Monday, December 16, 2013

Football is dead. Long live football.

There's no way in Hades to explain what happens in the National Football League some seasons, which is the primary reason it remains so compelling. Consider the fate of the two teams that we follow most closely here, the locals and my beloved Packers.

First, we'll talk about the locals. If you were to tell me that the Vikings were going to play without Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, but would still win the game, I could envision it. If you were to tell me they would hang 48 on the Eagles, I wouldn't have believed it. But that's precisely what happened. Matt Cassel may not be the most impressive looking quarterback around, but he's not afraid to make a throw and he seems to have developed a great rapport with Greg Jennings, who has been mostly invisible this season. Jennings was a holy terror, running wild and loose in the Eagles secondary all game long. Every time Jennings got open, Cassel found him. The sense you get is that had the Vikings been playing Cassel all along, the season might look a little different.

And yet, and yet. . . we don't know that. The Vikings have been creative and clever in finding ways to lose all season long; the larger issue has been a defense that has been unable to close the deal. One thing that was evident yesterday is that having safety Harrison Smith playing regularly makes a big difference. The Eagles run a lot of tricky routes and rely on misdirection to get their receivers open and, for the most part, they had trouble finding guys when they needed to. The Vikings have looked very disorganized at times this season and, at least from this perspective, it looked like Smith calmed things down in the secondary quite a lot.

Will the recent improvement be enough to save Leslie Frazier's job? It's hard to say. There are rumors out there that the Vikings would like to talk to Penn State coach Bill O'Brien after the season, but I wonder about that. It's been evident that the players are really fighting to save the current coaching staff and while O'Brien is impressive, I'm not convinced that the Vikings will get appreciably better by hiring a college coach.

Meanwhile, my beloved Packers accepted the kindness of Tony Romo and Jason Garrett in storming back from a 26-3 halftime deficit to win an improbable 37-36 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, smack in the middle of JerryWorld. It's been a very rough patch for the Packers with Aaron Rodgers on the sideline, but they've now managed to win two consecutive nailbiters, coming back in both games from big halftime deficits. While the Packers have been offensively challenged without Rodgers, the larger issue has been the defense, which played terribly in the first half against the Cowboys, giving up huge chunks of yardage, much as they had against all their opponents in recent weeks. Yet somehow they managed to right the ship in the second half and started playing much better. Sam Shields and Tramon Williams made huge interceptions of errant Romo passes and the Cowboys, inexplicably, went away from what had been an effective running attack.

Somehow, the Packers are still very much alive for the playoffs. The Lions will have a tough game tonight against the Baltimore Ravens, while the Bears get a date with a desperate Eagles team in Philly next week. A couple of well-placed losses and the Packers will be back in the lead for the division, with a chance to seal the deal against the Bears at Soldier Field in the final week. Aaron Rodgers might return next week, too. While I don't think the Packers would be able to run the table for the Super Bowl this year, stranger things have happened. Strange things happen every week in the National Football League.


First Ringer said...

I'm amazed that Dom Capers has kept his job as the Packer's defensive coordinator as long as he has given that Green Bay's defense has been the only thing standing between them and a woulda, coulda, shoulda dynasty.

I understand why, a bit - Capers is a renowned coordinator and the defensive roster is loaded with intriguing talent. But defensive letdowns haunted them in 2011 & 2012. On most franchises, by this point if you feel you can't afford to overhaul the roster, you at least overhaul the coaching staff.

For the Vikes - I doubt anything will save Frazier's job. Even if they somehow win out the rest of their schedule (not impossible given how Cinny played last night and how the Lions have played all year) and finish 6-9-1, I think management has to show Frazier the door. I will say that Bill Musgrave has to feel like the most vindicated man in town given how his offense has performed the last two weeks. He's probably ensured his next job thanks to Matt Cassell.

Brad said...

It's pretty simple:

If the Lions lose this evening, the Packers control their own destiny, meaning they win the NFC North if they win out. Winning their final two games is a distinct possibility with Aaron Rodgers likely returning this Sunday.

While it's tempting to suggest how similar this is to what GB faced in 2010, that might still be a stretch. That defensive unit in 2010 was very formidable, unlike this year's version. Nevertheless, Rodgers can cover up for a lot of ills.

I know you'll stay tuned.

Mr. D said...

While it's tempting to suggest how similar this is to what GB faced in 2010, that might still be a stretch. That defensive unit in 2010 was very formidable, unlike this year's version. Nevertheless, Rodgers can cover up for a lot of ills.

That's kinda how I read it, too. It would be astonishing if they could make a 2010-style run, given how bad they've been, but the pressure is on the Lions and Bears and if things break right, they could pull it off.

Gino said...

i was predicting the bears would finish 3rd this season, and below .500 given a new regime's growing pains, so i'm pretty surprised right now and fairly pleased.

i did predict green bay to take the division, and it may yet happen. i just hope it doesnt happen against the bears.

Mr. D said...

i did predict green bay to take the division, and it may yet happen. i just hope it doesnt happen against the bears.

Since the Lions are eternally the Lions, if the Packers win the division it would be against the Bears. If things go as I think they will, the game in Chicago will be winner take all.

W.B. Picklesworth said...

More like, "Winner get drubbed in the wild card round by San Fran, N.O. or Carolina." Although N.O. up north might be interesting.

Mr. D said...

The only team of that threesome that would scare me in Lambeau is San Francisco, actually. The thing is, the last 4-5 years the champion has been an unlikely team. I realize that the Packers aren't very good, but if they're in it, they'll have a chance. No one outside of Baltimore would have figured the Ravens to win the tournament last year.

Anonymous said...

The Packers might not be able to win it all this year, and they have zero margin for error to even make the playoffs. In spite of their limitations, I'm betting that None of the teams want to face the Packers at Lambeau in January, and additionally, the Packers have the ability to play with anyone and knock anyone out if Rodgers is healthy. This might not be their year, but kudos go to them for not quitting!

It has to be frustrating to be a Lions Fan!

W.B. Picklesworth said...

After leaving my comment, I thought it through a bit more. New Orleans in the cold wouldn't be the same team; their defense has still been solid this year, but it's winnable. Carolina's defense has been very good, but Cam in his first playoff start might not be that great. San Fran would be hard if for no other reason than psychology.

I think there are two questions.

1) Can Rogers (and Cobb) play well after extended periods away from game action?

2) Can the defense elevate its level of play? They're a mid-20s defense (yards and points) who do a decent job of sacking the passer. In past years, their saving grace has been forcing turnovers. We're -3 on turnover differential this year. Turning that around in the playoffs would make a big difference.

One thing in the Packer's favor is that they have figured out how to run the ball. If I let my enthusiasm get the better of me I can imagine Eddie Lacey being awarded the Super Bowl MVP award after spending 4 games teaching teams that the Packers are more than Aaron Rodgers. That would be cool.