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McCarthy Planting Seeds For Right Mindset

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McCarthy Planting Seeds For Right Mindset

What a difference a year makes.

Last season, the 14-1 Packers, already assured of home-field advantage and a first round bye, rested a plethora of starters, including quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and ended up playing a fun, but sloppy, game against the Lions. Fast-forward two weeks, and you can make a strong argument that the Packers were far more rusty than they were well-rested as they took a loss to the Giants at home.

This season, the Packers enter their season finale--again facing a division rival with playoff implications for them--with a far different mindset. Gone are the conservative "save them for another day" ideas that came under such harsh criticism last season. In fact, the Packers kept their starters in most of last week's game against the Titans, when they could have sat them down after the first quarter if they had wanted.

The Packers, with something to play for, will likely keep their starters in all game. Yes, they might be risking injury, as they found out last week when Randall Cobb tweaked his ankle on a punt return while up by almost thirty points. But the risk of injuring a player is nothing compared to injuring the momentum the Packers have built up.

Realistically, this team has been remarkably similar to last year's version. They've put together a long streak of wins, but haven't always looked good doing it. In fact, once could make the case in many games this season that they've greatly benefited from the mistakes made by the opposing team, and invariably capitalized on them.

The difference is that the Packers were a team on the decline at the end of 2011. in 2012, they are just hitting their prime at the right time, eerily similar to 2010. With players like Jordy Nelson and Clay Matthews returning at the end of the regular season, and Charles Woodson likely back for the first playoff game, one can't deny that the Packers are perhaps one of the scariest teams in the post-season.

The "boot-to-the-throat" mentality is something Mike McCarthy has been pushing, as evidenced last week. The problem is that, come playoff time, those "gifts" that have been given to us by opposing teams will likely disappear. That might be one of the Packers' greatest assets: the ability to capitalize on mistakes made by the other team.

In all honesty, the Packers really haven't been truly elite on any side of the ball this season--they've just been remarkably above average and compensated for their weaknesses.  Aaron Rodgers has had a Pro Bowl season, but has also been sacked 46 times. There hasn't been a consistent running back this season, and the Packer receivers have been a mixed bag of electrifying plays and dropped passes (35 this season).

Special teams have had bright spots (punter Tim Masthay), good spots (Randall Cobb's consistent sure-handed returns), and dim spots (kicker Mason Crosby with historic-level struggles on field goals).

Defensively, the Packers struggled mightily to start the season, with even calls for the ouster of coordinator Dom Capers from some corners.  But they've finished with an impressive 46 sacks for a team that wasn't regarded as a strong pass rushing team at the beginning of the season. They've also added 18 interceptions, 6 alone by rookie Casey Hayward. At the beginning of the season, they looked no better than the historically bad defense they finished with last year. To finish the season, they've truly been hitting their stride.

Of course, facing Jay Cutler twice in a year has a way of making your stat line look a little nicer.

In the end, its those sack and interception numbers that jump out at you: the ability of the Packers to capitalize on dumb mistakes made by the other team. The difference, as the Packers found out last year, is that playoff teams teeing it up in the second season don't give you mistakes like the Titans, Lions, or Bears might do in the regular season. The Giants got an early lead and never allowed a Packer team dependent on opportunistic game-changing plays to make any.

The Packers did a good job practicing the right mindset with the Titans last week. Now, they need to do the same against a highly-motivated team on the road. Yes, Christian Ponder might make enough errors to allow a sloppy Packer team to get the win regardless, but that's not the point.

McCarthy is playing it right, putting in his starters and making sure they understand that their job is to win the game now, not to sit and wait for something to turn the game around in the third quarter, a bad habit they had gotten into a few weeks ago. The Packers fell behind in the second quarter in five straight games (Lions, Giants, Vikings, Lions, Bears), and had to fight back to regain the lead in four of them.

And as we know, they never got the lead back in the Giants game. Perhaps this was the motivation the Packers have needed for a long time: to stop needing adversity and their back against the wall to get their focus.

The Packers can make a huge statement to the rest of the NFL today by stifling Adrian Peterson and putting the Vikings away early on their way to a week off. But perhaps far more importantly, they will send a message to themselves, that waiting for the other team to make mistakes is no way to advance in the post-season.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (6) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

dullgeek's picture

I agree with this, but I think that a lot of last year's playoff performance can be attributed to the team, and the OC, forced to deal with a tragedy. I don't know exactly how much that had an impact but I think it's not zero.

tundravision's picture

You're the second person to tell me that in about as many days. I have a hard time balancing that with Irv Favre and the way the team responded to that tragedy and placing the blame for the loss in the playoffs on a similar tragedy. Don't get me wrong, I would be a fool to say it wasn't weighing on their minds. But the Packers had been declining for about a month (if not longer) before this game happened.

Oppy's picture

Don't get me wrong- it's still a loss and a shock- but there is definitely a difference between the QB's 58 yr old father unexpectedly dieing of a heart attack the day before a game..

..And the disappearance of the offensive coordinator's 20 year old son and subsequent washing up dead in the river during the two weeks that OC is in charge of preparing a gameplan and readying the players for a play off appearance.

Favre had the opportunity to, if even for a brief 3 hour period of time, focus on something besides his father's death and at the same time honor him. It was a perfect blend of escapism and tribute for a single man. All the preparation for the game was already done. It was a matter of whether he would try to perform or not. His family encouraged him to go out and play.

Joe Philbin was a man with great responsibility to prepare an entire offense to execute a gameplan he devised through study and preparation. In the midst of that responsibility, his son went missing and then turned up dead. Coach Philbin also then had responsibilities, as the head of his family, to console his wife and remaining children, as well as deal with the difficult tasks that surround such an event. He had to pass on his work load to others in the organization that typically do not do his work. An entire organization from top to bottom, coaches to players. had too break form and on the fly make radical adjustments to how they do what they do, in a business where consistency is a major key to winning, during the most important two weeks of the season.

Sorry, Brett's father dying a day before a game vs. Oakland was a great personal tragedy for Brett Favre, and it was a great story for the media. What happened to the Packers last season with Joe Philbin's loss is an entirely different, and far more complicated and involved, situation. IMO.

Evan's picture

I had started a similar reply but stopped because I was having trouble wording it properly. You nailed it, though.

PackerLaLaland's picture

You can make the argument that this was an effective formula in their super bowl year where sacks and turn overs propelled them to the championship. Good teams capitalize on mistakes, so I'm not sure how this is a negative. People are quick to forget that there was plenty of sloppy play during the championship run. Jennings fumble in Atlanta, Rodgers INTs in Chicago, drops in the super bowl. As to your other point, this team has never had a step on your throat mentality so don't get your hopes up.

imma fubared's picture

Not sure the Pack can beat the Vikes next Saturday. The team is too inconsistent. I heard a commentor talking of a QB, not Ponder but he said the staff decided to keep it simple and call plays the QB could handle and eliminate the difficult stuff and use the running game to augment the Qb's job. Worked great.

Seems the Vikes figured that out too which means they changed their philsophy and it played off into a playoff berth. The Vikes grew the Packers managed.
Things like having your best receiver field punts is what separates these teams. One is inventive and eliminates mistakes, the other is stubborn and inisist its my way or the highway and that doesn't always work. Sure could have used Cobb this weekend Mr MM. Hopefully he will be ready for next Saturday. If not everyone is right but you on this one.

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