By Jake McCormick
Thanks to the preseason, the Green Bay Packers have suddenly turned into the Gonzaga of the NFL. Thanks to guys like Skip Bayless and Bill Simmons, both of which I am about as big a fan as gun-touting, toothless Wal-Mart patrons are to President Barack Obama, the Packers seem to be gaining steam as an underdog pick for the playoffs and Super Bowl. I don’t claim to be an expert of wordplay and semantics, but doesn’t that make you a favorite if everyone is talking about you?
Anyways, Green Bay’s 21-15 win over the Chicago Bears was a bigger game than just the continuation of sports’ longest rivalry if the Packers are going to even come close to those expectations. Although it was pretty sloppy throughout the first 50 minutes for both teams, the game certainly ended in a way we have not seen, as Packer fans, since before Terrell Owens’ illegitimate touchdown in the playoffs as time expired. I say illegitimate because Jerry Rice clearly fumbled a few plays earlier and instant replay was not adopted until the year after. It sounds like I’m harboring some sort of resentment, and I am. But I digress.
Now the Packers have to face the Cincinnati Bungals and St. Louis Hams before heading into their Week 4 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings. Both teams should be 3-0 at that point, and the NFL will count its cash after the most watched regular season game in league history. That is, until Week 8. And given the reactions to Viking highlights during the game, there will be blood.
Instead of doing a weekly generic analysis of why the Packers won or lost, I’m going to grade out each side of the ball by individual unit and give the key plays that contributed to that grade.
Aaron Rodgers was tap dancing for most of the game from the surprisingly strong Bears pass rush. Although he was sacked for a safety, Rodgers had no turnovers and was generally on target. But whatever failures he did have, he TOTALLY REDEEMED HIMSELF by carrying the team when they needed it the most. Congratulations A-Rod; you’ve cemented yourself as the best overall quarterback in the NFC North by answering people’s biggest question about your game. But I did love the graphic that said his only two comeback wins were against the 0-16 Detroit Lions. What a confidence boost that was.
Grade – A-
At least no one got hurt. That’s really the only big positive I can draw from this unit. Ryan Grant had a few flashes of his 2007 season, and was definitely impressive when he pushed the pile for his first touchdown of 2009. The Bears defense was an overall solid unit against the run throughout the game, and the Packers will have a much better opportunity to develop the ground game against the lesser Bengal defense this Sunday.
For a receiving corps that is considered one of the best in the league, they must’ve forgot to wash their hands after all those McDonald’s angus burgers before the game. But the receivers came through when they had to, especially Greg Jennings, whose jersey sales should spike nationally by midseason. A funny sidenote to his game-winning 50-yard grab on the 3rd and 1 audible: after the play, he didn’t realize the team was going for two and Donald Driver had to grab him out of the stands to get into the huddle, only so he could catch the successful conversion attempt. The guy is a pure stud.
I know Mark Tauscher, and you Allen Barbre, are no Mark Tauscher. The O-line was sloppy all game, giving up four sacks to the Bears and causing Rodgers to hurry his progressions. Even his game-winning pass to Jennings was a blown assignment. Coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged that the line play was the biggest problem throughout the game, although Barbre did improve in the second half after giving up two free fantasy point plays to Adewale Ogunleye.
Good golly, Mr. Jolly, you made the second best defensive lineman interception in Packer history, only behind Gabe Wilkins’ 1996 pick and leap over Buccaneer quarterback Trent Dilfer for a touchdown. Cullen Jenkins was an absolute force throughout the game, and this unit that was inept in the 4-3 in 2008 helped catalyst Jay Cutler’s career-worst four interceptions. This was the biggest defensive question mark going into the game, and they straightened that punctuation mark out real quickly.
The best play from this unit came from a backup. Brandon Chillar leaping over running back Garrett Wolfe for a sack was “Chill”ingly awesome. LOL…get it? Aaron Kampman turned in a very good performance for his first stand-up start since college, and the rest of the corps did a great job shutting down a premier running back that was used far too sparingly. Then again, Matt Forte hasn’t played well since Week 12 of last year, but overall the Packer linebackers lived up to expectations.
They had three interceptions, including Al Harris’ finger pointing clincher, but they gave too many big plays to guys that can run but are still learning how to catch a football. They finally shut down a good tight end in Greg Olsen, but they got some help from guys like Desmond Clark, who stopped running a few routes that could’ve resulted in Bear scores. They must not be used to having a quarterback that isn’t forced to throw the ball in the first three seconds of the snap. Big plays can be nullified by big turnovers, so I’m not going to complain about a unit riddled with playmakers.
Jordy Nelson did a good job filling in for an injured Will Blackmon and gives me confidence in their depth. It wasn’t extremely flashy, but if you get at least one 40+ yard return in a game, you’ll get a touchdown every once in a while. The coverage and return units, led by rising linebacker Desmond Bishop, held Devin Hester in check, thwarted that bone-headed fake punt, and had some big hits to spring Nelson. But here’s a quick memo to Jordy: when defenders are five yards away, please fair catch the ball. Thank you.
Mason Crosby can kick the ball a mile, but has problems with his accuracy. He missed a 49-yard kick, but more than made up for it by booting a 52 yarder in the second quarter and 39-yard field goal that put the Packers ahead in the fourth. Punting was a real adventure in 2008, but Jason Kapinos did a good job, averaging 44.7 yards in six kicks, including a 58 yard jack. You can’t ask for much more out of both in a low-scoring, defense-dominated game.
The Packer offensive game plan was pretty stagnant, but once again a Dumb and Dumber reference applies here. I didn’t have any objections to the play-calling because the Bear defense definitely exceeded expectations and made some good plays, and I typically judge a coach’s ability in crunch time. In this case, Mike McCarthy outcoached Lovie Smith and called the right plays at the right times.
Have I already spent too much time mentally masturbating Dom Capers? After Sunday night, no. The Packers executed more blitzes in the first two quarters than all of last year. They were physical, aggressive, and unpredictable. And this came from a unit that didn’t have the right personnel for the 3-4 system. As Terry Boers from 670 The Score out of Chicago put it: A team doesn’t need the right personnel for the 3-4 if they are smart enough for the scheme. I already called Capers the MVP move of the offseason, and even though it’s Week 1, the change in attitude is already apparent.
If the Packers can contain Chad Ochocinco, get the offense rolling early and defense playing just as aggressive against a Bengal team that couldn’t score against a lesser Denver defense that is also converting to the 3-4, Green Bay will be sitting in a much better position a week from today.