Poor coaching decisions to blame for Packers' loss to Vikings
Green Bay refused to aid overmatched tackles, leading to Vikings' sacks
Kicking to Percy Harvin late in the game cost Packers momentum
It's clear Vikings coaches have upper hand on Packers counterparts
Lost amid the drama of Brett Favre's return to Lambeau Field on Sunday was that a very important game in the NFC North was lost almost exclusively because of poor coaching and game-planning by the Packers. The failure to have a better plan in place to help out young offensive tackles was inexcusable. Perhaps worse was the decision to continue kicking deep to Vikings return man Percy Harvin.
Keep in mind, I don't make these kinds of statements lightly. In fact, I very rarely blame coaches when a team loses because, as a player, I never wanted to dole out too much credit to coaches when we won. I firmly believe pro football is ultimately a players game.
But there are instances when a coaching staff does not do a good job of putting its team in a position to win, and Sunday was one of them. How could the Packers not come up with a decent strategy during the week for the Vikings' pass rush and kickoff return game? I like Mike McCarthy and those on his staff. I've worked with many of them during my time in the league, but they were exposed in a major way Sunday.
Let's start with the offensive game plan. The Packers knew they were starting Granny Smith apple-green tackles against Vikings stud defensive end Jared Allen and his underrated bookend Ray Edwards. Right tackle Allen Barbre has struggled virtually all season and made it evident he needs help against solid defensive ends in obvious passing situations. Rookie left tackle T.J. Lang, a fourth-rounder from Eastern Michigan, was making his second career start. Suffice to say, he didn't face too many guys like Allen playing in the MAC last year.
Yet despite those obvious disadvantages, the Packers did very little to help or protect Barbre and Lang, when there were clear options. For one, they could have had a running back or two backs chip the defensive ends on their way out into the pattern. It is a very simple technique in which the running back hits any part of the end who is showing outside the offensive tackle before running a route. It sounds easy enough because it is, and it can make all the difference.
If the tackle knows he has help coming outside in the form of a chip from the back, he can pass set much firmer on the inside half of the defensive end. The Packers did very little of that. Instead, they consistently motioned the lone back out wide. Not only does this put more onus on the pass protectors up front, but also it allows the defenders to know there isn't even the possibility of a chip.
The other option was to slide the line. Since the Packers had five offensive linemen and the Vikings were typically rushing four, the Packers had an extra guy. That means they could have slid the line towards Lang to help him by having left guard Darryn Colledge protect his inside. That would have allowed for a three-on-two situation for the Packers. If Colledge was looking out for Lang's inside gap, Lang could then set much more firmly down the middle or even the outside number of Allen, essentially forcing him to come inside and run into Colledge. The Packers did do a little of that, but not nearly enough.
Most teams coming would have probably used a back to chip on one side and slid the line the other direction, depending on the pass protection scheme that was called. The Packers, instead, usually left their tackles out on an island and exposed, causing a replay of the Monday night game from Week 4, when the Vikings had eight sacks and Allen had 4.5. This time Allen had three more and the Vikings got six more takedowns of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
I really don't understand why the Packers didn't make any obvious changes from the first game in this regard. Maybe they thought the big problem in the first loss was the Metrodome crowd noise and that it would be rectified by playing at home. Maybe they thought stellar left tackle Chad Clifton would return from an ankle injury. Regardless, their ineptitude cost them.
The other foolhardy decision, kicking the ball deep to Harvin late in the game, was just as bad. Minnesota came into the game ranked first in kick returns. Harvin proceeded to build on that by taking a first-half kickoff to the Packers 20, which led to a touchdown and noticeable momentum shift early in the game.
The Packers were so weary of Harvin that they squib-kicked in the third quarter. The result was a fumble by Brian Robison, one of the up men for the Vikings. It was a huge turn of events as the Packers marched right down for a score.
Yet that momentum was taken back when Harvin took the next kickoff, this time a deep one, into Packers territory, and the Vikings scored again. McCarthy was incredulous and went up to special teams coach Shawn Slocum for an explanation. Keep in mind, Harvin already had two kickoff returns for touchdowns on the season, including one the previous week against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
I'm not saying the Vikings players aren't better than the Packers players. What is indisputable, at least based upon this season, is the Vikings coaches have the upper hand against their counterparts in Green Bay.
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