Larivee: Defense has to show up for Packers
Every NFL season, every NFL team comes to a “come to Jesus” moment. Some reach that point earlier than others. Some experience that moment in training camp, some the first month of the season, others at the midpoint of the schedule and still others as late as December or January.
For the red hot Carolina Panthers their “moment of truth” this season came after they had dropped a 22-6 decision to the Arizona Cardinals in the desert. The Panthers were 1-3, head coach Ron Rivera was on his way out, quarterback Cam Newton couldn’t lead and the whole operation was heading to hell in a hand basket.
That’s the other thing about an NFL season—it is an exercise in hyperbole. The exhilaration of each victory is more than doubled by the despair of each defeat. Yes we, like former Packers head coach Mike Sherman, all take losses harder than we enjoy wins especially when it comes to an incredibly successful franchise like the Green Bay Packers.
Back to Carolina, at one and three with many more questions than answers the Panthers headed to Minnesota to face the very same Vikings whom the Packers will meet this weekend. The Panthers kicked the Vikings 35 to 10 and they haven’t lost since. They have won 6 straight and that streak includes a win at San Francisco and a controversial victory over the Patriots last Monday night.
In Green Bay we all remember the “come to Jesus moment” of the 2010 season when the injury depleted Packers lost at New England. They came home with an 8-6 record to face the New York Giants. The Packers still controlled their own destiny at that point. Furthermore it seemed a good bet that a Wild Card teams was coming out of the North that season. The Packers responded in that moment with a 45-17 beat-down of the GMen and they never lost again culminating in the club’s 13th World Championship.
I believe this is one of those “fork in the road” moments for these Packers this weekend against the Vikings. If the Packers win out to close the regular season they will be assured of their third straight NFC North Division Championship. They control their own destiny just as they did in 2010.
I fully understand that this injury riddled Packers team will still have five games to go after this week so regardless of the outcomeSunday, at worst they potentially would trail either Detroit or Chicago (or both) by two games in the NFC North Division with five games to play. Mathematically they wouldn’t be out of anything. However, they would be on a short week, heading into Detroit to battle the potentially first place Lions, on a four game losing streak and a game under .500. To steal a line from one of my favorite movies “That’s no way to go through life” or make a playoff run. So this game, on November 24th in Lambeau Field against the archrival Vikings is big.
A win by the Packers keeps them no worse than a game behind the Lions and Bears “oh my!” A win Sunday for the Packers keeps them in control of their own destiny. A win over the Vikings would end a three game losing streak, buy another week until Aaron Rodgers can get back behind center, make Thanksgiving interesting and December meaningful.
Many continue to draw parallels between this season and the Championship campaign of 2010. I just did a moment ago, but that club had a resolute defense. One that produced 32 takeaways, a defense that could win a game 9-0 in the Meadowlands over the playoff bound Jets and 10-3 over the NFC North Division Champion Chicago Bears. This defense of 2013 over the past three plus weeks has begun to worry me. Whereas the 2010 unit could pick up the offense and win a game, this one, has not done that yet. Certainly not during this three game losing streak.
Aaron Rodgers makes everyone on all three units of the football team offense, defense, and special teams better. There is something to be said about how a quarterback affects the defense playing with him. Since ARod went down, teams have not felt pressure to outscore the Packers-they’ve played on the lead. As was pointed out in the Green Bay Press-Gazette by Eric Baranczyk and Cliff Christl earlier this week: during this three game losing streak the Packers have played from behind a total of 136 minutes, 42 seconds. The last time the Packers won, at Minnesota almost a month ago, they controlled the football for more than forty minutes and played on the lead or tied for all but the first 7 minutes and 23 seconds of the game.
Without Rodgers presence opponents have not respected the Packers passing game. They have loaded the box with seven sometimes eight men daring the Packers to throw while clogging the running lanes with defenders. One of the league’s top running games (6th this week) has ground to a halt. In the last two weeks the Packers have managed a total of 154 yards rushing on 50 attempts a 3.1 average per play.
Conversely, in the past three weeks the Packers defense has given up 738 yards through the air, that’s 246 yards per game with 62.7% completions, six touchdowns and just one interception. Opponent’s passer ratings have been 90.7, 149.3 and 92.4 over that three game span.
The defense has hasn’t held an opponent under 24 points in more than a month and remember, despite just 19 minutes, and six seconds time of possession while running only 43 plays from scrimmage, the Vikings offense, such as it is, put 24 points on the board (the other TD was a 109 yard kickoff return touchdown by Cordarrelle Patterson).
The injury to Rodgers has implication on both sides of the football in this “Boarder Battle.” The Packers as a team miss the infusion of confidence he gives every unit of the club. When he is there every player and coach believes they WILL win. The Vikings gain a confidence and a belief they CAN win this game over the Rodgers-less Packers even in the midst of their disappointing 2-8 campaign.
The great quarterback can mask a lot of ills as Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees do every week they play. Without ARod the Packers need their defense to step-up and perhaps win a game or two to keep a realistic playoff hope alive.