X-and-O Show: Pack vs. Panthers

Doug Farrar, our very own Prince of the Playbook, goes to the film room once again and breaks down one offensive snap and one defensive snap for the Green Bay Packers from Sunday's 35-31 meltdown at the hands of the Carolina Panthers in Week 13 at Lambeau Field.

Packers on Offense: The Field Goal Decision
On fourth-and-1 from the Carolina 1-yard line with 2:00 minutes left in the game, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy made a decision that will be debated every time Green Bay's 2008 season is discussed. Unable to get in the end zone on three goal-to-go runs, McCarthy chose to go for the easy field goal, putting his team up 31-28 and, also, putting the game in the hands of his defense. When you look at the numbers, several problems pop up with the field goal theory.

Aaron Rodgers was slicing the Panthers to bits on the drive that led to that field goal. Starting at his own 20, Green Bay's quarterback completed every pass he threw, going 6-of-6 for 53 yards. The Packers never tried a red zone pass on this drive, despite the fact that in the third quarter, Rodgers completed a 5-yard touchdown pass to Donald Lee and a two-point conversion pass to Greg Jennings. McCarthy had a hot goal-to-go quarterback, and he didn't use him. Rodgers also converted a fourth-and-1 with a 2-yard sneak of his own in this very drive.

K Mason Crosby
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The odds on a fourth-down goal-line conversion were with the Packers, based on Football Outsiders' DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) stats. Green Bay came into this game ranked third in offensive goal-to-go DVOA (42.6%), while Carolina ranked 28th in defensive goal-to-go DVOA (44.8%). The Packers are more efficient in red zone situations with the pass than they are with the run, and that was true even in this game.

If the Packers hadn't made it on that fourth down, they still would have put the ball back in the hands of an offense that had gashed them for three rushing touchdowns already – and was about to get a fourth – as well as several long pass plays, but they would have done so with the addition of a 44-yard handicap. By conceding the touchdown, McCarthy put things in the hands of his two most inefficient units: special teams, who gave up a 45-yard return on the post-field goal kickoff after allowing a 51-yard return on the previous kickoff, and a defense that immediately gave up a 54-yard pass to Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams' final touchdown.

McCarthy is a good coach, but when you take the chance away from your best unit – not to mention a quarterback who was playing out of his mind – and put the game on your worst, that's a problem. And it might have taken his team out of the postseason equation for good.

Packers on Defense: Williams' Winning Touchdown
The most amazing thing about Williams' four rushing touchdowns against the Packers was that they all came so easy. The fourth, which occurred with 1:33 left in the game and was the last score of the day, was particularly troubling.

FootballOutsiders.com Illustration

The Packers had to know what was coming. The Panthers had the ball on the Green Bay 1, and there had not been a Carolina passing touchdown all day. On first-and-goal, the Panthers lined up with tight ends Jeff King and Dante Rosario to the right side – they might as well have raised a flag that read, "WE ARE RUNNING THIS WAY!" The Packers responded by targeting that side at the snap, but the Green Bay defense was completely blocked out of the play.

King went straight ahead on end Aaron Kampman, while guard Keydrick Vincent did the same on defensive tackle Ryan Pickett. This allowed right tackle Jeff Otah to chip Kampman and move to the second level, as Rosario came inside to help put Kampman on his butt. Otah headed through and blocked Brady Poppinga, while A.J. Hawk and Charles Woodson tried to fill the gap behind King as Wililams rushed through it. No dice.

The Panthers have re-made themselves into a power team, and they showed the positive effects of this approach against a Green Bay rushing defense that has proven unable to counter simple smash-mouth football up the middle.

Doug Farrar is a Staff Writer for FootballOutsiders.com. He is also a Panelist for The Washington Post and a Contributor to The Seattle Times.

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