Packers vs. Chargers: 11 Things We Learned About the Pack in the 45-38 Win

Elyssa GutbrodContributor INovember 7, 2011

Packers vs. Chargers: 11 Things We Learned About the Pack in the 45-38 Win

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    Coming off of the bye week, the Green Bay Packers traveled to San Diego to defend their perfect season against the faltering Chargers.

    The game turned into an old-fashioned shootout, with both teams piling points onto the board seemingly at will. And, as seems to be the way of things this year with the Packers, it all came down to a nail biter at the very last minute.

    In the end the Packers were able to emerge victorious, moving to 8-0 at their halfway mark in the season.

    Over the following 11 slides, we will explore some things we learned about the Packers in their victory over the Chargers.

Aaron Rodgers Is Great on the Ground

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    Let’s get this one out of the way first: We all know that Aaron Rodgers is a force to be reckoned with through the air. Today was no different—he completed 21-of-26 passes for 247 yards and four touchdowns. His quarterback rating against the Chargers was 145.8.

    Despite his pinpoint passing accuracy, Rodgers is not often thought of as a great running quarterback. That distinction tends to go more to Michael Vick, and recently to Cam Newton and Tim Tebow.

    Today, however, Rodgers demonstrated that he can play the rushing game, too. He racked up 52 yards on the ground over eight carries, enough to make him the team’s leading rusher up until the fourth quarter when he was overtaken by James Starks.

Offensive Line Failed to Protect Rodgers

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    In an unfortunate flashback to last year, Aaron Rodgers was brought down for four sacks by the Chargers. He was pressured, hit and hurried many more times than that.

    The sacks were partly Rodgers’ own fault for holding on to the ball much longer than he should have. It was also due to the offensive line failing to hold the defensive rush back.

    With Chad Clifton out, Marshall Newhouse has had some big shoes to fill. He’s been doing an adequate job—better than most expected him to—but the Packers are still letting too much pressure through to Rodgers.

Green Bay Continues to Dominate the Turnover Game

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    In the first quarter, Green Bay’s defense exploded. Charlie Peprah and Tramon Williams each picked Philip Rivers off in two consecutive drives, running both interceptions back for touchdowns to give the Packers a comfortable 21-7 lead.

    After a two-quarter lull, the defense made one more big play when it counted. Peprah came up with a second interception to put an end to the Chargers’ final attempt to put points on the board and potentially send the game into overtime.

    With those three interceptions, Green Bay moves to a +11 turnover ratio on the year, behind only San Francisco and Detroit.

The Passing Coverage Was Terrible

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    Defensively, the Packers spent much of the afternoon in a zone coverage scheme.

    While the zone coverage is a great way to set defenders up to position themselves for turnovers, Philip Rivers took advantage of consistent confusion on the field to pick the defense apart.

    Wide open Chargers receivers became the norm as the team abandoned their run game, carving up the field for 385 yards in the air.

    Thanks to the sloppy coverage, the Chargers were nearly able to engineer an improbable comeback. This is not the first time that the Packers have struggled to maintain late game leads, in large part due to pass coverage that becomes increasingly anemic as the game progresses.

Charles Woodson Was off His Game

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    On a normal day, when Charles Woodson blows a pass coverage early in the game he makes up for it later on in a spectacular way. Usually there’s a turnover involved, or the quarterback eats dirt. He’s usually able to make something happen.

    Against the Chargers, he never seemed to be quite able to start the magic. The whole game, the chips seemed to fall the wrong way for Woodson.

    He was taken advantage of on receiver matchups. He was responsible for blown coverages that led to San Diego putting points on the board.

    He was victimized on a kickoff in the fourth quarter, pinning the Packers deep in their own territory, and again when he was called for running into a receiver who had come to a complete stop ahead of him on the field.

    Fortunately, Woodson is not the type to be held back by an underwhelming performance. Expect him to roar back into the game against Minnesota next week.

James Starks Should Be the Starting Running Back

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    Green Bay is fortunate this year to have a tandem of two starting-caliber running backs sharing touches on the ground to compliment the aerial show Aaron Rodgers puts on.

    Although Ryan Grant officially started the game at running back, James Starks was the one who took most of the touches on the ground.

    Regardless of whether James Starks is actually the better running back, at some point the Packers need to acknowledge the more prominent role that he plays in their offense. Either that, or they need to start evening things up a little bit by giving Grant a more equal chance with the ball.

Missed Opportunities Can Hurt

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    One of the areas that the Packers really deserve criticism in is their fourth-down decision-making. Through eight games, the Packers are 0-for-5 on fourth-down conversions.

    Today, the Packers could have put points on the board with a Mason Crosby field goal attempt. Sure, the field goal attempt would have been pretty long, but there was no reason to believe that Crosby couldn’t make it.

    Instead, they decided to go for it and failed to convert.

    Those three points could have been huge later in the game as the Chargers surged in a comeback attempt.

    There were other notable missed opportunities, too. Charles Woodson was penalized for pass interference on a fourth-down incompletion. That was arguably an unfortunate call, as the receiver that Woodson “interfered” with came to a complete stop right in front of him on the field, but it still gave the Chargers one more gasp of life in their comeback attempt.

    The holding call on Woodson in the following drive was another replay of the same scenario.

    While the Packers were fortunate enough to come out of the game with a victory despite those missed opportunities, they won’t always be so lucky.

Mason Crosby Is Having a Career Year

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    When the news that Mason Crosby had been signed to a five-year, $14.75 million contract, many fans (myself included) wondered what the heck Ted Thompson was thinking.

    Crosby has been an okay kicker, but he hasn’t been anything to write home about. He’s also had a habit of choking at extremely inconvenient times, even costing the Packers games in 2010.

    So far this year, though, my doubts have been quieted. Crosby has been unbelievable in 2011, making every kick every time. He’s booting the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs, preventing dangerous returners from touching the ball. He has set personal and franchise records on field goals, and has been the picture of consistency all year long.

    Although he hasn’t yet had to kick a game-deciding field goal, he has done much to calm the concerns that he will never be better than a mediocre kicker. The Packers are in good hands in that aspect of their offense.

Sloppy Tackling Keeps Opponents in the Game

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    The Packers have been fortunate enough to play most of the year either in domes or in good weather.

    Even in those relatively good conditions, they have struggled to stop offenses from piling on yardage.

    Part of the problem has been consistently sloppy tackling. Defenders are not bringing down players at first contact, allowing running backs to fight for yards and wide receivers to pile on yards after the catch.

    Those problems were exacerbated today as the majority of the game was played in the rain.

    At times, it seemed as though instead of tackling Chargers the Packers simply bounced off of them. It often took several tries and several players to bring a play to a halt.

Frustrating Clock Management

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    Ahead by a score with seven minutes left in the game and pinned deep in their own end of the field, the Green Bay Packers had a chance to close the game out on the ground just as they had against Minnesota two weeks ago.

    Starks had had a great game on the ground to that point, and Grant hadn’t been half bad either.

    Instead, in a situation that screamed “run,” the Packers passed. They ended up punting the ball back to the Chargers, giving them a chance to continue their comeback.

    Of course, it should be noted that when the Packers did try to run the ball on their next possession they were not able to succeed, either. Starks may have been able to run out the game against the Minnesota Vikings two weeks ago, but against the Chargers he was largely ineffective in the fourth quarter.

The Packers Have a Great Road Presence

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    In the Packers’ first drive, Rodgers tossed the ball to fullback John Kuhn, and the crowd erupted with the all too familiar “Kuuuuuuuhhhhhhnnnnnn” cheer.

    When Finley brought in the first touchdown of the game, the crowd went wild.

    Those moments set the crowd’s tone for the entire game, which was a little bit awkward given that the Packers weren’t the home team.

    Although the fan presence isn’t always quite as dramatic in other hostile environments, it is consistently there.

    Today, it was often hard to remember that the Packers were on the road, especially with the cheers of “Go Pack Go” much more obvious in the background than any sort of encouragement for the Chargers.