Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers

After the Green Bay Packers' 37-20 playoff loss to the New York Giants, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Some of you thought I affixed too much blame for the defeat on the Packers' offense. The defense, of course, had trouble tackling Giants ball carriers all afternoon and gave up a touchdown on a Hail Mary that "should never happen," cornerback Charles Woodson said. But isn't that the way the Packers' defense played most of the season? Time and again, the offense's elite play overcame what was an ordinary defense. To me, it was always on the offense to carry this team to the Super Bowl. Its stunning failure Sunday, mostly through unforced errors, explains why the Packers are at home Monday. With that said, however, the Packers should take a long big-picture look at their defense this offseason. Coordinator Dom Capers has now sandwiched two alarmingly porous seasons (2009 and 2011) around a championship-caliber year in 2010.

  2. Tight end Jermichael Finley might have complicated his offseason with a case of the dropsies that continued into the playoffs. Our friends at ESPN Stats & Information tend to have a high standard for what constitutes a drop, but they had Finley with eight during the regular season -- the third-highest total in the NFL. Finley remains a matchup nightmare, and it's worth noting that the Giants had these words written on a whiteboard in their locker room at Lambeau Field: "Play physical football and beat the hell out of number 88." (Thanks to NFC East blogger Dan Graziano for that one.) Obviously, Finley was front and center in the Giants' defensive focus. I don't think the drops will change the way the Packers evaluate his future, and the relatively low franchise figure for tight ends -- around $5.5 million -- gives them a reasonable option for 2012. But I think we can all agree that Finley's season ended somewhat short of expectations that he would blossom into the NFL's best tight end.. The Packers' star-studded offense requires distribution of the ball, minimizing individual statistics. But if you're talking about the NFL's best tight ends, you probably mention at least three others -- Vernon Davis, Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski -- before you get to Finley.

  3. If Sunday was Donald Driver's final game with the Packers, he spent it providing evidence that he can still help someone in 2012. Driver was a part-time player in 2011, catching 37 passes while playing on about half of the Packers' plays. He'll turn 37 next month and has one year remaining on a contract that calls for a $2.2 million roster bonus and a $2.6 million base salary. Assuming 2011 second-round draft pick Randall Cobb continues his development, it's hard to imagine the Packers bringing Driver back with compensation totaling $5 million. But Driver's legs looked lively and his hands were reliable as ever in a three-catch, 45-yard performance Sunday. He told reporters that he doesn't plan to retire, and you would think another NFL team would be interested in the depth he could provide.

And here is one issue I still don't get:

The Packers had gained a bit of momentum and tied the score at 10 early in the second quarter. I didn't feel they had gained control of the game, but I didn't think the Giants were in control, either. So it's difficult to find a conventional explanation for why Packers coach Mike McCarthy called for an onside kick at that point. If he thought he could catch the Giants unsuspecting, he was wrong. According to New York media reports, the Giants had worked on the exact type of onside kick during practice Friday. McCarthy didn't directly explain himself when asked Sunday, saying only that he was "trying to put … players in a position to make an impact play." That moment was the first alarm bell of the game for me. Why didn't McCarthy trust his offense, or defense for that matter, after a conventional kickoff? Usually that's a move reserved for coaches who think their team needs a boost. The move didn't cost the Packers any points, but it was the first time I thought the Packers' season might soon be coming to an end.