The big takeaway for many Green Bay Packers fans after the refereeing debacle on Monday Night Football has been that their team was robbed of a victory over the Seattle Seahawks on national television. While there seems to be little doubt that the final play of the game was one of many blown calls that impacted both teams, it is time for fans to move forward and start looking to the future instead of dwelling on the past.
Aside from the interception that won the game, there were plenty of other aspects of the game to consider and begin comparing to observations that have been made in the first two weeks of the 2012-13 NFL season.
Three weeks in, we can begin to draw conclusions about the state of the team, at least from a fan’s perspective. More importantly, we can take some of those perceptions and begin backing them up or disputing them with facts.
In this article, we will take a look at some of the current perceptions that are prevalent among Packers fans and compare those with the reality of the situation.
Perception: The Packers offense is struggling.
Reality: A deceptively simple statement, the fact that the high-powered Green Bay offense has scored just four offensive touchdowns in three games must be attributed to many factors.
There is the obvious fact that the offensive line isn’t doing its job. With eight sacks recorded during the game against the Seahawks (although the play where Aaron Rodgers essentially sacked himself probably shouldn't count), the problem is coming to a head that must be addressed as soon as possible.
This process was already begun during the second half of the Monday Night Football game, when the Packers used tight ends to give Aaron Rodgers extra protection in the pocket. The results were immediately obvious in both the passing and running games.
The game of football is all about adapting to your team’s needs, so expect Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy to continue to make adjustments until the Packers have ironed out a solution that keeps Aaron Rodgers safer and opens up better holes for the running game.
The offensive line isn’t solely to blame for the poor numbers put up so far, despite playing a fair part in the problem. The lauded wide-receiving corps that Green Bay boasts has not been keeping up its end of the bargain often, even when Rodgers is able to get the ball out. Catchable balls are dropped, and route timing still seems off, three weeks in. The ever-polished Donald Driver has also been as much a part of the problem as he has been a part of the solution.
Perhaps most importantly, however, it seems that this offseason was the key to the pass-first offenses that decimated defenses last season. Defensive coordinators are adjusting with their own takes on the Cover 2 defense, which is becoming more widely adopted.
Just take a look at the records of many teams whose offensive attack has been heavily weighted towards the air so far this season, and it quickly becomes clear that the Packers are not the only pass-first team that is mysteriously struggling early in the 2012-13 season.
Perception: Aaron Rodgers must get back in sync with his receivers and improve the passing game to get the season back on track.
Reality: The passing game will be a key component to getting the team’s season back on track, but in order for that to happen, the run game really needs to be emphasized.
We all know that Aaron Rodgers can throw with incredible precision, even in unlikely situations. We also know that there is an incredible depth of talent waiting to catch those throws, as long as the Packers can keep the ball in their hands.
The problem is that the Packers offense has become so one-dimensional that defenses are able to focus entirely on that aspect of the game and are only rarely punished for it.
Cedric Benson has shown the ability to make great, timely plays that help bring a much-needed third dimension to the offense in order to open the field up for the passing game, but his efforts have been used too little and have delivered too inconsistently.
Mike McCarthy needs to stick to his guns instead of abandoning the running game when it doesn’t pay immediate dividends, and he needs to remember that, despite the spate of injuries that resulted in Benson’s signing, he does have a number of other options to turn to if he wants to spice up the play-calling.
Perception: Poor play-calling has hindered the Packers offense.
Reality: Although the play-calling has indeed been frustrating to fans of the green and gold, it should come as no surprise that Mike McCarthy wishes to feature his spectacular aerial show.
It’s a shame that the offense has fizzled over the first few weeks of the season—and stubborn play-calling has certainly contributed its share to the problem—but it is only one small part of the underlying issues that have been discussed in-depth already.
Mike McCarthy does need to be more aggressive about calling running plays, but he also has to consider intricacies that may not be immediately obvious to us fans from our seats at home or in the stands.
The halftime adjustments have been convincing enough that McCarthy is adapting to the needs of the game that it seems fair to give this particular perception a half-true status. That being said, he must find a way to start reflecting some of the necessary adjustments earlier in the first half to prevent his team from perpetually going into the locker room in a hole for the halftime break.
Perception: The Packers defense is struggling against the run.
Reality: With pass-reliant offenses around the league failing to put points on the board, it seems that this might be the year of the running back in the NFL. The Packers defense doesn’t seem to be handling it gracefully, hovering near the bottom of the league in allowed yards per carry (4.8 each game, to be exact).
On the other hand, take a look at the teams the Packers have played thus far this season:
After being victimized in a Week 1 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers and Frank Gore, the Packers defense was able to shut down the entire Bears offense in Week 2—including Matt Forte, who admittedly left the game with an injury.
Those adjustments were what kept the Packers defense in the game at all on Monday. The stand the Green Bay defense took against a Seattle ground game that has brutalized opponents should be commended. Marshawn Lynch was held to an average of less than four yards per carry on his home turf. The Packers contained him more effectively than any team has done to date this season.
The numbers tell one story about the Packers run defense, but looking at them incrementally as the young season unfolds tells a different one. At this point, the Packers defense has some room to improve but is definitely not on the ropes the way it was last season.
Perception: The Packers were victimized by poor refereeing.
Reality: This is somewhat true. There have been a series of absolutely terrible calls that have negatively impacted the team. I’m not just talking about the poor calls (and non-calls) from Monday night; I’m talking about the whole season.
The thing that we all have to keep in mind, though, is that every other team in the league is experiencing the same frustration in regards to the replacement referees, including those who have had poor calls go against them when they line up against the Packers.
On Sunday, the 49ers were given a challenge they had no timeouts to use, and it resulted in a turnover against the Minnesota Vikings. The Baltimore Ravens won against the New England Patriots on a questionable ruling after a last-second field goal sailed right over an upright.
In Week 1, the Seahawks were given a fourth timeout against an Arizona Cardinals team that found itself in a situation that was almost identical to the one the Packers faced late in the fourth quarter on Monday night.
Those are just a few of the memorable, potentially game-altering (in their own way) calls that the replacement referees have blown around the league. There have been dozens of other missed or imagined penalties that have cut good drives short and lengthened bad drives under false pretenses. Let’s not even get into the notably slowed pace of the game that has been a direct result of the numerous lengthy conferences the referees have indulged in.
The point is that the Packers are indeed suffering along with their fans—but so are all of the other teams and their fans around the league. The Packers are not being singled out unfairly.
It’s now a moot point anyway, with the NFL referees officially back to work starting on Thursday.
Perception: The NFL could (and should) have overturned the game-changing call on Monday Night Football.
Reality: In this particular instance of poor officiating, the NFL representative who reviewed the tape technically got it right based on the common current interpretation of the rules in the NFL. It is important to realize that his hands were already tied by the time he was asked for his input.
According to current NFL rules, once the call was made on the field, the NFL official (note that this isn’t a replacement referee) in charge of booth review could only rule on whether there was a complete pass on the field.
The review booth official could not retroactively call the blatant offensive pass an interference, nor could he comment on the fact that a Packers player had clearly caught the ball or review the simultaneous possession.
All he could look at was whether a catch was made—and one was, albeit by the wrong team. Since the ball never touched the ground, there did not exist any indisputable evidence to overturn the call on the field.
This particular part of the whole failed process is not on the replacement referees or even the booth official, but on the official NFL rules which are not explicit in this situation. This is an omission that needs to be corrected now that it has been brought to light.
Given the slow, stubborn pace of any necessary progress within the NFL these days, don’t expect a sweeping change to remedy that grey area any time this season, and definitely don’t expect exceptions to those rules to be made for any team.
Perception: The season is in already in jeopardy of being a bust.
Reality: Things aren’t looking great right now, but there is still a lot of hope. The Packers have a history of rebounding from poor starts under Mike McCarthy, and, if anything, they seem to play the best when their backs are against the wall week after week. Just think back to their still-recent Super Bowl run and recall the desperation for weeks before the playoffs officially started.
This won’t be the first time the Packers have been presented with an early-season turning point that could either crush them or spur them to incredible heights.
Only time will tell for sure whether this perception turns out to be real or not, but recent history has proved that this is a resilient team that takes adversity in stride.