As many of you know, I have shut myself in my apartment with ice cream, liquor, and Super Bowl 45 clips the last few days after the Packers devestating loss to the New York Giants. Today Thomas talks about one possible theory as to why the defending champs looked as bad as they did.
There have been eight playoff games so far this postseason. Seven of them were won by the home team. Anyone chance to guess who the loser was? Well, if we were predicting before the playoffs, that answer almost unanimously would have been the Denver Broncos losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in their first round game. Yeah, that didn’t happen. One game that would have had more people surprised at the result would’ve been the Giants taking out the Packers at Lambeau Field. Yet, the Giants, they of the 9-7 record in the consensus worst division in the NFC, went into Lambeau Field and trampled on any thought the Pack had of repeating as Super Bowl Champions.
For anyone who watched the game, it’s hard to say that the Packers could’ve done anything remotely close to beating the Giants. As much as it pains me to admit, Eli Manning has become an elite passer, and he has a set of playmakers at wide receiver, led by Hakeem Nicks, who pretty much made the Packers’ secondary his personal bitch. Then again, if all these guys were in jail, the way that unit played for Green Baywould have totally driven down the number of cigarettes they would’ve fetched. Then again, that’s been the Pack’s MO all year. They give up gobs of yards and then answer back with gobs of their own. They end up snagging some turnovers to make the margin of victory seem like they were blowing the other team out of the water, and bam. That’s how they went 15-1 despite being outgained in yardage over the course of the regular season.
So, where was the yardage from the high-octane offense led by Aaron Rodgers? It was conspicuously absent, thanks to a few things. Fumbles were the biggest cause of this power outage. Luck plays a huge factor in how fumbles are recovered or even caused. In some cases, the forced fumble is something that can only be prevented by better blocking. Case in point, the fumble caused by Osi Umeniyora on the Pack’s first drive in the third quarter could only have been prevented if he was blocked at the line of scrimmage, and let’s face is, blocking him or Justin Tuck or Jason Pierre-Paul is easier said than done.
However, the OTHER big reason why the offense stalled was in the passing game, via both dropped passes and uncharacteristically mistimed throws by Rodgers. Both are symptomatic of being out of rhythm, and given that Rodgers hadn’t played for two weeks before Sunday’s game, it’s easy to see how the offense might fall out of sync. Rhythm and timing are real things to a NFL team; they’re just not really measurable by any statistic we have. It’s all about the eye-test, and judging from watching the game, Rodgers’ rhythm was off on more than a couple of passes that would have kept drives alive.
The dropped passes have been a problem that plagued the Packers all year long, not just in this game. One only needs to go back to the other game they lost, against the Chiefs, to see how badly drops can impact that offense’s ability to go up and down the field like the NFC All-Pro team in 7-on-7 drills against a local high school. That being said, the way to minimize drops is to keep having reps at game speed. The fact that Greg Jennings was the only significant Pack receiver to miss Week 17 is irrelevant to me, as Rodgers is the key here. Matt Flynn is NOT the same QB as Rodgers, even if he put up more impressive stats in that one game than Rodgers did in any single performance he had in 2011. Two weeks without seeing and catching passes from the director of the offense at game speed is crucial.
That begs the question why the Packers would even think about resting Rodgers, knowing they had a bye locked up. Was there really that much of an injury risk? No, unlike Ben Roethlisberger, Rodgers has been healthy all year and was at no point a risk to miss any time due to injury. Why prepare for something that has as much a chance of happening as it did in any other game during the season? The answer is that the Packers already clinched as much as they could have and wanted to go into the playoffs well-rested. The thing with that reasoning is that the Packers had already clinched one week of rest. There is absolutely no correlation that states anything more than one week does an otherwise healthy team any better.
There are examples of teams that let their starters rest over the course of garbage time games and who advanced far into the playoffs. The 2004 Eagles are the best recent example I can think of (mainly because I’m an Eagles fan, duh), but the thing to realize about the NFC in 2004 was that it was a terrible conference. The only competition the Eagles had came in the form of the Atlanta Falcons, whom they were guaranteed to face only if they made the NFC Championship Game (which they did). That was not the case in 2011, as the only team that the Pack could’ve faced in the Divisional Round where a lack of rhythm wouldn’t have hurt them as much would have been the Falcons. The Lions and especially Giants were (and in the case of New York, still are) dangerous teams.
Meanwhile, teams that choked their asses off are more memorable. Look at all those Colts teams that took their foot off the pedal, especially the one that seemingly gave up its chance for a historic undefeated season to give its players rest. They were one and done. History is pock-marked with examples of teams who rested failing. I don’t have the advanced stats in front of me, but I don’t think there’s a strong correlation either way.
Meanwhile, the most famous pedal-to-the-metal team, the 2007 Patriots, made it all the way to the Super Bowl, which we can all agree is better than going one-and-done. Plus, if Asante Samuel doesn’t drop an easy interception or if David Tyree doesn’t miraculously bail out Manning on the game-winning drive, we’re talking about an undefeated season. There was no systemic reason the Pats lost other than it’s really hard to go undefeated and the Giants defense that game played better than any team the Pats had beaten that season, including those same Giants in the last week of the regular season. Meanwhile, while the Giants defense played as inspired Sunday as their 2007 ancestors did in that Super Bowl, the Packers still left enough points on the board to make it closer than the 17 point margin would have indicated.
So, if there is no correlation between resting and winning in the playoffs, then why rest players at all? There is a STRONG, non-football reason against rest – the fans. Yes, fans like you and I and Ben and Nate all plunk down obscene amounts of money to watch football. We pay for tickets, merchandise, parking, cable packages, catering for parties, gas money and whatever other expenses anyone can think of to enjoy football. It’s entertainment. Yes, the NFL exists only to entertain the fans. So, why should we spend our time and money on something that is promised to us as regular season-level of football when we’re getting players who only get playing time in the preseason? In any other business, that kind of tactic is called a bait-and-switch. It’d be one thing if Rodgers or the players in question were hurt, but if they’re all healthy, then the team is doing its paying customers a major disservice by sitting their players. Other industries have far better track records. To make a callback to where I usually write, WWE offered rebates to their fans on their house show tickets after Randy Orton got injured. They went above and beyond what I’m asking football teams to do because they understand that they’re a customer service outfit first. Obviously, this comparison is a little disingenuous since football is very much an outcome-based sport, while wrestling is more full-contact theater, but the idea is similar.
I might understand the reasoning if resting starters actually helped, but there’s no reason to suggest it does at all. Furthermore, it seems in this isolated case, the two-week layoff for Rodgers and by proxy his receivers hurt the team more than any extra rest would have. It’s hard to second-guess the management of a team that had just won last year’s Super Bowl, but at the same time, fortune favors the bold, and no one likes complacency. If a team has a chance to win, they should do so at all costs. Playing to avoid unlikely injuries is not the way to do so.