“They are what we thought they were.” Dennis Green, coach of the Arizona Cardinals, uttered those immortal words after his team lost a game in 2009 against the Chicago Bears.
On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers showed the world that our team is exactly who we thought they were.
They are a team with several individual stars, especially on the offense – led by Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, Aaron Jones, and David Bakhtiari.
But they are also a team with gaping holes on the roster, especially on the defensive line and among the linebacker corps. Almost every loss in the LaFleur era has been principally due to the team’s porous run defense.
As part of our team’s personnel highs and lows, this is a team prone to: lacking effort when playing inferior teams; meltdowns when they encounter great adversity; a lack of sustained intensity; and the inability to protect leads. These failings appear to be inter-related, and likely stem from the same root causes. Only when those causes are fully identified, acknowledged, and understood, can this team focus on implementing the cures.
The good news is that the intensity that was lacking against the Jaguars a week ago was not in evidence against the Colts. Both teams went all out to win the game. On the Green Bay side of things, I felt that the Packer players with notable intensity included: Raven Greene, Robert Tonyan, Kenny Clark, Darnell Savage, Adrian Amos, and Rashan Gary. It almost goes without saying that Davante Adams and Aaron Jones always give their best efforts.
Unfortunately, all of this infusion of effort was cancelled by some glaring, though curable, mistakes.
Consider the turnovers by Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Darrius Shepherd.
Shepherd, a star at North Dakota State, went undrafted in 2019. Until Sunday, his most notable pro play was muffing a punt against the Lions in Week 6 of his rookie year. On that play, he was out of position to catch the punt and he also failed to call for a fair catch, though an opponent was one stride away and going full speed at him. That costly flub ended his season with the team.
Back in the team’s good graces this season, Shepherd received a Colts’ kickoff one minute into the fourth quarter and headed up the middle into a gantlet of defenders. Special teamer Cassius Marsh, just added to the Colts’ roster days before, came up from behind and punched the ball loose from Shepherd.
As for MVS, in his third year with the team, he has consistently displayed a propensity for dropping footballs. On Sunday, MVS caught a screen pass in traffic, only to have rookie Julian Blackman cleanly punch the ball out of his hand. This fatal error occurred 40 seconds into the overtime period.
These two players have a history of ball security problems. While MVS is too talented to give up on, Shepherd’s downsides are way out of balance with his upsides.
These two turnovers each featured players in traffic who failed to protect the ball with both hands or arms – they lacked critical football fundamentals. As well as being players’ mistakes, they suggest coaching and training deficits that the team needs to better address during preseason training.
Two More Undisciplined Packers
I’m sure many fans are as tired as I am by the stupid play by Za’Darius and Preston Smith. At least a half dozen times since joining the team, one or the other has either tried to jump the snap or lined up in the neutral zone. Lining up off-sides has to be the dumbest of all football plays.
Since joining the team a year and a half ago, each player has been guilty, several times, of one or the other violation, and usually at the most inopportune times. They aren’t being drawn off, they simply are guessing when the snap is coming. It’s time for the coaching staff to quit tolerating this lack of self-control.
On the positive side, less than three minutes into the game, the Packers’ Raven Greene also caused a turnover, when he arrived just as the Colts’ receiver was being tackled by Jaire Alexander, and very precisely punched the ball out. By the way, Greene, now in his third year with the team after going undrafted, has consistently become a better player – he’s fundamentally sound. He should be able to step right in as the heir to oft-injured Kevin King’s slot in 2021.
In Mike Pettine’s three years as defensive coordinator, the Packers have been below average when it comes to fumble recovery turnovers. I don‘t think it’s a coincidence that Green Bay defenders historically cause few fumbles – the team either doesn’t teach, or doesn’t stress, this game-changing technique. I’d say that more turnovers are caused by punch-outs than by hard hits.
So far on the season, the Packers have four takeaway fumble recoveries, which puts them in a 9-way tie for 17th place. In 2019 Green Bay finished in a 3-way tie for 21st place, with 8 such takeaways. In 2018, the Packers were in a 3-way tie for 16th place. Three-straight subpar years constitutes a trend.
The problem goes back to way before the arrival of Pettine. The only Green Bay defender I can recall in somewhat recent memory who was a skilled punch-out guy was Charles Woodson – and he perfected that talent during his eight previous years in Oakland.
The Packers have done most things well for the past decade – they remain tantalizingly close to being a perennial Super Bowl contender. But until they really concentrate on fixing what are their quite obvious flaws and roster weaknesses, they’ll keep coming up short when the postseason arrives.