Monday, September 21, 2015

Packers handle Seahawks, not Bevell and the officials

Despite the fact that I was surrounded all weekend by more people wearing Seattle Seahawk gear than normal, I felt somewhat confident that my Green Bay Packers would defeat the Seahawks in Lambaugh. The Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” was nowhere to be found against St. Louis last week, thanks in small part to Kam Chancellor’s continuing holdout, and there was no reason to believe that a far better quarterback than Nick Foles couldn’t take advantage of that. In last year’s NFC Championship game, just an 80 percent Aaron Rodgers would have taken advantage of 56 minutes of horrible play by Russell Wilson—which included four interceptions—and delivered a brutal beating to the defending Super Bowl champions. 

Instead, a barely ambulatory Rodgers could not even take advantage of a one-armed Richard Sherman loath to touch anyone, let alone tackle someone, and Rodgers repeatedly made poor throws that left frustrated looks on the intended targets’ faces. The Packer defense, had thoroughly contained the Seahawk offense into virtual non-existence, literally ran out of steam, and helplessly allowed the dam to burst as the Seahawks scored three touchdowns on consecutive drives within the span of five minutes, including the opening overtime possession. 

But in the Sunday night game with Rodgers presumably healthy, this time he was able to take advantage of Seahawk mental mistakes in the first half, and in the second half when Seattle seemingly took control of the game, he was able to engineer three unanswered scoring drives and the victory, 27-17. Even the Packers' backup running back, James Starks, ran for a game high 95 yards on the Seahawks without apparent explanation,

It was, of course, amusing to listen to the Monday morning quarterbacking on the local sports radio stations. It was predictable that the homers Brock and Salk on the ESPN station would provide no useful analysis, but on the other station Hugh Millen was calmly breaking down plays, assigning blame where it belonged, and pointing out that an ambulatory Rodgers is a very good quarterback who has certain qualities that negated efforts to neutralize him. But many fans and “experts” blamed offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell for “conservative” play-calling in the first half, refusing to adapt until “too late.” There were those who blamed the officiating, and others were asking the question “Where is Jimmy Graham?”—the high-priced tight end they traded for in the off-season who has been nowhere to be found in the Seahawks offense. Not that this shouldn’t been a surprise to anyone; after all, Wilson had trouble “finding” high-priced tight end Zach Miller too. 

One thing for certain is that the blame game seemed especially insipid at times. The “opening up” of the playbook in the third quarter may have appeared so only  because the Packer defense was caught asleep at the wheel, which was subsequently substantiated when the Seahawks’ fourth quarter drives ended in turnovers.  Yet the offense’s apologists blamed the failures on the return to Bevell’s “conservative” play-calling. What are they talking about? Giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch is “conservative”? In the plays preceding Wilson’s drive-killing interception, Lynch ran twice for 13 yards and a first down. 

While many local commentators insisted on blaming the officials and Bevell for the loss, some did put the blame squarely on the players for failing at inopportune moments: jumping off sides on hard counts, getting kicked out of the game after a scrum, Sherman getting called for an unheard of pass interference penalty, and turnovers in the fourth quarter. Those were on the players, and at least 13 points were directly attributable to those mistakes. Every team in the league (except maybe New England) has to overcome such setbacks to win football games, and ultimately the fault lies more with the players failure to execute and the opponent’s own efforts. 

Complaints about Bevell’s play-calling seems particularly hypocritical, given the leash that Wilson is given to “make plays.” This was particularly evident with the alleged plays targeting Graham, in which it was noted that Wilson seemingly ignored him even when he was clearly open. Wilson claimed that he was forced to move out of position to make the throws to Graham, but he can’t keep using this excuse on every play. Does he have some personal “issue” with Graham, like not wanting him to showcase his own playmaking ability? Wilson added that he had “distributed” the ball to many receivers, although this doesn’t explain why Graham was targeted just twice officially on 30 pass attempts. Graham is supposed to be a possession and red zone receiver, his size dwarfing those likely to cover him. Is he being wasted because of what Lynch during the offseason intimated was Wilson’s need to be THE “hero”—even to the detriment of the team?

But I’m just a “dispassionate” observer. I don’t “hate” the Seahawks or even Wilson; if they win a game against a Packer division rival or a team I particularly dislike (like any team Peyton Manning is on), I don’t begrudge them. But I am predicting that they will have a fallback year, 8-8 or 9-7. I think the team’s offensive inconsistency will be exposed this season, and this season’s defense will not bail them out every time. Of course I could be wrong, but that is my expectation.

Being a Packer fan back when the team was frozen in time and space, having made the playoffs just twice between 1966 and 1992, it had become frustrating to watch the Packers inability to handle “athletic” quarterbacks, and they’ll have another crack at Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers later in the season. In the meantime, this victory goes a long way to adding credibility to the team’s supposed “elite” pretensions, just as Brett Favre’s first victory over the Troy Aikman-led Cowboys (also in Lambaugh Field after seemingly countless failed ventures into Dallas) gave the then defending Super Bowl champions in 1997.

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