Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers

After the Green Bay Packers' 31-27 loss to the New England Patriots, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. The Packers allowed about 20 seconds to run off the clock before what turned out to be their final play, a fourth-and-1 at the Patriots' 15. Coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Matt Flynn both attributed the delay to determining whether officials had ruled the previous play a first down or not. When you watch the replay, (via NFL.com), you see that referee Ed Hochuli's crew spotted the ball with about 20 seconds remaining in the game -- or about two seconds after Donald Driver's 10-yard reception. Clearly, communication in the hurry-up offense was a little slower between McCarthy and Flynn than it would have been between McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers. The 2-minute drill is perhaps the hardest adjustment for a No. 2 quarterback whose practice repetitions have been limited.

  2. I thought McCarthy's game plan for Flynn was both necessary and inspired. The Packers attempted a season-high 38 running plays, and their 143 yards was their second-highest total of the season. And while Flynn threw 37 passes, only eight of them traveled 10 or more yards in the air, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That's a quantitative way of explaining that the Packers wanted to control the ball with the run and the short passing game. To their credit, the Packers largely succeeded. They outgained the Patriots 369-249 and finished with 40 minutes, 12 seconds in time of possession. A handful of mistakes -- most notably allowing a 71-yard kickoff return by offensive lineman Dan Connolly -- allowed the Patriots to make up the difference.

  3. During the NBC broadcast, analyst Cris Collinsworth passed along McCarthy's belief that the Packers' slew of injuries has impacted special teams more than anything else. When a starter gets hurt, a backup is pulled from special teams and inserted into the starting lineup, requiring a newcomer to fill his previous role. So it's worth nothing that at least one of those newcomers, Diyral Briggs, collided with Quinn Johnson at the fulcrum point of Connolly's return. Still, that return -- in a squib situation designed to eliminate the possibility for a big play -- will serve as a symbol for the Packers' season-long coverage woes. Poor kickoff coverage has played a substantial role in at least two losses: Sunday night and earlier this month against the Atlanta Falcons.

And here is one issue I don't get:

Watching the game live in the fourth quarter, I didn't react the way many of you did when McCarthy decided on a 19-yard field goal rather than going for it on fourth-and-goal from the Patriots' 1-yard line. Mason Crosby's kick gave the Packers a 27-21 lead, ensuring the Patriots would need a touchdown to win even if the Packers didn't score again. To me, when you're in a dogfight on the road and your defense is playing as well as the Packers' was, you always take points late in the game. In essence, that was McCarthy's postgame explanation. If anything, McCarthy is more vulnerable to criticism for his second-down play -- a second-consecutive handoff to tailback John Kuhn.