Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Packers 23, Minnesota 17. QB Brett Favre said in the post-game press conference that this might have been the first game he ever played in that every player contributed during the game. While Favre was probably feeling pretty good after the win and wanted to complement his teammates, his analysis is pretty accurate and I'll just leave it at that with a few exceptions.

WR Billy McMullen's TD reception. For the THIRD week in a row, the Packers let an opposing wide receiver run WIDE open into the end zone for a TD. FOX finally showed a replay that helped explain this problem. When the Packers switch to a zone coverage, the opposing team is flooding the zone. On this play, another receiver ran a short route into that part of the zone and the safety stepped up to cover, leaving McMullen wide open. The safety screwed up, I don't remember which one was playing deep, by jumping on the wide open receiver in front of him instead of the wide open receiver running deep. However, the scheme failed because LB A.J. Hawk, according to the Journal-Sentinal, blew the coverage and was not deep enough to defend the short receiver. The safety messed up, Hawk messed up, and the pass rush gave QB Brad Johnson too much time to throw on that particular play. This is not an experienced group of linebackers and safeties, so learning from their mistakes will help and the coaches need to do a better job too.

NT Pat Williams. The FOX commentators said it and Football Outsiders agree; Minnesota has the best run defense in the NFL. Williams overpowered LG Daryn Colledge, C Scott Wells, RG Jason Spitz at different times during the game. This is not a problem because apparently Williams has been overpowering every opponent all season long and he killed the Packers last season too. The Packers might have ran away with this game if their run offense had been more effective. Hopefully the rookies know what to expect from Williams next time they meet and do better against him.

WR Donald Driver had a monster 1st half in large part because Minnesota had LB Dontarrious Thomas trying to cover him as the slot receiver. Was this due to CB Fred Smoot missing the game and Minnesota played less nickel coverage? Did Mike McCarthy outcoach Minnesota by creating such a favorable matchup? Either way it resulted in a big half for Driver.

A big thanks goes out to Minnesota's RB Artose Pinner who's penalty for a block in the back negated a kick return for a TD. The Packers might not have won the game without that penalty.

What is coming up for the Packers? Although the Packers have won their last 3 of 4 and the defense is overall playing better, the 4 games were played against 4 of the worst 6 offenses in the NFL. The good news is that the offense was able to move the ball against 2 of the top 10 defenses, Minnesota and Miami, and the Packers only play 1 top 10 offense (New England is ranked 10th by Football Outsiders) the rest of the season. The Packers have to win 6 of their next 7, for a 10-6 record, to guarantee a playoff spot, but 9-7 or 8-8 might make the playoffs this season. All of the Packers remaining games are winnable. New England is tough, but it is at Lambeau and New England's pass defense has been really weakened by the loss of S Rodney Harrison. Thereafter they will play no above average offensive team, although Seattle will probably have all their starters back by 11/27, and only two quality defensive teams, Minnesota and Chicago. Winning at Chicago would look impossible, but the Packers will probably see very few starters playing against them in week 17 as Chicago rests for the playoffs. The Packers are still not a very good team and still have allowed more points this season then they have scored. However, they have a legitimate chance at making the playoffs. At the beginning of the season, I projected the Packers would finish between 6-10 and 9-7, a wide range but it was unclear how this team would play in 2006. At the beginning I was pessimistic and expected a 6-10 season. Although the offense, defense, and special teams have all improved over the last 4 weeks and they have a favorable schedule, their inability to win at home, inconsistency in protecting the ball from turnovers, and a pass defense that allows too many big plays doesn't seem likely to win 5 of their next 7 games. I expect them to finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs.

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