Packers 35, Bears 21 (Dec. 25, 2011)

            One image incapsulates the Packers victory last night: Aaron Rodgers stifling a yawn after throwing his umpteenth touchdown of the game. In fact, the TV camera caught Rodgers yawning several times between plays during the game. The Packers were back to their usual selves, which, at least on the offensive side of the ball, meant that they were operating with such consistent brilliance as to be almost painfully boring.

            On the whole it was a good game. Green Bay once again looked impressive. However, as many commentators have noted (see here and here), demonstrated certain exploitable weaknesses once again.

            First off, the good: Aaron Rodgers and his receivers were back to their fairly unstoppable selves. Rodgers threw for a career best 5 touchdowns, one of which traveled a good 60 yards in the air. Notably, the Packers chose to throw several times from within the Bear five yard-line – scoring touchdowns every time. For whatever reason, these touchdowns – a back-shoulder throw to Nelson, a slant to Jones, and a slant to Finley – looked absolutely unstoppable.

            Rodgers bulleted the ball at the receivers and the cornerbacks did not react. I was not sure whether this was due to a general level of incompetence in the Bears secondary (cornerback Zach Bowman had a particularly awful game) or Rodgers’ uncanny ESP-type communication abilities with his receivers. Size, strength, and aggressiveness, fortes of the Packers wideouts, certainly helped too. It all seemed far too easy.

            Also good, was proof again that the Packers’ Defense can defend a lead. With the opposing offense in pass-first mode, the Packers D has an enormous aptitude to make big plays. Interceptions come easy and, given the quality of the Packers’ Offense, can make up for the big plays that the Defense inevitably allows.

            This combination of an extremely potent offense and a high-risk, high-reward defense (itself prefaced on the realization that with an offense this good, a positive turnover differential wins the game) has forced opponents into very conservative offenses. Don’t give up a turnover, the lesson seems to be, and you might be able to beat the Packers. The Bears and Chiefs have both executed this strategy very well – I hope the Packers will be able to adapt to it and lure their opponents into a riskier big play offense. We are a team designed to win the shoot-out.

            However, with that comes the bad. The atrocious run defense of the first half indicates that the Packers might find themselves in slower tempo games as the playoff approaches. With Ryan Pickett out, the Bears pushed our D-Line back several yards back on many running plays. B.J. Raji was virtually invisible the entire game (1 assisted tackle) and Howard Green is just a slab of meat slathering the turf (he can certainly move backward – but as far as this observer can tell no evidence exists proving that the man has any sort of lateral or forward mobility). Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews appear to be the only people who can tackle. Unfortunately that means that 1) Woodson tackles the running back 5 yards downfield after cutting through a sea of offensive lineman or 2) Clay Matthews runs around the entire offensive line and catches up to the running back from behind after his 3rd or 4th cutback. Either way, it’s not a good way to stop a slow, pondering, soul-sucking, clock-ticking drive.

            Another worry is that the Bears managed to stop the Packers offense with 3-and-outs several times in the first half. This is incredibly dangerous not only because, as previously mentioned, the Packers Defense is only really effective when opponents are playing catch-up, but also because, given the Defense’s penchant for allowing long and languorous drives, a sputtering Packers Offense might disappear from the field for quarters at a time resulting in a massive Time of Possession imbalance like we saw against the Chiefs. Once the Offense got rolling, these worries faded away – but a few miscues on offense, a few more drops by JerMichael, and…well, we lose control of the game.

            Still, it’s good to know we’ll be at Lambeau for the rest of the season. It will be exciting to see Matt Flynn get to play some real football next week (I have high hopes for him as a starter on some other team – he certainly has been a good member of the Packers) and refreshing to have Cliffy possibly back in the line-up. A few weeks of rest will definitely do the team good and hopefully we can continue yawning our way through the playoffs.

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