Who would've thought this week's contest at Lambeau Field against the lagging San Fransisco 49ers would've brought so much attention. Well that, my friends, is exactly what the Green Bay Packers are bracing themselves for.
A season captured predominantly by high expectations and egregious injury lists may now be hanging in the balance, with a 7-4 Packers team on the brink of potential disaster.
I have to admit, watching last week's heartbreaking loss to an Atlanta team that probably didn't deserve to win anyway really got the best of me—as well as the rest of Green Bay's fan base.
The special teams crew managed to mess up what would've been Aaron Rodgers' finest of regular season comebacks. As a substitute, Mike McCarthy and company now must battle back from Sunday's misfortunes and miscues.
Special teams: The one thing we as fans take for granted every week turned out to be a key reason why we couldn't quite come away with the victory.
But you see, that is exactly the problem with this 2010 Packers ball club: games in the clutch always seem to be spoiled by inconsequential mistakes.
Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams were able to contain the famed Matt Ryan/Roddy White combo quite effectively, in addition to topping the Falcons in nearly every meaningful statistical category. Additionally adding Aaron Rodgers' game-tying drive for the ages, the Packers should have (for all intensive purposes) returned to Lambeau this week with an upbeat 8-3 record.
Instead, Mike McCarthy's crew now sits at 7-4 behind a Chicago club who still hasn't been given the credit they probably deserve—as hard as it is to say that.
How much longer are we going to allow ourselves to believe that the Bears are in fact not a contender, but just a pretending football team? A team (let it be known, once again) that did indeed beat Aaron Rodgers at Solider Field earlier in the season on the national stage.
Slipping up any more this season will only spell turmoil and controversy to an already burdened rushing attack, which is quite frankly the last thing this team needs heading into crunch time.
Realizing that in fact I am (yet again) beating a dead horse that is the Green Bay running game, I do think we can all attest to the fact that Green Bay's offensive attack is much too one-sided. But when you take a step back and look at the facts, one thing is quite certain: the Packers desperately need a difference-maker in the backfield.
We thought Brandon Jackson was the answer, but it just isn't so.
It seems as though coach Mike McCarthy pushes the "Brandon Jackson" envelope too far. I, for one, am completely opposed to scrutinizing McCarthy's decisions on and off the field.
However, Jackson's capabilities and possibilities are inevitably opposing forces—forces that are eating away at the conscience of Mike McCarthy.
The possibilities are endless, and the capabilities are still left untested for backup running back James Starks—who absolutely lit up opposing defenders last season at Buffalo University.
Starks could end up a future Pro Bowler, or just an unproven backup waiting for his shot that will never come. This could be McCarthy's best offensive roster decision all season. We'll just have to wait it out and see.
Scouting San Fransisco
The 49ers (now just one game out of first place in the NFC West at 4-7) have ignited their 2010 playoff hopes once more with their impressive Monday night victory over Arizona. Don't expect San Fran to lay down and take defeat lightly from Green Bay on Sunday.
Troy Smith has played impressive since taking the starting job from Alex Smith just a few weeks ago, consistently hooking up with WR Michael Crabtree in Monday night's victory over the Cards.
Although San Fransisco may in fact be the NFL's most underachieving team (defeating the likes of only Oakland, Denver, St. Louis and Arizona), their offense has shown to be dangerous—as noticeable on Monday night's thrashing of Arizona.
With Frank Gore now likely out for the remainder of the season with a fractured right hip, the Cardinals have put backup Brian Westbrook (yes, that Brian Westbrook) at the top of their depth charts. Coming into Monday's matchup, Westbrook attained a whopping total of nine yards on five carries.
Let it be known he ran for a staggering 136 yards on 23 carries Monday night against Arizona.
San Fran also noticeably attains the league's 16th overall passing defense, giving up 218 yards per game through the air.
With LB Patrick Willis leading the 49ers linebacking corps, they have actually managed to place themselves in the top-10 in terms of rushing yards allowed per game with 98.3 yards per contest.
Aaron Rodgers, along with WRs Greg Jennings and James Jones, will be likely pushing the envelope all day on San Fran's slim defense—more than likely giving Rodgers another feel-good game heading into the Week 14 matchup in Detroit.
For the "all-important" Green Bay running game to succeed this week (against the league's eighth-best rush defense, nonetheless), Mike McCarthy will absolutely have to attack Patrick Willis consistently throughout the bulk of the game.
If Brandon Jackson (who, by the way, is actually averaging 3.9 yards per carry) is up to the task of handling San Fran's defense, then he should outright be Green Bay's full-time running back.
However, if not, then you would almost have to expect either Dimitri Nance or possibly James Starks to be implemented within the next few weeks. Jackson's performances are just getting old.
Coming down the stretch, here's what Green Bay must endure:
Week 13 vs. San Fransisco (4-7)
Week 14 at Detroit (2-9)
Week 15 at New England (9-2)
Week 16 vs. New York Giants (7-4)
Week 17 vs. Chicago (8-3)
Looking at the remaining schedule, I couldn't help but notice the fact that there are three games against potential playoff teams still lingering.
The stretch run will be a critical assessment for Aaron Rodgers, Mike McCarthy and the entire Packers organization heading into next season.
The outcome of this season will have major impact on Ted Thompson's drafting choices and offseason personnel moves—leaving many key starters as questionable heading into 2011.
Looking at Green Bay's current situation, there are serious possibilities for scrutiny and disappointment. What we've all witnessed so far is a classic case of a team plagued by injury and burdened by penalties.
With yet two more starters placed on IR this week (LB Brandon Chillar and Travis Havner), the Packers will yet again have to show show America why they are the best when it comes to replacing key starters/backups.
I don't think McCarthy will have a problem with that.
Also lost in the mayhem of the week: the $8 million per year extension for Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams, putting him in the same class as current Packers star Charles Woodson.
Nevertheless, Sunday's game is crucial for the Packers. Coming out of this "mess" with a 7-5 record, or an impressive rebound to 8-4 will decide the remainder of the season. Whatever the result, this game has more than one specific meaning.
For the players, this game signifies their ability to bounce back from a physically draining competition in Atlanta. For Mike McCarthy and the rest of the coaching staff, this game represents an entire season of preparation and hard work—and nothing short of that.
With the entire season (and the offseason, for that matter) hanging in the balance, how will Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy handle themselves?
For that, my friends, we'll just have to tune in Sunday afternoon.
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