Monday, September 22, 2003

Packers 13, Arizona 20. The Packers and Arizona were two evenly matched teams on Sunday and it was decided on the last play of the game. It would be a hard fought battle on an opponent's field, if Arizona wasn't the worst team in the NFL. This doesn't make the Packers the worst team in the NFL when there are a number of other disappointing teams (Eagles, Jets, 49ers, Browns) struggling to return to the playoffs this year, but losing to the worst (alright, maybe Cincinnati is the worst, but Arizona is second worst) begs the question. Brett Favre threw the game deciding interception in the end zone, but he was not one of the three reasons the Packers lost the game.

First reason: Ahman Green's fumbling woes. Mike Holmgren did a big "I told you so" watching Green cough up the ball on consecutive first quarter possessions. The second fumble was recovered by Arizona and led to their first touchdown. Usually the Packers offense has enough chances to come back from a turnover like this, but not today due to the second and third reasons.

Second reason: Time of possession. The Packers had the ball almost 27 minutes to Arizona's 33 minutes, which isn't too bad except the way in which Arizona had the ball. Arizona had two drives of over seven minutes (7:29 and 7:09) in the second half, leading to 10 points, and led to Arizona controlling the half. Add in the record Arizona heat (its saying something when Arizona has a record heat day) and the defense could not get off the field. Reason three is the reason why Arizona was able to control the second half.

Third reason: Awful secondary. I thought Arizona was having success running, but the Packers held Arizona to under 100 yards rushing even with 20 carries by Emmitt Smith. Al Harris had a costly phantom pass interference call when the referee saw a mirage in the desert, but that wasn't the problem. Arizona's ROOKIE wide receivers were running successful crossing routes, even on 3rd down, as if the Packers secondary had never seen a crossing route before. Bhawon Jue is the nickel corner responsible for covering the slot receiver but he couldn't keep up with them. Darren Sharper had a poor second half, he had no passes defensed credited to him, and he seemed out of position in coverage. Arizona did a great job of picking on a soft middle in the Packers secondary and was very successful throwing on 3rd down to keep their long drives alive. The Packers must have been playing a lot of man-to-man because the linebackers rarely dropped back in the passing lanes and were not a factor in the second half pass defense. Jue and Sharper are both coming back from injuries and playing on a very very hot field, so I don't know if this is a long term problem or just a one game mirage. Either way, the Packers pass defense looked outcoached by Arizona's pass offense. Jeff Blake had a solid game for Arizona which was a major advantage for them because he is a very streaky quarterback and he had to have a turnover free day for them to win. But Blake's passes were flying to open receivers and given that Arizona has the worst receiver group in the NFL bar none, that shouldn't be happening.

Although it is terrible to lose to an awful Arizona team, it is far from the end of the season. Minnesota has a great start to the season, winning its first three games against its division, although they should have some concern with Daunte Culpepper's injury. Recent Minnesota teams have been streaky so hopefully this is the end of their winning streak and they struggle once they play teams outside of the NFC North. The Packers and San Francisco are the only two teams with losing records that have outscored their opponents, so the Packers aren't getting blown out. Hopefully these close loses can start becoming close wins.

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