During the Green Bay Packers five-game winning streak, their game plan was pretty simple – control the clock, take care of the football and let the defense loose on the opposing quarterback.
And just as soon as I patted coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers on the back for devising a winning strategy, they completely abandon it. In the Packers’ 37-36 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, the team accomplished only one of the keys to their winning ways – they took care of the ball.
The Packers committed zero turnovers on the day, but their defense was completely ineffective, giving up a whopping 537 yards and creating zero Steelers’ turnovers.
This is the same Pittsburgh team that gave up eight sacks and didn’t reach the end zone in losing 13-6 to the Cleveland Browns last week. The Browns put constant pressure on Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and didn’t give him an opportunity to find his receivers, but apparently, Capers didn’t pay much attention to a that game plan.
Although the Packers sacked Roethlisberger five times on the day, the defensive game plan was to play coverage, rather than rush the passer, during much of the second half.
“They went to four wide receivers,” Capers sad. “Down the stretch there, we felt we would have been better off matching up defensive backs on receivers.”
Capers was wrong, and Roethlisberger picked apart the middle of the Packers defense for a Steelers-record 503 yards passing. Particularly abused were nickel back Jarrett Bush, dime back Josh Bell and linebacker A.J. Hawk.
Hawk was actually removed from the nickel package in favor of Brandon Chillar in the second half, after giving up a 27-yard gain to tight end Heath Miller, but the Packers had no place to hide Bush and Bell.
Bush gave up completions of 60 yards to Mike Wallace and 54 yards to Hines Ward. Bell was called for defensive holding with 24 seconds left and then gave up the winning touchdown to Wallace.
In addition to their inexplicable defensive game plan, the Packers also lost the time of possession battle for the first time since their week eight loss to the Minnesota Vikings. The Steelers held a 35:22 to 24:38 advantage in that battle.
During their five-game winning streak, the Packers had been winning the time of possession battle by more than 10 minutes, on average. Although the Steelers rushing attack was anemic on the day, at least they tried to run the ball occasionally.
The Packers, on the other hand, rushed the ball only 12 times. Three of those rushes were by Aaron Rodgers on pass plays. Ryan Grant carried the ball only eight times for 37 yards one week after torching the Chicago Bears for 137 yards.
McCarthy, of course, pulled the matchup card.
“I think it was more the way they played us to our personnel groups. They played a lot of base defense on first and second down, and that’s really why I went the direction I did with our passing game,” he said.
Nothing like keeping them honest, coach.
Overall, the loss isn’t the end of the world, but it went a long way to show that the Packers cannot win on talent alone – they simply don’t have enough of it. The Packers weaker players need to be protected by the coaches’ game plan, and on Sunday, the coaches didn’t do that.