The Packers have a lot of talent, but they need to wise up in a hurry if they want to go anywhere this season.
Coming into the Lions game, I was ready to be Mr. Positive. I was pretty sure the Packers would win, and I was also pretty sure that afterwards many fans would nitpick the game and dwell on the negatives—blown assignments, penalties, whatever. Unfortunately, Mr. Positive only lasted two plays. The first play was a Jordy Nelson kickoff return for a would-be TD, called back because of a holding penalty. The next play—the Packers’ first from scrimmage—was called back because of another penalty. Just like that, I had already become jaded, and I was never able to settle in and fully enjoy the annual ritual of watching the Lions get their butts whipped at Lambeau Field.
The Packers did win the game easily, but if there is such a thing as a disappointing 26-0 win, this was it. In spite of their 3-2 record, the Packers have not had a really satisfying win since week one, when they beat the Bears in a slugfest with a dramatic TD in the final two minutes. If they keep playing the way they’ve played up till now, the Packers will finish around .500, maybe slightly above, and if they somehow sneak into the playoffs they will be one-and-done. The good news is that they don’t have to keep playing this way. Things change over the course of a season. It is quite possible that they could get better. Of course, they could also get worse, but we don’t want to think about that.
The two things that really stand out about this Packer team thus far are 1.) how talented they are and 2.) how stupid they are. The difference in talent between the two teams at Lambeau Field on Sunday was remarkable for an NFL game. This was especially evident among the QB’s and receivers, although admittedly the gulf would not have been quite so wide if Lions’ stud WR Calvin Johnson had suited up. But if you took a look at the Packers’ offensive line vs. the Lions’ defensive line, things were much more even.
Chad Clifton, our most experienced offensive lineman, committed four penalties. How does that even happen? Some would say that the blame for such nonsense ultimately rests with the coach, and they have a point, but at the same time, why is Chad Clifton, a professional football player who presumably knows how to play the game, committing all of those penalties? Is he really that dumb? Well, I’m all about judging people by their actions. You are who you pretend to be. So for now, my answer is yes. Chad Clifton really is that dumb.
And he’s not the only one. The entire offensive line blows assignments on a regular basis. The 25 sacks that they have allowed in five games have mostly been the result of blown assignments or poor technique. They are not getting overpowered very often. Frequently, opposing pass rushers are simply unblocked, or the offensive lineman takes a bad angle or falls for a juke and immediately loses his balance and gets tossed aside. These guys are brutal to watch. I wish I could name even one lineman who was blameless, but I can’t.
History will show that dumb people don’t often get smarter, so here’s what I’m pinning my hopes on for now. It’s a statistical principle called “regression to the mean.” It means that when something is either far above or far below average, chances are good that as time goes on, it will moderate. After four games, the Packers were on pace to give up an NFL record 80 sacks during the course of the season. A home game against one of the worst teams in the league seemed tailor-made for a move back toward the statistical mean, especially considering that the Lions were so injury-depleted that they had to play an offensive lineman on defense for at least one play. But it was not to be. The Packers gave up five more sacks, staying exactly on pace to allow 80.
I will not be so easily dissuaded, however. I am sticking to my guns. This madness—or should I say dumbness—cannot continue. Sooner or later, these guys have to get their act together and begin playing like professionals. If that ever does happen, look out. Aaron Rodgers is one of the best QB’s in the league, and the receiving corps is well above average. One cannot say the same for the running backs, but as Meat Loaf sang, two out of three ain’t bad.
On the defensive side, most of the dumbness so far has come from the backup safeties, so we need Nick Collins and Atari Bigby to stay healthy. The top four defensive linemen are all talented, the linebackers are good, and the corners are among the best in the business. The talent is pretty good all across the board with this team. With a little more brain power (okay, a lot more), the 2009 Packers could truly be dangerous.