Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Packers Playoff Loss To The Cardinals and Kurt Warner: Who to Blame?



Kurt Warner came into the Cardinals - Packers playoff game with the second-best lifetime QB rating in NFL history. Only Bart Starr is better. Did everyone forget about that?

During the Sunday pregame shows on CBS, NBC and ESPN, only one football analyst picked the Cardinals to defeat the Packers (Bill Cowher). Everyone else picked the Packers. 14 out of 15 of the so-called experts were swayed. Swayed by what? The Packers meaningless win the week before against Arizona? The Cardinals lackluster play over the last four meaningless games of their season?

And a host of Packer fans were wrong. The prevailing sentiment in the week leading up to the game was that the Packers would win going away. I kept scratching my head at that. When I predicted the Packers pulling out a close victory (31-27), I was putting on a brave face, but inside, I feared Kurt Warner. In my mind, a close win would be the best case scenario. Packer fans kept telling me it wouldn't be that close. I wanted to believe, I really did.

Yet I feared that Warner would pick apart the Packers secondary like he did the Vikings secondary in week 13, the last meaningful game the Cardinals had played. Although his numbers in that game came nowhere near those from this past weekend's spectacle, I gained a healthy respect for his decision-making and timing. Kurt Warner delivers the ball to the right receiver, at the right time and in the right spot.

Enter the Packers secondary, an injury-depleted and seemingly easily-confused mish-mosh of over-rated players and waiver-wire pickups. There, I said it. Excluding, of course, NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Charles Woodson. Can you picture the Packers secondary without him?

Certainly, Kurt Warner and Ken Wisenhunt's eyes must have popped out like Marty Feldman's when they studied Packers game films. There was plenty there for them to like. From a supposed All-Pro safety that will make the occasional big play but struggles with consistency to the infamous Jarret Bush, helplessly chasing after his man while trying to locate the ball. Throw in the suspiciously disappearing Atari Bigby, athletic but mentally unprepared Brandon Underwood, and just not NFL-caliber Matt Giordano, and there was bound to be a Cardinal party in the Packers defensive backfield.

The only hope for the Packers, of course, would be to make Kurt Warner uncomfortable. But it had to happen from the base defense, which the Packers have not been able to do against quality opponents. With the 4-5 receiver sets the Cardinals dialed up, blitzing a DB was not a good option. Blitzing another linebacker may have helped, if the Packers had a linebacker besides Clay Matthews that can get to the quarterback. Unfortunately, they don't.

Career Stats:
Barnett 15 sacks - 7 years
Hawk 8.5 sacks - 4 years
Chillar 7.5 sacks - 6 years

WIthout the ability to put real pressure on Warner, the Packers were forced to mostly play their nickel and dime packages, putting the defense's fate in the hands of the secondary. It was a lose-lose proposition.

I expected the Packers offense to be able to put up enough points to win the game, and certainly 45 points would normally qualify. And yet, it wasn't enough. Plenty of fingers are being pointed. The fault lies with Dom Capers, Aaron Rodgers turnovers, the referees, Nick Barnett, Jarret Bush, etc.

But there's really only one man to blame for this loss; The man who once before threw 5 TDs in a playoff game, the man with a 9-3 playoff record, the man with the second best playoff QB rating in NFL history; Kurt Warner, the quiet desert assassin who always saves his best for the big games.

And yes, his bust will one day reside in Canton.

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You can find more of Jersey Al Bracco’s articles on several sports websites: Jersey Al’s Blog, Packer Chatters , Packers Lounge, NFL Touchdown and Bleacher Report. Al is the Green Bay Packers Draft Correspondent for Drafttek.com

You can also follow Jersey Al on facebook and twitter.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Reflecting on the Green Bay Packers 2009 Season: Potential Realized



Looking back on the Green Bay Packers 2009 season, I would call it a season of fulfilled potential. Yearning to bounce back from a 6-10 record in 2008, the Packers seemed to have all their ducks in a row. An excellent draft, outstanding preseason and a supposedly easy schedule over the first half of the season.

I, for one, predicted a 2009 wild-card berth with a record of 10-6 or 11-5, expecting the Packers to be 7-1 or 6-2 at the halfway point, and then struggling with the tougher half of their schedule. Well, we all know the Packers chose to flip my prediction upside down. I suppose it all makes sense now, taking into account the time needed for the Packers defense to become fully comfortable with their new defensive packages. I considered that at the time, but the early schedule just looked so EASY. Haha...

But regardless of how they got there, the Packers are 11-5 and in the playoffs. And to think, they are just one final-second play from being 12-4 and having won 8 games in a row. A truly remarkable turnaround to their season that all started with that "Come to Jesus" meeting after the Tragedy in Tampa that broke the spirit of even the most die hard Packer fans (like this writer).

In the weeks prior to the Tampa game, I had written about what I perceived as Mike McCarthy's lack of command over his team. There was talk about poor practices, the plethora of penalties, lack of discipline and most importantly, lack of accountability. But nothing changed in Packerland. The Tampa debacle proved that unequivocally.

Former players like Leroy Butler and Gilbert Brown spoke out and were critical of how the team was being coached and handled. Packers president Mark Murphy even went public with harsh comments about how disappointed he was that the Packers were only 4-4.

Fortunately, instead of waiting for McCarthy to act, the players decided to take matters into their own hands. With a brutally honest meeting that singed quite a few eyebrows, the players reclaimed their pride and took their season back.

A few weeks before, Ted Thompson had made two moves that helped facilitate the turnaround. During the bye week, Thompson brought back veteran Mark Tauscher. Nobody was sure how much he would be able to contribute on the field, but even if his injury lingered, "Tausch" would be a great presence in the locker room.

Ten days later, Deshawn Wynn was placed on IR and Thompson signed Ahman Green. Why Ahman Green?, so many people asked (this writer included). Why bypass Kregg Lumpkin on the practice squad to bring in this aging veteran that has been so hobbled by serious injuries?

What did he have left? The answer of course, is "just enough." But more importantly, with the way he carries himself and his work ethic, "Batman" has the utmost respect of the Packer players.

So when the Tragedy in Tampa went down, I believe that having these two warriors on the team and in the locker room contributed mightily to the players deciding to put a stop to the poor play and under-achieving. They were two respected players that just wouldn't stand for embarrassing performances.

With red-hot Dallas as the next opponent, things did not look promising for the Packers, even playing at home. It would take a complete and utter all-out performance to beat the streaking Cowboys. Dom Capers recognized this, and realized the defense would have to set the tone in this game.

He unleashed the lions and went after the Boys with aggression. The result was 5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and an interception by Charles Woodson that would be the dagger right through the star on the Dallas Cowboys Helmets, as eloquently stated by Wayne Larrivee in what I think is the top announcer moment of the year. Listen to it here (personally, I never get tired of it).

The season was reborn. The offensive line stabilized with Tauscher back, Clifton healthy again, and Scott Wells bringing his unappreciated talents back to the OL. And let me say right here, I was one of those people who did not think all that highly of Scott Wells. Perhaps I drank the "Jason Spitz is bigger and meaner and better than Wells" Kool-Aid. But watching Wells more closely, I have come to appreciate his smarts out on the field. Wells will point out blocking assignments if he feels a potential blitz coming and there has undoubtedly been less confusion on the line as the season has progressed.

On the defensive side, Dom Capers gave more and more responsibility to Clay Matthews and he soaked it up like a roll of Bounty paper towels, finishing the season with 10 sacks. With Al Harris out, Capers blitzed Charles Woodson less and instead started using him to personally shut down opponents' best receivers. Brad Jones filled in for the injured Aaron Kampman and did not look like a 7th round draft pick. Truth be told, he has probably played as well as Kampman was playing in that position.

The Packers were rolling when they traveled to Pittsburgh to meet the World Champion Steelers. I believe this was the second-most significant game of the Packers season (after the Dallas game). Despite a heart-breaking loss, I think the Packers proved to themselves that they were a resilient team that never quits and are capable of beating anyone. I firmly believe losing certain games in certain ways to certain opponents can be as much of a confidence boost as a big win. I'm convinced the Packers came out of that game with some swagger, a chip on their shoulder and a new resolve to always play to their potential.

And I think that's what we've seen. A season of fulfilled potential. Let the playoffs begin!

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You can find more of Jersey Al Bracco’s articles on several sports websites: Jersey Al’s Blog, Packer Chatters , Packers Lounge, NFL Touchdown and Bleacher Report. Al is the Green Bay Packers Draft Correspondent for Drafttek.com

You can also follow Jersey Al on facebook and twitter.