments to stop it. It's the second time they've been drilled at home in three weeks." Indeed. Drilled to the tune of being outscored 73-10 in those two games. The players apparently knew what needed to be done more so than the coaches: "We definitely wanted to see a little more pressure and we did bring it in the second half a little bit more," linebacker Nick Barnett said. "I asked him (Sanders) to bring that (middle blitz) and we brought it about three times, in the second half; that's when I made that play in the backfield. It just helped the D-line."

There are four games left in the season, two away and two at home. Where do the Packers go from here? Again, Brett said it all: "I don't know where we go from here."

But one thing's for sure. If the Packers' defense continues its downward spiral, defensive coordinator Bob Sanders should be looking for a new job in the offseason. And so should Kurt Schottenheimer. Would GM Ted Thompson boot head coach Mike McCarthy after just one season, as Ron Wolf did with with Ray Rhodes? Not a chance. But if the Packers' management isn't very careful, especially with Brett Favre's career winding down, the team could find itself once again entering a black hole not unlike the Forrest Gregg-Lindy Infante era. The horror! The horror!