Aaron Rodgers

Rodgers did a lot of unneeded running on Sunday.

It’s like t-shirt time, only better, because no one from Jersey is involved. Shawn Neuser takes a look at the Green Bay Packers 10-3 victory over the Chicago Bears.

Aaron Rodgers can finally thank the Green Bay Packers defense for showing up for a big game. Here’s an in-depth look at the game and why it was so close.

10:54, 1st quarter — The Packers have their first of many punts in the game as Tim Masthay boots it from the Bears’ 42 and Devin Hester fair catches it at the Bears’ 13. Not the greatest punt in the world, but at least there was no return. The Packers’ first drive appeared promising after an opening eight-yard run by Brandon Jackson and then a slant to Greg Jennings that took the ball to the Bears’ 48. However, facing second-and-2 from the Bears’ 42, Mike McCarthy went ultraconservative with a quick hand-off to John Kuhn that got stuffed for no gain. On third-and-2, McCarthy made a good call with an inside screen to Jackson that looked destined for big yardage, but Rodgers threw the ball behind Jackson and it went right through his arms. Rodgers had to fit the ball between Julius Peppers and a blitzing Lance Briggs, but the replay shows there was room for a more accurate throw. This kind of poor execution would plague the Packers offense all game, especially in short-yardage situations.

8:30, 1st quarter — Facing third-and-12 from their 11 after a delay of game penalty, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler dumps it over the middle to Matt Forte, who appears to have a shot at the first down until A.J. Hawk comes flying up to tackle him in the open field. The Bears go three-and-out on their first possession, which is good preparation for the playoffs. The Green Bay crowd is louder than I’ve ever heard them.

5:52, 1st quarter — In what seems to be a weekly first-half event, the Packers end a drive into opponent territory with a fumble by a receiver. This time it’s Donald Driver who’s hit immediately after catching the ball at the Bears 35.

2:28, 1st quarter — Once again, the Packers offense moves the ball well from their own 12 to midfield, only to fall victim on third-and-2 to poor execution by Rodgers. With first-and-10 at their 36, the Packers run Jackson to the left despite the fact the Bears brought an eighth man into the box before the snap. If Rodgers audibles, both Jennings and Driver have one-on-one matchups on the outside. The run gets zero. A quick pass to James Jones and a good effort after the catch gets eight yards on second down. On the becoming infamous third-and-2, the Bears rush four and get nowhere near Rodgers. Greg Jennings appears open on the slant on the left side, and John Kuhn is open after leaving the backfield. However, Rodgers stares down Jones, and seeing him covered, mysteriously tries to take off running instead of looking for another receiver. Both Bears linebackers are there waiting for him and Rodgers only gets a yard. Frankly, Rodgers looked like a rookie on the play by only going through one read and then scrambling when there was no defender near him.

0:32, 1st quarter — With the Bears threatening for the first time all game, on third-and-8 from the Packers’ 36, Dom Capers sends Nick Collins and Hawk on a blitz. Hawk blows through the middle of the Bears offensive line and chases Cutler out of the pocket and into the arms of Jarius Wynn. The Bears have to punt again. The brief drive consisted of back-to-back big runs over outside linebacker Eric Walden. Why the Bears aren’t running the sweep to Walden’s side on every other play remains a mystery.

12:21, 2nd quarter — The biggest play of the game so far is a 33-yard catch and run by Jennings that is wiped out by a holding call on Bryan Bulaga. A valid call, yes, but it’s still a nice break for the Bears the second referee in the backfield saw it. Without the penalty, the Packers had first down at the Bears’ 26. With the penalty, it’s first-and-20 from the Packers’ 31. It’s been said the home team typically gets a couple breaks; other than the Vikings game, the Packers are still waiting for theirs. Rodgers followed the penalty with a senseless timeout, a coverage sack by a four-man rush, and a scramble for one yard, when Brett Swain was wide open on a crossing route. I have no clue, at this point, what Rodgers is doing out there. Maybe he’s cold. As usual, no one, including himself, knows what McCarthy is doing with the Packers’ running game, either. The first two plays of the drive were runs by James Starks from the I, which netted 10 yards and a first down. What did the Packers do after this promising development? You guessed it, went to the empty-back set.

4:31, 2nd quarter — We finally get a score as Chicago kicks a short field goal to make it 3-0. The 10-play drive is highlighted by a quick slant against a blitz to Rashied Davis that got to midfield thanks to some terrible tackling by the Packers, including a complete whiff by Charlie Peprah right after the catch. Then came a dump pass on third-and-4 to Matt Forte, who made a nice catch and went up the sideline for 20 yards. The drive stalled inside the 10 when the Bears ran for no gain, Cutler threw the ball into the ground on second down, and Walden flew around left tackle for a sack on third.

2:55, 2nd quarter — After a good kick return to the 40, the Packers offense goes nowhere. A run to the right on first down nets one yard when Josh Sitton and Bulaga do their job at the point of attack, but no one else does. Jackson is swarmed from behind. On second down, Rodgers throws too low and Jennings can’t make a sliding catch on a wide-open slant. On third down we get more of the same. It’s third-and-14 after a Bulaga false start. Rodgers scrambles out of the pocket for no reason and gets five yards. This is as bad a half of football from Rodgers as we’ve seen all year.

0:40, 2nd quarter — After the Bears do the Packers a favor and give them the ball back with 1:45 left in the half, the Packers get their first break in the game with a bogus roughing-the-passer call against Peppers. Unfortunately, the Packers follow it with an awful sequence of dropped passes and have to end the half with a punt. On second-and-4 from near midfield, Jennings runs a slant corner and has a shot at a TD, only to have the ball bounce off his hands. Most of the blame goes to Jennings, who is a Pro Bowl wideout and has to find a way to catch this ball, but the pass is designed to be thrown to the outside, away from the safety. Jennings appeared surprised it was thrown nearly directly over his head, as he had to lean backwards to stay in position to catch it. The ball still hit him in the hands, making him look terrible, and though his initial frustration was aimed at where the pass was thrown, he clearly took responsibility for the drop afterward. Jones’ hands have been questionable all year, and I don’t think anyone was stunned when Rodgers’ bullet went right through them on third down. Whether it’s an excuse or not, any hard throw needs to be at the numbers and not where a receiver needs to make a hands catch when the temperature is below 15 degrees.

10:33, 3rd quarter — Perhaps showing the advantage of already having a playoff seed wrapped up, the Bears go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Packers’ 40. The Packers catch a break when the ball slips out of Cutler’s hand, but the Bears are also fortunate no one on defense could come away with it.

10:14, 3rd quarter — The Packers pick up where they left off in the first half with the most bizarre play in the game. Rodgers again has time in the pocket. Again, he has a wide open receiver with Tom Crabtree running uncovered down the middle of the field. Jennings is also open on the hitch. Instead, Rodgers scrambles forward and tries to deliver an off-balance pass to Jennings as he breaks his route up field. Charles Tillman dives in front and intercepts the pass, somehow keeping his fingers under the ball. As Tillman returns it, a loose football comes off the Bears sideline and rolls onto the field. Even though it’s right in front of a referee, who appears to see it, he allows play to continue rather than blowing it dead, and risks someone stepping on the loose ball. Amazingly, a defender takes a moment to pick up the ball during the return and toss it back onto their sideline. Tillman weaves his way through the worst tackling offense in football until Bulaga makes his play of the game by saving a touchdown with a tackle at the 15.

8:39, 3rd quarter — On third-and-20 with the Bears easily in field goal range, Cutler returns to form and throws a completely idiotic pick to Peprah in the end zone. The best part of the play is Peprah stepping out of bounds after the pick rather than trying to advance it.

7:19, 3rd quarter — Hey, its third-and-2 for the Packers again. Again, the Packers will be punting after Rodgers goes deep to Jennings and the throw isn’t even close. The Packers continue to be victimized by Rodgers’ mysterious lack of patience. The Bears again rush four and get nowhere near Rodgers. The designed play is a short crossing route to Jones with Driver running interference. The Bears momentarily blow up the play by holding Driver, who gets in Jones’ way as he tries to get across the field. However, if Rodgers simply trusts his blocking and holds the ball for another second, Jones breaks off his route and is open in the middle of the field. Andrew Quarless is also open on the corner route, with only a safety covering him. Instead, Rodgers fires downfield to Jennings — not the worst idea since coverage is one-on-one, but the pass is too far to give Jennings any chance at catching it.

6:05, 3rd quarter — Wow, apparently Hell hath frozen over. I just saw Tramon Williams take a punt north and south for once and make the play of the game, so far, for the Packers, who are, incredibly, outplaying the Bears on special teams. The offense starts with the ball at the Bears’ 43. A three-and-out by the Bears, which featured consecutive blitzes by the Packers on second and third down, set up the return. I am loving this aggressive defense in the second half.

3:03, 3rd quarter — Rodgers gets sacked on third down from the four and the Packers have to settle for a field goal. The drive started with a God awful mark on Jennings’ play to the one. The Packers finally run the best route against the Cover 2 — the deep in — and Jennings takes it to the one on a 33-yard completion. However, replay shows Jennings came within a foot of scoring on the play, easily inside of the one, but the referee standing three feet away thought he’d make it a nice easy mark and put the ball right on the one instead of a good half yard inside it. McCarthy goes with a version of the three-fullback set by having Kuhn, Quinn Johnson and Crabtree in the backfield, but instead of having the fullbacks block out, they simply dive straight ahead. Sitton and Bulaga end up in the end zone. Great for them, except, predictably, Quarless gets overwhelmed at the edge, and with Crabtree running by instead of helping out, Isreal Idonije crushes Kuhn in the backfield for no gain. On second down, Rodgers fakes the QB sneak and tosses outside to Jackson. I love this play because the Packers never attack the outside near the goal line. The Bears were completely sucked in and Jackson should have had an easy touchdown, but Rodgers short arms the pass and Jackson has to stop and scoop it off the turf, allowing the defense to recover and swarm him at the four. Then, on third down the Packers get bit in the ass by Rodgers’ happy feet again. Rodgers looks to his left where Driver is running the dig route at the goal line — a favorite play of the Packers. The Bears have it covered. Rodgers quickly looks to his right, where Jones is covered up on the sideline. Even though there’s still no pressure, Rodgers decides to run. If he would have went to a third read, Driver is now wide open on the left side, with no one within five yards of him. Jennings is also wide open in the middle of the end zone. Instead, Rodgers takes off running and is tackled by Tommie Harris, who started the play lying flat on his belly, which reduced the pass rush to just three guys. Rodgers might have been able to stand in the pocket and have a sandwich before anyone got near him.

McCarthy has clearly done a great job coaching Rodgers into one of the best QBs in the game. However, someone needs to explain to him that taking a sack on the 10-yard line on third down is no great error. It’s just as good as throwing an incompletion, and it’s far better than throwing a pick or getting hurt trying to run. Sacks on first and second down can kill drives or ruin scoring chances, but a sack on third is usually no big deal unless it knocks you out of field goal range. In other words, on third down, hang onto the football and give your receivers a chance to get open. If there’s no pass rush, TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT!

Regardless, Crosby kicks a short field goal and the game is tied 3-3. At this point, one has to wonder if Rodgers is more concerned with losing than winning.

1:00, 3rd quarter — The local media mistakenly called the third-and-15 here, where the Bears called timeout, seemingly taking a first down off the board — a turning point in the game. Replay shows all three Packers that were in position to stop the first down — Peprah, Hawk and Charles Woodson — all held up upon seeing the referee on the sideline signal timeout. In fact, Peprah even lifted his arm to point to the referee while the play was going on. So, the likelihood is the timeout allowed Chester Taylor to get the first down; without it, he’s tackled short. That is, of course, assuming the three Packers would have tackled him.

14:10, 4th quarter — For me, the real turning point of the game was here. The Packers have the ball at their own 33, and it’s third-and-3. As well-chronicled, the Packers have been miserable on third-and-short all game. The play before, on second-and-2, McCarthy went ultraconservative again and called a quick run to Kuhn, who was stuffed for a loss after Anthony Adams drove Scott Wells two yards into the backfield. So, once again, the Packers were looking at stalling after having second-and-2. However, this time Rodgers finds Driver wide open in the middle of the field for a 19-yard gain and a big first down. Rodgers correctly read that the Bears dropped back into Cover 2 at the snap, opening up the middle of the field. The very next play, the Packers finally run a play-action fake at the Bears. Blame the coach for not seeing Rodgers’ anxiety and calling this sooner. The play fake seems to make Rodgers more comfortable in the pocket. The Bears initially do a good job in coverage, but with no pass rush, Jennings turns his route up the sideline. Rodgers takes his time, reads the entire field, sees Jennings break free, and delivers a beautiful pass to him in stride. The Bears were lucky to tackle Jennings at the one.

12:42, 4th quarter — There will be no repeat of the disaster from the one-yard line earlier in the half. First down is the most deadly play-action down. The Bears completely commit to the run, and Donald Lee is wide open after chucking his linebacker at the goal line. Easy touchdown. After stumbling through most of three quarters, the Packers have 10 points in the last five minutes and the lead — 10-3 Packers.

0:10, 4th quarter — Game over. Collins collects an overthrown Cutler pass and slides down to seal the game for the Packers. Prior to this, the Packers offense had a couple chances, usually with good field position, to end the game by going up two scores. The offense failed miserably. They left the defense to save the game at the end. Fortunately, the defense was aided by the Bears’ sluggish clock management. The Bears advanced the ball so slowly, Cutler was left near the 30-yard line with only 20 seconds. It all but forced Cutler’s desperate heave over the middle, that sailed on him into the enormous gloves of Collins.

Props to the Bears and Lovie Smith for playing hard all game with little to gain other than respect and the relish of knocking the Packers out of the playoffs. Props to Dom Capers for his ultra-aggressive defensive game plan in the second half. The Eagles can watch that game film and be dismayed.

The Packers actually enter the playoffs with nearly the exact opposite attitude as last year. Last year, the offense was flying high and had pundits in awe. This year, the defense enters the playoffs on a roll.

Now, Michael Vick presents problems that no other player in the league does, but if the defense can keep playing like it has the last month of the season, the Packers can beat any team in the league.

In reviewing the tape for this game, I blame the bulk of the offense’s problems on Rodgers. It goes without saying he’ll need to play better for the Packers to win in the playoffs, but considering how awesome Rodgers was against the Giants, I have no concerns of a trend. The answer in the running game seems to be obvious — run James Starks behind a fullback, use Brandon Jackson as your third-down or shotgun-draw back. Of course, McCarthy doesn’t necessarily seem to agree.

We can always hope.