Monday, December 10, 2007

Los Championes del Norte!

On a weekend when the state was divided between scripture and secularism, it was good to see everyone put Saturday behind us, come together and remember how much they used to hate Warren Sapp. Yes, the Packers delivered a solid smackdown of the semi-improving Oakland Raiders, with a 38-7 victory that clinched the NFC North with three games left.

The main lines of commentary will likely be Ryan Grant having another big day (over 150 yards rushing and a touch), and Will Blackmon's return from injury-nowhere land to special teams stardom. Both were excellent developments. However, Grant's big day came against the 30th worst rush D in the league according to the raw stats (Football Outsiders actually had them as the worst rush D in the entire league through last week), so it wasn't all that surprising, especially given his other performances in the past six weeks. Blackmon's returns were great, and it's wonderful to see a guy get on the field and produce after struggling with so many injuries in his short career.

What I found interesting was the strategy. The Packers went right at the Raiders' defensive weakness- stopping the run. They ran and ran until Oakland committed a safety closer to the line, and then started throwing the ball. And when they threw, since the Oakland pass defense is quite good, the Packers didn't challenge it directly, it seemed, instead throwing screens and to the tight ends, and looking for holes in the zone rather than going right at individuals, especially the Raiders' Nnamdi Asomugha, who is a top-flight corner. The Packers only threw at his man twice. That somewhat short-armed bomb that Jennings came down with was thrown away from Asomugha, and off a play-action where Favre got time, and the Oakland safeties had come up towards the line of scrimmage. A pretty smart-strategy, especially with an injured Favre-- attack their run defense until they overcommit, then take further advantage.

On defense, besides the lack of sacks and the bomb to Curry and the touchdown that Porter ripped away from Al, I thought the team played very well. Fargas is a good running back, and the Oakland line has been blocking solidly in recent weeks. One play that sticks out in my mind is Nick Collins' tackle on Fargas on Oakland's 4th and one try in the first half. The game was still close, the Raiders had fourth and one right around midfield. Oakland fakes an inside run, then flips back to Fargas who runs wide left, away from the pile of bodies in the middle. It looks like he has the first down. Then Collins comes flying down, takes a great angle, and makes an excellent smart tackle-- going for Fargas's ankles instead of trying to engage him up high. Fargas trips and falls for a short loss. Packer ball. I guess that's why Collins immediately jumped back into the starting line-up once he got healthy-- he's just a great athlete. The team made a lot of excellent plays in the running game today, and it showed up on the bottom line. The Raiders gained only 233 total yards. That's the smallest amount allowed the defense has allowed the entire season. And it did this against a team that had won two straight. To me, that was the most impressive aspect of Sunday's game.

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