Before last night, anything I wrote today was going to be in a state of despair. I went for a walk after Mike Wallace caught that touchdown, just to be alone with my thoughts. I got home and called any Packer fan I could think of who would be as negative about this loss as me. But then I watched the Vikings. And then I read this. Now, things don’t seem quite as bad.
Brett Favre’s oh-so-predictable December struggles (his record this month is 1-2, his passer rating in all three games has been in the 70s, and now he’s arguing with his coach) are a lot of fun. They don’t, however, change this basic concern: After watching the Packers’ defense get carved up by the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday, I don’t see a potential first-round playoff matchup that wouldn’t present plenty of issues for Green Bay.
From a positioning standpoint, yesterday’s 37-36 loss did nothing to change their spot. They’d still be the No. 5 seed, heading to Arizona in the first round. But from a readiness standpoint, it might have changed everything.
This was a chance for the Packers to take on the defending world champs at their place, end the Steelers’ shot at a playoff berth and assert that this five-game winning streak (which has been largely built against inferior offenses) was not a fluke, but the coronation of a championship defense. Instead, they went soft when it counted.
Look at how the Steelers played the Packers yesterday. They made no attempt to run the ball, and from the first play of the game, they targeted the inferior replacements for Al Harris–CB Josh Bell and CB/S/BOME Jarrett Bush (that’s “Bane of My Existence”, for you OBOD newbies). Ben Roethlisberger threw for 503 yards, and on a final drive where his offensive line kept adding more problems to an already-monumental task, Roethlisberger marched the Steelers down the field with a sense of inevitability. The Packers stopped sending extra rushers, content to shoot the same three guys after him again and again, and trusted the game to Bell, Bush and the rest of their coverage personnel executing assignments correctly. They lost–on a play where defensive coordinator Dom Capers gave Roethlisberger time, and then acted surprised when Bell, in his first game, didn’t play far enough underneath Mike Wallace. Uh, Dom–two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback against rookie defender. Don’t tell me you didn’t see that one turning out exactly how it did.
And here’s how that relates to the Packers’ playoff opponents: Every single one of them has the ability to do the same thing.
Think there’s a mismatch in light of the fact Arizona has no running game? Think again. All they have to do is roll their excellent wide receivers out, force the Packers to probe the depths of their battered secondary, and make sure Kurt Warner gets rid of the ball before the Packers get to him. Now, Roethlisberger must be separated from Warner in an important facet of the game–he’s made a living out of holding the ball too long, dancing away from sacks and exploiting broken plays. Not exactly the best way to make a living, but hey, when you’re 250 pounds and Cullen Jenkins has no chance of ending the game by hitting you high and trying to bring you down, it can work.
Warner won’t do that, but he’s got one of the quickest releases in the game and possibly the most dangerous set of receivers in the league. And especially if the Packers struggle getting to him with their defensive line and have to open the middle of the field by blitzing, Warner can light them up.
You’d prefer the Eagles, you say? Donovan McNabb has almost as many weapons and a Roethlisberger-like penchant for making a living on broken plays. Tony Romo’s shown an ability to do that, too–although he doesn’t have the same number of options, he’ll give you a chance at some interceptions and the Packers proved they can beat Dallas. If they have to go to Cowboys Stadium, though, well…we know what happens with Jerry Jones and his mob refs.
And even as bad as both the Vikings and Saints looked this week, forget beating them. The Vikings could be vulnerable if Percy Harvin’s neck injury is serious and Judas is doing his late-season thing, but they’ve got enough in the tank to expose the Packers’ secondary. And we saw what Drew Brees can do to the Packers last season. He’s been as good, if not better, this year.
So we can talk about wrapping up a wild-card and getting a playoff berth secured. We can root for the Redskins tonight and pore over all the scenarios. But yesterday proved something to me: The Packers are a one-and-done team, despite what this winning streak might have you thinking, and that’s a pretty unsatisfying place to be for a team that, on certain occasions, looks like it’s capable of so much more.