Losing to the Atlanta Falcons by three points with seconds left in the game is somewhat impressive considering the fact that the Falcons can’t lose at the Georgia Dome and the Green Bay Packers have been burdened by injuries to many of their top players.
And even with those injuries, the Packers are still clearly more talented than the Falcons and have greater depth.
The potential is there…so why are the Packers 7-4 and the Falcons 9-2?
Most of these problems underline major problems with coaching during practice.
Great coaches are made on the practice field, not in the stadium. Packers' Head Coach Mike McCarthy does an excellent job of focusing on the passing game and overall offensive strategy during practice, but the lack of discipline and individual training, as a whole, is problematic.
Three key problems will continue to haunt the Packers this season and into the future unless addressed immediately by McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson.
The Running Game
There is something wrong with a team when the coach has more faith in quarterback Aaron Rodgers to gain one yard than an NFL running back. No matter how great a defense is, NFL millionaire running backs should always be able to gain one yard. How many times have we seen, both this year and last year, the Packers have first and goal and not able to punch it in with the running game in four downs?
Should that not be the most glaring issue on a football team? A GM should do everything possible to ensure it will never happen again and a coach should dedicate 50 percent of a practice executing this.
The loss of Ryan Grant makes no difference. They struggled with this problem last year. Bring Marcus Allen out of retirement. Go recruit a high jumper. Text the “Fridge.” I don’t care who it is and what they do for most of the game; it is worth paying the big bucks for a player who can guarantee one yard for the team.
Unfortunately, Thompson made the decision not to recruit LaDainian Tomlinson, a player who can get you that touchdown from three yards out, and is guaranteed to find a way to get the first down on fourth and first.
A ball controlled passing attack can be extremely effective in the NFL, but it still needs an effective running back. The great 49ers West Coast offense had Roger Craig coming out of the backfield for quick dump passes and even Brett Favre had Dorsey Leavens catching passes and scoring touchdowns when they played under Mike Holmgren in Green Bay.
Instead, the Packers risk injury to their franchise quarterback by having him try to gain one yard trying to run up the middle through 300-pound angry Falcons.
It’s hard to criticize A.J Hawk. He’s a good guy with a lot of heart. Unfortunately, watching Hawk is like watching molecules run into each other during a health class video. Hawk went full speed into his own players while Michael Turner galloped around the end for a one-yard touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter. Absolutely no outside containment. All he had to do was contain and push Turner to the inside. Hawk is scary enough looking to do this by saying “boo!”
Even if Hawk, aka Fred Flintstone, did execute the play properly, he is too lumpy to Karaoke or get low to make a sure tackle.
Losing outside containment and not being in the proper position to make a tackle was a problem for Hawk during all four quarters of the game. This is not a Hawk issue, it is a coaching issue and should have been noted during half-time. Had it been addressed, the Packers could be looking at the inside track to home-field advantage in the playoffs with a win at Atlanta.
Even when Turner burned through a hole the size of a needle between his guard and tackle to get a crucial first down in the second half, Hawk overplayed it and could not adjust to get his arms around Turner. Hawk continues to play “high” without getting his pads low and his feet shoulder length apart — technique that should be textbook for a player with his physical stature and corrected with good coaching during practice.
Not only did McCarthy not challenge calls that would have given the Packers first downs in the first half, he was clearly out-coached by Atlanta Head Coach Mike Smith before the game started.
Give McCarthy credit. He is a quarterback guru and has the Packers in the playoff hunt despite major setbacks. But he has also been granted a talented team with lot of depth.
Unfortunately for the Packers, a smart quarterback with a running game is more successful than a talented quarterback. McCarthy is not a running back guru and the running game, despite being in the age of the passer, is the only way to the Super Bowl.
McCarthy still uses a hybrid zone-blocking running scheme that has proved to be outdated, just ask Mike Shanahan in Washington.
Perhaps he should take a close look at the Falcons offense.
As good as Matt Ryan played Sunday, it was the Falcons running game that made the difference. White obviously wants a QB who can execute plays to help set up the running game, but his offense, starting with the linemen, is designed to emphasize the run first. A testimony to great practice coaching, the Falcons succeed running the ball no matter who is in the backfield.
It’s not only that the Falcons have a more balanced offense, but the team in general is more balanced. The defense may lack the big play makers, but it works hard and is disciplined. Any offense that plays Atlanta has to scrap for yardage. Although not dynamic, Atlanta’s special teams play is well coached and, dare I say it again, disciplined.
McCarthy has yet to produce a disciplined special teams despite the great depth and talent the Packers have on both side of the ball. Perhaps the Packers focus too much on strategy and not on individual technique during practice.
Obviously, more time and attention during practice is given to the Packer’s passing game. It is also possible that McCarthy trusts his coaches and expects them to improve instead of succeed. Nevertheless, teaching discipline starts during training camp. As a testimony, the Packers not only led the league in penalties the first eight games, but also major injuries.
Injuries are not necessarily a “fluke” in football. They happen due to poor strength and conditioning programs and improper “football” positioning on the field.
When hired by Thompson, McCarthy himself noted this as one of the major improvements he was going to make to the Packers after Mike Sherman went through a major injury plagued year and lost his job. Since then he has fired two strength coaches, but continues to ignore proper football positioning during training camp and practice.
The only explanation is coaching. Working on proper technique and team execution will not only produce a more balanced football team, but will also prevent injuries. With all the injuries to key players, it is evident that McCarthy does not emphasize basic fundamental football skills during practice.
And until McCarthy focuses on the team as a whole, not just the offense and strategy, the Packers will always be “good” and fun to watch, but not consistent Super Bowl contenders.