Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Packers playoff scenarios ... and other cosmic debris

As we knew going into this last weekend's game, if the Packers beat the Steelers and either Dallas or the Giants lost, the Pack would have locked up a playoff spot. As Week #15 of the NFL concluded last evening, we now know that...none of that happened. The Packers lost in a heartbreaker, Dallas upset the Saints in New Orleans, and the Giants handled the 'skins in D.C.

So, what do the scenarios look like now? Here ya go, Packer fans. The Pack makes the playoffs with any of the following:
  • A win (vs. Seattle) and a N.Y. Giants loss or tie (vs. Carolina)
  • Or a win and a Dallas loss (vs. Washington)
  • Or a tie and a N.Y. Giants loss

Defensive second-guessing continues...but not by the coaches
The local and national airwaves were and are full of fans and pundits second-guessing the Packers defensive approach on the Steelers' game-winning drive. But despite giving up an Al Bundy-like bajillion yards passing to Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (OK, more like 503 yards to be exact), failing to prevent big plays on the drive, failing to just tackle a receiver before they got out of bounds, failing to blitz, and committing three penalties which kept the Steelers alive -- including one which negated an interception that would have ended the game with a Packers win -- both head coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers say they wouldn't have done anything differently. Not even keep blitzing LB Clay Matthews who had been wreaking havoc all day long.

And why oh why didn't the coaches instruct the defensive backs that it would be preferable to take a pass interference penalty (something we all know they are already quite adept at) rather than allow a catch in the endzone? CB Josh Bell -- the defensive back who got beat on the last play -- would have been better off just pushing the receiver out of bounds and then taking a last-stand chance at the 1-yard line. Might have wound up with the same result. But you at least would have stayed alive to make that last stop and get a different result.

Anyway...woulda, coulda, shoulda, right? You can read more of the coaches' assessments here.

Crosby is still safe
Coach Mike McCarthy isn't one to make quick personnel change decisions. With many fans and sports commentators saying they don't know how the Packers can't now bring in some kickers to tryout after K Mason Crosby's now seeming every-game miss streak (sorry...a bit wordy there), McCarthy said yesterday, "Mason Crosby is our kicker. He will be our kicker moving forward. Zero interest in bringing in a kicker. I have all the confidence that Mason will fix the issue that he's had with missing the one kick a game."

So, get over it, Packer fans. It just may be that the team's playoff fortunes live or die on the leg of Mason Crosby. That's more of a generic description, granted. Because there is no problem with the strength of Crosby's leg. The problem is that dang right hash mark, from which Crosby pushes everything right. According to Crosby, as reported in an article in today's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "When the ball goes right, I'm not finishing my right side enough. I have to make sure I finish that and get through the target." The change in holders this past Sunday from backup QB Matt Flynn to punter Jeremy Kapinos didn't seem to matter. Kapinos did bobble the snap on an extra point but got the ball down and Crosby was still able to get it through the uprights. According to the article, special teams coach Shawn Slocum said the hold by Kapinos on the missed field goal was good. Just...another push by Crosby.

What is concerning, as mentioned here in prior posts, is that Crosby is now missing relatively short kicks. Prior to Sunday, most if not all his wide-right misses have occurred from 40-45 yards out (he has only made one kick out of five attempts of over 50 yards this season, a 52-yarder). Against the Steelers, his miss was from 34-yards.

Clearly, McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson have determined that they've got too much invested in Crosby at this point and that the fix is as simple as a mechanical tweak. While true, you just have to believe that with a miss in -- what, 5 or 6 of the last 7 games? -- this has to be messing with Crosby's psyche. It's just like that one hole on the golf course, ya know? Wide open fairway on the left, woods all down the right; you can be aiming 180 degrees away from the trees into wide open space and before you even tee off you know that ball is going to go...right...into the dang trees! (Wait...did I just reveal too much about my golf game???)

Anyway, you get the point, or points. The key one being, you better be on your knees praying every time Crosby attempts a field goal from here on out. Especially if the game is on the line. That missed kick in the first half Sunday would have made Roethlisberger's end-of-game heroics moot if Crosby had just done what he says he's been working to do since this problem started: finish.

If Crosby doesn't figure out a way to do that, and soon, the Packers might also find themselves finished off all-too-soon.