|Week 2: PACKERS Beat Da BEARS!|
Well, who would have guessed that this would be our weakest overall unit after two games this season?
The OL didn’t do a tremendous job of pass protection, as Rodgers was sacked 5 times for a 31 yard loss. What was different, however, was that there was a commitment to running the ball. GB had 28 total rushing plays, led by Cedric Benson who had 81 yards on 20 carries, for an average of 4.1 ypc. In a passing league on a passing team, that’s a successful job running the ball. But the running game’s relative success in trying to keep Chicago’s defense honest would have been more effective had the passing offense executed better.
Nowhere was this more clear than in the man dropped balls and gaffes by the receiving corps. The unofficial count was that Nelson had 2 drops, Jones 1, Finley 1. Worse though was a fumble by Finley, which was inexcusable and an INT by Rodgers that appeared to have been because James Jones broke off a route. If I were McCarthy, I’d make the WR/TE group work with the Juggs machine and catch a thousand balls. If Tiger Woods practices by hitting 1,000 golf balls a day, it’s high time for our WR to have the mental focus to be catching the rock. It’s ridiculous. At the risk of being naïve about the rigors of modern NFL players, I go back to what the conventional wisdom states—that if the ball hits your fingers, you should catch it. Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee J-S scored the receivers with 1 football, the lowest (of possible 5 total) ranking I ever recall seeing.
Rodgers finished the game 22/32 for 219 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT and a rating of 85.3% which is, for Rodgers, very pedestrian. The Bears only blitzed 8% of the time, which is a testament to their DL overall to be able to get pressure on Rodgers without blitzing. But red zone efficiency had another poor week, being only 1 of 3. And excepting the Crabtree fake FG, we had only 5 plays exceeding 20 yards. Rodgers has set the ball for himself so incredibly high that a mere mortal Aaron Rodgers looks, well, fairly ordinary. I don't know if he's off, the WRs are, or if it's a combination of all of it. It's a concern because it's important to set a tone here for the blog that I don't think anyone is above reproach...we deified his precedessor to the point where even legitimate criticism could not be levied on it without backlash. It's a fair statement to say that Rodgers has not been very good yet this year.
The fake FG has gotten a lot of focus elsewhere so I won’t belabor that other than to say I think it was the ballsiest call I’ve seen McCarthy make. It had to succeed for a TD or else it would have been a failure with at least 3 points being off the board in all likelihood had Crosby hit the FG from there. But Lombardi would have been proud of that one—it was pure poetry in motion, to watch and rewatch it.
What a difference a week makes!
Easy MVP was Clay Matthews who just nuked Cutler all night long, registering 3.5 sacks and destroyed the Bears’ LT Webb. Moreover, Tramon Williams looked like the guy he was in 2010 as well. Truly, however, I give Capers a lot of credit for keeping safeties back and not only making the personnel changes but also the schematic changes, that were needed to set the tone. They kept safeties back deliberately to keep Marshall and company from beating them deep.
But more importantly, four days after the 49ers clearly went after exploiting Hawk and Bush, GB made the changes needed and it showed. Beyond Tramon and CMIII, the real story was FIVE drafted rookies who contributed mightily. Worthy, Hayward, Perry, McMillian, Daniels—that’s 5 of the 6 first defensive players drafted this year. Throw in Dezman Moses, undrafted rookie, and you really have to give Ted Thompson credit for acquiring guys who, even after this very limited snapshot, can play and earnestly contribute. You could see the energy was different (certainly playing your primordial enemy has something to do with that I would think too).
Christl & Baranczyk noted that Hawk’s snap count was cut by a third with Moses playing a few passing downs and more heavy dime sans him at ILB. McMillian replaced MD Jennings in nickel and dime. Worthy got his first start. Overall, Shields had 60 snaps, Hayward 24, McMillian 44. Walden had 36, Perry 20, Moses 19. Bush was replaced as a starter by Sam Shields, and Hayward too Bush’s place in dime (he didn’t sniff the field on D).
Moreover, Walden seemed to really have some quality play in there—he had half sack where he and CMIII met at Cutler and sandwiched him and he hit Cutler twice. The Packers are going to HAVE to have continued pressure from the other side of Matthews on a consistent basis. I still don’t know if that’s going to happen by Walden or from Perry over time, but pressure will have to happen to continue to see this kind of success, particularly against stronger opposing OL units.
The coverage limitations of DJ Smith and Hawk will be exploited all season. We haven’t had an ILB that could cover worth a damn since Chillar, really, and even Bishop had issues in coverage but was a better choice than the aforementioned two. I think Terrell Manning was drafted to be that coverage guy but he’s got a long way to go to hit the field evidently. That middle of the field is terribly vulnerable.
Perhaps having more 3-3-5 sets would be more effective (or perhaps 4-2-5). Is Francois perhaps a better substitution for both Hawk & Smith on passing downs? The development of Hayward & McMillian especially will permit more flexibility here as well as Shields finally playing decently. It permits more variation with those heavy DB packages. Another idea is that a 3-2-6 with Tramon, Shields, Burnett, Woodson, Hayward and McMillian. That's a lot of ball-hawking in that group. Given the physicality we’ve seen (albeit in limited glimpse so far) from McMillian and Hayward, there may be some credence there.
But beyond the scheme and the chatter about the young guns in there, a little perspective is needed—and I certainly need to read and re-read what I’m writing here because I can lose sight of this from time to time—on just what our D is all about. The Niners only converted 2/9 on 3rd down and their 3 TD drives started on short fields. Now Chicago blows into town and blew the doors off them—1 TD and a curb-stomping.
Would you believe me if I told you the Packers’ maligned D had given up fewer points after two weeks than the Niners?
Whilst sitting at the Tilted Kilt in Chicago, I was 1 of only 3 Packers fans there. I was nattily attired in a Matthews jersey. I think I made the right wardrobe choice. Also, among the sea of Chicago jerseys there, I only saw one Cutler jersey. Even Bears fans don't like him much! It made me grateful to have Rodgers, made me thankful to have Thompson who has injected some major talent on defense and to see a substantially better team than Chicago in action.
I really think that this game was a great job by some young, well-matched personnel to the Bears. The defense is better than we think. The offense is struggling but the elimination of dropped balls ALONE makes the output different. Special Teams have been superb thus far, no question.
The coaches have showed the testicular fortitude to make personnel decisions as needed (except for getting Hawk off the field) and to make gutsy play calls (the Crabtree fake FG). They did it on a short week in the second game of the season and put a lot of pressure on rookies whilst doing it. I think that’s the kind of early season mental toughness that it will take over the long course of the season.
Housekeeping note: I'm going to be on the other side of the planet after the Seattle game (watching it in Hawaii and then going to Guam) so I may not have an update in a timely manner next week.