Midseason awards

Before listing my midseason MVPs on offense, defense, and special teams, I’d be remiss if I did not address the abomination that occurred this past Sunday in Tampa Bay.  The word “embarrassing” comes to mind, but I don’t think it’s strong enough.  Even ignominious, a twenty-five cent word, doesn’t accurately sum up the Packers’ performance.

Heading into this week, I planned to do a write up on the midseason MVPs.  And while I’m still going to stick to that plan, I seriously considered changing direction altogether and analyzing what went wrong in Tampa Bay.  But a lot went wrong, and most of what went wrong has been going wrong all season:  the offensive line is unable to pass protect, Rodgers is holding on to the ball too long, the defense is unable to generate a pass rush, and the special teams is the opposite of special (unless we’re using it as a euphemism, then it’s highly apropos).  This all just goes to show that what your weaknesses are at the beginning of the season are often your weaknesses at the end of the season.

dejected

Packer fans feel the same way, Aaron.

Right now, as you read, the pitchforks are being dusted off and the torches are being lit:  even some of the most staunchly McCarthy and Thompson advocates are signing a different tune and hoping for sweeping authoritative change.  For once, I have to admit that these suggestions seem plausible.  Throughout this entire season, I’ve stated that this team is talented—it surely had enough talent to make the playoffs.  In that regard, coaching appears to be the culprit, and if you put a lot of stock in your coach being able to motivate and adjust mid-game, then McCarthy, at least at this moment, doesn’t seem well-suited for the job.  Another part of me, however, wonders just how talented this team is.  This part of me wonders if I overvalued the players on this team, if the Packers are just incredibly mediocre.  If that’s the case, then the general manger, Thompson, appears to be the culprit.  But both of these scenarios exonerate the players, and we can’t have that either.  Players such as Daryn Colledge and Josh Sitton might have put forth their worst efforts as professionals.  John Kuhn allowing a player to shoot the A gap on the blocked punt is his fault and his fault alone.

The most reasonable assessment is that the Packers are suffering from a combination of these problems:  they have a mediocre general manager, a mediocre coach, and mediocre talent.  As such, they’re just that:  mediocre.  4-4 never felt so painfully realistic.

The most disappointing aspect for me is that I just didn’t see this coming.  I can stomach losses quite easily, but this one resonated and stung so deeply because it altered my entire perspective of this Packer team.  A team I thought was built for the long haul no longer appears so sturdy.  The offensive line is a complete wreck, and the only two players on the roster with any long-term potential are Josh Sitton and TJ Lang, both of whom are guards.  In other words, there doesn’t seem to be any solution to the offensive line problem in sight, at least at the moment.  And this does not augur well for the offense and Rodgers heading forward.  The defense has different long-term issues, with two aging corners, a group of unproductive linebackers, and two starters on the defensive line who are soon-to-be free agents.  Oh, and Kampman isn’t nearly as effective as a linebacker.

I guess when it rains it pours. As a Packer fan, I’m unable to discern any silver lining.  Sure, a win against Dallas would go a long way, but if this season has taught me anything thus far, it’s telling me to expect a double digit loss at home this Sunday.

Now that we’re brimming with optimism, let’s look at whom I believe to be the midseason MVPs on offense, defense, and special teams.

driver

Driver is showing no signs of aging.

 

Offensive MVP:  Donald Driver. When Thompson drafted James Jones in 2007 and Jordy Nelson in 2008, he probably assumed, like many, that Driver would start to decline sooner rather than later.  I always considered such talk premature, and at 34 years young, Driver is playing some of his best football.  He’s clearly having a better year than Jennings, and he’s been this offense’s best playmaker all year.  His two one-handed catches this season were just phenomenal, and he is tied for 1st in the NFL with 11 catches of 20+ yards or more.  Driver is on pace for another 70+ catches and 1,000+ yards, which would be the seventh time he’s accomplished the feat in the last eight years.  I’m not sure what the term “Packer People” really entails, but if I had to pick one guy to be emblematic of the phrase, I’d choose Driver.

Runner Up:  Aaron Rodgers. For many, Rodgers is probably the midseason MVP, but I can’t give him the award despite his impressive statistics.  In three of the Packers’ four losses this season, Rodgers has played poorly.  He had the equivalent of three turnovers Week 4 against Minnesota, all of which resulted in Viking points; he looked like a rookie in the first half during second meeting against the Vikings; and he threw three interceptions against a lowly Buccaneer team, though the last one was a necessary desperation heave.  There’s definitely merit to the argument that Rodgers should be praised for his play considering the inept line he’s playing behind; with that, there’s the notion that it’s a miracle he is still healthy enough to play.  But even when Rodgers is protected, he’s made some costly mistakes.  There is no doubt that he is holding the ball far too long in certain scenarios.  Part of this is the advantage opposing defenses have in being able to apply pressure with only a four man rush, thus allowing them to double cover almost every receiving option.  The other part, however, is Rodgers not making decisions quickly enough.  Sometimes, he just needs to tuck it and run or throw the ball away.  He’s regressed in this regard.   I’m a huge Rodgers fan, and I do believe he can be an elite top 3 caliber quarterback in the NFL.  But right now, he isn’t playing as well as he is a capable.  The line is unquestionably an issue, but so his decision-making.

pickett

The Big Grease has acclimated well to his new position.

 

Defensive MVP:  Ryan Pickett. Welcome back, Big Grease.  After a good-to-great 2007 season, Pickett put forth an underwhelming performance in 2008.  I attributed most of the decline in Pickett’s play to the absence of Cullen Jenkins and the amount of snaps he was forced to play due to injuries and inadequate depth along the defensive line.  And thus far, Pickett has returned to his 2007 form; in fact, he’s probably playing at a higher level.  During the off-season, many questioned Pickett’s ability to play nose tackle.  And when the Packers drafted his future replacement BJ Raji ninth overall, many assumed this would be Pickett’s last year with the Packers.  For all we know, this still may be his last season wearing green and gold, but if it is, he’s making the most of it.  Pickett has adjusted tremendously to his new position, and the results are noticeable:  the Packers are 9th in rushing yards allowed per game and tied for 2nd in yards per carry allowed (3.5).  The success of the Packers new 3-4 scheme, especially as it concerns rushing the passer, is still a topic up for debate, but what’s undoubtedly improved from last year is the rush defense.  Johnny Jolly and Jenkins have been major contributors too, but Pickett has performed better than both of them.  Nose tackle is the least glorious position in a 3-4 but it’s been heralded as the most important.  Well here’s your moment Big Grease:  thus far, you’ve been the Packers’ defensive MVP.

Runner Up:  Charles Woodson. Many people expected Woodson to flourish in the new 3-4 scheme, as it played to his strengths as a ball-hawking corner.  In addition, he’d presumably have more opportunities to blitz the quarterback, an area he’s been successful at most of his career.  While Woodson might not be playing at the level many of us hoped, he has nonetheless put together a great season, leading the team with 4 interceptions.  He’s also a great tackler for a cover corner.  In essence, he’s the complete package.

nelson

The injured Nelson has been the Packers' best special teams player.

 

Special Teams MVP:  Jordy Nelson. That says a lot, doesn’t it?  This isn’t meant to be a slight against Nelson, but it surely is a slight against the rest of special teams unit.  In other words, when the special teams’ MVP is a player who’s missed almost half of the season up to this point, you know the unit is playing at an unacceptable level.  The Packers desperately need Nelson back to return both kicks and punts.  Unlike the other returners (*cough*Will Blackmon and Tramon Williams*cough*), Nelson gets it:  find your hole, run forward, and get as much yardage as you can.  Nelson’s not a dancer, and I love that about him.  If he doesn’t resume his return role on special teams upon coming back from injury, I’ll be even more disappointed with the special teams, which at this point seems almost impossible.

Runner Up:  No one.  That’s how pathetic this unit’s been.

As noted above, the Cowboys come into town this Sunday.  The Packers have a terrible history against the Cowboys, and it seems almost a foregone conclusion that history will repeat itself.  If the Packers are to have any chance of beating the Cowboys, they need to stop the run on defense, which they’ve been able to do for the most part this season.  Still, Jay Ratliff, DeMarcus Ware, and company will devour whatever instillation of the offensive line McCarthy throws out.  I expect more of the same:  the Packers will suffer their third straight loss and fall below .500 for the first time this season.

It’s amazing how such a promising season can look so gloomy after only eight games.  And coming from me, who considers himself highly optimistic, that speaks volumes.  There’s really no way to sugarcoat this folks:  things don’t look good in Titletown.

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