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 21-16 wild card victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Without any adieu, here’s a review of the Packers’ playoff win in Philly.
14:55, 1st quarter — First-and-10 at the Philadelphia 15 and Michael Vick is pummeled from behind by a blitzing Desmond Bishop, who lined up at the line of scrimmage and came through clean when the Eagles decided to double Clay Matthews. Everyone coming into this game lauded the Packers blitz and the Eagles’ issues with blitz pick-up. All these people think they’re pretty smart after one play. Two plays later, Vick scrambles out of the pocket to find three Packers defenders waiting for him. He loses one and the Eagles fail to convert on third-and-1. This is a sign of things to come.
12:53, 1st quarter — The Eagles get the first break of the game when Brandon Underwood brushes a near motionless football with his cleat and the refs give the Eagles a gift — Philadelphia ball. Not only could the ball have been blown dead before the touch, but replay clearly shows Underwood was pushed into it by two Eagles. The play is reminiscent of the last time the Packers played Michael Vick in the playoffs. In that game, against the Falcons, the Packers fell victim to a fumble on a punt. Replay showed the Packers never touched the ball. In all my life, this remains the only “fumble” I’ve seen where the offending team never touched the football at any point. Mike Sherman never challenged the play, saying afterward the refs told him it was unreviewable. The referees denied they told Sherman any such thing. The Packers, of course, would go on to get their asses kicked. Unfortunately, Sherman’s boot wouldn’t come until later.
10:45, 1st quarter — The first turnover of the game bears no fruit, as David Akers misses a 41-yard kick after the Packers defense holds strong. The announcers suggest kicking in this direction is problematic. True dat. The Packers defense has already made it clear it isn’t last year’s defense and there will be no shootout here.
8:41, 1st quarter — The Packers first drive gets to the Eagles’ 38, but ends when a third-and-7 out is dropped by Greg Jennings. Aaron Rodgers rushed the throw in the face of an all-out blitz, and what’s worse, replay shows the Eagles didn’t cover Jordy Nelson, who lined up in the near slot. Nelson ran uncovered down the middle of the field — no one within 10 yards of him.
7:23, 1st quarter — LeSean McCoy rolls up DeSean Jackson’s leg and knocks him out for the remainder of the half. The play itself is called back on a holding call that doomed the Eagles’ drive. Unfortunately, Jackson’s knee wouldn’t get a do over.
6:03, 1st quarter — Here’s something no one else has really talked about. On third-and-9, McCoy takes a dump off and gets hit by Eric Walden, who causes a fumble. Replay shows Jason Avant and Nick Collins both jump on the ball. Somehow, the refs award the Eagles the ball even though Collins comes out of the pile early with it and pleads his case.
5:45, 1st quarter — Hello, game changer. On second-and-10 from the Green Bay 32, James Starks gets his first carry of the game and goes 37 yards. I love being right. I have been whining like a toddler for Starks to get the ball out of the inverted wishbone, or what Scott Van Pelt called the “flexbone,” ever since he had success from that formation against the 49ers. We finally see it here, and it immediately goes for 37 yards. Starks actually was guilty of a flinch false start on the play, so the Packers got a break.
0:13, 1st quarter — On probably the best play call of the day, the Packers go play action pass on first down from the 7. Tom Crabtree is wide open in the flat for the TD. The play followed arguably Rodgers’ best play of the game. On third-and-5, Rodgers rolled to his left and found John Kuhn in traffic for the first down.
13:00, 2nd quarter — On third-and-7 from the Eagles’ 35, Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews both go crashing into the middle of the line on a blitz. Matthews rips through and face plants Vick at the 22. The Eagles are lucky Vick didn’t come up with a clod of sod attached to his headgear. You don’t want your QB taking hits like that.
5:21, 2nd quarter — The Packers finish a 12-play, 57-yard drive with a nine-yard touchdown pass to James Jones on a broken play. The drive consisted of a heavy dose of Starks from the flexbone and passes to Kuhn and Quinn Johnson. The touchdown was a middle screen to Donald Lee that was well-covered. Rodgers did well to scramble to his right and find a wide open Jones, who made a decent catch on a low throw — 14-0 Packers.
1:11 2nd, quarter — David Akers kicks a 29-yard field goal to put the Eagles on the board. The Eagles finally made a big play with a deep in to Jeremy Maclin that went for 44 yards. The Packers actually faked a Cover 2 zone here, and at the snap, rotated into man-to-man with Collins the lone man deep and Charlie Peprah flying up to cover the tight end. Creative defense. The Eagles were fooled and ran the deep in, which is a good route against the Cover 2. The Eagles found serendipitous success when the Packers blitz got nowhere near Vick and Tramon Williams played soft coverage, giving up the middle of the field to Maclin. Collins could not have helped on the play without letting Sam Shields go one-on-one with Jackson on the deep slant. The Packers defense still did well to hold the Eagles to a field goal. The Packers could have called timeout with about 1:45 left, and had one timeout to do something after the Eagles’ score. However, there were three strong factors working against the decision. The Packers had an 11-point lead, were getting the ball after the half, and the wind made any field goal in that direction questionable. Anyone who knows Mike McCarthy knew there wouldn’t be a timeout called, and frankly, I’m not sure any coach in the NFL would have done differently, considering the circumstances.
0:31, 2nd quarter — The Packers get their weekly dropped touchdown pass, and this time it’s James Jones. I’ve always been a Jones fan, but you can’t fail to make these plays in the NFL and pull a paycheck. Period. I’m no NFL scout, but I know enough to know that. Troy Aikman emphatically states, “Rodgers couldn’t have walked it out there and handed it to him any better.” Haha… great call. Ironically, Jones might be saving the Packers money with his butter fingers. After the drop, running the clock out was inevitable. A dump pass to Jackson put the ball at the Packers’ 43 with only 20 seconds left. With just one timeout to use and the wind in their face, there simply wasn’t enough time to do anything.
14:01, 3rd quarter — If McCarthy’s halftime speech included the command to go out and give the game away, the Packers wasted no time executing. After another good Starks’ run of eight yards, the Packers stayed aggressive with a play-action pass on second-and-2. With all day to throw, Rodgers threw the ball behind Donald Driver, who didn’t help matters by dropping it. Then, on third-and-2, after wasting a timeout, the Packers went four wide with Kuhn in the backfield. The Eagles backed off and sent four rushers, playing zone behind it. Initially, everyone is covered, except for Jones who is left free in the middle of the field, which the Eagles seem to leave open a lot. Rodgers looks to Driver, who’s covered, and has to pull it down. Unfortunately, Daryn Colledge gets beat by Darryl Tapp, who knocks the ball free from Rodgers as he’s trying to step up in the pocket. Philadelphia recovers a huge fumble. On replay, it looks like the tuck rule could have applied to this play, but no one else seems to notice and it’s a crappy rule anyway.
Shortly thereafter — Two plays later Vick hits Avant to quickly give us a game at 14-10. The Packers only rush three from a nickel defense, but have man-to-man underneath with two safeties sitting over the top. Everyone is well-covered except for Avant, who faked Jarrett Bush across field and then got behind him on the post. Vick has plenty of time to pinpoint a pass over Bush and between the Packers safeties.
7:30, 3rd quarter — The Packers finish off their most important drive of the season with a 16-yard touchdown on a screen to Jackson. The 80-yard drive was the work of the Packers running backs and Donald Driver. It included two clutch third-down conversions on passes to Driver and a 19-yard run by Starks. On the screen, Jackson did a fabulous job by waiting for his blockers and then following in their wake to the end zone. It was a huge play after a bogus holding penalty knocked the Packers back. While having the wind at their back, it was crucial for the Packers to get out of the third quarter with the same 11-point lead they had going in — 21-10 Packers.
4:02, 4th quarter — The Packers may have not scored during the fourth quarter, but they combined a couple defensive stops, a missed field goal, and a couple short drives on offense to gobble up the clock. Even on this scoring drive for the Eagles, the Packers didn’t give up any big plays and forced the Eagles to run more clock than they wanted to. It took fourth down for the Eagles to finally get into the end zone, and then only by inches. The Eagles insisted on running Vick on the draw, and the Packers were waiting for it every time. The Packers actually got a big break when Brent Celek inadvertently stepped out of the end zone on the two-point conversion. It was a blown coverage, leaving Celek wide open. After it took a congressional committee to get the call right, the Eagles retried from the 7, but it was much ado about nothing as A.J. Hawk came through clean on a blitz and Vick stumbled trying to evade him. Great defensive call on the retry — 21-16 Packers.
2:00, 4th quarter — The Packers have to punt from inside their 30 after taking two minutes and the Eagles final two timeouts away. The Packers started with two hand offs to Starks, who broke the second-down run for 12 yards and a first down. The Packers were one first down away from running out the clock at that point. They gave the ball to Starks again on first down, and he only gained one yard over the right side as the Eagles run blitzed and Quinn Johnson failed to clear any room to run. On second down and 9, it appears the Packers ran the same play to the left. Starks could have popped a big run and won the game by breaking it outside the left tackle. Unfortunately, he saw something to his right and tried to cut it back across the formation and lost a yard. Give the Packers credit for trying to pick up the first down on third down, when they knew running the football would get them to the two-minute warning. The Eagles came with a six-man blitz and Kuhn and Chad Clifton completely blew their blocks. The sack at least kept the clock running.
0:33, 4th quarter — The Eagles basically made two plays to get to the Packers’ 27. They started the drive with a 28-yard pass to Jackson. Jackson got a great block by the referee standing in the middle of the field, and Peprah missed the tackle when he dove instead of waiting for Jackson to clear the ref. Bishop might have saved the Packers’ season by making a shoestring tackle on Jackson at the Packers’ 38. Two plays later, Vick hit Riley Cooper for an 11-yard gain on a slant against tight coverage from Tramon Williams. Vick foolishly called an all-go route the very next play. He tried the pump fake and then tossed the ball to the end zone on Williams. The fake by Cooper merely caused Tramon to look for the football. Sighting it, he showed off his vertical leap and somewhat easily came down with the biggest interception of his career. It allowed Rodgers to run the quarterback’s favorite play — the kneel down. Game over.
This was a huge win for the Packers, who are now rolling behind victories in three consecutive must-win games against playoff or playoff-caliber teams. The defense is playing as well as any defense in the league. An injury might have actually improved the unit once again, as Eric Walden has clearly outplayed Frank Zombo on the right side. Matthews seems near full strength, and B.J. Raji is playing the best ball in his young career. This secondary of Williams, Woodson, Collins, Peprah and Shields has to be the best Packers secondary I’ve ever seen. When you couple that with Dom Capers being in a good groove with blitzes, you have a defense that hasn’t given up 20 points since the last time they played Atlanta (the Patriots essentially scored 14 points with their defense and special teams and only 17 points on offense).
The offense showed as much balance as it has all year, and the Falcons truly have something new to worry about with James Starks in the backfield. The passing game hasn’t fired on all cylinders the last two weeks, but considering the talent and the fact that the next game is in a dome, I wouldn’t count on that remaining the case. Frankly, the Packers look like the best team in the NFC right now, but it will take a win in Atlanta to prove it.
There seems to be a couple reasons why the Packers have a habit of not putting teams away in the fourth quarter. For one, whether you agree with it or not, Mike McCarthy has always preached a defense-first philosophy. That means McCarthy would rather finish the game with his defense on the field versus taking unnecessary chances with the offense. I think people struggle with this not only from a philosophical standpoint, but also due to the fact the Packers have such a good offense and most people think this is an offense-first team. When you consider McCarthy’s habit of running the clock out before the half and, like in the first Bears’ game, letting the clock run down at the end of the game rather than call a timeout, you see actions consistent with the defense-first philosophy.
Like most people who get hot and bothered, I would prefer a more offensive mindset, especially when you have a very good offense. However, when faced with the results, I have to acquiesce to the fact that McCarthy’s strategy works, and as long as it continues to, leading to winning seasons and playoff wins, I hardly see the logic in complaining about it. It’s simply McCarthy, for better or worse.
Lastly, before we put the entire blame on coaching, the players also seem to struggle to execute in these very situations. Frustratingly, it’s rarely the same person. In this game, on third-and-10 with a chance to win the game with a first down, the normally reliable Chad Clifton and John Kuhn both blew blocks that led to Rodgers getting sacked. Last week, with a chance to salt it away on offense, someone else blew a block, and etc…etc… If this team doesn’t reach the Super Bowl, it will likely be due to special teams or this fact — the inability to execute against a desperate defense at the end of game.