Monday, December 31, 2012

Packers lose to Vikings, lose bye

Well, well, well...that didn't quite work out as planned, did it, Packer fans? While we knew -- and projected -- that this would be a close game (we had the Packers beating the Vikings 27-24), we didn't think the Green Bay Packers would let the opportunity to secure the number 2 seed and a bye in the NFC playoffs slip through their fingers. They did. Losing to Minnesota 37-34 on a last second field goal, the Pack now gets no rest and instead will see the ViQueens again at Lambeau Field this coming Saturday evening at 7 p.m. in the Wild Card game.

Part one of the plan was to try to contain RB Adrian Peterson. They didn't; he ran for 199 yards on a career-high 34 carries...although they held him 9 yards short of setting the single-season rushing record. Part two of the plan was to have QB Christian Ponder beat them. As various pundits noted after the game, when Packers' head coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers review the game film they will conclude that the latter is exactly what happened. While the Packers did occasionally get to him, when Ponder had time to throw, he more often than not was on the money...including probably the longest and best pass of his pro career to a wide open receiver -- courtesy of a blown coverage -- setting up a touchdown. On 3rd and 11 (was this the same play?) instead of blitzing, Capers called his usual three-man rush scheme and didn't get anywhere close to Ponder; he wound up completing a big pass. (This is a pattern of Capers that is concerning: instead of putting pressure on the quarterback on 3rd-and-long, the Packers rush three only and typically gives the QB all the time in the world to find a receiver...not all...especially given the predicatability of the tendency.)

Ponder has been getting better as the season has worn on and in the upcoming playoff game the Packers will have to do a much better job rushing him and covering receivers.

For as good as the Packers' defense appeared last weekend against an admittedly woeful Tennessee Titans offense, they appeared at times confused on coverages and gun shy of making tackles...particularly against Peterson. CB Tramon Williams was even called out on air by announcer Troy Aikman who said on one play that it looked as if Williams was doing his best to not get anywhere near Peterson, who then broke off about a 20-yard run.

To be fair, one touchdown -- a difference in the game -- came about as the first half wound down. A pass was tipped high in the air downfield. A Vikings' receiver somehow was able to come up with the ball, although replays clearly showed the tip of the ball hit the ground and was an incompletion. Unfortunately, because of poor time management by either or both Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy earlier in the half, the Packers had no time outs left and thus could not challenge the call of it being a reception. A few plays later, the Vikes were in the endzone. This somewhat typified the nature of the day for the Packers.

Other problems
As noted above, it wasn't just the defense that had problems in this game. Special teams' coverage was poor, often allowing returns out to near the 40-yard line.

The Packers offense did itself no favors early in the game with two straight three-and-outs to start the game. As a result, the Minnesota offense had the ball a good chunk of the first quarter and started to build a lead.

The offense seemed out of sync and lackluster. The play calls seemed uninspired. Instead of setting the tone for success it could be argued the tone for mediocrity and eventual loss was set in those first few possessions of the game. Where the Packer offense thrives and the team wins most often is when it can get off to a fast start and have the other team playing from behind. Instead, the opposite occurred.

The Packers also typically win when they get turnovers. They didn't have any in this game.

Conversely, the only turnover of the game came in the third quarter as the Packers were putting together a drive near midfield. Rodgers was pressured in the pocket, he moved up and was just beginning to bring his arm back to throw when the ball was knocked out of his hand and recovered by Minnesota. In a game in which every possession counted, the turnover and lost possession was huge. That's because this game came down to who had the ball last...the final possession. That was the Vikings. And they converted a chip shot field goal to win.

Rodgers still shines
Despite the early problems, and clear frustrations with the officials who were slow to set the ball and thus interrupted the Pack's no-huddle scheme, QB Aaron Rodgers was spectacular. He had his highest passer rating (131.8) since mid-October. Rodgers threw for four touchdown, had no interceptions, and led four scoring drives in the Packers' five second-half possessions.

The Fail Mary effect
By virtue of the "Fail Mary" game at Seattle...the Packers' win that wasn't thanks to the replacement refs...the Packers wound up with the third seed in the playoffs with an 11-5 final record instead of 12-4 which actually should have been the record, securing them the second seed and the bye. Instead, with that early season screw up by the NFL and its not-ready-for-primetime refs, the 49ers got the second seed and the bye. And, if the Packers win at home against Minnesota Saturday night, they will now have to go on the road to San Francisco instead of vice versa. Wow. Can't say it enough: thanks to the NFL and the entire replacement referee crew working that Seattle game for blowing it so badly you've affected the playoff scenario. Way to go. You must be so proud. (OK, OK, sarcasm off now...)

Playoff Wild Card Game
There will be much to review during the course of this week in preparation for Saturday night's game in Green Bay. We'll address that game as the week goes on. So be sure to check back.

Also, we'll be posting a special video here on Thursday that takes a look back at a recent game. You'll want to check that out, too.

But in the meantime, the next big game ahead is...the Wisconsin Badgers taking on Stanford in the Rose Bowl tomorrow. Go Badgers!!!