Monday, October 20, 2003

Packers 24, St. Louis 34. The broken thumb edition. This was the first game of the year where the ball literally didn't bounce the Packers way. Each team had three fumbles, and while St. Louis recovered every Packer fumble, the Packers didn't recover a single St. Louis fumble.

First quarter: St. Louis's first drive leads to the one lucky bounce the Packers got all day; the deflected pass into Marques Anderson's arms. I thought it was very omnious that the Packers couldn't convert the turnover into a touchdown and settled for a field goal, but I have to cut Brett Favre some slack since he broke his thumb on the drive. The break is just at the tip of his right thumb, and supposedly not serious. I would think anything broken is serious, but it apparently didn't effect Favre's performance, as Favre had one of his best games in a dome that I can ever recall. Ironically, the first drive which failed to produce a touchdown was the only time all day that Ahman Green was effective running the football. Another great stop by the defense leads to Al Harris touching the ball while punt blocking. Its hard to blame Harris, because he was only 30 yards away from the line of scrimmage and locked up with a St. Louis player to prevent him from reacting to the ball. Antonio Chapman made an effort to alert Harris, but I don't think Harris heard him. That was a bad punt that just landed at the right spot for St. Louis. To make matters worse for Harris, St. Louis got him in single coverage on the hottest receiver in the NFL, Torry Holt, and Holt spun Harris around to get open for a big touchdown catch. It would have been great to have answered back with a touchdown, but it was the first in a series of poor kickoff returns, Marco Rivera had a holding penalty on 1st down, and the Packers couldn't convert. Then Josh Bidwell had a poor punt. This was the worst game of the year for Packers special teams, and it was as much a reason for the defeat as anything. St. Louis scores another quick touchdown, when the secondary looked like it got its coverage crossed up on two straight passes. The next drive is going very well, especially a great 3rd down pass to Wesley Walls while the Packers offensive line picked up an all out St. Louis blitz, but the quarter ends with a Najah Davenport fumble when the ball was ripped out of his hands while he was stood up. Packers 3, St. Louis 14.

Second quarter: Harris makes a great diving interception catch to make up for the Davenport fumble two plays earlier and the Packers only lose 10 yards on the swapping turnovers. The Packers have a quick touchdown drive; Javon Walker muscles a 26 yard completion right in front of the small St. Louis cornerback, and a beautiful screen play to Green for a touchdown. The next St. Louis drive is stopped by the Packers again the Packers record one of their two sacks of the game. I've been putting most of the blame on the Packers poor pass defense on the secondary, and not the pass rush. St. Louis's pass protection was awful in week 1 when Kurt Warner was sacked 6 times, but Marc Bulger has only been sacked 8 times in 5 games. In the previous 3 weeks, only Arizona got a sack of Bulger, and Atlanta and Seattle didn't get a sack. St. Louis always kept a blocker back in this game for any blitz and Bulger has a quick release. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila looked like a 10 year old kid trying to get around or through the giant Orlando Pace, but he still put more pressure on the quarterback then I have seen him create in recent weeks. The pass rush isn't creating many big sacks this year or getting enough hits on the quarterback, but I think it still has all the components for a good pass rush and it played a quality pass blocking team in St. Louis. The next Packer drive is the second drive of the game stopped by a fumble. Green was almost down, but the ball came loose and a St. Louis player was in the right place at the right time again. I hadn't talked more about Green's lack of success running the ball, but St. Louis's defensive line was constantly in the backfield, and I hadn't seen Green tripped up at the line so many times in one game as he tripped up by St. Louis. Hopefully it was just a one game fluke and not a long term problem. Green's fumbles are a problem that he knows he has to address. Still he is far too valuable to bench just because of his fumble problems. This fumble is not turned back over by St. Louis and Bulger hooks up three times with Issac Bruce who has always killed the Packers (I am thinking of a game in 95 or 96 where St. Louis came to Green Bay and St. Louis upset the Packers on a kick blocked by Bruce). Mike McKenzie was playing soft on Bruce, which led to a number of completions, but he didn't give up any long pass plays either. That is just the game you have to play against St. Louis; play soft and risk the short passes or play tight and risk the long pass plays. The touchdown to Holt was a simple 10 yard slant and unfortunately the Packers ran the wrong defense. Ed Donatell blitzed Anderson from the secondary, Anderson was picked up on the blitz, and Holt caught the pass right in the area vacated by Anderson. This is Exhibit A why I don't want the Packers to blitz all the time just to create pass pressure; although they have extra pass pressure, if the blitzer is picked up, there is a hole in the pass defense. Donatell doesn't blitz too much, and when the Packers do blitz they are often successful with it, but this wasn't one of those times. The Packers try to answer back with just a minute left in the half, but they have one of their worst 2 minute drills in recent memory including a false start penalty and a juggled snap that caused Favre and Davenport to run into each other. Packers 10, St. Louis 21.

Third Quarter: Mike Holmgren used to defer a lot of kickoffs to the second half because Favre's first drive of the game was rarely productive during the Super Bowl years. Favre was too excited and needed a couple of drives to calm down and get into the flow of the game. Favre doesn't play like that anymore, but I still prefer it when the Packers get the ball to start the 2nd half. This game is a little flashback as the first drive of the 2nd half is productive, although not with the running game, as Favre spreads the ball out to 4 different receivers and William Henderson catches a touchdown. The Packers are only down by 4 again. The Packers and St. Louis each exchange a punt before St. Louis gets rolling again. Arlen Harris fumbles the ball with 3 or 4 Packers around him, but the ball bounces right back into his hands; its just one of those games. A catch by Bruce, again, and a dancing touchdown catch and run by Dane Looker leads to a St. Louis touchdown. Anderson and one other Packer both missed Looker on the sidelines, so Looker danced around both of them for the touchdown. At this point, the Packers are down by 11 with 20 minutes remaining in the game, and although Favre has had a great game up to this point, he only throws for 44 yards in the last 20 minutes. It was very surprising how little success the Packers had at this point against an entirely backup secondary for St. Louis. The Packers next drive stalls, but a gift 1st down on an offsides on the punt by St. Louis fails to breathe life into the drive. Packers 17, St. Louis 28.

Fourth Quarter: The next St. Louis drive has two fumbles, another one by Harris and one by receiver Shaun McDonald, that bounce right back to Harris and that bounces out of bounds. A quick turnover for the Packers here might have changed everything, although St. Louis failed to score, they burned 4 minutes off the clock. The next Packer drive fails because the Packers can't run on first down and Favre can't find any receivers open down field. St. Louis has another drive that doesn't do much, but consumes another 4 minutes and leads to a field goal. Gilbert Brown didn't play in the game today, but I think the Packers run defense really suffers without Brown. Brown takes up space and keeps blockers off the Packer linebackers better then anyone else on the roster. The yards allowed rushing per game isn't much different without Brown, but the leading tackler is usually from the secondary instead of a linebacker. I think the Packers keep their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage and sacrifice some pass coverage for more run support when Brown is out. In the 6 games Brown started this year, a linebacker has led the team in tackles 5 times. Brown didn't play vs. St. Louis and Darren Sharper led the team in tackles. I am hoping Brown can come back sooner rather than later. The Packers need to score on the next drive, but instead its a back breaker when Favre has his one interception of the game on a botched screen pass intercepted by Leonard Little. In some ways this is the Packers season in a nutshell. The Packers have played all its games tough this season, but there has been few big plays on either side of the ball or on special teams, so the Packers can't afford any mistakes. On this screen, Favre had to make a perfect throw, which he didn't, and only if Mark Tauscher had kept his hands engaged on Leonard Little for a second longer, Little probably couldn't have reacted quick enough to intercept it. Favre and Tauscher both had great games, but this one not quite so perfect play by both of them ended any chance for the Packers to come back in this game. However, St. Louis's offense isn't clicking either and they have to settle for a field goal. The next Packer drive was ironic, because although the Packers couldn't run the ball all game, Davenport rips a 76 yard touchdown run to give the Packers some hope and to make their rushing numbers look respectible. When the onside kick fails, although it was close to being caught by a Packer, the game is essentially over. Packers 24, St. Louis 34.

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