Friday, November 27, 2009

2009 Thanksgiving Day Packers v. Lions Analyzed

The Green Bay Packers extended their winning streak to three games by beating the lowly Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day. The NFL clings to certain traditions that seem woefully outdated. One of them is giving the Detroit Lions a home game every Thanksgiving. The Lions have sputtered as a franchise over the last decade under the direction of Matt Millen. Detroit's last win on Thanksgiving came in 2003 and they have lost 8 of their last 9 games on Thanksgiving Day. The only plausible justification besides "tradition" that the NFL can use to rationalize giving Detroit a home game every Thanksgiving is the easy ratings ANY Thanksgiving NFL games generates.

Most American families get together on Thanksgiving Day for a big meal and watch sports in a food induced comma. The higher ups in the NFL know that Detroit has not been competitive in the last decade as explained above but they still schedule them on Thanksgiving. This is genius on the NFL's part. They bank rating because of the day NOT the teams. As a result they have a crappy team (Detroit) host a home game that they actually sell out (few and far between for a number of reasons as of late) and almost all of America tunes in (gives random family members something to talk about).

Enough of my rambling, I am going to mix up the "Top 5 Plays Analyzed" column for the Thanksgiving clash between Green Bay and Detroit. There were "5 microcosms" in this game, both good and bad, that will have a large bearing on the rest of the season for Green Bay. Here are this season's microcosms illuminated through important plays in the Packers/Lions game:

#5) The Ageless Donald Driver:
Green Bay leads 13-7, Green Bay ball on the Detroit 7 yard line, 3rd and 5 with 6:43 left in the 3rd quarter: Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay) threw short right to Donald Driver (Green Bay) for 7 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Coming into the 2009 NFL season, Greg Jennings looked to be the go to wide receiver on the Green Bay Packers. Through 11 games, Driver has emerged as the #1 wide receiver on Green Bay not Greg Jennings. Here is a comparison of Driver's and Jennings's stats for 2009:
- Donald Driver: 53 catches, 845 yards and 5 touchdowns.
- Greg Jennings: 47 catches, 722 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Driver's assent from a 7th round draft pick in the 1999 NFL Draft to a go to wide receiver in the NFL is nothing short of amazing. Check out this video here, if your eyes didn't well then you need to re-evaluate whether you are in fact a caring person. Driver is hands down the most likable person on the Green Bay Packers.

#4) Mike McCarthy's Game Management:
Green Bay Leads 27-7, Green Bay ball on their own 1 yard line, 2nd and 10 with 9:22 left in the fourth quarter: Ryan Grant (Green Bay) ran right to GB -1 for -2 yards, FUMBLES and the ball is RECOVERED by Jordan Dizon (Detroit) at the Green Bay -1 yard line, TOUCHDOWN. Green Bay challenged the fumble ruling, and the play was REVERSED. Ryan Grant (Green Bay) tackled in the End Zone for -1 yards, SAFETY.

This play illustrates the good and the bad for Mike McCarthy. It was a horrible play call by Mike McCarthy from the 1 yard line. Ryan Grant is not fast enough to bump a run outside from the 1 yard line. If that play stood as called on the field the score would have been 27-14 with 9 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. The game would have probably still been out of reach but McCarthy astutely challenged the play and it was reversed. McCarthy later challenged a play that was overturned making him 2 for 2 on Thanksgiving and and 4 of 8 on the season. Although I vehemently disagree with the play call (the bad), McCarthy kept a cool head and challenged the ruling on the field (the good). Something clicked against Dallas a few weeks ago and McCarthy started making in game adjustments that he has not made in the past. Hopefully that means McCarthy is more in tune with the game instead of impersonating Andy Reid (the most clueless coaches in the NFL when it comes to game management).

#3) Aaron Rodgers on 3rd Down:
Detroit leads 7-0, Green Bay ball on their own 25 yard line, 3rd and 11 with 13 second left in the 1st quarter: Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay) threw deep right to Donald Driver (Green Bay) to the Detroit 7 yard line for 68 yards.

Aaron Rodgers had ample time to scan the defense before unleashing an absolute bomb (he claimed after the game he threw it as far as he possibly could, roughly 70 yards). Rodgers is the highest rated passer in the NFL on 3rd down and that trend continued on Thanksgiving Day, Green Bay converted 9 of 16 plays. Earlier in the seasons a number of pundits complained that Rodgers was holding onto the ball too long, which lead to a number of unnecessary sacks. Over the last few weeks Rodgers has extended plays with his pocket presence and ability to scramble. What were sacks earlier in the season are turning into completed passes or scrambles for positive yards. If this trend continues, Green Bay might be playing deep into January thanks to Aaron Rodgers.

#2) Issues on Special Teams:
Game tied 0-0, start of the game: Jason Hanson (Detroit) kicks 71 yards from the Detroit 30 yard line to the Green Bay -1 yard line. Jordy Nelson (Green Bay) returned the ball to the Green Bay 21 yard line for 22 yards but FUMBLES, ball RECOVERED by Detroit at the Green Bay 20 yard line.

Here is a quick snap shot of the negative special teams plays against Detroit: 4 penalties, 2 kick off returns of over 30 yards given up, 1 fumble and 1 missed field goal. Those are all unacceptable for a team fighting for a wild card spot. Luckily Green Bay played Detroit this week. The only touchdown Green Bay surrendered was set-up by the short field Detroit (got the ball at the Green Bay 20 yard line) had as a result of Jordy Nelson's fumble to start the game.

Atari Bigby was penalized for one of the most blatant and useless blocks in the back I have ever seen on special teams. Mason Crosby has missed a field goal in 7 of 11 games this season. In fairness, 4 of those came from over 50 yards but the missed field goals, penalties and poor decisions continue on special teams. Green Bay has to stick with their special teams coach Shawn Slocum (assistant under Mike Stock last year...not exactly a strong branch of the Bill Walsh coaching tree) for the rest of the season at this point. Hopefully they get better as a unit but through 11 games this season there is no reason to believe that will happen.

#1) Charles Woodson:
Green Bay leads 27-12, Detroit ball on their own 33 yard line, 1st and 10 with 3:55 left in the 4th quarter: Matthew Stafford (Detroit) threw short right intended for Calvin Johnson (Detroit) INTERCEPTED by Charles Woodson (Green Bay) at the Detroit 38 yard line and returned 38 yards for a TOUCHDOWN.

Charles Woodson has been the best player on the Green Bay Packers in 2009 and is making a strong bid for NFL defensive player of the year. Woodson continued his stellar play on Thanksgiving: 7 tackles, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble and 1 defensive touchdown.

Despite his impressive play on the field on Thanksgiving, Woodson did something even more impressive off the field on Thanksgiving. Woodson started off Thanksgiving by donating $2 million to the his alma mater, the University of Michigan, to help build a pediatric hospital.

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