Monday, December 17, 2007

"Well Isn't That Special"

If you didn't manage to watch the Packers' 33-14 victory over the Rams yesterday, you might look at the final score and think "sweet- a beat down." But it really wasn't. It was a close game, within one score until the final 20 minutes, and one where the Packers, especially their offense and run defense, looked startlingly mediocre. What led the team to victory was excellent pass defense, especially in the second half, and fabulous, absolutely fabulous special teams play. And I'm talking kickoff returns and coverage, field goals, punt coverage, straight kickoffs, everything.

Consider-- the Packers had three kickoff returns (the Rams scored twice, and once to start the game). They averaged 43 yards per kickoff return, and that's with a dumb Trammon Williams penalty bringing one back an additional twenty yards. That's silly good. They also averaged, with Will Blackmon back there, 10 yards per punt return. Also solid. And Mason "I only look like a serial killer" Crosby nailed four field goals, two from beyond forty yards, and pinned the Rams deep again and again. Consider--after Packer kickoffs, the Rams started at the 23, 16, 5 (after Charlie Peprah forced a fumble that the Rams recovered), 19, 21, 21, 20 (touchback), and 20 (touchback). Folks often say that a team's special teams performance is indicative of its depth. If that's the case, the Packers are pretty darn deep.

Of course, depth is only helpful if you have difference makers to support, and yesterday the Packers' biggest difference maker didn't look right. Although Brett threw two TDs, and broke Marino's record for career passing yardage the team's passing game didn't perform well, even though St. Louis was also stymieing the run. Maybe it was all the exotic blitzes that St. Louis was running, but the offense was sluggish, to the tune of less than 24 minutes of time of possession, less than 300 total yards, and three turnovers. Hopefully, it was the bizarre gameplan the Rams threw at them and maybe lingering issues from Favre's elbow whack. But they'll need to be far better if the team's going anywhere in the playoffs.

Speaking of playoffs and exotic blitzes, it was excellent to see the Cowboys lose yesterday, even if they don't end up blowing their lead in the home field advantage competition. The Eagles played great defense, throwing a lot of exotic, but disciplined blitzes at Dallas. Maybe that's the key to beating those maroons-- confuse them. The Packers have been experimenting on defense more often in the past few games, so hopefully they'll have some tricks to pull out if they meet Dallas again.
What the Dallas loss means in the short term though, is that the Pack will likely not rest its starters against the Bears next Sunday. That's the Bears team starting their third string QB and their second string, career back-up, running back, and that will be coming off a short week (they play tonight at Minnesota). The optimum scenario for the Pack is to smell blood, pummel them good early, and thus be able to rest their key guys anyway, as they did against the Rams with guys like Pickett, Woodson, Clifton, and Collins sitting out the last quarter or so. You'd think they'd be fired up to redeem themselves after the October pants-pooping episode.

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