Sunday, December 14, 2008

Packers - Jaguars preview

It's game day in Florida. Jacksonville, to be precise. But when you have a 5-8 team going against a 4-9 team, about the only folks who really care are the fans of those two teams. That's reflected in the fact that of the 6 games being played first today, the game between the Pack and the Jags will be broadcast to only about 3 percent of national viewers. So, it's the bottom-feeders game, folks. That's where we're at.

The Packers have lost 3 straight and 5 of their last 6 since the bye week. Four of those losses have come -- as we all too painfully know -- by a combined total of 11 points, and typically all within the last minute or two of those games. But that fifth loss in the group, which was the blow out 51-29 loss at New Orleans in week 12 was probably the back-breaker for this young Packers team. They haven't been able to get their bearings since.

And that speaks to a leadership void. There's an interesting article on this very subject in today's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. You can check it out here.

But leadership aside, this is a game the Pack must have. I know. We've been saying that now for each of the last few weeks. And this isn't about the playoffs. While still statistically possible, the probability of the Packers winning out and both Da Bearz and ViQueens losing all their remaining games...doubtful. So, why must the Pack have this game? Pride. Yes, it does matter. There are reports out about Jacksonville that say they are a team that has given up. I hope so. It's the kind of help the Packers could use right now. If it helps build pride to win over a team that has given up, so be it. We'll take what we can get at this point.

It's also important, as the article mentioned above notes, to see where the Pack's leadership is now. But it will also be important in setting up the leadership for next season as well.

In Christmas party and other conversations with fellow fans, the thing that keeps popping up is that it's hard to figure out why the team is not closing out these games. Arguably, talent exists on this team with the exception of obvious voids, especially on the defensive line. So why can't they exert that force of will that can make even teams of mediocre talent -- oh, let's say, Da Bearz for example -- win. Some of that comes from the coaching staff. But ultimately, players need to hold themselves and each other accountable. Whether that has happened for with the Packers coming down the last weeks of the season...? Radio pundits on 620WTMJ radio -- the Packers flagship station -- pointed out this morning that even such normally available veterans as Aaron Kampman, Charles Woodson and Donald Driver did not make themselves available for interviews after the game last week. As to why they didn't wish to speak, who knows? Maybe they were saving it for the locker room with teammates only.

Anyway...back to the specifics of this game. Sorry for the detour...

The Packers are favored by 1-1/2 points. Of course, last week the Packers were favored at home by 6. So much for that.

The threat the Packers have to face this week comes in the form of a little big man, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, who will now be the featured running back given that Fred Taylor was lost for the season last week with a thumb injury. He's exactly the kind of running back that has given the Pack fits all season: someone with power and enough elusiveness to break big plays. Sound familiar? The Jags are 4-0 when they run 35 or more times per game; they are 0-9 when they don't. As if the Packers weak link -- a rush defense ranked 27th in the league -- wasn't bad enough, here we go again against a team that basically has the run as it's potential strong suit on offense.

The Jags don't have much going for them. But Houston, as a road team, didn't either before gashing the Pack for more than 500 yards in offensive output and stealing a win.

Pride. Do the Packers still have it? We'll see. If they lose to Jacksonville they have reached a major dysfunctional low that might take a lot of off-season tweaking to fix.

But fill up that glass with more green'n'gold kool-aide. I'm taking the Pack 24-23. It shouldn't be that close. But it may very well be.

Go Pack Go!!!