A few years ago, when I was a lowly college sportswriter, I wrote about the NFL when the Patriots went undefeated in the regular season and blew almost everyone away by about 30 points. I used to refer to beating New England as “the impossible dream.” Well, that’s exactly what beating the Packers has become this year: an impossible dream.
Shall we go over the numbers? Twelve wins. Zero losses. A quarterback who is putting up numbers that I can’t duplicate in Madden 12: Quarterback rating of 125.3, 37 touchdowns, five interceptions, 320 yards passing per game. If Rodgers were a baseball player, he’d be intentionally walked every single at-bat. If he were a basketball player, he’d get fouled more often than Shaquille O’Neal in his prime. His numbers are just stupid.
And then there are the receivers. Three of them have at least 600 receiving yards and six touchdowns. By comparison, not a single Raiders receiver has 600 receiving yards or even five touchdowns.
Didn’t I tell you it was an impossible dream?
There is a silver lining to this matchup, and it’s the Packers defense. It’s awful. The only team that gives up more yards per game is the New England Patriots, and they’re just barely worse. Sure, the Packers lead the league in interceptions, but you tend to get a lot of those when teams light you up for almost 300 passing yards a game.
The Packers are an 11.5-point favorite, which seems a bit low, to be honest. There are only two ways this game is going to go: a blowout win for the Packers (extremely likely), or a close victory for the Raiders.
But in the immortal words of Herm Edwards, we play to win the game. So let’s break down how the Raiders might live the impossible dream, and end the Packers’ undefeated season.
Don’t try to keep up with the (James) Joneses
A lot of teams end up getting into shootouts with the Packers, like the Giants did last week. That strategy could not be any dumber. It’s tempting to go after that weak pass defense, but if you try to play like the Green Bay Packers, you will lose to the Green Bay Packers. No quarterback on the planet is playing better than Rodgers right now.
The Raiders have to play their game: run the ball and control the clock. And they’re going to have to do it really, really well, because Rodgers doesn’t need a lot of time to score. Did you see the end of the Giants game Sunday? With the game tied at 35-35, the Packers got the ball back with 58 seconds remaining at their own 20. Two passes and 14 seconds later, they were in field-goal range. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it.
Oakland will need to have a huge advantage in time of possession, and it will have to end drives with touchdowns. Field goals aren’t going to be very helpful against a team averaging 35 points per game. With Darren McFadden missing this game, Michael Bush has to get about 30 carries and do a lot with them.
The Packers are mediocre against the run (13th), mostly because nobody tries to run the ball against them: No team has had less rushing attempts against them than Green Bay (just 258 attempts all season). If the Raiders have any chance to win this game, they will need to run the ball about 35 to 40 times.
Blitz like there’s no tomorrow
There’s only one surefire way to shut down Rodgers: Let the air out of the tires on his car and hope he can’t get a ride to the stadium. Because once he’s on the field, he lights up everybody. Whether it’s the best passing defense in the NFC, the St. Louis Rams (Packers won 24-3), or the team with the most sacks in the NFC, the Minnesota Vikings (Packers have beat them twice by a combined score of 78-34), he beats everbody.
The Raiders love to send only four pass rushers, and you saw how effective it was against Miami. Blitzing Rodgers isn’t going to stop him, because he is very mobile and gets rid of the ball quickly. But blitzing can slow him down, and the Raiders can get to the quarterback (tied for fifth-most sacks in the NFL).
It is tempting to send only four rushers against Rodgers, because the Packers love to run empty backfield formations with five receivers. It will not work.
I’m begging you, Chuck Bresnahan, please blitz and do it often. I want to see gap blitzes, corner blitzes, overload blitzes and every blitz imaginable. I want blitzers coming from anywhere and everywhere. Keep Rodgers on his toes, make him uncomfortable and you have a chance. If you don’t blitz him, he’s going to embarrass you.
Pull out all the stops
Earlier this season, Hue Jackson was asked about all the trick plays he likes to call. He responded that he’d do anything to score a touchdown. Well Hue, you better be willing to do anything to win this game, and I do mean anything. Statue of Liberty plays, Fumblerooskis, Holy Rollers, whatever (I’m pretty sure at least one of those plays is illegal now, but who cares).
This season, Jackson has called fake punts, fake field goals, double reverses, halfback passes—he’s a madman when it comes to trick plays. But over the last few weeks, he seems to have gotten a little less brazen. In fact, I don’t remember a trick play being called since a fake punt against San Diego in Week 10. And that play didn’t even work.
The Raiders are going to have to play their best game of the season to beat the Packers, and that will require some creative play-calling. No one expects the Raiders to win this game, so what do you have to lose?
A few years ago, Boise State was playing in its first BCS bowl game, facing an Oklahoma team that was favored by 7.5 points and coming off an 11-1 season. No one thought a lowly WAC team like Boise could compete with a traditional powerhouse like Oklahoma.
So when Boise State coach Chris Petersen was down a touchdown with a minute left in the game, he pulled out all the stops. Boise ran a successful hook-and-ladder play to tie the game with seven seconds left. Then in overtime, down a touchdown again and facing fourth down, Boise ran a wildcat play and scored.
To complete one of the most memorable finishes in college football history, Petersen went for the two-point conversion and the win, and his team executed a perfect Statue of Liberty play for the victory.
Take your cues from Peterson, Hue: Be true to your word, and do whatever it takes to score touchdowns and win this game. Then maybe, just maybe, our impossible dream will come true.
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