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Not As Bad As It Looked

Not As Bad As It Looked



Oh, it was plenty bad, alright. But the Packers’ loss to the Bengals in week two was not as disastrous as it may have appeared.






Shocked. Angry. Disgusted. Outraged. That’s how most Packer fans felt after watching their team lose at home to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, and I was no exception. But after a couple days to think about it and watch the game on tape, I’ve calmed down quite a bit. What really surprised me, watching the game a second time, was that the Packers did not get outplayed as badly as I had thought. Yes, they played poorly, and they clearly deserved to lose, but the seven-point margin was a pretty accurate reflection of what kind of game it was.


For starters, it must be admitted that those guys in the orange jerseys made some really good plays. The Bengals may be better than we thought they were. And that’s an important point, because our expectations color our impressions. Losing at home to a terrible Bengals team is unforgivable. But losing at home to a Bengals team that is pretty good is, well, not quite so bad. Especially when you consider that the Packers spent much of the off-season focusing on that huge home opener against the hated Chicago Bears, and won that game in dramatic fashion. It was a recipe for a letdown, just like last season, when they won a Sunday night home opener against the Vikings in nail-biting fashion, then found themselves trailing the Lions in the fourth quarter the following week.


Now, of course we don’t know how good the Bengals really are. They did not set the world on fire in their opening day loss to the Broncos. But the Bengals MIGHT be good. We have 14 more games to figure that out. And we have 14 more games to figure out how good the Packers are. The NFL season is a marathon, not a sprint.


Some fans will say, “Take away Woodson’s interceptions, and the game would’ve been a blowout.” But I’m not just giving those things away. No deal. I am, however, willing to trade them for the two biggest plays that the Bengals made all day. Like the third and 34 conversion. Or the flea flicker. Or maybe the 60-plus yard punt return. Charles Woodson plays for the Packers, so his interceptions belong to us. He is not some kind of deux ex machina phenomenon who descends from the heavens and turns the game in our favor, as much as he may seem like that at times.


As for the third and 34 conversion, it was poorly played by the Packer defense, but it was also a fluke. Cullen Jenkins had the guy dead to rights 5-10 yards shy of the first down, but instead of going for the tackle he went for the strip--which was exactly the right thing to do. And it worked—except the ball somehow bounded forward ten yards like a jackrabbit and was recovered by the Bengals for a first down. That’s not what usually happens when the ball is stripped.


But the big plays were not the real story in this game. The real story is that the Packers were beaten at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. That can’t be denied. It should not have happened. And it raises some concerns. But on offense, the line did not really fall apart until Chad Clifton got injured. Then we were stuck with Darryn Colledge at left tackle, a position he had not played in several weeks, and coming off a week in which he missed practice due to a foot injury. There should’ve been a better backup plan for the most important position on the O-line, but on the other hand, Clifton’s injury was a worst-case scenario.


Losing Nick Collins was another worst-case scenario of sorts, considering that Atari Bigby was already out of the lineup and safety is our weakest defensive position in terms of depth. And the Bengals exploited it. Al Harris and Charles Woodson were excellent as usual in coverage. I don’t know if the Bengals completed a single pass along the sidelines during the game. But they were able to exploit the deep middle, where the safeties roam, or in the case of Aaron Rouse and Jarrett Bush, where the safeties wander about aimlessly. This tactic allowed the Bengals to make just enough big plays to get points on the board and keep the Packer defense soft enough to run against. But Collins and Bigby will heal, and with experience and adjustments in game planning, the backups should be less easy to exploit. 


There are a couple of complaints I’ve heard from fans that did not hold up to a second viewing of the game. One of them is that Aaron Rodgers held onto the ball too long. I counted how many sacks happened for that reason, and the number I came up with was one (out of six). There was another sack that occurred when Rodgers was outside of the pocket, but the defender had grabbed his right arm, preventing him from throwing the ball away. Rodgers was out of sync, for obvious reasons, and missed some throws he should’ve made, but he was not a big reason why the Packers lost the game.


The other complaint I’ve heard is that Mike McCarthy got away from the short passing game that is the bread and butter of the West Coast offense. But there were actually quite a few short passes. To the extent that they may have been lacking, it was only because the Packers went with max protection on many of the pass plays, and even when the RB’s and TE’s chipped and released, the rush was in Rodgers’ face so quickly that it was difficult to complete even the short passes. And you do need to throw downfield at times to stretch the defense. The offense’s lack of production had much more to do with poor execution than with poor play-calling.


I realize that none of this is going to make fans feel warm and fuzzy inside after such a disappointing loss. But there is a long way to go. The Packers have playmakers on both sides of the ball. The 2009 season is just beginning to unfold. And the Packers play the Rams on Sunday. It’s the perfect opportunity to bounce back. 

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Comments (16)

Asshalo's picture

"But losing at home to a Bengals team that is pretty good is, well, not quite so bad. "

We lost to a lot of decent teams at home last year. Winning and losing to decent teams in the difference between being over/under .500. Right tho, plenty of time to bounce back

"One of them is that Aaron Rodgers held onto the ball too long."

No one other than Elmo is saying that's why we lost. It's not the main reason he was sacked, but it was part of it. He's not playing bad, it's just we've all seen him respond to preassure better.

PackersRS's picture

Exactly. He's not playing bad, but he's not being able to surpass the deficiencies of our OL, something Brees does, and that at least I thought Rodgers was already able to do.

MrBacon's picture

Truthfully, the Bengals might be really good.

They lost on a fluke play against a Denver team that is 2-0, so both of thoose teams might be decent.

We wont know till the end of the season.

Matt M.'s picture

"But they were able to exploit the deep middle, where the safeties roam, or in the case of Aaron Rouse and Jarrett Bush, where the safeties wander about aimlessly."

Hah! I think I will steal that one. :)

PackersRS's picture

Damn. Beat me to it. Best phrase of the week. Wander about aimlessly. Priceless. Kudos to Greg C. Also kudos on being positive about the game.

Greg C.'s picture

<blockquote cite="comment-5668">

<strong><a href="#comment-5668" rel="nofollow">Asshalo</a></strong>:
“One of them is that Aaron Rodgers held onto the ball too long.”No one other than Elmo is saying that’s why we lost. It’s not the main reason he was sacked, but it was part of it. He’s not playing bad, it’s just we’ve all seen him respond to preassure better.


I really can't fault him for anything except a few inaccurate throws. I can live with my QB being sacked once in a game because he held onto the ball too long, especially when there is that much pressure. It's a lot better than throwing the ball into crowds. If Rodgers had done that, we really would've had a blowout on our hands, and the Packers would've lost to the Bears as well.

Asshalo's picture

True, he keeps his turnovers numbers are comparable to payton manning, but he doesn't quite have the pocket pressence of both Mannings, Brees and many other greats-- not that he won't get there. It's just I haven't seen it consistently in 18 games.

What I was getting at he doesn't always need to take the sack. He can throw it away.

Let's not forget the amount of dropped balls that game either-- many were bunnies. That also killed drives.

TD's picture

"One of them is that Aaron Rodgers held onto the ball too long. I counted how many sacks happened for that reason, and the number I came up with was one (out of six). There was another sack that occurred when Rodgers was outside of the pocket, but the defender had grabbed his right arm, preventing him from throwing the ball away."

It wasn't so much that he seemed like he held it too long to me, that was upsetting ... it was that he seemed to lack elusiveness. There were several sacks on Sunday, and a couple against the Bears (including the safety) where it just seemed to me like he should have been able to use his feet to avoid the guy who got him and buy more time. Is it just me, or does it seem like he gets kinda flat footed back there? I know I don't want him getting happy feet ... but I would at least like to see him create some more time for himself on some of the sacks he's taken to date.

By the way ... I don't have the number in front of me right now, but he's taken an alarming number of sacks in his first 18 starts, I think.

packerslounge's picture

I agree with some of this, Aaron looks slow or something. There were a few times Sunday where I thought he should have been able to outrun the defender easily.

Asshalo's picture

" it was that he seemed to lack elusiveness."
Yes, and pocket presence. He first season's sacks were average. In his first two games, it's the most in a two game stretch since 1987. That's unconcionably high. I can't help but put a portion of that on the QB, but mostly MM and the OL

Graffin's picture

Love the article and optimistic outlook. Your right we don't know the Bengals real worth THIS year or, obviously, ours. Rodgers will look much better and talk about him holding the ball to long will turn into praise of his pocket presence if are receivers hang on to a few more passes (On par with there proven talent) and our O-line makes 2 or 3 more blocks than usual. Both very possible against the Rams.

Asshalo's picture

Wouldn't he still have been sacked if those passes would have been dropped?

Graffin's picture

"AND our O-line makes 2 or 3 more blocks than usual" Also, you don't think that a couple big gains would take scrutiny off Rodgers a bit? Not to mention make teams back off the blitz.

Jersey Al's picture


Just got done watching the first half. To that point, it definitely was an even game. I'll add a few things about the first half:

We had 4 bad dropped passes. I say bad, because they were not difficult catches at all. (Finley, Jennings, Grant and Jones - all guilty)

The DL was doing it's job, occupying blockers, but the ILBs seemed to be running with their heads down right into the back of them instead of seeing the lanes that Benson was seeing.

Driver stole a TD pass from Jordy Nelson and Nelson did not look happy. Nelson ran a comeback route to the corner goal line and was standing there open waiting for the pass, when driver came across right in front of him and nabbed it. Nelson game him a "What the F***?" look and walked away without congratulating him at all.

I think the main problem with the running game is that the Packers run a lot of plays that take time to develop, and the OL can't hold their blocks long enough. There initially appear to be holes, but by the time Grant gets there the defenders have shed the blocks. I think mixing in a few plays where we hit the hole faster could help.

I still haven't seen Carson Palmer get the ball in the end zone on his sneak. That's a 4-point difference that caused us to have to go for the TD at the end of the game.

Good article.


Greg C.'s picture

Yeah, those dropped passes were terrible. Jennings' was the worst. He wanted to tuck the ball away and make a move so he could have a big gainer or even a TD. He got greedy. Overconfidence, maybe. Later, when he complained about pass interference, I thought it was mostly frustration. He was in triple coverage and the ball was badly underthrown. It was a good no-call.

Very interesting about Driver and Nelson. I had noticed that Nelson was there, but I didn't realize that Driver actually stole the ball away from him.

Good observation about the running game. I've never been too keen on this zone blocking system.

The QB sneak didn't look like a TD to me either. I think the officials just took a wild guess on that one. The burden of proof should be on the offense.

Changing the subject just a bit: I thought the announcers were not very good. Rich Gannon is okay in the preseason, because he knows the roster and he knows the camp battles, but too often he falls back on obvious statements like, "You've got to find a way to catch that ball" or "You just can't commit a penalty in that situation." (Okay, Rich, when is a GOOD time to commit a penalty?) I didn't think he shed a lot of light on what was going on out there. And I would like to strangle him every time he says "atha-letic." One time he circled the wrong guy on the replay, and another time the guy he wanted us to watch (Charles Woodson) was not even in the picture. It was not a good day for Rich.

Aaron's picture

There's no way on God's Green Earth that Palmer sneak was a TD - AND he fumbled. Horrible, horrible call.

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