Packers Face Another Early Turning Point
Last season and after the loss to the Seattle Seahawks, I wrote about how the Green Bay Packers were facing a turning point in their early season. It seemed like a knee-jerk reaction to what was a huge debacle by the replacement officials and the NFL because it was after only three games. Turns out, the Packers did get it together enough to win the NFC North and win a playoff game. In looking back at last season, the Seattle loss still looms as the turning point in 2012.
Here we are, three weeks into the 2013 season and seemingly at what could be this season’s turning point. Sure, some will say it’s too early, I’m being hasty, I’m a downer on Twitter and when this team gets all of its injured guys back, the Packers will be fine.
The “problem” that the Packers have, as far as fans are concerned, is that with a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay will always be a contender who can win any game. Therefore, the expectation to win is high. When the Packers don’t win, there is usually an adverse reaction that ranges from mild displeasure to profanity laced rants on twitter to some jumping out the 10th story window. Emotional responses by fans, players and coaches are a part of football. It’s contagious when we are watching a game that thrives on emotion and so we respond in kind.
But let’s try to take the emotion out of the equation for a minute and look at a few things that are happening now that could play into how the Packers respond after today’s loss and the upcoming bye week.
What is a “tough opponent”? For the purposes of this discussion, I’m talking about playoff-caliber teams. So far, the Packers have faced, and lost to, two such opponents. Last season, four of the Packers’ five losses were to playoff teams. Their fifth loss was to the New York Giants, who were the defending Super Bowl champions. They beat only two teams who made last year’s playoffs (Houston Texans and Minnesota Vikings).
Granted, many of those losses came on the road, but to get over the cusp of being a good team and enter the great or elite category, a team has to win the tough games. Home or road. I am not discounting external factors such as travel and an unfamiliar environment, but every team has to face that during their season. The great teams win most of those games. Good teams win some of them. The rest fall into a category that we don’t want to even think about.
I’m not suggesting that the Packers aren’t good because they have already lost two tough games this season, but they will need to get a few before it’s all said and done if they want to be true contenders in the NFC. Can they? Of course they can. Like I said earlier, with Rodgers, the Packers always have a fighting chance. But when the star quarterback has an off day, great teams still find a way to get it done. Green Bay had a chance to do that today, but didn’t. So it’s another loss that could have been a win on the road, against a quality opponent. There are no moral victories, only wins and losses. Some may be encouraged by what they saw, but that doesn’t change the record. They’re still 1-2.
With road games against Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas and the Giants, there are most tests coming. I threw Dallas and New York in there because while both are struggling this season as well, they are teams that have given the Packers fits on the road. In order to get that monkey off their back, Green Bay has to win these matchups that they have previously not been able to.
Playing From Behind
The Packers are not a team built to play from behind. We have seen this time and time again over the past two years. Yes, they have overcome deficits and won. But against tough opponents (see previous paragraph), they are not getting it done when falling behind. There is a stat floating around that Rodgers has never beaten a playoff team when the Packers are trailing entering the fourth quarter. I can’t bear to look that up and find it to be true, but I can believe it. I have to rack my brain to think of a late comeback win against a good team. The only recent example I can think of is last year’s win at Detroit against the Lions, but do we all consider Detroit to fall into that “good” category?
While Rodgers the $20 million man has to step it up late in games and make plays, this doesn’t all fall on Rodgers. Head coach Mike McCarthy calls the offensive plays and I’m starting to get a little weary of his decision-making when his team falls behind. McCarthy seems to have several versions of a panic button. If he’s not abandoning the run early in the 3rd quarter, he’s trying gadget plays (surprise onside kick, fake punt/pass, reverse pass) or refusing to put the ball in the hands of his best player in crunch time. Our own Adam Czech already wrote about the fourth down call at the end of today’s game that gave the ball to rookie running back Johnathan Franklin with a single yard to gain. A single yard. Even the most casual fan would suggest that you let your best player handle those three pesky little feet, Mike!
Culture and leadership start at the top of any organization. I can’t help but think that when the Packers tighten up on the field and get flustered, that the same isn’t happening on the sidelines or up in the press box (Dom Capers). While it’s warranted and football is an intense game, the Packers don’t show any signs of being loose and confident in those tight situations. That, I put squarely on McCarthy. Yes, players execute while coaches can only stand aside, but attitude is contagious. I am now wondering what the majority of that locker room feels when they are behind late in a game and know that every snap is being called by their head man.
Players play and coaches coach but as soon as the players start questioning what the coach is doing, it usually spells trouble. At one point in the second quarter, Rodgers and McCarthy could be seen having a very spirited discussion on the sidelines. There was clear frustration coming from both as they were either discussing the previous drive or the overall game plan. Defensive lineman B.J. Raji had to step in to try and calm the situation down.
Many have already dismissed this as “typical” and “just emotions riding high”. That may be true and perhaps we are just not privy to these types of discussions being had prior to today, but it was a very uncomfortable thing to see. Anytime there is bickering on the sidelines, and especially between a head coach and his All-Pro quarterback, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of that day.
Both McCarthy and Rodgers will go in front of the media and downplay today’s incident and say all of the right things. But let’s not be fooled. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire and this won’t just blow over without today’s events being addressed. Their relationship is a huge part of this turning point. I expect the two to sit down and realize that they have a common goal. McCarthy needs Rodgers to emulate his belief in that goal in the locker room, otherwise, some of the others may continue to question the direction that this team is headed in.
I tweeted, after the game, that days like today are starting to define Mike McCarthy as a head coach. Seemingly not able to adjust when his game plan isn’t working. Calling plays that cry “desperation” or that are so predictable that it’s almost as if he truly believes his team can execute any play even if the defense knows it’s coming. Too many times in recent memory, the opposing defense did know it was coming and quickly thwarted the effort. Eventually, the rest of the league catches up with and figures out what a good offense is doing. It’s McCarthy’s job to put the same players who are struggling in position to get results in a different way. Otherwise, we start talking about the true definition of insanity.
I’m not a football guru, but I do know that McCarthy has to find a way to get his team over the hump when his team is up against it late in games. If he cannot, it’s 2008 all over again and a handful of games that could have been won, are lost.
The Packers have the earliest bye week of any team this season. For a team that is constantly nursing injuries, having a week off later in the season would seem to be of most benefit. But this year’s bye comes at an ideal time. With several players nursing hamstring issues and with two now dealing with concussions, this extra week off will have the Packers returning to action with most of those bodies back in action.
Returning should be safety Morgan Burnett, cornerback Casey Hayward, fullback John Kuhn, linebacker Clay Matthews, running back Eddie Lacy and tight end Jermichael Finley. With a home game against the 2-1 Detroit Lions up next, I like Green Bay’s odds of getting back on the winning track.
Much will be made of today’s game and with 14 days until their next game, today’s events will be discussed, analyzed, churned, burned and ground into a sausage. In the end, all that matters is how the Packers play the next time that it counts. In the end, it’s about wins and losses.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on "AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason at: Jason Perone
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