IS ANYONE ELSE WORRIED? Jerry Gilbert
Through three preseason games, we have watched Green Bay quarterbacks dust off their backsides after a sack on way too many occasions. Opposing running backs gashed the defense, and mental lapses in the backfield allowed receivers for the other team to run free. Against Indiana, the defense intimidated an inexperienced quarterback for about 20 minutes of the first half. Then they lost concentration and allowed that same quarterback to engineer two touchdown drives to take the lead at halftime. On the scoreboard the Indiana Colt starters, without Peyton Manning, defeated the Green Bay starters. These lapses could be signs of the dreaded disease, Super Bowl hangover.
Though he probably did not deserve his pro bowl election last season, left tackle Chad Clifton had an excellent year as a pass blocker in 2010 and was especially noteworthy in the playoffs. In the one pre-season game that coaches take seriously for the starters, Clifton turned in one of his worst performances in recent memory. I do not believe his skill has lessened. He was not mentally prepared to handle Dwight Freeney. Left guard Josh Sitton has allowed about as many sacks this preseason as he was credited with all last season. He is on the upside of his career, and it is clearly not a question of ability.
Both of those players have spent an off-season hearing how great they are. Clifton is described as the super reliable pass protector and Sitton as the soon to be all-pro. I fear that the well-earned praise may have taken away from the edge they need to win the individual battles on every down. I am not in their heads, but how else do we explain lapses in technique and aggressiveness that led to sacks that should not have happened.
Staying with the offensive line, zone run blocking is a combination of technique and attitude. The run blocking in the preseason has been less than stellar. There will be no running game unless the linemen are hungry enough to win the battles and seize opportunities. We have not seen that so far in the preseason. Offensive line expert Larry McCarren described one failed running play against the Colts. He said that Sitton Wells and Lang dominated the defensive linemen, but none of them sluffed off to engage a linebacker. The linebacker made the tackle for a minuscule gain That is a technique issue, but also a mental lapse. None of them wanted it enough to make the play work. The Packers will not prevail simply by showing up.
The defense also displays signs of a hangover. Of the defensive backs that blitzed the quarterback, only Charles Woodson seemed to get home. A blitzer has to want to get there more than the blockers want to stop him. Woodson has his head in the game, I can not be equally confident about Nick Collins and Jarrett Bush who were ineffectual when blitzing against Indianapolis.
There is a similar problem stopping the run. Both starting backs and reserves have had success against Green Bay in the preseason. The defenders have not been up to the task and it is not an issue of physical ability. Also note the lack of interceptions and forced fumbles. Packer defenders are not making the special plays that hungry players make.
Other than exceptional punting by Tim Masthay, there has not been anything very special about the play of the special teams. This is a veteran group of defending Super Bowl champions. Each will need to act more like a disrespected wanna be if they hope to have success. We saw an indication of that in the successful on side kick in the last game. We need to see more of that.
I usually do not delve into pop psychology, and hesitate to go any farther. The lapses and concentration issues present in the preseason could be matters that the coaches can correct. Some issues clearly involve younger players who need more coaching. On the other hand, last year, the Packers were a team on a mission and they played that way in the 2010 preseason in which they scored 50 points against the Indianapolis Colts. This year they played like a team missing a beat until the final flurry of success. They may be little hung over.