President Bush (and it pains me to use that title with that man, but the fact remains that he was elected to the office in 2004) had an expression that he was quite fond of saying and it wasn’t related to Saddam Huessin or what Mr. Bush liked to say about his tendencies to “terrorize himself” in the march up to war in 2003. “The soft bigotry of low expectations,” in Mr. Bush’s view (or more correctly – in the view of his speechwriter Michael Gerson) was what led us as a society to believe in what Jake McIntyre so eloquently put it: “the preconception that disadvantaged folks won’t ever succeed, and the resulting development of policies predicated upon their inevitable failure.” The idea is similar to what Republicans have no epitomized in their idea of the government handout. The idea that you have a bunch “welfare queens” as Reagan liked to say who became well-payed government types due to the liberal policies that discriminated against white people to the advantage of minorities who supposedly lacked the innovation or skill to work in the private sector and thus got easy jobs that the average white person could never dream of at a salary that is so incredibly disproportional to our own that it makes us mad with fury has been around for decades. It was Mr. Bush however who used this phrase to propel his own political agenda with great success (and great irony I think due to his own ineptness for the job he held) that made the phrase such a mainstay in our political dialogue. This phrase does not just belong in politics however. Every year there are sports team who meet the requirement of this phrase as well and if ever there was a team to embody that phrase I would argue that it is this years Green Bay Packers.
It is not fair to put the blame of the Green Bay Packers demise over the last month and a half squarely on the shoulders of the player starting at the quarterback position for the team. That’s not a fair assessment for anyone to make (unless you were making it about Josh Freeman and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in which case you would have been entirely correct for doing so.) The case against the Packers being a quality football team this year lies with their defense, which has been a problem area since the end of the team’s implausible Super Bowl run in 2010. In 2011, the Packers set a then-NFL record for yards allowed per game, a mark that would be erased by an even more woeful New Orleans Saints defense in 2012. In 2011, the Packers were embarrassed in the Divisional round of the playoffs by a New York Giants team that went on to win the Super Bowl. In 2012, the Packers were embarrassed yet again in the divisional round but this time after giving up an NFL playoff record 527 total yards of offense to the San Francisco 49ers. Green Bay decided to keep their Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers and his 3-4 scheme in place however and the organization has acted genuinely surprised that the results have not changed year-to-year over the past three seasons. Some have argued that the personnel has not been the same and that is certainly the case. The Packers defense never recovered from the week 2 loss of Nick Collins in 2011 against the Carolina Panthers. Collins retired from football in 2013.
The Packers were able to win their division in both 2011 and 2012 based on their prolific offense that led the league in scoring in 2011 and ranked in the top five in 2012. A big reason for the Packers success lay in the arm of Aaron Rodgers – the highest rated passer in NFL history through his first hundred games. What was even more impressive about Rodgers’ performance was that he was able to put up the ridiculous numbers that he did with a laughable running game. The Packers did not have a 100-yard rusher until week five of 2013. You had to go all the way back to the Packers regular season game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010 to find a running back who posted a 100-yard game (Ryan Grant.) It wasn’t just Rodgers that deserved the credit either. The Packers have boasted some of the best skill position players in football. The Packers wide receiving corps has led the league in yards after catch each of the last two years. So, should it be expected that these skill position players should keep up their production with four different quarterbacks at the helm over six (soon to be seven weeks tomorrow?) Hardly. The Packers receiving corps were able to put up decent numbers with Scott Tolzein at the helm boasting five plays of twenty yards of more in his two starts with the team, but the team failed to score a red-zone touchdown in either game. Coach Mike McCarthy pulled Tolzien in his second start after putting up terrible numbers against a Minnesota Vikings defense that ranked last in the league in passing defense. Matt Flynn led the Packers to a tie and the first non-loss of the post-Rodgers era. The next game for Flynn however was abhorrent. The Packers scored just ten points against a suspect Detroit Lions defense that has lacked consistency every years that Coach Jim Schwartz has been at the helm. All of this begs the question: what should we realistically expect from this dilapidated Green Bay Packers football team? The answer: not much.
Team defense has been an issue for a while now in Green Bay. The leadership of veterans Nick Collins and Charles Woodson left along with the players and the void has been there to fill all season. The secondary is the area where the Green Bay Packers have really suffered but the question must be asked: is it entirely their fault? I would argue that it is not entirely their fault just as the Packers offensive woes do not fall on one player either. The Packers lack of a consistent pass rush has meant that corners have had to stay with receivers longer in coverage and expecting phenomenal safety play out of M.D. Jennings will always be a pipe dream just as it was with Charlie Peprah. Morgan Burnett has been solid for the Packers but his lack of a traditional Safety presence beside him has always hurt his game. Burnett is best used in the Packers’ run defense. His coverage skills especially in zone coverage, a skill he lacked coming into the NFL, have stuck out like a sore thumb but without a reliable safety on the other side of him the blame cannot rest entirely upon his shoulders. The communication between the Packers secondary especially in terms of basic coverage assignments has been anemic. Part of the problem lies in the fact that communication now goes through Middle Linebacker A.J. Hawk. Hawk is more concerned with trying to stop the run than he is in traditional coverage and it shows when the Packers give up big plays. So, what should we expect from the Packers on Sunday when they play the Dallas Cowboys in Dallas? Nothing good I suspect.
One writer at Yahoo Sports expressed the view this week that Matt Flynn would put up 300 yards and pass for three touchdowns against an under-performing Dallas defense in a column earlier this week. That is, to anyone who has watched Flynn play this year, an utterly hilarious proposition. Flynn could not put up 300 yards against the Packers scouting team on the practice field. He has not completed a pass of over twenty yards through the air since 2011 and hasn’t thrown for more than two tds in a game since his unbelievable game against the Lions in 2011, which was his only career game with three or more touchdowns. Expecting that kind of quarterbacking brilliance from Flynn simply isn’t realistic. It may be possible for Flynn to throw for three hundred yards if his receivers can break a ton of tackles and Eddie Lacy can continue to pound the ball with the kind of regularity that he has shown he is capable of earlier this season. However, Lacy is hurt and will likely see a smaller workload as a result. Packers fans should expect the James Starks show to return in Big D and when that happens it will likely be a long afternoon for Packers fans.
The offensive line is also an issue for the Packers. It’s a good thing that Aaron Rodgers isn’t starting this game because he likely would not be able to make the kind of athletic plays to escape pressure with a bad left shoulder. Ball control would be an issue when Rodgers would move out of the pocket and his ability to read a cover-2 defense (which has always been shaky) would make it seem like Rodgers has been gone for more than a few weeks and would likely make it an even more awful afternoon that it is likely to be for a Packers offense that was once looked at with fear by opposing defenses. Team defenses don’t respect what Matt Flynn can do with his arm and thus rush as many people as humanly possible knowing that Flynn is indecisive in the pocket and can’t launch the ball down the field to receivers locked in single coverage. This is a nightmare match-up for the Packers in many ways because the Cowboys have skill players on the defensive side of the ball that will cause headaches for the Packers offensive line. The only solace Packers fans can take is that Tony Romo has been a terrible December quarterback and has always struggled against 3-4 defenses – a fact that Howie Long once pointed out was extremely suspect since he has faced a 3-4 defense day in and day out for the better part of his career with the Dallas Cowboys. It will likely be a woeful showing by both teams much in the same vein as it was when the Packers played the Falcons and the Vikings. The question thus becomes: can the Packers play a competent game despite the incompetency and inconsistent play of their team this season? Another factor for Dallas will be the play of their running game. DeMarco Murray has had a down season despite being healthy for the first time in his career. It will be interesting to see if he can remain healthy enough to stay on the field for four quarters. The Cowboys have depth at the running back position as well. It should be an interesting game in big D tomorrow to say the least. I think it will boil down to who scores the most points.