Tuesday, January 08, 2019

The Packers Will Hire Matt LaFleur as Their Next Head Coach

It looks like the entire goal of the hiring process for the Green Bay Packers was to find a young offensive genius to be their next head coach:
Oh and to make sure Ron Zook still has a job...
Only Pettine is mentioned and not all the coaches don't need to be retained. I have no problem with keeping Pettine, the defense showed some early to mid-season promise. They fell off a cliff at the end of the year but they also lost their defensive MVP Kenny Clark for those last 3 games. It's not unheard of to keep the defensive coaches intact when a new offensive minded head coach is hired. But I can't believe he'll keep all the offensive coaches and different running game/passing game coordinators they had last season. Isn't Murphy expecting LaFleur to bring his own style of offense to Green Bay?

After I heard the announcement, I went and watched a bunch of Titans games (with Mariota at QB, nothing with Gabbert). Including some of their bad ones against great defensive teams (Bills and Ravens). I criticized McCarthy for not running the ball enough but this is a bit ridiculous.
That 48.4% also included a few designed runs by Mariota which maybe was the reason he didn't make it through the year and the Titans had to start Gabbert for their must win Week 17 game (they lost). It might have also been due in part to carryover a mostly run heavy offensive roster from the previous coaching regime. But the Titans weren't run heavy in every game so I'm not expecting LaFleur's bringing his 48.4% run percentage to Green Bay.

That comment above about Aaron Jones is true, the Titans loved getting touches to Dion Lewis, who's role in Green Bay would be played by Jones. McCarthy's complete avoidance of using his backs as threats in the passing game was frustrating so LaFleur should be a welcome change.

Overall it was pretty depressing to watch the 2018 Titans offense. Maybe Mariota just doesn't get it, he doesn't have a feel for what the defense is doing or where his receivers are going. And he doesn't do well with pressure. The Titans didn't have any receiving threat as dangerous as Davante Adams either. Maybe LaFleur's hands were tied.

In a lot of ways, LaFleur's offense looked like every other offense in the NFL (it's a copy cat league after all). He'd try some different motions one way to misdirect on a play going the other way, but usually early in the game and those types of plays would be rare later. Mariota threw a lot to the middle of the field, something Rodgers doesn't do much. The Titans also played a lot in a bunch formation, I guess that helps LaFleur's QBs read the coverage better or disguise the route trees from the receivers, but it didn't seem to help the Titans that much.

Maybe the most important thing is to get a young energetic coach who will probably work himself to death and hopefully earn Aaron Rodgers's respect. While Rodgers still had a statistically strong 2018 season in some ways (an amazing TD to INT ratio as an example) the offense just looked confused too often. Relying heavily on two rookie WRs was part of the problem, the early season loss of Geronimo Allison was another problem I didn't write enough about last year. And, of course, the relationship breakdown between Rodgers and McCarthy. Hopefully the plan LaFleur sold to Murphy was a good one, and he can realize it with a better QB.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

2018 Week 13: The Packers Lose in a Shocking Upset by the Cardinals and Mike McCarthy is Fired

At the start of this season, I thought it was low odds that the Green Bay Packers would fire Mike McCarthy. While I've been unimpressed with the overall talent level on the current roster, the return of Aaron Rodgers should be enough for 10+ wins and another playoff run. Obviously I was wrong.
I didn't agree with this tweet until recently. In hindsight, he's right. The greatness of the 2010 and 2011 seasons had been fading for a while. Now looking back at a great 2014 season, I can see how much it was propped up by elite play from Rodgers, Nelson, and Cobb. It wasn't going to be sustainable, and it started to fall apart quickly in 2015 after Nelson was lost for the season. In early 2016, it wasn't McCarthy's fault and once they get Nelson back, Ted Thompson will continue to run a beautiful draft and they'll get back on top.

I had no explanation for why Dom Capers was still the DC after the 2015 season (probably sooner) but I like retaining coaches year after year. This is one of several general assumptions that I need to reconsider.

Though it took a furious finish to get back to the NFC Championship Game in 2016, I wasn't worried. The Falcons had a great 2016 season and once their young players are experienced and healthy in the secondary, they'll have a great 2017 season.

But the 2017 season was lost after Rodgers broke his collarbone, and it should have been clear to me that McCarthy's departure was inevitable. He was unable to coach Brett Hundley into a respectable QB and his team completely gave up on him during their Week 17 loss in Detroit. It was Detroit's players who were rallying around their HC (Jim Caldwell was fired anyway) and it felt like McCarthy should have been fired instead of Caldwell.

Maybe McCarthy would have been fired if GM Ted Thompson wasn't fired reassigned. The beautiful drafts didn't happen. Though the 2016 draft produced three starters, the 2017 draft class might be a total loss other than Aaron Jones. Aside from Jones, the Packers haven't drafted a key contributor on offense since Adams and Linsley in 2014. Maybe Murphy didn't want to change everything that was long-standing at once, and McCarthy deserved another chance.
I thought the 2018 season was over when Rodgers's knee was bent back the wrong way in Week 1, but he had a couple of furious comebacks to keep this season afloat. When he complained about the bad offense against the Bills in Week 4, I thought he was underestimating a pretty good defense. He's also had to rely on a couple of rookie wide receivers which was going to be a problem until they're both more experienced.

But the stale offense that couldn't get anything out of Hundley in 2017 was again a problem even with Rodgers. It wasn't awful, but it could and should be better.

Ever since they lost a pair of road games to the Rams and Patriots, I thought the season was over (though not technically). The team was still playing hard, but that stopped against the Cardinals. The thought of watching them play out four more games that looked like 2017 Week 17 in Detroit was an awful feeling, and for that reason I'm glad Murphy decided to fire McCarthy mid-season. He was going to be fired after the season anyway, the excuses that could have been used for 2015-2017 just weren't going to work anymore.

And they'll need time to find the right coach. I'm not a fan of Vikings OC, John Defilippo, or Patriots OC, Josh McDaniels. After what McDaniels did to the Colts this year, I don't think he deserves another HC offer anywhere. The new coach will have to be someone who can engage Rodgers at his high level (Joe Philbin is not that guy) while still being able to team the basics to the young receivers and backs. Murphy probably knows the NFL as well as anyone and right now I'm optimistic. 

I don't know what to expect over the final few games. It's time to give the players who will be the anchors in 2019 to get fewer reps on defense and let players like Oren Burks play an entire game. Finally send Byron Bell to the bench and give fewer reps to Adams. It would seem hard (maybe impossible?) to find an excuse to bench Rodgers. If Philbin wasn't coaching for his job, I'd suggest he hand over play calling to Rodgers and let him try and find a rhythm with the young receivers Tonyan, MVS, and EQB.

I'm surprised at this is how the 2018 season has went though firing McCarthy was unfortunately the right decision.

Monday, November 26, 2018

2018 Week 12: Packers Find More Ways to Lose on the Road, lose to the Vikings, 24-17

I could pretty much repeat what I wrote last week when they lost in Seattle by 3 points for this loss in Minneapolis by 7 points.

It was a little bit different. While the offense stayed in the locker room at half time for the 2nd consecutive week and only managed 254 yards of total offense for the game, the defense played a larger role by allowing the Vikings to convert on 50% of their 3rd down attempts and a provide a mediocre pass rush against one of the weaker o-lines in the league. They missed the inside pressure from DT Mike Daniels, probably more than having to play a bunch of rookies at cornerback. In a normal season, underwhelming at Minnesota wouldn't be a big surprise because it's consistently a tough place to win. But this season it was just another one of their disappointing road losses.
Rodgers isn't giving up, good for him, but I thought the season was over after the loss in Seattle. It was on fumes after the loss to the Rams, but wins in Seattle and Minnesota would had me plotting a playoff path. Three winnable home games remain (Cardinals, Falcons, Lions) against teams with losing records, and while they shouldn't win at Chicago, they could sneak a win in New York against the Jets to avoid an 0-8 road record. Still, a record of 8-7-1 isn't going to make the playoffs.

I'm enjoying a nice seasonal winter ale as I write about another road loss and I'll continue to spend time reading articles on the hot head coaching candidates for 2019. At least the Packers haven't lost at home this season and I'll have a win to look forward to against the Cardinals next week.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

2018 Week 11: Packers Lose Again on the Road, This Time in Seattle, 27-24

With the exception of their opening road loss of the 2018 season in Washington, when they were completely outplayed for four quarters by the Redskins, I'm sick of watching this flawed team manage to find a way to lose on the road.
This week, if it weren't for an opening fumble from the Seahawks (I was going to type RB Carson, but each team had a #32 RB named Carson!) and a huge game from Kyler Fackrell (the transformation of Fackrell in a matter of weeks from an absolute zero to a stud OLB should be one of the major stories in the NFL this season) the defense was a mess against the run and the pass. And both Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark went off with injuries!

This week the offense struggled badly on 3rd down, mostly due to a collapse in pass protection. It's sad to watch age and a bum knee turn RT Bryan Bulaga into a Spriggs-level talent, and Byron Bell was never going to be a plus lineman. A terrible 3 for 11 conversion rate on 3rd down, usually with a sack (except for that last one when Rodgers uncharacteristically threw it in the ground) killed too many drives.

This was never a promising looking game on the schedule, despite the down season in Seattle. The Packers never win in Seattle, they never win on the road (at least this season) and Seattle's the better team in 2018. The early turnover and 7-0 gave me some hope that THIS WEEK IT WILL BE DIFFERENT! When that second drive ended in a missed field goal, I sobered up, realized it wasn't going to be any different this week, and started drinking for real.

I don't know what they should do for the rest of the season. McCarthy will keep pushing each week for the win to try and save his job and Aaron Rodgers isn't going to want to give up. They could turn it around. If the rookie wide receivers can figure it out and the offensive line can be turned into a competent group before year end, the Packers might be able to surprise in a playoff road game as they did in Dallas back on 12/15/2017.

But I can't believe that will happen this season. This isn't the season of R-E-L-A-X. This was a flawed team from the start. Let's enjoy each remaining home game (they can win those ones!), dream of what Gute and his next head coach is going to do with all those draft picks next year, and drink in the meantime. Spotted Cow for everyone!

Monday, September 24, 2018

2018 Week 3: Packers Lose An Ugly Game In D.C. to the Redskins, 31-17

My first reaction was that this game exposed all of the Packers weaknesses on defense. A confused secondary, led by safety Kentrell Brice, who's first post-game comment was to throw his coach under the bus.
The buck stops somewhere else! I'm not a fan of his (unfortunately I don't see his replacement currently on the roster) but he wasn't the only one. CB Jaire Alexander, CB Tramon Williams, and CB Davon House all had pass interference penalties (on one drive!) as part of a disastrous first half. Washington has one of the least impressive groups of receivers in the NFL (Richardson only had that one big reception, Doctson had zero receptions, and Crowder had a nice game as their No. 3 receiver). Whatever adjustments were made at halftime worked because those problems didn't show up in the second half. But most teams who commit 11 penalties for 115 penalty yards are going to lose.

They also had a lot of trouble on the defending the edge against the run. While Adrian Peterson looked a lot better than I expected, his big 40+ yard run went right at OLB Kyler Fackrell, who continues to receive playing time for no good reason. OLB Reggie Gilbert wasn't much better against the run on the edge, often getting swallowed up inside.

The pass defense's biggest struggle was against TEs, Davis and Reed were killing them. It was the first game for ILB Oren Burks but I'm not exactly sure how much he played as he rotated with Morrison and Whitehead inside. But it wasn't a problem in the 2nd half, maybe Whitehead was playing more later in the game. Morrison was dumped by the Colts because of his problems in coverage, so he's not part of the solution.

And zero pass rush. Once DC Mike Pettine started dialing up some DB blitzes, they got some pressure, but the front four did little outside of the roughing the passer call on Clay Matthews. Those calls are an embarrassment for the NFL, it's called a tackle and it shouldn't be a penalty, but that call was not why they lost the game.

I don't know if I'd even blame the defense for the loss though they've got to find a way to create more of a pass rush (legally) and improve their pass defense. But on second viewing, the offense found a way to maximize their worst plays and avoid their effective ground game.
Their offense is better with Randall Cobb but I can't understate how bad he was on Sunday. He was targeted 11 times and those 11 plays went for 23 yards and a fumble. He was targeted every sixth play, no one was targeted more and he produced absolutely nothing. Adams also had a drop (and a TD reception) and TE Lance Kendricks continued his pass-dropping ways from the preseason with another big drop in this game. There's no reason for Kendricks to play anywhere except special teams. Overall, it's amazing the Packers only lost by 14 points when they committed 115 penalty yards and their No. 1 target was clearly their worst offensive player.

And Mike McCarthy, if you're averaging almost 6 yards on the ground and your most dynamic running back has just returned (Aaron Jones had 7 yards per carry! On only 6 (team leading!) carries) and your franchise quarterback is hobbling around on an injured knee, why don't you run the ball? Over 50 pass plays were called and only 15 running plays. Yes, they were trailing the entire game, but those passes to Cobb weren't working all game. And the Redskins struggled covering Ty Montgomery out of the backfield. Rodgers had something to do with throwing all those attempts to Cobb but the last pass attempt to him was a designed quick screen pass that led to his fumble. A lot of this is always second-guessing but McCarthy's 0 for 3 this season in coming up with offensive game plans that out-coach their opponent and he didn't adjust at halftime.

A week ago, their upcoming Week 4 game hosting Buffalo looked like a relaxing Sunday, before the Bills stomped all over the Vikings in Minnesota in Week 3. The players need to play better and the coaches, especially on offense, need to come up with a better game plan. This game was bad, but they're a better team than what they showed against the Redskins.

Monday, September 17, 2018

2018 Week 2: Packers Host The Vikings, Ends in 29-29 Tie

I'm really OK with this tie. It's not a loss (really, that can matter in tie-breakers) and the Vikings are a really good team who could have easily won if their kicker hadn't missed three field goals (they should bring back Ryan Longwell). Of course, the Packers could have won if this hadn't been called a penalty.
I get it, it's not an illegal hit, but they didn't lose the game because of this call. They had other chances to win.

I was really disappointed in Mike McCarthy. The Packers were in 3rd and long too many times and ran the ball about half as many times as they threw it. Ty Montgomery was really effective as a runner, averaging over 6 yards per carry, but he only had 5 attempts. Also the play calling, after Clinton-Dix intercepted Kirk Cousins with just over 2 minutes to go. They probably couldn't have run for a first down but they could have made the Vikings use all their time outs before the Packers kicked a field goal. I guess he wanted to put the game away with a first down, or a touchdown, and his defense was probably on fumes in the heat, but he has to put that pressure on the Vikings (make them use all their timeouts) and make their final drive as difficult as possible.

It wasn't a great game for Mike Pettine either, though it's a lot to ask of him to know everything about his players in only his 2nd game with the Packers. When Kevin King went down with a groin injury, replacing him on with Davon House over Josh Jackson looks like a big mistake in hindsight (he probably won't do that again). Also, giving Kyler Fackrell meaningful defensive snaps isn't going to work, but he only has so many outside linebackers on the roster to work with.

While I understand why both coaches did what they did, neither of them pushed the right buttons with those critical decisions. I don't have anything to say against any of the players, they played as well as I would expect. I'm sure Aaron Rodgers would have loved a due over on that two play sequence in the middle of OT when at the Minnesota 37 yard line he fumbled a hand-off attempt (play action? I'm not sure what he wanted to do there) and then a sack to move them out of field goal range, but I'm not saying anything critical of him while trying to play on one leg.

It's disappointing but it's not a disaster either. The next three games could be an interesting run, next week against the Redskins (who didn't look good against the Colts) and then back-to-back games against two of the weaker teams so far this season (Lions and Bills). Just focus on the next game and work on staying out of the loss column.

Monday, September 10, 2018

2018 Week 1: Rodgers Rallies The Packers to 24-23 Victory Over The Bears

I gave up on this game. After Aaron Rodgers's left knee was rolled to it's side on a sack (knees are not supposed to bend that way!) he couldn't walk off the field under his own power which led to this:
That's it for the 2018 season. They'd manage a few wins (DeShone Kizer couldn't go winless for another entire season, could he?) but they're not going anywhere with an improving but still mediocre defense and old school play calling from Mike McCarthy. Kizer did give me a little hope that he wasn't going to be a repeat of Brett Hundley with a drive into the red zone but on the drive's final play he ran right into LB Khalil Mack's arms for a fumble. On the next drive, an ill-advised screen pass was called and Kizer threw a pick-six right to Mack (they must be good buddies by this point) for a 17-0 halftime deficit. Kizer was a different type of awful than Hundley, not as ineffective but more turnover prone. Wake me up in September 2019.

But then...
and then...
then another touchdown pass to Davante Adams, and then the dagger!!!
This is old school, but it reminded me of a 1989 game against the Saints (without the QB injury), when I completely gave up on a game though I shouldn't.

The rust in the first half (pre-knee injury) had vanished. The pass protection was great and Rodgers's passes were just beyond the defenders' fingers. Bears CB Kyle Fuller dropped a game ending INT but bad hands is why those guys were switched to DB in the first place.

There were still some zeroes in this game. Newly named starting RG Justin McCray was terrible in the first half (it looked like he missed the rushing DL on the stunt who went unblocked when Rodgers suffered his knee injury) and much better in the second. Clay Matthews is still useful but every few weeks he has one of these awful games, his only big play was a roughing the passer penalty on 4th down that gave the Bears another chance at the end of the game. Jamaal Williams seemed to have a knack for running into a pile instead of finding some daylight.

A knee injury for Rodgers is bad but it's much better than a lost season. Maybe it's an MCL sprain, which he obviously can play through but who knows when it would be healed. It's going to be a struggle to win the division or make the playoffs, so these divisional games are must-wins. Rodgers recovered in the second half to pull their season back from the brink, but that's still a dangerous place to find themselves after one game. Whew!