A “Fine” Mess: Why are the Packers Prey for Dirty Hits?
The Green Bay Packers are 1-2 so far in 2013. With this past weekend being Green Bay’s bye week, every aspect of the team has been broken down over and over by a variety of writers.
How the offense is doing, what the defense needs to improve on and the Packers’ lack of a kick returner has been talked about ad nauseum since Green Bay’s defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3. They are all important questions that definitely need to be answered when determining the 2013 Packers’ fate.
However, there is one question no one seems to be asking and it’s a curious one at that: Why are the Packers falling victim to dirty plays by their opponents every week?
It’s something you may not have noticed, but it’s the truth. In every single game Green Bay has played so far this season, someone on the opposite sideline has been fined for some type of illegal hit on a Packer player.
In Week 1, while Clay Matthews was also fined $15,000 for his sideline hit on Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers players racked up over $20,000 in fines themselves. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin was fined $7,875 for what the league called a late hit on cornerback Jarrett Bush and linebacker Ahmad Brooks was fined $12,750 for a bone crushing roughing the passer penalty in the second quarter.
Washington Redskins safety Brandon Merriweather was fined $42,000 for a helmet-to-helmet collision with Packers running back Eddie Lacy that left the rookie with a concussion. Merriweather later took himself out of the game with another helmet-to-helmet hit against James Starks.
The Bengals in Week 3 completed the trifecta when linebacker Vontaze Burfict was fined $31,000 for two hits, one to the head of Packers wide receiver James Jones and a low blow to tight end Ryan Taylor. On the Taylor hit, Burfict was not penalized but Taylor was for his retaliatory shove. Taylor however was not fined by the league. George Iloka was fined $15,000 for the hit that gave tight end Jermichael Finley a concussion.
It’s happened three games in a row, so that leads to the theory this isn’t just some kind of coincidence and something else is at work here.
One reason that it could be is it that the league is enforcing its rules on an inconsistent basis. The NFL has dished out $6,173,391 million in fines according to Spotrac and the $108,625 that have been incurred from infractions against the Packers makes up around 1.76% percent of that total. Of course, this is football and violent hits will happen but with recent discoveries about long term effects of concussions, the league has to crack down on illegal hits.
It’s also worth noting that some of that $6 million has been contributed by repeat offenders, such as the Lions’ Ndamukong Suh and Brandon Merriweather. That makes them subject to much stiffer fines and Suh recently was hit with a $100,000 violation.
When you look at what the Packers have been falling victim to however, this only tells part of the story.
Green Bay has been accused of being a “soft” team the last couple years and the other 31 NFL teams have clearly become aware of that. The 49ers busted the Packers in the mouths in Week 1 and, to the relief of many Packers fans, Green Bay finally fought back and showed some guts despite the loss.
That said, one game alone is not enough to erase a stigma. Both games against Washington and Cincinnati, as mentioned above, saw the Packers fall victim to dirty play that was loudly (and correctly) called out on Twitter and other forms of media. Teams are still going after the Packers because they consider them soft and unable to win a physical, street fight-style football game.
So how do the Packers correct it?
Well, in a way they’ve already begun to. Early signs indicate a resurgent running game and despite the solid play thus far from James Starks, the physical running of Lacy is really the medicine the Packers need. Green Bay has not a true workhorse at running back since Ahman Green and Lacy has the ability to just wear down opponents.
This why Lacy needs to return from his concussion and soon. The Packers almost look like a different offense when Lacy isn’t in the lineup. Look at the Bengals game for proof of that.
Then there is the coaching style of Mike McCarthy. For whatever reason, the Packers seem to let off the gas as soon as they build roughly a 20-point lead. Green Bay goes into the prevent, both on offense and defense, and this allows opponents to make the score much closer than it seems and even sometimes, incredibly, costs the Packers a games (Indianapolis Colts, 2012).
McCarthy could learn a lot from what the Denver Broncos are doing in 2013. Peyton Manning has thrown a ridiculous 16 touchdowns and no interceptions one quarter of the way through the season. It’s a mind boggling statistic that likely won’t be repeated any time soon, but if one quarterback can do it it’s Aaron Rodgers.
Take a look here at what Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post wrote about the Broncos running the score up and showing no mercy. They just beat the Eagles 51-20 and the comments by the Eagles players show they were feeling utterly humiliated. What is driving that team? According to Kiszla, it’s the deep burning anger of last season’s playoff defeat and that fire is inspiring fear into their opponents.
Sound familiar? It’s what the Packers should be and can still be.
The Packers need to go out there and humiliate their opponents. Some fans might argue about class and dignity and those are definitely important to the game. However, football itself is an uncivilized game and it’s becoming increasingly harder to win a Super Bowl with a civilized team. See the 2011 Packers for more on that. You can still have class and be uncivilized. It’s not like the Packers need to become the Lions.
Speaking of the Lions, the upcoming game will unfortunately likely expose the Packers to even more cheap shots given the reputation of their opponent. The league handing out fines and suspensions are all good, but that won’t replace a player that suffered a catastrophic injury on an unnecessary play.
Dirty play sadly will always be a part of the NFL and league is trying to crack down on it, but the Packers can do their part as well. It’s time for them to get physical and change that “soft” image. What they have shown so far in 2013 is a start, but there’s still 13 games remaining.
What Green Bay does in those 13 games will ultimately determine their fate this season. If they can fight back and get into the heads of their opponents, they stand as good a chance as anyone as making a trip to New Jersey in February.
That’s something all Packers fans should agree on.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke