Catching Up

This happened. Can't pretend it didn't. Holy crap, Wisconsin. I leave the state for nine days and this is what you do while I'm gone? Seriously, that's the last time I take a vacation. (It was fun by the way. Thanks for asking.)

I saw Aaron Rodgers' injury take place in a Buffalo Wild Wings in Mason, Ohio. The injury was bad, the original sauce was good, and the Asian Zest wings were just okay. Since I was not equipped with my usual blogging set-up, I held off on writing a post until now, having watched the Bears game on the road and the Eagles game on DVR delay at home.

In short, here are my thoughts from the last two weeks: the quarterback is not the problem, Dom Capers is probably not the problem, and the secondary most definitely is a problem.

Here's what I mean: I think Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien are more capable backups than we realized, BUT (and that's a big but) both of them had the unfortunate experience of trying to fill in for the starter without adequate preparation. Wallace stepped in for Rodgers having never taken a snap in a game of any kind for the Packers, and Tolzien had the same experience a week later. Compare that to Josh McCown, who had two full weeks to prepare for the Packers' attack, and was more or less able to execute a reasonable facsimile of the Bears' full offense. Even (inexplicable) fan favorite Matt Flynn performed much better in relief of Rodgers during the 2010 season after a week to prepare. Remember how poorly he played when Rodgers went down with injury in the Detroit game? And remember how well (excluding the last drive) he played the next week against New England?

Tolzien showed he can move the ball, and with a week to prepare he should be able to clean up some of the mistakes he made against the Eagles and offer a much better showing this week. Eddie Lacy and company should still be able to take some of the pressure off Tolzien, who could in turn offer some relief to the running backs by completing a few passes down field, which he showed he can do against Philadelphia.

Now, the defense. Many called for the head of Dom Capers this week, which just wasn't going to happen. If he didn't get fired after the San Francisco game in the playoffs, he won't get fired now. I've gone on record as a Capers apologist before, and I'm willing to do it a point. Here is that point: the defense has to show they understand basic concepts. I know coaching can only go so far, but watching the Philadelphia game, I noticed something frustrating: the Packers were completely unprepared for the Eagles' unbalanced line formations. Several times, the Eagles threw an extra offensive lineman to one side of the formation and easily picked up big gains running wide to that side. This is not a new thing for the Eagles. Unbalanced lines are something Chip Kelly has done for virtually the entirety of his coaching career.

So why weren't the Packers prepared? That's a coaching problem, to be sure. Dom Capers had to prepare his troops for that look, which brings me to a second concern: why didn't any players recognize it? Surely someone must have said "I do say! There surely are more large men near me than usual. Perchance will they direct a running attempt in this direction?" Are the Packers linebackers and linemen just dumb? Normally, that would be a stupid question, but when they've given up such enormous running gains near the end of games in the last two weeks, it sort of begs to be asked.

And finally, my third point: the secondary. More specifically, the safeties. Conversing with a friend online Sunday night, I mentioned that the Packers are seriously up a creek when it comes to the safety spot. Jerron McMillian is just no good. M.D. Jennings is too small. Chris Banjo is too raw. And Morgan Burnett, the purported leader of the group, looks totally lost. He was the extra man in the box against the run on one play in the first half Sunday and just completely whiffed, giving up a first down. Later (or perhaps earlier, I forget), he broke up a pass that for all the world looked like it was intended for Tramon Williams. And in the second half, he got completely turned around on a deep touchdown to Riley Cooper. The situation is almost completely unfixable at this point, but could have been addressed (as I've pointed out ad nauseum) before quite easily.

So that's where we stand right now. It's not a total disaster...yet. The Packers are 5-4 and they have the second easiest remaining schedule of the three NFC North contenders. Making the playoffs as a wild card is not impossible. But with Aaron Rodgers out at least a couple more weeks, it's going to be a tall order. The Packers have winnable games each of the next two weeks, but they'll need significant progress from Scott Tolzien and the secondary to make it happen. Will it? Hard to say, but it will be interesting to watch.

All right, we're caught up. Regular programming resumes tomorrow. Thanks for enduring the last couple weeks of weirdness.

Jon Meerdink