We all know the story: the preseason games means nothing, but fans nevertheless believe in them like they were the real deal (they’re paying for it like its the real deal, for sure). A 4-0 record in the preseason has got to mean something, right?
Wrong. If the Colts have proven anything, it’s that 4-20 (16%) preseason record somehow correlates to a 75-21 (78%) regular season record since 2005. Obviously Peyton Manning has something to do with this (or a lot to do with this); but the fact remains, predicting regular season success based off of preseason results is like drafting JaMarcus Russell: one party is going to be laughing all the way to the bank while the other is going to be wondering how they got robbed.
Perhaps the most famous example from last year was the Dallas Cowboys. With Super Bowl XLV being held at “Jerry World”, owner Jerry Jones confidently predicted that his Cowboys were going to be the first team to ever play (and win) a Super Bowl in their own stadium. Going into the preseason, head coach Wade Phillips assumed they already had the Super Bowl in the bag and so did the players, as they were SO talented, after all. Preseason practices were held like a travelling circus. And it showed. The preseason games were lackluster with many mistakes and mental errors, but perhaps more importantly, you could tell the team was coasting through the preseason.
Unfortunately, they forgot to stop coasting when the regular season started; the Cowboys started slow (and lost quarterback Tony Romo in the process) and limped into Lambeau Field with a 1-6 record. After the drubbing that the Packers laid down on Sunday Night Primetime, Wade Phillips was fired and Super Bowl aspirations were finally put to rest by Jerry and Cowboys fans alike.
While perhaps not as drastic as the 2010 Cowboys, the Packers have experienced the same thing. The Packers, for whatever reason, always seem to play well in the preseason, making touchdowns; interceptions and big plays look mundane. For instance, in 2009 preseason Rodgers lit it up; with just a couple of series with the first team offense, Rodgers threw for 465 yards and an average quarterback rating of 124.1. During the regular season however, by week 4 the Packers were sitting at 2-2 before finally rallying to finish 11-5.
In 2010, again the Packers rocketed out of the gates, with Rodgers recording 470 yards passing in only 3 games and posted a stellar 138.1 average quarterback rating. The regular season was not as kind and after 6 games the Packers again were staring at a .500 season. It took winning the last 2 games of the season and a lot of help from other teams (thank you Detroit!) to even make it to the playoffs.
Even when looking at individual games last year, on average the Packers scored as many points in the 1st quarter as they did in the 4th, which is especially odd since 4th quarter scoring is highly predicated on the situation. Drives that eat up the clock or give the backups some playing experience may not net positive points but are still positives for the team.
The Packers always seem to be slow-starters but strong finishers, and partially I think that’s because the preseason makes the team complacent. No matter what coaches and players say, they do put weight into the preseason. Even if they try to ignore it, the media and the fans will put weight on the preseason, and with the saturation of media that we have today, no player is going to be able to completely filter out what is being said.
This year, perhaps due to the strange situation with the lockout or maybe its just because of hold-over complacency from the Super Bowl, the Packers have not looked as stellar as the last two years. Aaron Rodgers has posted good numbers again, but has struggled to get anything when not using the no-huddle. The offensive line has been inconsistent as well with even Josh Sitton, the Packers best and most consistent linemen, making a couple of mistakes and giving up a sack. The defense has been pretty leaky against the run and the secondary is making mental mistakes in every game.
Does this have to do with the fact that personnel, scheme and game philosophy are different? Of course, Rodgers has shown good rapport with his receivers, the offensive line is finally settled and the defense was without Clay Matthews III, Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams and a Dom Capers scheme for the majority of every game.
Frankly, I like what I seen in the preseason. I want to see the Packers mess up; I want to see them get embarrassed a little. Why? Because that shows everyone that there is a lot that can be improved and nothing drives a person like getting embarrassed. For example, in golf how many times have you shot a birdie and been critical of yourself for not shooting an eagle? Not many. How many times have you shot 7 over par and been critical of yourself? Probably every time (unless you are like me and suck at golf). How many times have you been critical of yourself after shooting 7 over par on a hole while all your buddies watched you? Yah, I thought so.
Complacency was the keyword for Mike McCarthy coming into the preseason and it was easy to see why, the Packers had just won a Super Bowl and everyone was picking them to win another. If the Packers had won handedly every preseason game, no matter how hard the coaches or the players try, no one is going to give their best effort to improve, that’s simply human nature. But by getting their licks and screwing up now, everyone can directly see where there needs to be improvement. It also helps because fans and the media won’t uselessly weigh down the team with unrealistic expectations (like they have the last two years).
In the end, it’s better to screw up now when there is no penalty, after all preseason means nothing, right?——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.