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Monday, September 20, 2004
by Mark Lawrence
No joy in 'mudville'!
The Bears came to Lambeau Field for the Packers opening home game. Unfortunately, it did not seem that the Packers had much interest in showing up and playing them.
The Packers took the opening kickoff and quickly established their formidable running game with Green going 4/35 and Fischer going 1/12. Unfortunately Clifton picked a most inopportune time to have a false start, and a 3rd an 7 turned into a 3rd and 12, leading to 3 points instead of 7. This drive would prove to be the end of Fisher's contributions running the ball.
There followed a couple nondescript series - Chicago went 6 and out, Green bay went 5 and out, Chicago put together a nice drive but Grossman was intercepted on the Green Bay 4, Green Bay put together a nice drive but Longwell uncharastically missed a 45 yard field goal at home.
The half was finished with another nice looking drive by Chicago resulting in a TD, and a nice looking drive by Green Bay resulting in another TD. Unfortunately for Green Bay, Ahman Green was hit right on the ball rather impressively by Urlacher, and Mike Brown ran the resulting fumble back 95 yards for a score.
At the half, Green was 14 for 103 yards. Favre was 9 passes for about 80 yards and an interception. Green Bay had possession of the ball for 18 minutes to Chicago's 12 minutes. Chicago had rushed 10 times for 35 yards. The Packers run defense was clearly missing Grady Jackson, but seemed to be functioning on six of eight cylinders at least. All told, it looked like another dominant performance for the Packers, except for one minor detail: the score was Chicago 14, Green Bay 3.
I was a bit dismayed by the Green turnover. This was a good looking drive, and it was clearly going to put us into halftime up 10 to 7. The score being close didn't bother me - the Bears always play us tough, especially in the first half. But down 14-3 was very different from up 10-7. Clearly we were going to have to defend strongly in the second half, and score some points.
The Packers kicked off for the second half. Chicago run the ball 5 times for 72 yards. Something happened at halftime. Something bad. We were playing James Lee at nose tackle, and he was being manhandled. I saw him submarined twice. For a guy 6-5 325, he was incredibly ineffective. Our linebackers seemed to have taken the day off too - the tackles were all made by Sharper and Harris. Now it was 21-3, and things were looking pretty serious.
The Packers responded with a nice drive, 19 plays, 89 yards, touchdown. Twice, actually, as Franks both made and negated the first TD with a holding penalty. However, the drive took up 10 minutes. Since we were being completely ineffective at stopping the Chicago run, and were down by 18 points, I was confused by the seeming complete lack of urgency. Green was 6 for 26 yards, Fisher was 3 for 2 yards. Fisher was not looking very much like a serviceable running back - on his first hand off, he slipped on his cutback. Personally, I think there is simply no excuse for a running back slipping on his home field in clear weather. This is a simply matter of selecting the correct cleats, it's not brain surgery. Also, clearly our offensive line had decided that they deserved a break this quarter.
Finally, our defense decided to stiffen, forcing the Bears 3 and out. I was concerned by our lack or urgency, but at least we were starting the 4th quarter holding the ball, and needing two scores and a stop. We made a nice 1st down, then went 3 and out. We then had a "beautiful" 53 yard punt for a touchback and a net of 33 yards.
Chicago then went 6 and out, but did it in a rather scary fashion: they were running the ball up the middle for 6 yards at a crack, getting at least into our linebackers and frequently our secondary. James Lee had been pulled in favor of Cullen Jenkins, who was simultaneously a big improvement and not nearly good enough. They took 4 precious minutes off the clock. We were saved by Grossman throwing a couple incompletions and taking a sack. However, the Chicago OC clearly saw the same thing I saw: the Green Bay run defense had decided to pack it up.
Finally the Packers decided it was Favre time. However, our WR's decided it was drop time. three and out. We're now playing a strictly one dimensional game: we can't do anything but pass, they don't need to do anything but run.
Chicago, as noted above, was now solidly with the program. No passes. No surprises. Just run the ball right up our gut. 9 plays, 9 runs, 60 yards, five minutes. At the end of the series, the Chicago OC inexplicably called a reverse, and WR Terrel put the ball on the ground. This one stupidity is all that stopped the Bears from scoring another TD. Why, when running up the gut is averaging 6.6 yards per carry, you would call a trick play is something that I can only attribute to excessive usage of recreational drugs in college.
4 minutes on the clock, down by 11 points, ball at mid field. Time for Favre to break some hearts. But whose? Second play, we find out: an interception show us that today it's our hearts being served up in the stew.
Three runs up the gut, three stops by linebackers (why do we call them linebackers when there's no line ahead of them?) and we force a field goal. The 45 yard attempt is no good. But we're still two scores down, now with 2:30 on the clock. Even God has changed channels by this time. Lovey Smith knows just what to do about this situation: it's Cover-2 time, everyone plays back, everyone watches Favre's eyes. 9 passes and 4 incompletions later, the doctor calls it and the patient is dead. A couple knees to formalize the death certificate, and it's in the books.
MVP for the game: Grady Jackson. Too bad he wasn't playing. Anyone who thought we had improved our depth at DT, well, all I can say is not today. Neither James Lee nor Cullen Jenkins is ready to start in this league. Furthermore, those who thought this was the year for a breakout by our linebackers, that opinion too is sadly lacking supporting evidence.
The good news: our blitz package continues to work, Chicago had very little success throwing the ball. Our secondary needs more work, but it seems functional. Our running game, even hitting on 6 cylinders, is quite formidable.
The bad news: my mother could average 3 yards per carry against this DL. And Favre and his receivers are not on the same page. It appears to me that we have gone too far in using our U-bacon package: we have lost the ability to score quickly, and Favre and his WRs are not getting the chance to warm up to each other.
Next up: at Indianapolis, a track meet. If you thought our run defense looked sloppy against Thomas Jones, just wait to see what it will look like against Edgerrin James, a top-3 rb.
My thoughts: 1) we need to adjust our play calling, there simply has to be more play action and more 15-30 yard pass attempts. The 40+ yard attempts are a joke, Favre and his WRs simply cannot connect on them. 2) We need to stop the run. 3) I'm concerned that Payton Manning will show us the second half of "live by the blitz, die by the blitz." Perhaps not - we're pretty well stocked now at CB, if Carroll and McKenzie have a good game, I think we can match up with any set of receivers. However, if I were Indy I would get us into a nickle or dime situation, and then run the ball right up our guts. Until we prove we can stop the run off guard with only our DTs, there's little reason to call any other play. 6.6 yards and a cloud of dust works really well.
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