Hold on everybody, the Packer rollercoaster season is only in mid-ride. Just when most Packer fans were ready to bail out of the car, the season swooped up to it's highest point so far. The amazing win against the formerly on-a-roll Dallas Cowboys has left Packer fans everywhere just a bit giddy.
So what changed? What was responsible for the 180 degree turnaround from the putrid performance in Tampa? Specifically, what three things put a smile on my face?
1. Mike McCarthy had a good game plan and called a good game - for a change. As critical as I have been of his coaching, I have to give him credit. Here are some of the things he did that I liked:
a) The running game. For once, Mike McCarthy ran the ball throughout the entire game, never abandoning it as he is so inclined to do. . The Packers running backs ran the ball 23 times for 90 yards, an average of 3.9 yards. You wouldn't call that great, but it was enough to help keep the Cowboys honest. A good number of draw plays were called, again to keep the Dallas defensive linemen from committing all-out to the pass rush. Seems like a simple concept, but one that often eludes the Packers head coach.
b) Screen passes: The Packers ran 5 screen plays, and while the average gain was not great, it would have been much better if the first screen to Ryan Grant hadn't been nullified by a penalty. Not to mention if Chad Clifton could just throw a block in the open field. On two quick screens to his side, Clifton had but one Dallas player to block and the Packers would have had large gains, as there were no other defenders in sight. Instead, he whiffed twice and the Packer running back was tackled for a loss or no gain.
And let me also add here that the Packers fool no one when they run a screen. They are very poor at disguising it. You can see the opposing players running to the ball carrier before the ball is even thrown. Perhaps if the Packers keep running it, practice will make perfect.
c) Blocking help: There were only 3 passes thrown to the tight ends this game, because the majority of the time, they were part of the protection package. When you are playing a team with a pass rush like Cowboys have, that's the right thing to do. While in many cases Lee and Havner were of help in protection, Lee was called for two holding penalties and Havner was slow to react on 2 plays, both resulting in sacks.
But despite that, I am at least pleased that Mike McCarthy didn't do what he has done in other games this year - left inexperienced players out on an island to deal with All-Pro defensive lineman on their own.
d) Short passing game: Mike McCarthy finally realized that no matter the advantage he thinks the Packers receivers may have against opposing secondaries, it does no good to try to hit the home run if Aaron Rodgers doesn't have time to throw it. The short routes and completions were plentiful. The slant route was back (despite Troy Aikman not realizing it had ever left). The screen pass, as discussed above, was back.
From my unofficial count after watching the game tape, 23 of the 35 passes thrown were passes of less than ten yards in the air. To me, this was the best-called game by Mike McCarthy in a long time.
e) Aaron Rodgers: Let's not give Mike McCarthy too much credit. Aaron Rodgers was given more responsibility for making line of scrimmage calls this past week. He managed the game well, and made an obvious conscious effort to get the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible. Rodgers threw the ball away three times to avoid a sack (one was penalized, but I applaud the thought, anyway). He also dumped the ball off 4 times to avoid a sack. These numbers may not seem earth shattering, but compared to his other games, it's a downright plethora of sack-avoidance maneuvers.
Rodgers also seemed to move a bit better in the pocket, avoiding a few sacks and only losing a total of 11 yards on the four times that he was sacked. For comparison, the Cowboys lost 34 yards total on the Packers' 5 sacks. Perhaps the Monday "Come to Jesus" meeting clarified everything for Rodgers. Evidently, in this no-holds barred meeting, a few Packer players called out Rodgers for holding the ball too long. Hearing it from his own teammates is probably what it took for him to see things in a different light and make a concerted effort to change things. I think he did a great job of it and showed his commitment winning and to his teammates.
2) Dom Capers finally let it all hang out.
Blitzes from the Edge. I've been calling for it all season: "Where is Matthews coming off the edge?", I have asked. Why do the Packers keep running the same crossover blitz with the inside linebackers over and over? What happened to the DB blitzing we saw against the Bears? Well guess what, all of that arrived last weekend, plus a whole lot more.
Watching the game tape, it was startling some of the blitzes I saw. Capers called some things you hardly ever see, like two defensive backs blitzing from the same side. Now, unless you're in a situation where you're blitzing eight, you just don't see that. Let me tell you, from one play to the next, Romo had no way to predict who was coming and from where.
As an example, lets just look at the first half. The Packers blitzed 13 times in the first half. Here's what occurred.
Blitz #1: Bigby
Blitz #2: Matthews
Blitz #3: Woodson
Blitz #4: Collins
Blitz #5: Matthews & Jones
Blitz #6: Collins & Bush (same side)
Blitz #7: Bigby
Blitz #8: Barnett & Hawk - inside crossover blitz - sack
Blitz #9: Matthews
Blitz #10: Matthews
Blitz #11: Matthews - sack
Blitz #12: Barnett & Woodson - inside crossover blitz
Blitz #13: Matthews & Jones
Eleven of the thirteen blitzes were from the outside. The first seven of the game were all from the outside, from six different players. When the Packers finally ran their inside crossover blitz on Blitz #8, it worked to perfection. No wonder! Suddenly the inside blitz was a surprise and not expected. This is what we had heard since the day Capers had been hired, that the Packers defense wanted to be unpredictable and confuse the offense. Looks like that day finally arrived.
3) T.J.Lang: Early on in training camp, word was that the Packers were going to give T.J. Lang a chance to compete for the right tackle job. I want the head of whomever decided to change that. T.J. Lang was very good against the Cowboys. Not just OK, actually VERY GOOD. He did not give up a sack himself, he neutralized Ware and Spencer on running plays and I saw him plant a few players into the ground.After the game, McCarthy commented on how Lang is more comfortable on the right side - I see, so that's why the Packers decided to slot him as a backup left guard and left tackle.
Of course, there were plenty of other reasons to smile; Superman (AKA Charles Woodson), better kick coverage, shutdown run defense and more. But the three items above you could say were pleasant surprises, and I'm still smiling...