Monday, January 11, 2010


It's been a while, and that's because life's been moving pretty fast over here, to reference Ferris Bueller. Life was moving pretty fast last night though, no? What a crazy flippin' game.

We're all going to remember the sudden, anti-climactic last play for a long, long time. (More on that play in a moment.) But it's worth noting the heroic effort of the offense, and the huge doses of good luck, that got the Packers back into the game in the first place. That ridiculous bomb to Finley where he just jumped over an interfering defensive back that had him smothered. The perfectly executed and recovered onsides kick (Underwood jumping on the ball just two yards past the forty). Warner inexplicably throwing to a well-covered Fitzgerald on one of the Cardinal few third downs, leading to the lone punt of the game. And, of course, the utterly makeable, but missed field goal by the Cards in the closing seconds of the game.

The Packers' offense, after the first five minutes, generally played magnificently in facing a very aggressive, experienced, and talented (Rogers-Cromartie, Wilson (who looks and plays like a modern-day gladiator), Dockett, Berry, two two ex-Michigan DTs) Cardinals defense. But boy, in contrast, didn't it seem like Rodgers and the Packers had to work a lot harder for their points than the Kurt Warner and the Cardinals? How many wide open receivers did Warner hit? Heck, how many tough throws did the Packers force? (Three maybe?) How many times were they really in his face? How many times did he have to wait more than four seconds to throw the ball because people were covered? As my official little brother put it, it seems like the Packers--with the safety shuffle with Anthony Smith (cut), then Derrick Martin (generally ineffective in the defensive backfield), and injured for this game), then cutting Aaron Rouse, and Bigby getting injured yesterday and playing poorly before that, and with the mounting injuries at corner with Lee being presumptively placed on IR, and Blackmon, and then Al--- had a "war of attrition" in the secondary. And the Pittsburgh game and this then game demonstrated that they had lost that war. Especially with the pass rush, outside of Clay Matthews the XLVII (my wife likes to call him "Barbie"), generally being iffy. (Maybe a healthy Kampman coming off the other side on passing downs would have helped?)

But who could have predicted a defensive outing this abysmal. Think of it. One forced turnover on Woodson's karate chop. One forced punt when Warner chose to risk a deep throw to a covered receiver on third down. That was it. Every other Cardinal drive ended in points (except for the missed short field goal, of course). I think it's safe to say, this was the worst defensive performance in the playoffs in the team's history. Warner had more touchdowns than incompletions, folks. This against a team that, while explosive and excellently quarterbacked, was starting a journeyman at left tackle and was missing its third-best offensive player (Boldin). I can't explain what happened. Certainly, whatever blitzes that were brought were ineffective. (I remember many inside linebacker blitzes being picked up well by the Cards.) But the culprit seemed to be the secondary, and our players' inability to cover every man coming out of a bunch formation. It would be fascinating to hear or read a long interview with Capers about his tactics and decision-making during the game, and why he chose to do what he did. (That's never going to happen, of course. At least you could see that he was mad, on one of the camera cuts to Capers in the booth.) Part of it, no doubt, was lack of depth. But part of it must have been schematic or lack of preparation. That stings, and hopefully will drive the defensive coaching staff to improve and reevaluate during the offseason.

And, of course, here's hoping that Woodson remains an excellent player next season, that Lee and Blackmon recover and become solid contributors, that Underwood turns into a decent nickle back, and that we draft a capable safety to work into the mix. And, of course, that we draft someone to put some pressure opposite Barbie. My personal candidate would be Wisconsin's O'Brien Schofield, who looks tailor-made to be a 3-4 outside linebacker-- 6'2", 250, explosive, instinctive, great at shedding blocks, a leader, a fine tackler, never gives up on a play. Here's hoping he's available in the second round.

Back to the last possession of the game. First off, that missed deep throw. Wow. How different things could have been had Rodgers read where Jennings was going just a little bit better. Then, who else thought we were sunk when Colledge (who I unfanned on Facebook in October) got called for holding on that nice pass to Grant? Especially when the replay showed that Rodgers got nailed with a helmet-to-helmet on the same play, and that there should have been offsetting penalties? Plus, although that was a hold, it wasn't the most blatant you've ever seen. Worse stuff goes uncalled pretty often. Maybe it was Colledge's god-awful arm tatoos. In any event, good pass play to Jones to make it a reasonable third down, and then the final play.

It was an empty backfield, and Mike Adams, the whipping boy for the Packers all day (he had what, four penalties called on him?) and the previous week, comes off on a corner blitz from the right side. First off, this was a great call by the Cardinals. As Football Outsiders has demonstrated, when an offense empties the backfield teams should blitz, and blitz heavily. Statistics show that empty backfields fair poorly against the blitz. Blitzes against empty backfields force quick throws by the quarterback, and if the rest of the defense plays press man, the throw is often rushed and the pass is contested. Usually, unless you have a great receiver who can easily beat press coverage, any completed pass results in an immediate tackle. So on third and decent distances, blizting an empty backfield is a smart strategy.

For an offense to even get close to winning the down, the quarterback needs to recognize and respond to the blitz. Rodgers, sadly, appeared to fail on this initial step. Maybe Adams was too small for him to notice (he's only 5'8"), maybe Tauscher blotted him out, but Rodgers never looks in his direction. Rodgers needs to see Adams coming, go to his hot read, get the ball out, and hope his receiver can make a play for the first down. In this situation, with an unblocked man coming at you, your hand is forced. But none of these things happen. Rodgers fails to see him, though he's not coming from his blind side. Aaron does some sort of a pump fake, or a double-clutch. Adams jars the ball loose, and Karlos Dansby, who had been behind every other one of the Cardinals turnover plays, is in the right spot once again. Game over, season over. Even the post-fumble facemask that Adams pulls on Rodgers (had it been called) wouldn't have made a difference. What a game.

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