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Packers’ inferior ground game not the only problem in Atlanta

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Dan Arkush
Executive editor

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Posted Nov. 29, 2010 @ 4:57 p.m. ET
By Dan Arkush

Pick your poison.

While most critics opted to come down hard on the Packers’ 22nd-ranked running game that came up consistently short in key short-yardage situations in Green Bay’s gut-wrenching 20-17 loss to the Falcons in Week 12, there were two other areas worthy of equal flak — costly penalties by the special teams and shoddy tackling by the defense.

In his press conference the day after the Packers’ fourth loss this season by three points, head coach Mike McCarthy refused to belabor his ground-game’s shortcomings, opting instead to justify his decision to emphasize the passing game, which he said was better-suited for the Georgia Dome’s fast track. But it’s likely that explanation will fall on plenty of deaf ears in Packers Nation after the team’s ground game was in effect put in mothballs in the second half — aside from the scrambles of QB Aaron Rodgers — after Packers RBs picked up a ghastly total of four yards on five carries in the first half and failed on two occasions just short of the Falcons’ endzone.

But after going four games without a single penalty, the four penalties for 36 yards by the Packers’ special teams — especially the 15-yard facemask call on Matt Wilhelm on the kickoff return that triggered Atlanta’s game-winning drive — were equally responsible for sending the Packers back to Green Bay one game behind the Bears in the NFC North at 7-4 in a jumble with six other teams for six NFC playoff berths. In addition, the defense had a very hard time bringing down RB Michael Turner, among others, as better tackling would have eliminated more than a few big chain-moving plays by the Falcons.

The PFW Spin

When compared to Turner, it’s easy to get carried away crying about the Packers’ far inferior running game. But for the most part this season, Brandon Jackson, John Kuhn and, just recently, Dimitri Nance have done a credible job at least forcing opposing defenses to acknowledge the Packers’ ground game. That said, mere acknowledgment isn’t going to cut it moving forward, with the need to pick up more yardage on the ground becoming more important with colder weather coming into play with greater frequency.

It would appear, however, that McCarthy isn’t about to do anything drastic with his RB corps, not that he can at this stage of the season. McCarthy was much more critical of his defense’s tackling in his “day after” press conference.

“We need to tackle better,” he said. “It’s like anything. I’m a big believer in you get what you emphasize. You gentlemen are at practice every day. We do tackling drills three days a week. We expect to tackle as a football team, both defensively and throughout the special teams, week in and week out. We did not do that to the level that we’ve been doing it here over the last month.”

As for the special teams, the shoddy effort in Atlanta was a major step backward for a unit that had been appearing to make steady progress in the past month.

Despite all the Packers’ problems against the Falcons, however, their postseason hopes remain deservedly high in great part because of Rodgers, who has been playing at an elite level in recent weeks.

“I have never seen a quarterback, in my time here, play to that level in the passing game,” McCarthy said late Monday morning of Rodgers’ latest effort on the road in Atlanta. “I’ll make that statement clearly here. I thought his performance, as far as handling their pressure vs. empty sets, handling their three-man rush … I thought he played at an extremely high level.”

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