OK, so game one is in the books. After months of anticipation and wondering how the Green Bay Packers would fare at CenturyLink Field against the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, we got our answer last night. After a competitive first half, the wheels fell off of the Packers’ wagon in the second and Seattle literally ran away with the game.
We have already heard some of what I have to say below from Al’s First Impressions and Kris’ Game Balls/Lame Calls posts, but bear with me. I often get this urge to write a piece like this one after many Packers games and I usually opt against it because I haven’t stepped back and taken another look to get a full perspective on what happened that day. I’m forging ahead with it in this case because while I expected a Packers loss against a solid opponent, there were some glaring issues that this team can’t seem to correct year after year.
I can appreciate all of those whose mantra is that this was one game and there’s a lot of season left. That there’s still time to improve and make adjustments and corrections. To remind us all that it’s not how a team starts, it’s how they finish that matters and hey, the 2010 team didn’t come out of the gate as champions. That’s all good and well and I can’t fault anyone for taking a positive approach. All of those may come to be true. But if you’ve watched the Packers over the last five seasons, there is enough of a sample size to suggest that it’s also OK to be a bit skeptical.
I’m going to channel my inner-Bob McGinn here and for those who don’t know who he is, he is a Packers beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and has been for many years. Bob has become known for his “tell it like it is” pieces and his not being afraid to call it like he sees it. While some may consider some of my thoughts below to be hasty after just one game, that’s fine. If you follow me on Twitter and are still following (thank you), you are well aware that I don’t pull any punches during games. I know this approach isn’t for everyone so please share your comments below but please do so respectfully.
The Green Bay Packers are not an elite football team. Week one or not, defending Super Bowl champions at CenturyLink Field or not, the Packers were only able to muster one half of good football before they were on the ropes. Seattle did whatever they wanted in the second half and brought the boom and the Packers just took it. Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett said after the game “I saw supposedly some of the best players in the league not want to tackle Marshawn Lynch.” Perception is reality in the NFL. Teams won’t respect or fear you if you appear to be afraid. Yet another glaring reason the Packers aren’t elite.
This was definitely a TKO-type loss for Green Bay, which isn’t something many of us are used to seeing. Every team has a bad outing now and then but there wasn’t much to point to that suggests that the Packers are any closer to beating an elite team like the Seahawks than they have been for the past few seasons. Below is a look at the evidence on what is still ailing this Packers team and keeping them from taking the necessary steps forward to further their success.
– The Packers had a game plan coming in but again failed to make needed adjustments during the game. This falls on general manager Ted Thompson for the talent on the field and head coach Mike McCarthy for his staff’s preparation. When Seattle found a way to solve running back Eddie Lacy very early on, the Packers stopped running and forced the passing game. Seattle was able to relax, sit back in coverage and blanket the Packers receivers. When it was obvious that Seattle would go into “beast mode” in the second half to run out the clock, the Packers still weren’t able to contain Lynch. The Seahawks even tried to bail the Packers out by continuing to throw, for some reason, and the Packers couldn’t get a stop there either. It’s one thing to be outsmarted but if you know something is coming and can’t stop it, there’s issues. It’s not the sounds of an elite team to me.
– When offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga left the game with a knee sprain, he was replaced by Derek Sherrod. We finally got to see how Sherrod would fare in game action after nearly three years away and all I can say is that it’s a good thing the Packers don’t play Seattle 16 times this season. Sure, it was a very potent pass rush, but I’m here to tell you that Sherrod has reached his ceiling, folks. What you see is what you get. The Packers may get by with him for a few weeks until Bulaga can hopefully return, but he’s nothing near an answer at right tackle late in the season. Knee sprains can be tricky so the timetable on Bulaga’s return is unknown. It could be three weeks or it could be 10, according to the Packers’ history with that particular injury. Green Bay now has Lane Taylor and Garth Gerhart as their depth on the offensive line while they wait for Bulaga and J.C. Tretter to return from their ailments. Injuries happen, but the Packers aren’t prepared nor anywhere near deep enough on the offensive line to deal with them right now. Unfortunately, history dictates that they’ll have to at some point.
– Not every defense is like Seattle’s, but if any of them were looking for a way to fluster and impede Aaron Rodgers, this game provided some good film. How much of that you want to place on the offensive line is up to you but that’s who the Packers are running with so they can either make excuses week after week or adjust and change. Moving on, Rodgers looked, dare I say, average? Early on, he had time to throw and moved around well, as he always does. He made some of his usual good throws and was able to extend plays, but more often than not, there wasn’t much there. Rodgers was clearly jumpy in the pocket as the plays developed, seemingly waiting to get shellacked. It was an uncharacteristic night for #12 with some rare accuracy issues. Throws sailing high or just out of the reach of his receivers on plays he usually makes. Thankfully for Rodgers and the Packers, they won’t see a defense as potent as this for the rest of the regular season. On the flip side, they will see them in the playoffs and if not battle tested and accustomed to it, they stand to get embarrassed again.
– Lacy suffered his second concussion in less than a year. Last season, it was in week two that Lacy was knocked out of the game on the first play from scrimmage. It looks like he’ll miss most of the second game again this year. With multiple concussions, it’s never certain that it is just a one-week injury but the Packers have to hope it is. With Lacy out, the Seahawks sat back in coverage and played nickel all night long. That made life a lot more difficult for Rodgers & Co on offense. We’ll be paying close attention to the concussion protocol for Lacy as the week progresses but here is an example of why many wonder how long his career might be. If he suffers another this season or another injury, the Packers immediately become one-dimensional.
– Special teams were not really that special. Yes, they recovered Earl Thomas’s muffed punt early on and turned it into points, but they kept a Seattle drive alive with a running into the kicker penalty and allowed a field goal. DuJuan Harris may have lost his kick return duties already after his questionable decisions to come out of the end zone and then do so very hesitantly. DuJuan, watch the good returners in this game and see a common thread: full speed! Do or die and if you can’t, take a knee! Starting at the 20 isn’t so bad, I promise and pssst, Aaron Rodgers is your quarterback. He’ll get you some yards! With a home game and a more manageable environment, I expect to see Jeff Janis on the field next week.
– Brad. Jones. Remember those ads back in the day that encouraged friends to let their friends know when they’ve had one too many and take their keys away? Are we there yet with Jones? All preseason long one of the bigger question marks on the Packers defense was middle linebacker and specifically Jones. Many were calling for Jamari Lattimore and Sam Barrington to get a shot. If this game didn’t elevate that possibility, then Jones will be playing middle linebacker for the Packers for the next three to four seasons and until he retires. The near interception would have been a spectacular play given that Zach Miller volleyball spiked the ball out of Jones’s hands before he could secure possession, I’ll give Jones that. Outside of that play, Jones was bad. Whatever causes this coaching staff and front office to hesitate in making a desperately-needed change in personnel has to end. The Brad Jones experiment should be over. He’s a liability and opposing offenses know it. I realize not every running back is Marshawn Lynch, but Jones simply can’t make a play. If it were me, I’d run right at him every time.
– Julius Peppers is an old dog learning new tricks. It was his first game standing up and playing outside linebacker and it showed. This is where having this matchup in week one was bad timing. Peppers looked out of place and lost at times, in a game that the Packers needed his best. Even 12 years of NFL experience couldn’t help him make one play so let’s hope that was more a function of it being week one and not that he’s maxed out.
– The secondary did a decent job overall except for safety Morgan Burnett. The cornerback play could have been worse. I thought Tramon Williams showed well for a guy who is starting to get up there in years for a corner. Sam Shields is still fast. Casey Hayward just needs to make a big play and get his mojo back. Micah Hyde was OK in his first outing at safety. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix made some rookie mistakes, as we would expect, but closed and tackled better as the game wore on. Burnett is not going to turn into Nick Collins. There is no more corner to turn for him. He is what he is: a pedestrian safety who may know what to do and where to be, but is rarely there or doing it. Expect to see less and less of Burnett and more of Clinton-Dix as the season progresses. Cut your losses, Mike and Ted!
– Corey Linsley wasn’t awful. He wasn’t great either but no one was in this game for Green Bay. That he survived the toughest test he likely sees all season long gives me hope that Linsley can very serviceably hold down the fort while Tretter is out. He may even hang onto the center job after Tretter returns. This would allow the Packers to boost their offensive line depth with Tretter, who can also play tackle and possibly even some guard.
– Mike McCarthy and the coaching staff. A few times during this game, McCarthy had that same dazed and confused look he’s had in the past during rough outings. That’s not a comfortable feeling if you’re a Packers fan. I am finding it harder and harder to come up with reasons why it isn’t McCarthy’s offensive play calling or defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ schemes that are part of the problem on the field. The Packers clearly abandoned the run after a few failed attempts by Lacy early on even though conventional wisdom says you have to stick with it against an active defense. Otherwise, things become too predictable and even an average defense can look great. This happened to be the Seattle Seahawks, who are great on their bad days and spectacular every other day. On the field defensively for the Packers were a number of guys who have been playmakers in the past, yet they made none in this game. Players who can make plays will do so at least part of the time. The Packers also added some new blood in Peppers and Clinton-Dix to address the issue of a potential lack of talent on the field. So, is it the talent on the field or the scheme? My argument for the issue being the talent on the field was the gobs of missed tackles. We’re going on a fourth year in a row that this is an issue. Defenders there to make a big play and let the ball carrier slip away for a big gain or into the end zone virtually untouched. Tackling and pursuit are fundamentals in football. Fundamentals are taught and mandated by coaches. If the same players are making the same old mistakes, is there an issue with the coaching culture in Green Bay? It’s a valid question at this point. There is time for the defense to gel, but plenty of reason to wonder if this zebra’s stripes are set for life.
What’s the most important takeaway from game one? The Packers have a pretty sizeable gap to close between themselves and the best teams in the NFC and they have 16 weeks to do it. As Cheesehead TV’s Zach Kruse said in his post-game column yesterday, we shouldn’t compare a potential rematch with the Seahawks in the playoffs to what the Packers had against the Atlanta Falcons in 2010. Green Bay could have beaten Atlanta during the regular season and just weren’t able. The Packers had no chance to beat Seattle yesterday and I’m not sold that they can close the gap by season’s end.
The team needs improved play but we’re talking about some established veterans who just are what they are. How do they suddenly improve and become better? It’s not very likely. Some of the younger guys can certainly take a step forward and they have to if the Packers are going to achieve the success that may predict for them.
I still see Green Bay as heavy favorites to win the NFC North but if they can’t fix many of these recurrent ailments, it’s another one-and-done in the playoffs for a fourth straight season. It’s obviously too early to talk playoffs, but the greater point is that, despite the laundry list of concerns above, I’m not calling the season a loss either.
The Packers now have a mini bye week to regroup and come out ready to take out some frustrations on the New York Jets in week two. They’ll be at Lambeau Field, where they are 6-2 in home openers under McCarthy.——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: