Monday, September 19, 2011

Packers escape Carolina with second win

We've now had a night to sleep on the events that transpired during the Green Bay Packers' victory over the Carolina Panthers. It was a game which certainly didn't play out as many, including yours truly, expected.

It was almost universally agreed that Panthers' QB Cam Newton, after his high-flying NFL debut, would be brought back to earth by Dom Capers' Packers defense. Well, not quite. In fact, Newton wound up surpassing his first week passing yardage by throwing for something like a bazillion yards. Fortunately for the Pack, he also made a few rookie mistakes along the way, tossing a few interceptions Charles Woodson's way and missing a few redzone passes that could have turned the Panthers' loss into a win.

But the Packers escaped with a win to make them 2-0 on the season. Given the Packers have not generally started well under Mike McCarthy, at least we now are on the plus side of things.

But the game was one of the most schizophrenic in recent memory (reflected in this post). The Packers won the coin toss but elected to defer. Coach McCarthy was obviously confident that his defense could set the tone for the game by shutting down Newton and the Panthers, and then getting the Packers offense rolling. Well, not quite. Newton sliced and diced the Packers porous defense and seemingly before we knew it the Packers were down 13-0 and the offense had been on the field for something like 3 plays in the first quarter. If that's not the actual play count it's close enough.

In the second half, the Packers adjusted as best they could and eventually took the lead, which they did not relinquish despite some nervous moments at the end. For the second straight game, the Packers wound up having to seal the game with Donald Driver recovering an onside kick. (Kudos to Driver, by the way, for setting the franchise record for receiving yards, surpassing James Lofton.) It was also the second game in which the Packers' defense resembled more of a sieve than an NFL squad. Granted, the Packers wound up playing a good portion of the second half without Nick Collins, who was carted off the field after sustaining a neck injury. After staying overnight in a Charlotte hospital for evaluation, the early prognosis is good, but whether Collins will be ready to play against Da Bearz this Sunday remains to be seen.

The tone of the game seemed to change for the Packers once they were able to get their running game in gear. Ryan Grant had 6 carries for 25 yards while James Starks ran 9 time for 85, including a 40-yard scamper. With that kind of running threat, it helped open the play fakes for Aaron Rodgers and actually set up two of the longer touchdown throws of the day, one to Greg Jennings for nearly 50 yards and the last TD of the day, that 84-yard pitch, catch and run to Jordy Nelson. Credit should also be given to Jennings for making a great, crushing downfield block to help make sure Nelson got to the endzone. The biggest concern on offense yesterday seemed to be their inability to convert Carolina's four turnovers into touchdowns; the Pack only scored 9 points off turnovers. That's a lot of points left on the field, and it kept the Panthers in the game.

Beyond that, there really aren't too many concerns with the offense at this point, although the offensive line seemed to be allowing more pressure on Rodgers than the Carolina O-line was allowing on their quarterback.

Which leads to a brief discussion of the problem for the Packers at the moment: the defense. In two games, the Packers have given up 1,003 yards of total offense, most of it through the air. Read that again: 1,003 yards. In two games. Yowza. Giving up big yards to Drew Brees is one thing; giving up big yards to a rookie -- even one who looks like the real deal in Cam Newton -- is another. For most of the day, there seemed to be virtually no pass rush of any kind. Likewise, receivers seemed to be wide open most of the time, allowing for Newton's big completions. Whether it was a communications problem, a bad defensive call, whatever, the Packers have to get this cleaned up.

Going into Chicago this coming Sunday allows the Packers to either get its defense together and toss QB Jay Cutler around like a rag doll, as he has been in the first two games, or to allow Da Bearz to stay in the game and win with a defensive or special teams play as is their usual M.O. As for me, I'd prefer the former scenario to the latter.

The Packers offense must maximize its opportunities, score TDs instead of FGs, and get first downs late in the game to control the ball and run out the clock. The defense needs to start stepping up its efforts long before the other team gets into the redzone, and long before it comes down to a last minute goal-line stand.

The Packers are winning but winning ugly. They must become more consistent on both sides of the ball if they are to once again make it to the Big Game.