September 30, 2010

Packers-Bears Postmortem

Okay, I guess I've calmed down enough to write about this game reasonably rationally. The story of the game was penalties, penalties, penalties, with a dash of special teams for that extra dimension of FAIL. I still think the Packers are the best team in the NFC (and Football Outsiders agrees). The Packers are rated 5th in the league on both offense and defense and first overall. However, the Packers are rated 29th in Special Teams play. It's funny - one thing I've often felt in the past is that for some strange reason, the Packers and the Badgers tend to have similar issues from year to year. Back when I was an undergrad the big problem was tackling - both teams seemed to be competing with one another to see who could have the most missed arm tackles per game. This year it's sorry, sorry special teams (despite the fact that Crosby and Welch are both having pretty good seasons kicking the ball).

Give credit to the Bears - they executed where the Packers did not. I'd like to give especial kudos to Urlacher and Briggs, who are still the strength of that defense, Julius Peppers, who had the Packers line worried all game, and especially the Bears fans at Soldier Field who kept things loud and the Bears in the game.

Here's the tale of the penalties (thanks to commenter Bush League All Star over at APC

1) 10:03 left, first quarter – pass interference on Woodson. Thankfully, no points scored on that drive, but only because of Robbie Gould’s missed field goal.

2) 5:41 left, first quarter – false start on Clifton. Green Bay overcame that flag, as Rodgers found Jennings for a touchdown.

3) 4:26 left, first quarter – offsides on Bishop…on a kickoff. A KICKOFF? I haven’t seen that call in years. You see that in pee wee football, not the NFL.

4) 4:01 left, first quarter – face mask on Matthews. The Packers thankfully didn’t pay for it, as an interception by Martin made up for it.

5) 6:02 left, second quarter – holding on Colledge. That wiped out an eight yard run.

6) 3:55 left, second quarter – illegal block on Martin. A 22 yard return wiped out.

7) 14:55 left, third quarter – illegal formation on Clifton. A five-yard pass to Lee negated.

8) 9:18 left, third quarter – holding on Sitton. Another five yard gain, a run by Rodgers, negated.

9) 7:25 left, third quarter – holding on Tauscher. Not just 15 yards lost on a pass to Finley, but a touchdown.

10) 1:50 left, third quarter – false start on Tauscher. Almost no yardage lost.

11) 1:50 left, third quarter – false start on Tauscher. Ditto.

12) :24 left, third quarter – delay of game on Rodgers. It turned a third and 1 into a third and 6, which went incomplete.

13) 13:56 left, fourth quarter – false start on Clifton. Made up for with a 14 yard gain on second and 12.

14) 6:45 left, fourth quarter – roughing the passer on Zombo. That canceled an interception by Barnett, and the drive turned into a tying field goal for Chicago.

15) 6:34 left, fourth quarter – unnecessary roughness on Collins, helping to lead to the field goal.

16) 2:33 left, fourth quarter – intentional grounding on Rodgers, on a drive which led to the game-turning turnover.

17) 1:51 left, fourth quarter – pass interference on Burnett, negating an interception by Collins that would have saved the game.

18) :04 left, fourth quarter – illegal forward pass on Driver, negating a chance at a Cal-Stanford miracle lateral play.

Total yards in penalties: 152.
Total offensive yards lost beyond the penalties themselves: 55.
Points loss by Green Bay or gained by Chicago because of penalties: 13.

Just lots of dumb, dumb penalties. The OP didn't list the downs on these, but I remember from the TV that at least 6 of them were on third down. Penalties happen, especially when playing on the road in front of a fired-up crowd, and I'm never upset when a team fails to get a clean sheet, but this is just inexcusable. I disagree with the poster's characterization of points/picks lost, as some of those might not have been picks if there was no PI.

One other big worry is the Packers complete lack of a running game. I was pretty meh when Grant went down but I was all wrong. Jackson just isn't an every-down kind of back, and Kuhn is only a 2-3 yards and a cloud of dust type *fullback*. I haven't heard any more rumors about the Pack looking for a RB (i.e. Marshawn Lynch).

Turnovers: Aaron Rodgers threw a hail mary pick at the end of the first half, but the big turnover was the James Jones fumble that led to the Bears game winning drive. All credit to Urlacher and Briggs for causing it, but it was just the Packers luck that day that despite the face that Jones was both running along the sideline and carrying the ball on the sideline side of his body, the ball didn't go out of bounds. Cutler threw one terrible looking pick and threw another one that was called back due to a roughing the passer penalty on Zombo. Cutler looked erratic most of the night and IIRC there were at least one or two other near picks on the night, which isn't that surprising considering the pressure the Packer pass rush was getting on him

Special teams: The announcers and some Packers fans were wondering why the hell the Packers would kick to Hester. Well, for one he hadn't scored a TD in nearly two years. On top of that, the Packers punter looks pretty good. He had several absolutely booming punts, including the one that Hester scored his TD on. He made a mistake on the last punt of the second quarter, hitting a line drive right to Hester but at least he made the best tackle that I've ever seen by a punter to stop him from taking it to the house. I like Mathsay's potential - I think the bigger problem is the special teams tackling in general.

All in all: what do you do to deal with penalties? Some of them were dumb (like the multiple false starts, etc) and hopefully the players learned a lesson from this game. I don't think that fining players is going to make a difference. When players are on the field, they're thinking about their assignments, not their paychecks. The Packers play an aggressive defense and they just got burned a bit more than usual, on top of the dumber, much more preventable penalties. I have hope they'll do better next time, but it's something to keep an eye on.

Speaking of dumb mistakes, what was up with McCarthy challenging that fumble anyway? It was clear that the player and the ball were in bounds. They sure could have used those extra seconds at the end of the game. Speaking of which - why didn't they just let Chicago score when they got into the red zone with less than 2 minutes left? Aaron Rodgers was clearly on fire that night - the only thing stopping the Packers from marching down the field was the Packers. Just some generally poor game management by McCarthy that night.

Game Ball: Aaron Rodgers: 34/45 for 316 yards, 1 TD, one meaningless INT, and an average of 7 yards per attempt and just over 9 yards per completion.

Update: check out this link from baturkey in the comments (scroll down past the Failboys analysis). The two sentence summary is that there's little correlation between run-pass balance and scoring. As they say, you "win to run the ball".


Jeff Liu said...

I think the Packers can win with a mediocre running game as long as they have Rodgers.

I don't know if you've seen this yet:

"I think the table is convincing. However, if you’re interested in the correlation here it is. The R squared between passing YPA difference and scoring margin is 0.41"

Berselius said...

Wow, thanks for that link. Feeling a bit better here.

One other thing is that, especially given how the league has evolved, it's a *lot* harder to shut down a top QB compared to a top running back.