Little Mistakes Add Up to Big Loss for Packers
There’s nothing worse than missing a game where the Green Bay Packers lose. Yes, it saves some heartache and keeps the remote control from flying across the room, but it’s disheartening to know that, when I go back and watch it, I’m only going to be disappointed. The one silver lining, however, is that the emotion has taken its course, and I can look at things a little more objectively.
With this in mind, I already knew what to look for when the Green Bay Packers dropped an 18-point halftime lead over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. I had to figure out what changed between the two halves of play and why things started going south. A lot of blame was passed around in the 24 hours following the loss, but I wanted to draw my own conclusions with the tape to back up my claims.
And what did I find? While I agree with “Jersey” Al that the offense deserves a lot of the heat, I don’t think I can point my finger directly at the play calling. And though Adam Czech is correct in pointing out the missed scoring opportunity at the end of the first half, I think there’s more to it than that. In fact, what I discovered was a lot of little things that added up to big problems. There was no one consistent failure, but multiple mistakes and drive-killers that allowed the Colts to make an historic comeback.
Dropped Passes by the Usual Suspects
It didn’t take long for people to start asking why the Packers didn’t put the Colts away in the first half. They were sitting on an 18-point lead and had over a minute to put a scoring drive together going into halftime. While it is a good question, the answer didn’t have anything to do with a lack of trying.
The Packers made a nice 6-yard gain on a short outside pass to Kuhn, who also managed to run out of bounds and stop the clock. Good play calling to start the drive, if you ask me. In fact, I didn’t have any issues with the next two play calls – it was the execution that mattered. Jordy Nelson made a big drop over the middle on 2nd-and-4, and then Jermichael Finley followed it up with a drop on third down to end the drive. So after less than 20 seconds coming off the play clock, the Packers punted it back to the Colts.
Rodgers Throws Pick Number Four
The Packers offense shot themselves in the foot on the opening drive of the second half, when not only could Rodgers find no receivers to throw to, but the offensive line was called for a holding penalty. Rodgers made a nice scramble to make up the yardage, but it was the third down play that was the biggest head-scratcher for me.
It appears that it was set up to be a bubble screen to Randall Cobb on the left side of the field, where he and two other receivers were lined up in a bunch formation. I can only assume that Rodgers preferred the match-up with James Jones on the other side of the field, as that’s where he went with the ball. (Cobb probably could have made the first down if Rodgers had gone his direction.)
While both McCarthy and Rodgers have said the ball was tipped, it seemed like a risky back-shoulder pass to begin with. I can’t imagine the corner playing the deep throw with only two yards to go and safety help over the top.
Rodgers Makes Mistakes
On the second drive of the second half, the offense continued to sputter. Rodgers and Jones were off target on a first down pass that landed a couple yards in front of Jones’ comeback route. Whether Rodgers threw a bad ball or Jones didn’t complete his route with the right timing is something we may never know.
However, this brought up a long second down that ended with a big sack against Rodgers. It seemed as though McCarthy had a deep-route concept going, and there was nowhere to go with the ball before the defense hit home. To make matters worse, the ensuing third down was complete with no open receivers and a head-shaking flag on Rodgers for making his throw beyond the line of scrimmage.
Negative Running Plays
The next two sets of downs are where Mike McCarthy might have started losing his confidence in Alex Green. There were some nice catches by D.J. Williams to get the passing game going, but Green seemed to stall the forward momentum with some uninspired running. He barely made positive yardage, and a couple of times he wound up in the backfield. While the blocking could have been better, Green showed some poor decision making all around.
Mike McCarthy seemed to be getting impatient, and he called another deep-route concept on 2nd-and-12, in which Aaron Rodgers couldn’t connect with his receiver in tight coverage. This was promptly followed by a soul-crushing sack on third down.
McCarthy Gets Pass Happy
Despite what people said about the opening of the second half, I think this is where McCarthy truly lost faith in the running game. The interception by rookie Casey Hayward was a big opportunity by the Packers to turn the momentum around and start moving in the right direction.
Rodgers opened with a nice scramble for the first down, but every play called thereafter was a pass that was destined to fail. Crabtree gave up a sack on a play-action pass, though why he was in that position to begin with is a mystery. After that, Williams does his best Finley impersonation by dropping a pass on 2nd-and-16, and the drive ended with Rodgers scrambling for yardage with nowhere to go downfield on a three-man rush.
Aaron Rodgers Implodes
Perhaps the frustration level finally reached its peak when Rodgers, down 22-21 with a little over 6 minutes remaining, tried to keep the plays alive too long. A manageable 2nd-and-5 became a long 3rd-and-11 when he took a big coverage sack, refusing to get rid of the ball. And memories of Seattle came rushing back to fans with intense pain when Rodgers again buckled under pressure for a second consecutive down.
He returned with the go-ahead score after a big defensive stop, but in all fairness, it was on the back of Alex Green’s 41-yard run.
Defense Slow to Adjust
In looking at the play of the defense as a whole, it’s hard to place a lot of blame on them individually. The offense wasn’t helping them out with the clock management, and by the time the Colts were making their game-winning drive, they were simply gassed. Nevertheless, a couple things kept weakening them, especially in the second half.
First and foremost, Donald Brown found life for the Colts running game around the perimeter of the field. He kept making big gains outside of the tackle, and the Packers kept getting stuck on the inside. This also helped to open up the play-action passes for Andrew Luck, and he hit a lot of big plays off of them, with plenty of time to scan the field.
That said, Luck kept finding a lot of time to find receivers on other plays, as well. The pass rush just could not hit home. While the Packers were able to come away with four sacks, they just weren’t able to get pressure consistently – which is perhaps more important. And even when they did pressure Luck, he was able to out-maneuver the defenders for positive plays.
Finally, the missed interception opportunities could have been gigantic momentum swings, yet remain only as empty “what-ifs.”
Greater Than The Sum
While there are a couple over-arching themes to these mistakes, they all boiled down to a string of errors that spiraled out of control. Not one player or unit can shoulder the blame, because as we have seen, there was plenty to go around. Dropped passes, miscommunication, bad technique, negative plays, and lost opportunities found their mark on multiple players. Even the special teams unit added two missed field goals to the mix.
The future is not looking bright as far as the Green Bay Packers’ record is concerned; however, watching this game over again gives me a slight ray of hope for future performances. (Though I must admit, that has been dwindling quickly the past few weeks.) If the offense can overcome the mental and physical mistakes, and if the defense can start seizing their turnover opportunities, then the ship might just get righted.
Unfortunately, those might be some big “ifs.”——————Follow @ChadToporski