Are Rodgers, Packers Prepared For "Last Stand" Against Romo, Cowboys?
The time has come for the “Do or Die” attitude.
Cue any cheesy montage music you like, the moment is upon us.
Aaron Rodgers is about to be either the hero or the goat of the Packers' 2009 campaign.
It is officially the second half of the season, and Green Bay needs to play each game like it is a playoff.
That is a lot of stress and pressure to put on a team for eight contests, but that is the hole they have dug for themselves.
The Packers are a .500 team at the midway point, and they struggled to get there.
They won their prime-time matchup in week one, facing a Chicago team that gave the Packers all they could handle, barely coming out alive thanks to a game ending touchdown pass between Rodgers and Greg Jennings.
The Bears are now 4-5, having lost two in a row (side note: they also struggled to put away Cleveland, which should count as a third straight loss).
The other three wins came easy against St. Louis, Detroit, and Cleveland.
Those are teams with a combined record of 3-21. Not exactly a murderers' row of opponents.
The four losses came against Cincinnati, Minnesota (twice) and Tampa Bay.
Of those teams, only the Tampa loss is shameful, as Minnesota and Cincy are a combined 13-3.
In the losses to the Vikings and Bengals, the Packers only stayed in the game thanks to a passing attack that exploited the soft underneath coverage provided by defensive coordinators looking to make the offense use large chunks of time.
Since each of their losses has been by 12 points or fewer, it is hard to be too down on the team as a whole, but the offense definitely needs to score quicker, and more often.
On that same note, the defense needs to figure out a way to apply pressure to opposing QB’s. Even thought the run defense has been near top notch, the pass defense leaves more than a little something to be desired.
Last year, even with an injury riddled defensive line, the pass rush still applied enough pressure to force some bad throws.
This helped a talented secondary pick off passes left and right en route to a franchise record for defensive scoring and a very high number in the takeaway column.
The pass rush has not had the same success this season, which has left a lot of open receivers catching passes with relative ease.
Former coach Marv Levy put it best during his first season with the Bills:
“If you can run, pass, catch, block, cover, and tackle better than the other team, you will win.”
The Packers have yet to accomplish this against top-notch talent, but they will have the chance against a red-hot Dallas team this Sunday.
Tony Romo and the offense have been near perfect lately, closing out games with great balance in the running and passing game.
An assortment of great pass catchers featuring Miles Austin, Jason Witten, and Roy Williams will give any secondary fits.
One of the largest and most talented offensive lines in the league will make pass rushing difficult.
A defensive line led by the resurgent DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer will pressure an offensive line that has given up a league-high 37 sacks.
Add that to a group of linebackers, corners, and safeties triple-dipped in Pro Bowl talent, and you have one hell of a problem.
The Packers need a tune up game, but they are getting the fight of their lives instead.
They face Dallas, San Francisco, Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Arizona to finish the season. Only Seattle and Detroit may offer the cupcake games they need, but the rest should be hard-fought battles.
Long story short:
The Packers desperately need a spark. In order for that to happen, several things need immediate change:
They need the offensive line to block more effectively. Keep your quarterback on his feet and good things will happen. Passes will be completed more often and it will keep the defense honest with an actually useful running attack.
They need Aaron Rodgers to start game managing. Don’t stop throwing, just stop throwing as much.
If the defense shows blitz, check down to a slant or another short route. Dump it off to the back if the receivers are covered.
If the defense lines up soft, check to a draw or counter.
If the play is a run and the defense shows blitz, check to a quick out.
Try something different. This inconsistent approach of quick strikes here and there while filling the rest of the play calling with deep routes that cause you to hold on to the ball way too long and take sacks is clearly not working.
The receivers need to get better separation and help out the quarterback. Running your route and remaining near one or more defenders doesn’t help. If you aren't getting the ball, start getting open. It will help 100 percent of the time.
The offensive coordinator needs to dump the four-and five-wideout packages from his play sheet. Leave an extra lineman or tight end in to block, as this five-man line is not working. Help out your players and they will help you. Give them the tools to succeed, not the wounds to bleed.
The defense needs to find a way to be more aggressive. During preseason as well as week one, Cullen Jenkins, Charles Woodson, and Aaron Kampman celebrated their new 3-4 alignment with regular meetings at the QB.
Somewhere, the effectiveness of the gameplan fell apart as the Packers defense currently ranks 29th in sacks with 13 (1.6 per game).
The secondary has collected a lot of picks with 12, but that has come mostly against cellar-dwelling competition. The Packers never picked off Brett Favre, and their two picks off of Carson Palmer are irrelevant as the Bengals ended up winning anyway.
No one is going to celebrate the fact that you can intercept Jay Cutler (Bears QB, leads the league in interceptions), Derek Anderson (Browns QB, worst rated starting QB), Daunte Culpepper (not good enough to be starting for Detroit) or Marc Bulger (26th rated passer).
So you can confuse four of the worst active QB’s in the current season? Big whoop.
Time to throw those numbers out the window.
Last but not least, the linebackers need to aid the pass rush and cover the short routes better. Either rush the QB into a horrible throw, or at least cover the receivers long enough to buy the d-line more time.
It is time to do things right.
It is time to show this team has pride.
It is time to show this team has heart.
We have known all along this team has talent, but have yet to see them score at will against a worthy opponent.
Win a statement game against a great team and the world will say you have pride and talent.
Lose games you are supposed to be an equal part of, and the world will say you lack heart and perhaps are not as talented as we thought.
The Packers need to win this game.
It doesn’t matter how close or far apart the score is, as long as they win.
Give yourself something to build on, and you have seven more game to sweat the small stuff.
Lose this one, and you then spend seven more games back-pedaling and trying to figure out how to stop the skid. Not the best way to close out a season.
Inevitably analysts and fans alike will compare Brett’s accomplishments to Aaron’s, whether or not the comparisons are fair or warranted.
Brett has his team at 7-1, and now plays the Lions. Look for them to be 8-1 and a near lock for the first round bye.
Aaron has his team at 4-4, desperately trying to stay in the wild card race.
If he wants to stop the madness, Aaron will coolly orchestrate a winning drive against Amercia’s team, a team Brett always had trouble beating.
If he cannot silence the critics this week, A-Rod will probably have to wait until next season to shut down the nay-sayers.
Which brings me back to my original point:
Aaron Rodgers will either be the hero or the goat.
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