7

January

Ditching the Dink and Dunk Approach Paid Off for Packers vs. Bears

I meant to do a post on this topic earlier in the week, but work got the best of me and I also got sucked into this documentary about the White family of West Virginia on one of my free nights (I could not decide if it was sad, disgusting, fascinating, or all of the above).

Anyway, I have been thinking about the Packers approach on offense in Sunday’s win over the Bears. It initially bugged me that the Packers did not stick with the short passes that moved the chains so effectively in the first Bears game, and appeared to be working fairly well early on Sunday. The Packers also showed brief flashes of a competent run game, so I also wondered why they didn’t stick with it a bit more, especially with James Starks in the second half.

I am usually not one of those people that nitpicks at playcalling (unless it’s the fullback dive), but I do like to try and look at the big picture after each game and decide if I liked the approach or not.

In the week three loss, the Bears were content to sit back, let the Packers move down the field, and wait until drives imploded via penalties, turnovers or other miscues. Under no circumstances were they going to let the Packers start connecting on their trademark deep passes.

This is what the Bears do and they do it well. They do it well against almost every team they face, but especially against the Packers.

Early on Sunday, the Packers game plan looked similar to week three. They were moving the ball, and it seemed like only a matter of time before the yards gained through short passes and the occasional run started resulting in points scored.

Then Donald Driver fumbled and everything started looking like week three again.

Instead of sticking with the dink-and-dunk/grind-it-out approach in the second half, McCarthy went back to what the Packers do best: Chucking the ball downfield. Some people might consider that decision impatient or stubborn. Others might call it a necessary adjustment. It is probably a bit of both, but added together, it was the correct move.

How would Packers fans have survived the offseason if Sunday’s game mirrored the week three defeat? If the Packers were going to go down, it was best they went down playing to their strength instead of trying to be something they were not because of who they were up against.

5

January

Packers Film Study: Bulaga’s Miscues Overshadow an Otherwise Solid Game (Packers – Bears)

Bryan Bulaga is 6 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs almost 320 pounds. But the Green Bay Packers’ right tackle probably felt like the smallest person in Lambeau Field after each of his four penalties in Sunday’s must-win game against the Chicago Bears.

Bulaga committed two holding penalties that negated Packers’ first downs. He was also guilty of two false starts. The Packers failed to pick up a first down after each of Bulaga’s penalties.

It’s impossible to give Bulaga a passing grade for Sunday’s game because of those drive-killing penalties. You simply cannot afford mistakes like that when the season is on the line.

But lets be as fair as we can to the big guy and examine the plays where Bulaga was not committing a penalty. In my opinion, he actually played decent.

Bulaga’s brightest moments came in pass protection on the two long Aaron Rodgers to Greg Jennings connections. The fourth quarter connection is especially highlight-worthy.

Aggressive at the line
Bulaga is matched up against Israel Idonije (I think it’s Idonije. It’s difficult to see on Direct TV’s camera angle). Idonije hesitates for a bit on the play-action, then tries to get up field and force Rodgers to move out of the pocket. Bulaga stonewalls Idonogie, which allows Rodgers to stand tall, go through his reads, and deliver a perfect strike to Jennings.

Rodgers also hit Jennings on a long pass late in the third quarter that eventually led to a field goal. On that play, Bulaga picked up Henry Melton, who originally tried to go inside before taking on Bulaga. Once again, Bulaga doesn’t allow any penetration, which gives Rodgers ample space to step into his throw and hit Jennings in stride.

Waiting too long
Contrast these two plays with the Third-and-goal sack of Rodgers near the goal line late in the third quarter. On that play, Bulaga is matched against Idonije and doesn’t engage him until Idonije is about two yards into the Packers’ backfield.

Idonije pushes Bulaga back just a little bit, and it seems to somewhat spook Rodgers. I think Bulaga had Idonije blocked, but because Bulaga waited to engage Idonije so deep in the backfield, Rodgers may have thought he had less time than he actually did.

4

January

On Tilt: The Psychology of Lovie Smith’s Texas Hold ‘em Showdown Against the Packers

In poker there is a psychological phenomenon called tilt; basically tilt occurs when player becomes too emotionally invested in the hands that he plays. Usually this occurs after losing a big hand, and instead of taking it as “losing the battle but not the war” the player adopts a more aggressive and less optimal strategy in order to make up for the loss.

Unfortunately this almost always backfires, being on tilt often results in making bad decisions; which then loses more hands, which then snowballs until players make incredibly stupid decisions on the chance that one hand can bring them back.

What does this have to do with football? Lovie Smith went on tilt with the Chicago Bears against the Green Bay Packers and lost, and it might cost them more than just this game. (If you know nothing about Texas Hold’em I recommend checking out this wiki article or none of this allegory is going to make sense)

The Deal: Lovie Smith gets dealt a pretty bad hand, his team has already qualified for the playoffs and with the Atlanta win against Carolina in the morning, they are also locked into the 2nd seed in the NFC, essentially making the Packers game a meaningless one.

The only reason to even play is that the Packers happen to be the bitter rivals of the Bears, and knocking them out of the playoffs would be a little bit of vindication after getting swept by the Packers last year.

However, the risk of hurting a player is quite high (see Wes Welker last year), and common sense dictates that regardless of the emotional victory beating the Packers would be, the starters should be pulled quickly to avoid getting stuck in a bad position.

The Bet: Love Smith announces publicly that his starters will play a significant part of the game, even though it means nothing to them. In my opinion this was a bluff, ironically more for his own team than for the Packers. The Packers had to win in order to qualify for the playoffs so it really didn’t matter who they had to play.  For the Bears, if the starters thought that they had to be ready for a full game then perhaps they would be more driven and focused during the week and during the game.

3

January

Game Balls and Lame Calls Week 17: Packers defeat Bears 10-3

The Green Bay Packers defeated their arch rival Chicago Bears on Sunday to lock up a wild card berth and the number six seed in the NFC.

To steal a line from Jim Mora, “PLAYOFFS?! PLAYOFFS?!”

Yes, the Packers are playoff-bound for the second consecutive year. This one, however, seems to be a little more special because of the injuries and adversity the Packers had to overcome. With 14 players on injured reserve, the Packers refused to feel sorry for themselves and find themselves in the middle of a wide open NFC playoff field.
Can the Packers win three straight on the road? That remains to be seen, but for now let’s take a look back at Sunday’s game in another edition of Game Balls and Lame Calls:

Game Balls

LB Erik Walden

WHO?

In yet another example of why general manager Ted Thompson’s system works so well, Walden came out of nowhere and sacked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler twice. Replacing the injured Frank Zombo, Walden gave all he had yesterday and contributed big to the six total sacks Cutler suffered yesterday.

In such a close defensive struggle, any tackle for a loss is huge and Walden got to Cutler more than most. His tremendous and hustle and surprising power helped turn the tide of the game in the Packers’ favor.

P Tim Masthay

I think it’s safe to say the Packers have finally found the punter.

With dangerous Bears returner Devin Hester lurking downfield on every punt, Masthay played brilliantly, keeping the ball out of Hester’s hands for the most part and at one point pinning the Bears at their own two yard line on back to back punts.

In the two times Hester did get the ball, the punt was long and high enough that it gave the Packers coverage team enough time to get downfield to minimize any damage that could have been done.

It may or may not be enough to save special teams coach Shawn Slocum’s job (judging by body of work, it shouldn’t), but at least coach Mike McCarthy can rest easily knowing he finally found his punter after five years on the job.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers

Words really cannot express what Capers has meant to the Packers the past two years, yet alone the last two games.

2

January

Packers 10 Bears 3: Defense Rules the Day

The Packers and the Bears met for the 181st time today. As would only seem appropriate for these two long-time rivals, defense ruled the day, with the Packers pulling out a do-or-die 10-3 victory. Yes, they’re in the playoffs. Bring on Michael Vick.

Oh, and thank you Lovie Smith for playing the game to win. The Packers had to beat your best to get in and that’s the way it should be.

My game day impressions:

PREGAME:

As tweeted by Mike Vandermause, this is first time in history of Packers-Bears series that both teams enter game with 9 or more wins.

MY KEY TO THE GAME: If I had to pick JUST ONE thing, it would be this: Protect Aaron Rodgers.

The Bears come in with one of the best front sevens in the league.  As I said in a previous article:

They’re not going to dominate the Chicago DL, but they don’t need to. Like last week against the Giants, they just have to hold them off long enough to give Rodgers some clear looks in the Bears secondary.

My 1A key to the game: This could be a toss-up between avoiding Devin Hester and harassing  Jay Cutler. Assuming the Packers meet the goal of my #1 key, there won’t be many punt return opportunities for Hester, so I’ll go with pressuring Jay Cutler. Make him uncomfortable and the mistakes will follow.

Inactive for Green Bay on Sunday:

Green Bay inactives: Harrell, Bigby, Hall, Gordy, Zombo, Dietrich-Smith, McDonald and Jenkins.

Erik Walden will start at ROLB for Zombo.

Jenkins, out once again. Will he be back if (when) Packers play in the playoffs?

James Starks (Neo) is active today!

MM Comments on WTMJ Pregame show:

We’re not paying attention to what else is going on. We’re focused on winning  the football game and playing our best football.

Physicality: We stress it all the time. Ability to play your best football at the end of the year. When you pass a lot, people think you’re not physical. That’s not the case at all.

Aaron is a pro bowl quarterback. Strength is his intelligence, reading defenses. Statistically, he was not where he normally is early in the season. I just feel he’s now back to normal. He’s doing an excellent job in the pocket with his feet.