A Horrible Holiday

The Packers were blown out in Detroit on Thanksgiving, Green Bay's fifth straight game without a win. And while it'd be easy to blame everything on the absence of Aaron Rodgers, it's actually the other side of the ball that is embarrassing itself
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When Mike McCarthy and his family sit down to have their day-after Thanksgiving meal, as is the custom for those whose teams get called to play in the holiday games, it’s going to be very difficult for the Packers head coach to fathom an appetite.

What he saw from his team in Thursday’s 40-10 debacle against the Lions made him sick. It will have him rethinking everything he’s done in building the Packers from also-rans in his first season of 2006 into Super Bowl champions and perennial contenders.

The absence of star quarterback Aaron Rodgers does not excuse the pathetic display the Packers put out on Ford Field. The Packers were the sacrificial turkeys on Thanksgiving, taken to the slaughterhouse without much of a fight.

Let’s put aside the offense, which gained less than two yards on seven of its possessions and totaled 126 yards for the game. Without Rodgers and injured targets Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley, that unit is average at best. The effort was there; the talent was not.

It was the defense that was the real embarrassment. It was the unit that had all 11 starters on the field.

The Packers defense being unable to stop anybody is not some new revelation to anyone who’s been paying attention. In Week 9, after Rodgers went down, the Packers trailed by seven points in the fourth quarter. The Bears held the ball for 8:58— all but the final 50 seconds—to win 27-20 at Lambeau Field. The next week, in the same place, the Eagles held the ball for the final 9:32 to secure a 27-13 victory.

That is what’s called gut-check time. It’s the period when a defense shows what it’s made of. Offensive teammates are counting on the defense to get one stop to give them a chance to get back into the game.

The Packers were gutless and weak. Their fearless leader goes down, and the Packers defense didn’t even mount a stand for the greater good.

Back to Thursday. Everyone knew the Packers had their work cut out for them with Rodgers at least another week from playing. It was going to take a Herculean effort by the defense to keep the Lions at bay in a crucial game to the Packers’ playoff hopes. But championship teams find a way. The offense needed help with takeaways and short fields, and it was up to the defense has to find a way. Play the perfect game, or at least close to it. Give your team a chance. The Packers certainly had enough money, draft picks and talent to do it with B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Mike Neal, A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Clay Matthews, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. Those guys have a lot of wins between them.

The Packers are 0-3-1 without Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

The Packers are 0-3-1 without Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

The Packers defense delivered just the opposite. They showed themselves to be pretenders. They all talk a good game, but that’s it. They’ve all been living off the 2010 Super Bowl title and 13-0 start to the ’11 season for far too long.

Their teammates needed them, and the Packers defense didn’t even bother to show up.

Oh, there will be loads of talk in Wisconsin in the coming days—as there has been for weeks—about defensive coordinator Dom Capers and his scheme (and there is something to be said for the waning success of the zone blitz with the rise in quarterback play across the league). But this decidedly was not about Capers nor his scheme.

“Scheme is not a crutch,” McCarthy told the media after the game. “When you’re in run defense, you play with leverage. You’ve got a gap, you need to get off the damn block and tackle the ball-carrier. So you can cut it any way you want, but we’re not doing that right now. We haven’t done that in a month.”

McCarthy can be stubborn and loyal to a fault at times, but he was absolutely speaking the truth there.

The Packers were pathetic against the run, which was the part of the game that doomed the Packers. The Lions had 43 carries for 241 yards (5.6 average) and ran the ball into the end zone twice. Gap control was nonexistent. There was no getting off blocks. The tackling was terrible.

I know Capers and his assistants—top-of-the-line teachers like Winston Moss, Mike Trgovac, Darren Perry and Joe Whitt Jr.—have taught that defense better than that. But their troops have abandoned them. There is little cohesion in that unit. Instead of playing as one, the Packers look like an 11-cabs-for-11-guys defense: everybody is worried about themselves, trying to make a play while leaving their teammates out to dry. There’s no Do your job mentality in that group. Instead, it’s I’ll do me, and you do you.

Maybe Thursday’s embarrassment will shock the Packers’ defense back into better performances, but it’s probably too late for this season. Green Bay is 5-6-1 and on the outside of a packed NFC playoff race.

McCarthy has to digest whether those defensive players have the heart to become a future champion. He thought they did, but it’s now obvious to everyone that’s not the case. 


The one-on-one battle to watch closely in Week 13:

Rams RDE Robert Quinn vs. 49ers LT Joe Staley

Quinn is coming off the best pass-rushing week that any player has had this season, and he did it against a decent left tackle in Jermon Bushrod of the Bears. Staley was The MMQB’s midseason All Pro left tackle because of his all-around play as a pass and run blocker. He’s superb and has given up two sacks all season. Quinn is second in the league with 13 sacks (three in past two games), and is the second-best edge rusher per snap to the Ravens’ Elvis Dumervil. These two have already faced off once this season, and while Quinn had a sack, it wasn’t against Staley, who dominated the matchup. One big advantage Staley has against Quinn: this game is not on the fast turf in St. Louis. Just five of Quinn’s sacks have come on the road.

  • Last week’s verdict: Steelers WR Antonio Brown defeated Browns CB Joe Haden. Haden had shutdown all comers entering the divisional showdown, but Brown got the better of this matchup with five caches for 80 yards and a touchdown against Haden in nine targets.