Friday, September 5, 2014

"New look" Packers same old story against Seahawks

What did we learn from the opening game of the NFL season, in which the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks embarrassed the expected NFC North champion Green Bay Packers? Mainly, that the Packers new “looks” did not seem to solve any of their past defects against the “read-option” offense (such as it was called by the broadcast announcers) and physical defensive play. Against the Seahawks, the Packers looked as helpless as ever; only on isolated occasions did the team seem capable of competing with Seahawks on their own terms, but in most cases seemed to be as flustered and confused as Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos did in last season’s Super Bowl.

Part of the problem was that Aaron Rodgers either didn’t utilize or didn’t have the quality “weapons” he had in the receiving corps in years past, with Greg Jennings and James Jones departed. Sure, Jordy Nelson is a receiver with sure hands—except when the ball ricochets off his hands in into the waiting arms of an opponent, leading to a score. Randall Cobb has some speed, but is undersized. Rodgers seemed nailed to one side of the field—the one that Nelson occupied—and nearly half his pass attempts targeted Nelson on short routes.  The net yards on these plays was less than six yards. 

Somewhat amusingly in hindsight, before the game Rodgers claimed that the Packers would “nullify” the “12th Man” by using hand signals. If these were in fact used, it was counterproductive, since players would be wasting time watching the quarterback instead of what the opponent was up to and thinking about their own moves. More and more, it seems that coach Mike McCarthy, commentators and Packer fans generally are relying on the “elite” status of Rodgers, yet it is becoming increasingly clear that against certain teams one never knows if this category is earned—or just wishful thinking. 

In the end, Rodgers’ 23 of 33 passing for 189 yards, one touchdown and an interception (not his fault, however) seemed to be of one with the current “philosophy” of attacking a tall, fast and physical defense like Seattle’s with short passes to move the ball “incrementally.” It isn’t working for Green Bay.

On defense, Dom Capers “new look” defense wasn’t apparent either. The Packers failed to get much of a rush on Russell Wilson, who was generally “workmanlike” and was efficient enough not to turn the ball over or move the ball backward, and the running game behind Marshawn Lynch didn’t seem to show any rust or aging. Nothing the Packers did on defense convinced me that they were any step closer to competing with teams like Seattle and San Francisco.

The Packers are certainly a team of a kind with most of its opponents, particularly in its own division. But having lost in the playoffs the last two seasons against San Francisco, I was hoping for at least a “competitive” game last night. What I saw was a team still mired in a different era, with the modern world passing them by.

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