The Key to a Deep Playoff Run for the Green Bay Packers

The Green Bay Packers’ salvaged their 4th consecutive NFC North title on Sunday by beating the ghost of Wayne Fontes and the Detroit Lions with relative ease, capping a perfect 8-0 season at Lambeau Field.  Similar to last season, Aaron Rodgers went Hero Mode on the final day of the regular season, and the Pack once again thwarted an arch-rival’s attempt to lay claim to the throne.

However, a week 15 loss at the hands of the Buffalo Bills showed that the Packers have cause for concern beyond Rodgers’ gimpy calf muscle.  The humiliating defeat to Kyle Orton (aka the man with the worst barber in sports) cost the Packers home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and was met with a collective groan emanating from Titletown that said “Here we go again.” The loss to the Bills could be a harbinger for yet another one and done playoff fail, or the Pack could heed the lesson Captain Neckbeard‘s defense taught them and use it to propel the team on a deep playoff run.  At the risk of sounding like an overly simplistic arm-chair coach, I believe one factor will cure what has ailed the Packers in recent losses: an inability to control the tempo of the game, uncharacteristic drops/turnover by receivers, Mike McCarthy’s in-game decision-making, and a porous defense.

Ground Control

Coming into Sunday’s game, the Lions #1 Rush Defense had allowed an average of 59 yards rushing per game.  It took the Packers all of five plays to surpass 59 yards rushing on the first drive of the game.  Although the offense was unable to cap the opening drive with a touchdown, it set the tone for the game, as the Packers racked up over 150 yards on the ground. The dominating rushing performance frustrated the Lions’ defense,and no doubt encouraged Suh to lose his mind once again.

Was this a concerted effort by Mike McCarthy to protect an ailing Rodgers, or did McCarthy finally get the memo that the Packers rushing attack can be just as lethal as its vertical passing game?  This sudden shift of gameplan was a far cry from what we saw in Buffalo.  In that Bills game, Lacy ran for a 1 yard TD on the first play of the second quarter.  Lacy’s numbers in the first 15 minutes of action: 9 rushes, 72 yards, and a touchdown.  In the remaining 45 minutess: 6 rushes for 25 yards.  With Rogers completing 40% of his passes that day, and with the team never trailing by more than a TD until late in the game, McCarthy’s abandonment of the run game was dumbfounding. This imbalance on offense resulted in a 45:21 pass/run play selection on offense. Sunday versus the Lions the McCarthy’s play calling was nearly a complete reversal with 25:36 pass/run play calls, which led to the team dominating time of possession 35 minutes to 25.

A frozen football is a bitch to catch and hold on to

Breaking news bulletin: It’s harder to throw, catch, and hold on to a football in freezing conditions.  Although a pass-first, pass-heavy offense has led to regular season success in the McCarthy Era, the same recipe has led to the Packers’ postseason demise as well. How about some statistical evidence to support this claim:

I looked at the career numbers for JerMichael Finley, Donald Driver, James Jones and Greg Jennings, because their repressed memory comes to mind when I think “dropped passes.”  Everyone of them had a higher drop ball rate in games where the temperature was below 40 degrees than they did over the course of their playing careers.  (So that Jordy drop might not be an aberration) But even when the receivers manage to catch the ball, they also fumble it more often in the cold. Under McCarthy, Packers receivers have fumbled the ball roughly every 4 games games (33 fumbles in 128 games).  Of those 33 fumbles, 13 (40%) of them have come in sub-40 degree temps, yet the Packers play at most five “cold weather” games a year (roughly 30%). In the 6 cold weather playoff games with McCarthy as coach, receivers have fumbled the ball 3 times (or every 2 games for you non-mathematical people).  Yeh, I know it’s a small sample size, but if you’ve watched the Pack late in the year, you’ve noticed this, it’s not merely coincidental.

Exhibit A: Greg Jennings (And this one didn’t even count as a fumble)

McCarthyism at its Finest

Whatever McCarthy’s reasoning for finally committing to the run in week 17, the team must lean on Lacy, James Starks, and the unheralded O-Line in the playoffs in order to avoid another January letdown.

Lambeau field hasn’t lost it’s mystique, it just becomes disadvantageous to what the Packers do best: pass and catch the ball.  This would suggest a change in philosophy come playoff time that McCarthy has been unwilling to admit, or perhaps recognize.  I like that McCarthy is a macho, stubborn asshole,who wants to win games by playing to their strengths. In the playoffs (or in Buffalo) iit is inevitable that you are going to run into a foe that can take your strengths way from you.  At that juncture the coach needs to step up and guide the team to victory rather than saying “FUCK IT!  Let Rodgers wing it 45 times and will us to victory!”

Listen, I’m not saying McCarthy is short-sighted or can’t handle adversity buuuuutut this Vine quite literally shows the coach isn’t always able to recognize a problem even when its right in front of him:

(“Fucking Cord!”)

Pound the Rock to Keep the Defense off the Field
Finally, as noted earlier, running the ball controls the clock and keeps the opposing offense – more importantly the Packers’ much-maligned defense – off the field.  This isn’t to suggest the Rodgers and McCarthy shouldn’t look for deep, quick strikes down the field, rather that a more methodical offense could run the ball once or twice before that 70 yard bomb to Jordy and eat up a few more minutes of precious clock.  More time of possession by the offense keeps the likes of Brad Jones, Sam Barrington, and AJ Hawk off the field.  I’d rather see Rodgers, Lacy, Nelson, and Cobb on the field in crunch time than see Brad Jones bitchslap another QB.

 *****

Two weeks to rest Rodgers.  Two weeks for Packer fans to ready themselves for a potential Ice Bowl Rematch with Wisconsin native and noted choke artist Tony Romo.  Two weeks for McCarthy build a dynamic gameplan that features a healthy dose of Lacy and Starks. Ironically, the loss to the Bills and subsequent injury to Aaron Rodgers’ calf, could prove to be the catalyst of another memorable postseason run, if the net result is a balanced, indefensible offensive attack.

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