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Monday, December 20, 2004
Game Review: Jaguars @ Packers
by Mark Lawrence
Yesterday the 7-6 Jaguars came to Lambeau Field to play the 8-5 Packers. The Jaguars were playing for their playoff lives - a loss here almost certainly meant they were out of the playoffs. The Packers, in the relatively weak NFC, have already clinched a playoff berth, and by the start of the game a bye week was unobtainable. So, the Packers were simply playing for a single home field game.
Kickoff temperature was 12 degrees, with a wind chill of -3. Normally, one would think this meant the Packers were unbeatable, especially against a Florida team on the road. Unfortunately, today this was not a normal team.
The Jaguars coaching staff had clearly scouted the Packers well and had an excellent game plan. On offense, the Jaguars proved almost incapable of running the ball - when Grady Jackson was in the middle, running lanes were not very open. Furthermore, Brian Leftwhich had a very ordinary game, going 9 for 20 for 121 yards with 2 TDs and no interceptions. He was sacked once, but hit on most passing plays and hurried frequently. However, the Jaguars used a new twist, a sort of reverse play action. They would get themselves into 3rd and long and get the Packers into a dime defense, then take a shotgun snap and perform a slightly delayed hand off. The Packer's DBs were sufficiently confused about their zone assignments that this play broke for nearly all of the Jaguars ground yardage.
On defense, the Jaguars played competently. The real story here was the near complete breakdown of the Packer's offense. First, late in December in cold weather, this team is designed to run the ball. Unfortunately, with the Packer's O-line missing pro-bowl center Mike Flannigan and playing rookie Scott Wells in his place, and missing the heavy-package stalwart Kevin Berry, the Packer's previously feared ground attack was reduced to very ordinary - 17 carries for 94 yards. The Packers were forced to pass the ball 44 times, a bit over two passes per rush.
Brett Favre seemed to me to not have his head into this game until the last 5 minutes. This is understandable - his wife was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, and started her chemo therapy a couple weeks ago. Farve threw 30 out of 44 for 367 yards, 2 TDs, and a crushing 3 interceptions. At least one of these interceptions on a touch pass to Bubba Franks in the end zone was the very height of brain-damaged play.
The Packers will almost certainly be on the road in the playoffs, likely travelling to Seattle for their first playoff game. Perhaps this is a good thing: the Packers are a very pedestrian 4-4 at Lambeau field this year, and their dominance in cold weather games is seemingly a thing of history. In any case, this is a playoff team only due to the poor competition in the NFC. The Packer's struggling running game, deteriorating pass protection, and defensive secondary which play zone coverage in a manner most reminiscent of a keystones cops movie really is not a team that is going to go into Atlanta or Philadelphia and get very far.
Later this week the Packers travel on a very short week to Minnesota. This will be a very difficult game for the Packers, and it seems inevitable that Las Vegas will favor the Vikings by at least 4 points in this game. The Vikings, however, have their own list of strange weaknesses and struggles, and it's likely to be a fairly competitive game.