And with the blink of an eye, the 2015 NFL regular season is coming to an end. Feels like yesterday that the Packers were gathering at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin to begin training camp. A lot has happened since then. In July, they were the odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl. They towered over Arizona, Carolina and even
the Dark Side’s First Order New England in the power rankings.
Needless to say, a lot has happened since then. The team started off fairly hot this season but then fizzled by the bye. While they have ten wins under their belt and are looking to finish out the 16 game season with 11 wins, the tone has changed dramatically. The swagger is gone. Those 10 wins seem so far away and distant that it doesn’t feel like a team that is about to start a post-season run. This isn’t the same team that had come within minutes of claiming a Super Bowl berth last January. In fact, they feel a lot like that team that let that berth slip from their own fingers as they collapsed under their own inertia.
That heartbreak in Seattle, was it a letdown from last year’s dominant showing or was it a foreshadowing of what was to come this year?
I guess after the season is over, it won’t really matter. There’s hope that the Packers will find a fire and charge forward in the playoffs. And then there is the dark cloud of waiting to rain down as well.
It has been an odd season, that is for sure.
Sure there is talk whether a win tomorrow hurts or hinders the Packers in the long run in the playoffs. Will they go on the road after a loss to the Vikings and play as the hunted for however long their run lasts? Or will a win tomorrow night under the lights of Sunday Night Football (Have to admit, not a fan of a late night drive across the state after a night game. Sigh.)be what the team needs to finally recapture the magic of last year’s run or–better yet– the race toward Super Bowl XLV five years ago?
It’s not a must-win game for the Packers, that’s for sure. But I think rounding out the season with a victory would do more for morale heading into the playoffs than a stinging loss at home.
The Packers have been searching for their identity since October. In order to win tomorrow and start the momentum rolling, they Packers need to remember who they were as the season began: a team that had the potential to win.
The running game needs to be a factor.
That means McCarthy has to commit to the run early in the game and not give up on its if it sputters for a drive or two. The Packers offense is much more successful when it divides plays between ground and run. This is why the Packers were successful in Oakland. It’s how they beat the Vikings the first time around. It takes the giant target off Aaron Rodgers’ back for half of the plays. When McCarthy abandons the run–or worse yet, punishes the running backs for a mistake and then kills the run to prove a point–he puts Rodgers at risk of injury. If the run gets yanked, every defensive lineman and linebacker will be gunning for Aaron Rodgers because every play will start with him running for his life.
The Packers are more successful when the running backs (purposely leaving Rodgers’ running yards out of the mix) top 100 yards on the ground. When that happens, defenses can’t throw the kitchen sink at him without risking being gashed for large gains.
That means no bending Eddie Lacy or James Starks if they screw up and deciding to go with Crockett to replace them just to remind them that they are expendable. Crocket hasn’t had enough reps with the first team to establish a rhythm. He’s third string for a reason.
Lower expectations when it comes to the offensive line and plan accordingly
OL coach James Campen and Mike McCarthy have got to stop pretending that a line built of the JV squad is the same thing as the starting five protecting Aaron Rodgers. That ragtag mess with Don Barclay, JC Tretter and Josh Walker gave up nine sacks (eight pummeling Rodgers, one squashing Tolzien) last week and countless other knockdowns and hurries. Rodgers coughed up the ball twice because that’s what happens when he gets squashed flat.
It looks like there’s still a chance the Packers get David Bakhtiari will start tomorrow. He’s still listed as questionable as he nurses his injured ankle. Yet even if they have all of the starters in there, none of them are 100% by any stretch of the imagination. Josh Sitton (back), TJ Lang (shoulder), Bryan Bulaga (knee) and Corey Linsley (ankle) each runs the chance just like Bakhtiari, that they could aggravate that injury and drop out of the game.
That means Tretter, Walker and/or Barclay may be called into action at any time and the anemic line starts to hemorrhage once again.
So the coaching staff has to stop pretending that the OL is hunky dory even from the first snap. Defenders are getting to Rodgers too early and too often, and that needs to stop. The may need to sacrifice a John Kuhn or one of the tight end to help plug holes as back up behind the leaky line in order to buy Rodgers a few more seconds in the pocket. It’s not pretty, but it’s a reality that needs to be addressed.
Aaron Rodgers needs to trust himself and just play
The yips, seeing ghosts, sick of getting steamrolled, personal issues, insomnia, a lingering head cold, frustration with the drops, lack of leadership, bad breath, issues with the coach, underwear on backwards, not scared enough of McCarthy, too scared of McCarthy, a giant rodent in his garage. You know what? It doesn’t matter. He’s a grown man that decided to be a quarterback when he grew up.
Is he the same lights out quarterback this year like he was last year? Of course not, but that’s not to say those talents have evaporated. He needs to settle into a rhythm early and target those he trusts. If that means Jones and Abbrederis are his favorite targets, then let him throw to his trusted targets instead of a crap scripted play where he throws it to the corner and hopes Jeff Janis is more than just in the area.
He needs to find the joy that seems to be lacking in his job this year. Watch him on the sidelines. He’s miserable. He needs to recapture that high after the Miracle and Motown Hail Mary. He plays so much better when he’s fired up and enjoying himself, not when he’s sore, angry and frustrated.
On the flipside, McCarthy needs to trust him more to go rogue at times. No, that’s not the only solution here. But if McCarthy is going to see the game with scripted blinders on, then Rodgers needs to have the confidence to deviate from that script when it goes pear shaped. Some say that McCarthy needs to keep Aaron Rodgers on a tighter leash.
Perhaps the opposite is true.
Stay health to live and fight another day
That means weight risks against benefits. If the Packers are winning by a large margin or losing by an equal one in garbage time, then McCarthy has to look up from his script and pull players. There is no way on God’s green earth to risk Aaron Rodgers in garbage time like he did last week. Either pull ahead where starters can rest up or admit defeat when you’re deep enough in the hole that no more points will even matter. Clay Matthews isn’t 100%, the Packers can’t afford to lose another receiver, and the line needs to rest. The season doesn’t end tomorrow. It is just beginning.
The Packers have something to prove to themselves tomorrow–that they can end the season on a high note. A win heading into the playoffs is much more positive than a week of licking wounds. They need to establish a smidge of momentum, because right now there is not much there. They face divisional rivals tomorrow for all the marbles. Well, at least some of the marbles. Winning the division isn’t the be all, end all of the 2015 season. But it would be a step in the right direction.222--------------