Packers on Offense: The Field Goal Decision
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.
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 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.
X-and-O Show: Pack vs. Panthers
Packer Report Top Stories
World’s Best Preview: Still Want Him Benched?Davante Adams had one of the worst seasons imaginable last season. The Packers never lost faith. And now we know why. Read more in this free sample of the World's Best Preview.
Packer ReportYesterday at 12:48 PM
World’s Best Preview: Blocking the BlitzThe Packers might be beaten by a blitz on Sunday against Houston, but it probably won't be because of a mental error. Here's why. Also, the quarterback matchup shows why Aaron…
Packer ReportFriday at 5:35 PM
Backfield Production on Historic PaceWith the passing game finding a rhythm, the offense is halfway there. But Packers coach Mike McCarthy is still stuck with a mix at running back operating at futile levels. The…
Packer ReportFriday at 8:36 AM
Update: Rodgers, Matthews are QuestionableCornerback Damarious Randall was downgraded to questionable on Saturday's updated injury report. Houston ruled out Jadeveon Clowney.
Packer ReportFriday at 8:16 AM