With another NFL season in the books, here are 10 thoughts on the Packers, the Eagles and last night's Super Bowl:
1. In three of the Packers' four victories this postseason, the opponent had the ball in the final minutes with a chance to tie or win. And all three times, Green Bay's defense came through. Last night, Ben Roethlisberger took over at the Steelers' 13 with 2:07 left and Pittsburgh down six. The possession ended when Packers cornerback Tramon Williams broke up a pass intended for Mike Wallace. A couple weeks ago, Caleb Hanie and the Bears had the ball at their own 29 with 2:53 left, trailing by seven. That one ended on a Sam Shields interception. And of course, the Eagles and Michael Vick got the ball at their own 34 with 1:45 left, down by five, before Williams ended the game with an interception in the end zone. There will be a lot of talk about Aaron Rodgers (and rightfully so), but the Packers' defense came up huge with the game on the line in three of their four wins.
2. There's no question that injuries play a huge role in which teams are left standingin the end, but injuries did not stop the Packers in a season where they very well could have. All teams suffer injuries, but Football Outsiders keeps a stat called Adjusted Games Lost that measures which teams were most affected by them. The Packers finished second in the NFL and first in the NFC. Only the Colts lost more games by starters than Green Bay. If you're wondering about the Eagles, they finished fifth in the NFL and fourth in the NFC.
3. Postseason numbers for Rodgers: 90-for-132 (68.2 percent) for 1,094 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. That's a quarterback rating of 109.8, higher than his regular-season rating of 101.2. Last year, during the Saints' run, Drew Brees completed 72 of 102 passes (70.6 percent) for 732 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions for a QB rating of 116.9, higher than his 109.6 rating during the regular season. So what's the point? There is more than one way to win a Super Bowl, and while this isn't exactly a revelation, having the quarterback who's the hottest at the end has been the formula the past two seasons.
4. Speaking of quarterbacks, it was not long ago that it seemed like the group of NFL signal-callers was watered down. But take a look around now - the position is stacked. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Rodgers and Drew Brees have all won Super Bowls, and each can make the case that he's the best in the league. But there are several others (some who have won Super Bowls, others who have not) that have at leasat shown the ability to play at a high level: Philip Rivers, Roethlisberger, Michael Vick, Eli Manning, Matt Ryan, Mark Sanchez, Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler, Tony Romo, David Garrard, Matt Cassel and Matt Schaub. Plus the young guys: Josh Freeman, Matthew Stafford and Sam Bradford. Don't get me wrong. I'm not making the case that all these guys are Super Bowl quarterbacks or even Pro Bowlers. But overall, the position seems to be in good hands, and it'll be fun to see which guys emerge in the next few years.
5. At the end of the 2009 season, the Eagles suffered back-to-back losses to the Cowboys, and it seemed like they focused their offseason maneuvering on being able to compete against Dallas. That makes this year's offseason plan a little trickier. Do they need to figure out how to beat the Packers? Rodgers is only 27, and Green Bay seems poised to be in the mix for years to come. Realistically, though, the issues this team faces are the same whether they're focused on Green Bay or just getting better overall: improve the offensive line, improve the pass rush (without blitzing) and most importantly, get better in the secondary.
6. Green Bay threw it 39 times and called 11 running plays. That's a 78 percent/22 percent ratio, for those keeping track. A couple notes on this. Some have suggested that the Packers' play-calling was what kept the Steelers in the game. I disagree. Green Bay's secondary was banged-up, Rodgers was playing at an extremely high level, and the Packers were smart to keep the foot on the gas. If not for dropped passes (counted four at least), the Packers would have put even more points on the board. But my second point goes the other way. While I don't have a problem with the pass-first offense, if you're going to throw such a high percentage of the time, you better have a quarterback who is accurate and doesn't make a lot of mistakes. Green Bay has one. Not all teams do.
7. Towards the end of each season, we hear all kinds of cliches and theories about what to look for in a team to figure out if it has Super Bowl potential. One of them holds that the team should be hot in December. Not exactly true for the Packers. We forget now, but Green Bay was 2-2 in its final four regular-season games (granted, Rodgers missed a game and a half in that stretch). But Green Bay managed just three points against the Lions and scored just 10 in the Week 17 win against the Bears.
8. To piggy-back on that point, we can retire (for the time being) the idea of how valuable a first-round bye is. Obviously, it still is an advantage. You get to rest injured guys, and you have to win one less game than the teams that play in the wild-card round. But in the last five years, four of the 10 teams that reached the Super bowl did not have a first-round bye and had to win three games to get there. Heading into Week 16, Green Bay was 8-6 and needed to finish with two wins to get into the playoffs. They did, and the rest, as they say, is history.
9. As it turns out, Sean McDermott's defense performed pretty well in the wild-card round against the Packers, limiting Green Bay to 21 total points and forcing two turnovers. I wrote it at the time, and I'll say it again. By the time the playoffs roll around, teams have established their identities. The Eagles won the NFC East because they had a big-play offense that could score in bunches. That didn't happen against Green Bay in the playoffs. Looking at the season as a whole, it was the defense that was inadequate. But looking at that Packers loss, it was the offense that didn't perform to expectations.
10. Stuff I didn't get to: As my buddy Lemur points out, the commercials and halftime show are bad every year, so let's just concede that and move on. ...I am not looking forward to several months of CBA/lockout talk. ...The good news is there will be a draft so at least we'll have something fun to discuss. ... Two posts over the weekend you might have missed. One was yesterday and focused on an ESPN report that Larry Fitzgerald has advised the Cardinals' brass to look into acquiring Kevin Kolb. And the other from Saturday, discussing the unique friendship between the Eagles' two new line coaches: Howard Mudd and Jim Washburn.
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