Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Week 17 of 2010 - Packers/Bears Review

The Green Bay Packers dispatched the Chicago Bears 10-3 to secure the 6th seed in the playoffs. Despite losing to the Packers, the Bears still lead the all-time series 92-83-6 (including the postseason). Here are the things that stood out to me from the Packers/Bears game from Week 17 of the 2010 regular season:

The Timeout by Lovie Smith:
With a little over a minute left in the 3rd quarter the Bears were facing a 3rd and 15 from their own 45-yard line. Bears head coach Lovie Smith called a timeout right before the ball was snapped. None of the players on the field realized and the Bears picked up the first down. Thanks to the time out the Bears did not pick up the first down on their actual attempt and were forced to punt.

Jordy Nelson:
On 3rd and 15 from their own 41-yard line the Packers ran a wide receiver screen for Jordy Nelson. The play was designed and blocked perfectly. If Nelson went inside instead of heading for the sidelines, which he should be doing anyhow since the Packers were trying to run down the clock, Nelson would have picked up the first down. Instead, Nelson got stopped a yard short and the Packers were forced to punt.

Tramon Williams punt return:
I have long been critical of the Packers using starting cornerback Tramon Williams as their primary punt returner because an injury to Williams on a punt return would be catastrophic for the Packers’ defense. I guess today is the reason why the Packers decided to stick with Williams despite the potential injury risk. After making the first guy miss, Williams gave the offense their best starting field position of the day. It was a nice return by Williams but I still contend that Sam Shields or Pat Lee have the same ability back there to make a return like Williams did on that play. All Williams had to do was make the first guy miss because the punt was perfectly blocked for may be the first time all season. Please McCarthy, put another guy back there to return punts.

Packers special teams still gave up a big return:
After tying the score 3-3 instead of going up 7-3 despite having 1st and goal from the Bears’ 1-yard line, the Packers tried a short high kick to limit the return. Despite having good intentions, the Packers gave up a big return and the Bears got the ball at midfield with 2:32 left in the 3rd quarter with the game tied 3-3. I have been very critical of special teams coach Shawn Slocum all season and this is just more evidence why Slocum looks out-coached more often than not.

Erik Walden filling in at outside linebacker:
The Packers have been in “next guy up” mode at the outside linebacker spot opposite Clay Matthews all season. The Packers already lost two outside linebackers for the season to injury (Brad Jones and Brady Poppinga) while another guy (Frank Zombo) has been out for an extended period of time. In a sign that this might be a magical season despite all the injuries that the Packers suffered the 4th guy in line to play, who was acquired during the season, put together one of the best defensive performances of the season. For the day Walden had 11 tackles and 3 sacks. Performances like that continue to earn Packers general manager Ted Thompson goodwill with the fans. Although Walden is anything but a household name even in Green Bay, he showed the promise that the Packers saw in him earlier in the season.

Bryan Bulaga looked like a rookie:
For the second week in a row the Packers faced one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. Rookie offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga had possibly his worst game of the season. Not only did Bulaga commit silly penalties but he was consistently beat. Bulaga is only a rookie so days like that are expected. The Packers need to make better in game adjustments to help Bulaga when he struggles because the competition is only going to be fiercer in the playoffs.

Cover Bears wide receiver Rashied Davis:
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler tends to lock onto receivers, which either results in careless interceptions or a big day for that receiver. Davis was the leading receiver for the Bears (7 catches for 63 yards). Granted that is not a huge day for a receiver but it seemed like Cutler locked onto Davis on every third down play and still completed most of those passes. The Packers have to recognize that better and make the proper adjustments.

Packer punter Tim Masthay’s impressive performance:
Packers special teams maven Jarrett Bush downed a punt at the Bears’ 2-yard line to force the Bears to go 98-yards in less than 5 minutes to have a chance to end the Packers’ season on a two-point conversion. That was set-up by yet another impressive punt by Masthay. Coming into the season punter was probably the weakest position on the team but as crazy as it sounds, Masthay is turning into an above average NFL punter.

Mike McCarthy finally calling a play-action pass at the goaline:
After failing to score a touchdown despite having a 1st and goal at the Bears’ 1-yard at the end of the 3rd quarter, McCarthy finally wised up and called something different than his usual fullback dive up the middle. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers found a wide-open Donald Lee for the only touchdown of the game. McCarthy would probably say running in short yardage situations set-up that pass but it has taken way too long for McCarthy to realize that passing is better than running in that situation.

Jay Cutler somehow stayed healthy:
If this game was supposed to help Cutler prepare for his first ever post-season start it can only be teaching via the negative. For the day Cutler was 21 for 39 throwing for 168 yards, 2 interceptions, and was sacked 6 times...yikes.

Lovie Smith:
In Lovie Smith’s first press conference as head coach of the Chicago Bears he said that his #1 goal was to beat the Green Bay Packers. I give Smith credit for playing the game as if it mattered despite the fact that the Bears were already locked into the 2nd seed. As Smith intimated, you never want to let your divisional rival get into the playoffs. Smith is now 4-3 at Lambeau Field, 5-5 against Mike McCarthy, and 8-6 overall against the Packers. Will the Packers and Bears meet again in the playoffs? Odds say no because they have only met once in the post season and that was all the way back in 1941. Either way give Smith credit, he did his best to keep the Packers out of the playoffs.

Tip of the cap to Peter King:
Peter King in his Monday Morning Quarterback column compared the best three year stretch for Bart Starr and Brett Favre (keep in mind that Favre won three MVPs in 1995-1997) with Aaron Rodgers' first three years in the league:

- Rodgers (2008-10): 27-20 record, 2 playoff appearances, 12,723 passing yards, 86 touchdowns, 31 interceptions for a 99.4 passer rating.

- Starr (1964-66): 29-10-2 record, 2 playoff appearances, 6,456 passing yards, 45 touchdowns, 16 interceptions for a 97.0 passer rating.

- Favre (1995-97): 37-11 record, 3 playoff appearances, 12,179 passing yards, 112 touchdowns, 42 interceptions for a 96.1 passer rating.

Final regular season thoughts:
- Aaron Rodgers’ 98.4 career regular season passer rating is the best in NFL history for a quarterback with a minimum 1,500 career passes.
- The 2010 Green Bay Packers went 10-6 in the regular season. Of those six loses all of them came by four points or less: two overtime losses by a field goal, two losses in the waning seconds of the 4th quarter on field goals, and two losses by four points on the road minus Aaron Rodgers in crunch time.
- The 2010 Green Bay Packers never trailed by more than 7 points throughout the entire regular season. That is the first time that has happened since the AFL/NFL merger.
- The 2010 Green Bay Packers outscored their opponents by 187 points, which lead the entire NFL.

All of the aforementioned stats make the 2010 Green Bay Packers one of the most dangerous teams heading into the playoffs despite the fact that they are a 6th seed. The Packers’ road to the Super Bowl must come via three road playoff victories but with how well they are playing anything can happen.

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