What Went Wrong
As the NFL divisional playoffs get underway, many teams are sifting through the 2009 season trying to figure out how they did not become one of eight teams still playing. Of course, the last to join that group is the Packers after last Sunday's gut-wrenching loss to Arizona.
So now for the next few months every team eliminated will be asking: what went wrong?
For the Packers it starts on defense. It's rather strange to think that a unit ranked seventh in scoring defense and second in total defense could be a weakness but four games during the course of the season cost the Packers the opportunity to keep playing. In each one the Packers were miserable on defense. It started with the two losses to Minnesota. Brett Favre destroyed the Packers defense with 515 yards and seven touchdowns while not getting sacked. Those two losses allowed the Vikings to have a comfortable enough lead in the NFC North that despite Green Bay's second half surge they were never a real threat to win the division. Then in late December Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger lit up the secondary for 503 yards and three scores. Roethlisberger faced a little heat, getting sacked five times, but during the game's final series Roethlisberger was not pressured and led the Steelers to a last second win. It should be noted that Roethlisberger routinely holds the ball as long as possible, trying to make something out of nothing as often as possible. Then came last weekend and Kurt Warner's masterful performance: 29-of-33, 379 yards, five touchdowns, zero sacks.
In those four games the Packers surrendered 156 points, an average of 39 per game. Again, this was a defense that gave up the seventh fewest points in the league. If the Packers beat Minnesota once they would've had a chance to win the division and possibly grab a first round bye. If they beat Pittsburgh they enter the playoffs with eight straight wins and no blueprint as to how to beat them. Of course, if they beat the Cards they'd be playing today.
To be sure there were troubles elsewhere. Pass protection was a major problem. Back in Week Two Aaron Rodgers was sacked six times by Cincinnati in a 31-24 loss then was sacked another six times by the lowly Buccaneers as Tampa Bay upset the Packers 38-28. As the sacks mounted the penalties did too. The Packers were the second most penalized team in terms of yardage though ironically all of the top three teams in penalty yards made the playoffs. So the Packers were able to overcome those mistakes but when field position is given up and an opposing offense has a powerful passing attack the Packers found themselves on the losing end.
Special teams was another sore spot, specifically the coverage units and the field goal accuracy of Mason Crosby. It seemed like the Packers gave up at least one big return per game and if they didn't they gave up field position due to penalties. Crosby meanwhile finished the regular season with a field goal accuracy of 75%. That put him 28th in the league and no kicker that played the entire year finished with a worse percentage.
It sounds all bad but at 11-5 it really wasn't. In key victories over playoff-bound Dallas, Baltimore and Arizona the defense tightened up and surrendered only 28 points in those three games. Pass protection got better as the season wore on, allowing Rodgers to get into a groove as the Packers won seven of eight to end the season. But when it counted most the Packers just made too many mistakes against Arizona and now must focus on righting what went wrong in 2009.