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Sunday, September 04, 2005

PackerNation Perspective -New England Post-Mortem

by Mark Quarderer
PackerChatters Staff

August 28, 2005

I viewed nearly all the first half of the game at Fatso’s bar, as it wasn’t televised in San Antonio. I don’t have it recorded so I can’t look at the tape so I don’t feel comfortable commenting on the individual performances for the most part, other than a few obvious exceptions.

I left at halftime because I was leaving early for the beach the next morning. And while I sat there, watching waves of light play on waves of water washing over waves of sand, I combated the 100 degree heat with half a dozen Lone Stars. And after a while, I began to get some clarity about what I had witnessed the previous night.

It’s only Pre-season.

Really, this can’t be emphasized enough. Are you upset by the poor coverage on kicks and punts? Relax….the people who got knocked out of their lanes won’t be there in the opener. Disgusted with Paris Lenon’s inability to contain the run? Again, he’s not going to be in the lineup when the season starts.

This is the “free-season”, where the coaches are free to look at players and their mistakes don’t cost them anything. I’m sure you’re all aware that there isn’t much of a correlation between winning preseason games and winning regular season games so I won’t bother dredging up a bunch of stats to prove that point, but I’ll just remind you…its preseason. We aren’t game planning….we don’t have our best people in there all the time. Don’t read too much into what’s happening.

Expectations vs. Reality

Some people had the expectation that we were going to replace two of the best guards in football with a rookie 7th round pick and a bargain basement free agent and not miss a beat. That’s not going to happen. It is going to take time for this line to gel. Flanagan is clearly not back from his injury and may never be the player he was. Bubba Franks has yet to play a single snap and he’s an important part of our run blocking. We’ve been rotating guards in practice. People should relax and give Beightol a little time on this….he has some good building blocks in Franks, Tauscher, Clifton, and Flanagan and some very good material to work with in Barry, Whitticker, Reugamer and Wells. The offensive line is going to be fine but it’s going to take a while. Patience, grasshoppers.

Speaking of patience, some people also had the highly unrealistic expectation that Brett Favre was going to acquire some this year. That’s not going to happen either. Favre’s struggles against top defenses (like New England’s) in recent years have been well documented because what a top defense does it take away what you want to do and then wait to capitalize on your mistakes when you get impatient. With Favre, you never have to wait very long.

Good Plays vs. Bad Plays

This is one of my favorite themes and I’m going to revisit it here. One of the first lessons I learned in my coaching career was that most games are not won… they are lost. This has been echoed by numerous other coaches and players at every level of football in a variety of ways. Steve Young last year stated, “It’s not how many great plays you make, it’s how few bad ones”.

Let’s revisit this in light of Friday’s game.

•Nick Collins played really well, shadowing receivers and shutting down the middle of the field. Made some nice tackles. But it was his one “bad play” of the night that made the biggest difference. Then, standing in the endzone with an interception floating towards him, he failed to make a relatively easy catch that would have ended the drive and on the next play New England scored.
•Paris Lenon made a very nice breakup of a pass. On the next play, he missed a tackle, which gave them the first down anyway.
•Brett Favre made a very nice scramble in the two-minute drill which gave us a first down at midfield. Then on the next play he turned it over.

These are just three examples of what I’ve said on numerous occasions: The good plays don’t have as much of an impact on the game as the bad plays do. Ferguson’s dropped catch in the endzone…the coverage guys getting knocked out of their lanes…the penalties that pushed our opening drive backwards...these are the plays that lost this game. I don’t know where the good play/bad play ratio balances out, but I guarantee you it’s more than 1:1 and is probably more like 3:1 or more.

The Defense

I actually like what I see on the defensive side of the ball. We’re out there missing Diggs and Jackson but our secondary is covering well. We are having trouble controlling the run…we’re going to have trouble controlling the run this year unless we get some help at tackle, but we held the world champions without a first down for almost 15 minutes of the first half. We got sacks and pressure on Brady (yes, I know some people expect that he should be under siege on every play but I put that under the category of unrealistic expectations). We forced a fumble and had very good shot at an interception.

This defense is going to be a work in progress this year but I like the fact that we’ve apparently made great strides in limiting the big plays that just killed us last year. At this stage, the defense is still just plain vanilla but you need to walk before you run and this group is going to learn under Bates’ steady tutelage. They gave up three short-field scores to the world champion…that’s not that bad.

The Offense

As Pete Dougherty says, the offense is the “backbone of the team”. When they don’t show up and get the job done it’s going to be very, very difficult for this team to win. They gave the Patriots two short field opportunities in the first half with turnovers. Presented with a golden opportunity after a fumble recovery set up a first and goal at the eight, they mounted a scoring drive of –2 yards and settled for a field goal.

There are those people who insist that this is an “elite” offensive unit. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are a prolific, error prone unit capable of rolling up big yards and big points against weak defenses but when the varsity defenses show up….they just aren’t equal to the task.

The running game is in a little trouble right now because our line is so unsettled, but the talent is still there. And if Favre is going to exercise bad judgment on several throws each game then the Packers are going to be ahead to just stick with the run and punt. The excuse that he’s “trying to do too much” has worn thin with me He should concentrate on doing his job and let the coaches worry about the rest.

The Special Teams.

Covering a kick is not the most difficult thing in the world, but if one or two guys don’t do their job it can open the door to a long return. In the preseason we’re trying several guys out and it’s not surprising that we’re having some inconsistency. I’m not worried about it at this point. Bonamego’s special teams have been above average the last two years and I don’t see why this year would be any different.

The Coaching

I’ve generally been a Sherman supporter and I feel that overall he’s an above average coach, but it’s getting harder and harder to justify these kinds of performances. THE WORLD CHAMPIONS are in YOUR PLACE and you come out from the very get-go and just shoot yourself in the foot over and over and over again. I was hoping that we’d see a team come out with fire and focus but secretly suspecting I wouldn’t. I wasn’t disappointed.

There is a Culture of Carelessness on this team that has to be changed before it will ever be a legitimate contender. It’s the coach’s job to change it by whatever means necessary...even if it means benching star players...because we simply can’t win like this. Oh, we can beat the Sacred Sisters of the Perpetually Pathetic, but you simply don’t beat quality teams when you turn the ball over and take pointless penalties.

This is an undisciplined group…including their on-the-field-leader….that beats itself more often than they are beaten by their opponent.

Anyhow, that’s the view from the beach……
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