Monday, January 10, 2011

Defense and Rushing Push Pack Past Eagles

Obviously, I'm a bit late on the Packers recap this week, but after how good that game was I'm sure you wouldn't mind talking about it a little more. The reason for the delay is pretty easy to figure out - the Packers won a playoff game, I was at a bar. Put two and two together and you have a column posted a full 24 hours after the game was finished.

After being lucky enough to attend the Packers game in New England a few weeks ago, and then the Giants game at Lambeau the week after that, I started getting used to watching Packers games with a boatload of people. Normally, it's just myself and a buddy or two at the apartment watching the game together, going to bars to watch the Packers isn't something I do too often. But with the Packers in the playoffs, I needed to be around a crowd of people to go on a roller coaster of emotions with, and I'm glad I did (so are the bartenders, I'm sure).  Thoughts now on the Packers 21-16 victory, Bucky Five style:

1. Defense Looking Better Every Week - Even after all the injuries, I think it's fair to say that the Packers have a defense that is at least championship-caliber. Aaron Rodgers said after the game that he thinks the defense has carried this team all year, and I don't disagree with him. For all the accolades that our offense receives, I'm starting to get comfortable with having our defense on the field at the end of a big game. The Eagles did manage to score two touchdowns, but the Packers got their stops when they needed them, especially at the end. Tramon Williams will go down as the hero for his last-minute interception, but a lot of the defenders were difference makers on Sunday. Erik Walden followed up his performance last week with another solid outing, looking like the most seasoned of veterans on a defense filled with stars. Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews played up to their standard, and B.J. Raji was solid in the middle of the line. Jarius Wynn and Desmond Bishop added a sack a piece, and overall it was a very impressive outing from Dom Capers' unit.

2. A Shot of Starks - There were a lot of football fans across the country that woke up on Sunday morning that had never heard of James Starks, something which certainly isn't the case anymore. Starks looked very sharp in Philadelphia, and a lot of people have been clever enough to realize that "Starks" rhymes with "spark", so let's go with that here too. Right from his very first carry, it was clear that Starks was going to have the ability to be a difference-maker in this game. The nimble back went for 123 yards on 23 carries, and honestly the fact that he had 23 carries is more impressive to be than how many yards he has. You don't get 23 attempts if you are a Packers running back this season, but the newly found running attack was a welcome addition. I can't believe either that the Packers actually ran the ball more than they threw it. We already knew that this offense was dangerous because of their aerial attack, but let's see how far they can get with a balanced offense.

3. There You Go, Rodgers Won His Playoff Game - In case you weren't aware, Aaron Rodgers FINALLY won a playoff game. That was the talk regarding our quarterback after the victory against the Eagles. Finally? You mean like, he finally won a playoff game despite this being just his second try? The guy is 1-for-2 in playoff games, nothing wrong with that. I get what they are saying though, as Rodgers has been the starting quarterback for three years now and at some point that first playoff victory has to come. His first just happened to be the first Packers road playoff win since 1998. All year long, analysts have said that Rodgers isn't quite an elite quarterback, but he's close. Let's just all agree that this guy is an elite player in the NFL. He looked flawless on Sunday, going for 180 yards and three touchdowns (let's kindly forget about his fumble). If not for the awful drop on James Jones, which McCarthy tried to defend by saying Jones has thumb injury, Rodgers could have easily had four.

4. This Could Have Easily Went the Other Way - That's the thing, this game should have been over at half. The Packers were up 14-3 and would have been up 21-3 if Jones would have caught Rodgers beautifully thrown ball after Jones beat the coverage. After that play I was a little upset at how conservative McCarthy became, as I though he should have tried to still get at least a field goal. But knowing that they had the ball to start the second half, I think McCarthy went into lockdown mode. Rodgers fumbled on the ensuing drive and that could have been a big turning point in this game.

The biggest goat in this game though had to be David Akers, as he missed two field goals. Both of the field goals were definitely makable, especially for a guy like Akers. Had he even made one of those field goals, the Eagles would have been in easy position for a game winner with just seconds left to play. I really do think that the Packers were the better team this weekend, but the Eagles had a lot of opportunities to still win this game. That's the beauty of playoff football though - you have to take advantage of the opportunites when you get them. When Philly got a gift after a punt was mistakenly kicked by Brandon Underwood, they need to at least get three off of that turnover. But the Packers made the most out of their opportunities, whereas the Eagles did not, and that's why the Packers are moving on.

5. I'm Almost Feeling Too Good About This Team - Any Wisconsinite that has a shitty sense of humor has already told you that the Packers are going bird hunting (beat the Eagles, next up the Falcons, possibly the Seahawks and then maybe even the Ravens). I say we take one game at a time before we start coming up with jokes that are more suitable for CBS Mondays. Still, I can't help but feel good about the Packers chances going forward. I really do think that their loss to New England was the catalyst to this whole run that we're in the middle of, ala the New York Giants of 2007. The same ones that beat us on the road in the NFC Championship Game. I see that same mojo in the Packers, especially with the having to go on the road for three straight games if they are going to get to the Super Bowl. I really think that his weekend's game against Philly was the toughest of all the contests, but that's not to say that the game in Atlanta won't be challenging as hell. Atlanta wins at home, and even though we should have beat them there earlier in the season, the Falcons just find a way to get it done inside that building. Gut feeling keeps me confident that the Packers will move on, and at this point I'd almost rather play the NFC Championship game in Chicago rather than in Seattle, but now I'm getting way ahead of myself. Let's just keep doing what we have been doing, taking this thing one game at a time, and focusing on S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y, hey!


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