Monday, November 10, 2008

Second-guessing aplenty over Packers' loss

The call-in phone lines to radio sports shows in Wisconsin were buzzing in the aftermath of the Pack's gut-wrenching 28-27 loss to the ViQueens yesterday. Comments that were common to most if not all discussions (I'm making some assumptions as obviously I couldn't listen to all such shows...a-duh!) included: the dreadful offensive line play, the questionable play calling, the abundance of penalties, terrible punting, questions about Coach McCarthy's TD challenge near the end of the game, the missed field goal, the inability to convert third downs, the stellar play of the Packers defensive backs, Nick Barnett's injury, the continuing inability to stop the run...does that about cover it?

Veteran left tackle Chad Clifton was the target of some discussion. A common theme is that he is perhaps starting to show his age, and his bad knees. Jared Allen beat him like a rented mule all day long. Of course, the rest of the offensive line play was equally bad. About the only player that seemed to hold up well was right tackle Mark Tauscher. But one guy doing his job isn't going to make much difference when the rest of the line is getting beat play after play. And the guy at QB that the team just gave a boatload of long-term money to won't be around very long if he doesn't get better protection than he's getting now. Aaron Rodgers took a beating yesterday. Some of it was his fault for holding the ball too long. But in general, he was getting smacked like a piƱata throughout the game.

Coach McCarthy's challenge of Adrian Peterson's TD with a little over 2 minutes remaining in the game mystified not only the on-air game commentators at the time but also the majority of fans afterward. If successful, all it would have allowed Minnesota to do would be to have the ball at the 1 and run more time off the clock. Instead, it just cost the Pack what was a valuable timeout going to the final 2 minutes of the game. It made no sense.

And with the ball in great field position -- the Packers own 41 -- with 2:15, one timeout and the 2 minute warning left, Coach McCarthy got conservative in his play calling. Worse, his formations gave the defense every clue as to what they were going to try to do, run. This against a stout run defense. No surprises, and not much to show for it. If not for the lucky bounce of a deflected pass into Donald Driver's hands the Pack may not even have had that shot at the final field goal attempt.

While K Mason Crosby had hit 60-yarders in warmups, not being able to set him up closer -- again, given the starting position and time remaining -- was a failure of play calling and execution. It was a makeable 52-yarder, yes. But it shouldn't have come down to that play or that distance.

One of the other negative factors that has become almost so commonplace as to be ignored despite its continual mediocrity is the punting game. Special teams coach Mike Stock talked GM Ted Thompson and Coach McCarthy into dumping Jon Ryan the week before the start of the regular season for supposed directional punter Derrick Frost. Frost has been a disaster, getting off short punts which -- as yesterday -- keep giving the opposing team great field position. Oh, yeah, Frost currently ranks 24th in the league in punting average. The guy we dumped, Jon Ryan, currently ranks 10th. So much for that great idea.

The seriousness of Nick Barnett's knee injury is still an unknown. He was on crutches and the cart after the game, according to reports. He's having tests today to determine if it's an ACL injury or something less serious. In either case, the linebacking corps will take a hit at least in the short run.

We could go on and on...and might, later on. But if you want to get a really excellent overview of the how and why of this latest loss, and its implications for the rest of the season, check out the article in today's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel by Bob McGinn who, as always, has some great insights.

There are only seven games left. As McGinn states, "The Packers find themselves trailing 10 teams, including Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Dallas that all hold the tie-breaking advantage over them, and tied with still another club in the NFC. Six teams will make the playoffs." Unless the Packers somehow flick a switch and get their you-know-what together starting with Da Bearz game this coming Sunday and running through the rest of the season it is going to be an uphill battle. Fortunately, they play in the NFC North. That at least provides a ray of hope. But it is one which, if significant improvements don't happen quickly, won't matter much in the end.