What’s So Funny ‘Bout Football, Love & Understanding
This post isn’t necessarily intended as an apology for the current plight of the Green Bay Packers, but those at whom it’s directed will almost certainly perceive it that way. I consider it more an appeal to logic. I just have to marvel at the fans who witness blow after blow to this team and continue to think things can be business as usual at 1265 Lombardi Avenue. It’s enough to bring a lazy writer out of retirement.
The main source of the Packers’ problems this season should be obvious to anyone. Yes, other teams have suffered significant injuries, but nothing even approaching the scope of what has occurred in Green Bay. While I don’t expect that to elicit much sympathy from the media or fans of other teams, I would’ve expected it to generate a little more understanding from a fan base that generally prides itself on having an above average quotient of ‘football knowledge’.
When I watched the Packers get demoralized at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day, I saw a team that was both physically and mentally shredded. Yet, there seems to be a feeling in many quarters of “Packer Nation” that this team should still be competing for a playoff spot. That, if the coaches move the existing pieces around a little differently or motivate them a little better, the results would be substantially improved. Maybe that’s just the frustration of watching a once promising season fade into oblivion, but I simply can’t subscribe to that line of thinking.
Apparently, Packer fans have become so accustomed to an endless parade of injuries that they fail to take into account their cumulative effect. So perhaps a quick recap is in order. Or, as quick as it can be given the sheer volume.
The Packers were behind the 8-ball before the season even began. The returning starter at tailback, DuJaun Harris, suffered a season ending injury almost as soon as training camp began. And an already thin offensive line, with 4 of its 5 returning members slated to start at different positions, lost its most significant piece when left tackle Brian Bulaga went out for the year. That forced the team to start unheralded rookie David Bakhtiari at the line’s most important position. Then, projected backup center J.C. Tretter got hurt, so when starter Evan Dietrich-Smith was knocked out of a couple of games, it necessitated moving guard T.J. Lang over to cover a position he had never played previously, along with the entry of the ‘swinging gate’ known as reserve right tackle Marshall Newhouse. As was illustrated last year with now retired center Jeff Saturday, an offensive line is only as strong as its weakest link and the Packers are now playing with more than one. By way of comparison, last year’s edition of the San Francisco 49ers lost exactly 0 player games on the offensive line due to injury and still couldn’t manage to win a title.
Once the season started, those offensive linemen were shortly joined on the IR by starting wideout Randall Cobb and tight end Jermichael Finley, both of whom are indisputably impact players for the offense. Early on, the team had to endure the brief absences of RBs Eddie Lacy and James Starks. The injuries suffered on the other side of the ball, from DBs Craig Heyward and Morgan Burnett to LBs Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, may not have been as lengthy or severe, but they did serve to destroy any continuity the Packers endeavored to achieve on defense. The shuffling of players in and out of the lineup forced a constant retrenching on the part of Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers.
Now I won’t deny that perhaps Capers’ message is getting stale, but I doubt that anyone else could do much better under the circumstances. As if changing an entire defensive scheme 2/3 of the way through the season will suddenly bring things into focus for the players.
And then, of course, there was the absolute ‘killer’….the broken collar bone of “All-Everything” quarterback Aaron Rodgers. With all the other hands on deck, the Packers might have been able to withstand the loss of Rodgers in the short term. But, taken together with all the other injuries, all of their flaws were suddenly exposed when Rodgers went down. And, not only on offense; the impotence on offense also exacerbated the problems on defense as well.
The Packers, of course, helped create this ‘expectation monster’ themselves with their Super Bowl run back in 2010, a year in which they overcame a number of player losses to ascend to their 13th NFL title. Head coach Mike McCarthy, to his credit, doesn’t shy away from that memory maintaining his ‘next man up’ policy as his players have gone down. That’s as should be; it’s the only hope he has of continuing to do his job. Fans, on the other hand, should try to be a little more realistic if they wish to preserve their sanity.
Appreciate 2010 for what it was: a special season that was the exception rather than the rule. Parity in the NFL precludes teams from rising above personnel losses of any magnitude on a routine basis. The league is set up to be an equalizer for its franchises. The Packers have defied those odds for most of the last 20 years. It would be illogical to expect that to continue indefinitely without some bumps in the road.