After winning Super Bowl XLV and going 15-1 in the regular season, the Packers were cresting. Was this what it felt like to be a fan during the Lombardi years?
Not so fast. After the first-round bye, the Packers played their worst game in over a year, losing a stomach-punching game to the New York Giants.
The sting of that loss has endured longer and more intensely than I thought it would at the time. Hakeem Nicks’ hail mary touchdown reception at the end of the first half. Osi Umenyiora stripping Aaron Rodgers as Greg Jennings was streaking uncovered down the sideline for what would have been a touchdown that brought the game within a field goal. The drops.
“How could we be getting so outplayed?” we wondered as the season came crumbling down.
A sea of Giants blue occupied the Lambeau bleachers between the end zones, covering virtually an entire side of the stadium’s lower bowl as almost 20,000 visiting fans reveled in a road-game Playoff beatdown.
Seven months later, I’m still having nightmares and day terrors about that game. My anticipation for “next year” has been all-consuming. Next year is now. Kind of.
The Packers enter this season with very high expectations. At 11-2 odds to win the Super Bowl, Green Bay trails only New England, who is listed at 5-1.
The focus, therefore, is squarely on preparing for the regular season and, ultimately, the Playoffs. With the Packers’ experience and pedigree, the primary preseason objective is to stay healthy. That mission was compromised last week when the team’s best middle linebacker, Desmond Bishop, went down with a hamstring injury that could keep him out all year. Promising young cornerback Davon House dislocated his shoulder and is probably out for the rest of the preseason.
The Packers seem unhealthy. 17 players–nearly 20% of the roster–sat out last night’s Brown’s game. However, things aren’t going as badly as they seem. In a sport where athletes are never 100% and injuries grow more severe with attrition, it makes sense to be extremely cautionary in the preseason. We’ll never know for sure because the Packers front office guards that knowledge like the Da Vinci Code but it’s likely that a most absent players would have toughed it out in games that had any meaning.
Bishop is a big loss but his backup, DJ Smith, was probably the best second-stringer anywhere on the team. It would have been nice for House to get more live reps but he should be back for the start of the season.
What’s been more concerning has been the lack of cohesion on both sides of the ball. It’s understandable that the Packers would hold off on showing any special packages in these games but it’s hard not to worry when Aaron Rodgers doesn’t seem in sync with his receivers. He’s been off on some throws that we haven’t seen him miss in any games–preseason included–in the past five years. The running game hasn’t looked too hot and it’s never good when your presumptive starting running back signed for the veteran’s minimum in August but as Cheesehead TV’s Corey Behnke asked, “Why run when you can win?”
This isn’t truly bothersome, though. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense will be just fine when the real games start. If Rodgers is healthy, it’s not even close to worth worrying about at this stage.
But please please please please PLEASE ARodg–for the love of Princess Bride–SLIDE instead of taking hits. Obviously, we (and I can say we when referring to the Packers because I’m a shareholder), cannot afford to lose Rodgers. The next concussion would be his third which would probably put him out for at least a month. A fourth concussion is career threatening. And who knows what impact concussions will have on the quality of the rest of his life?
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE SLIDE!!!!!!!!!!!!
While I trust Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy unconditionally for roster assembly and training, the thought of Graham Harrell ever–let alone for an extended period of time–coming in for an injured Aaron Rodgers is terrifying right now. Noting that he’s been playing with the second unit and behind a porous offensive line, he just doesn’t pass the eye test. There’s certain levels of poise, pocket command, and arm strength that you look for in evaluating the potential of young quarterbacks.
We’ve seen these qualities from Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson this preseason. Inaccuracy and missed timing are correctable but the pocket unawareness and failure to properly step into throws that we’ve seen from Harrell’s small sample size are troubling.
The Packers defense needs much better pass rush and, by extension, pass coverage than last season. This was addressed with the drafting of outside linebacker Nick Perry who will hopefully work with former USC teammate Clay Matthews to wreak havoc on opposing QBs.
While you hate to see your team get DRIVEN on by Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy, extrapolating what this all means for later on is an exercise in futility. For macro issues, the preseason just doesn’t shine any light on what’s to come.
So, while Packers fans are itching to see the team firing on all cylinders again, yearning to get the terrible taste from the Giants debacle out of our mouths, we should be anxious but definitely not concerned. The Packers front office, coaching staff, and players have earned the benefit of the doubt. They know what they’re doing. The Football Outsiders almanac says that statistically, the Packers have an 88.3% chance to make the postseason.
The Packers will be prepared when they need to be, even if our eyes and neuroses are troubled by appearances right now.
Anybody else ready for some football?
Photo via NJ.com