In this weeks preview, we asked our "Weekly Five" questions to determine who would win the game. It appeared that the Patriots had the overall advantage over Green Bay, but sometimes the best-laid plans don't come to fruition. This was the case on Sunday, as the Patriots offense was kept under control and couldn't match the excellent second half the defense had. New England only allowed three points in the second half and Green Bay scored exactly what we predicted- 26 points. The Patriots should have won considering they kept the Packers below 30. Let's see what went wrong at Lambeau on Sunday.
When the Patriots Passed:
If you look at the overall numbers, it doesn't look bad. Tom Brady was 22 of 35 for 236 yards and two touchdowns; 63% is solid, and considering there were no turnovers, most would see Brady' day as a success. Rob Gronkowski had an excellent game, picking up 98 yards on seven catches while setting a physical tone for the offense. Julian Edelman had a few catches that netted first downs and battled through a nagging leg injury to finish the game. Brandon LaFell had five catches for 38 yards and two touchdowns; LaFell stepped up in a big game when they needed him, which bodes well for this offense as it hits the stretch run. With all these positives, one would think the Patriots won the game, but the major issues came in big situations. The Patriots only converted four of ten third downs, a number that is simply unacceptable when facing an offense that you must keep off the field. Julian Edelman had a play early where he caught the ball one yard short of the first down marker and he couldn't break a single tackle to get the first down. The passing game simply couldn't make the plays in the fourth quarter and this ultimately cost the Patriots a win.
When the Patriots Ran:
Overall, the Patriots running stats feel incomplete. They ran the ball only 18 times for 84 yards, an average of 4.7 yards per carry. That is a solid average, but they simply didn't run the ball enough. 35 pass attempts to 18 runs is awful balance, and as we discussed in the preview, the Packers were allowing 136 rushing yards per game (30th in the NFL) going into Sunday's showdown. Once again, Josh McDaniels got addicted to the pass and it cost him big time. If the Patriots ran the ball, it would have allowed them to chew up some clock, establish play-action and they most likely would have won the game. The Packers ran 68 plays to the Patriots 53, and the main reason was Green Bay running the ball 30 times and maintaining balance within their game plan. The Patriots weren't far behind at any point in the game, so why panic and throw 2/3 of the game? Foolish play-calling and a lack of consistency could be this offenses downfall, and it all rests on McDaniels shoulders.
When the Packers Passed:
Aaron Rodgers completion percentage was exactly the same as Tom Brady, and the Packers only had two more passing first downs than New England, but the huge difference was passing yards per play. The Packers had 348 yards passing and averaged 8.5 yards per completion while New England had 236 yards and averaged 6.6 yards per completion. The reason for the discrepancy was the huge play by Jordy Nelson before the half. Big plays win big games, and the Packers made more big plays in the passing game than New England. If the Patriots defense doesn't screw up at the end of the half, the Packers most likely are held to a field goal. Rodgers was able to make plays with his feet too, which forced the Patriots to back off on their pass rush. New England needs to find a way to deal with these mobile quarterbacks, especially if they happen to face the Packers in the Super Bowl. Randall Cobb didn't have a huge game, but he had some big catches for first downs, including the clincher at the two-minute mark. Davante Adams also had a huge drop on a slant that would have resulted in a touchdown, but it didn't matter because of the ineptitude of the Patriots offense.
When the Packers Ran:The Packers did exactly what the Patriots SHOULD have done- establish the run early and stick with it throughout the game, regardless of how hot Aaron Rodgers was. The Packers ran 29 times for 130 yards, an average of 4.5 yards per carry. Eddie Lacy was the bell-cow, picking up 98 yards on 21 carries. When the Packers won the Super Bowl in 2010, one thing Mike McCarthy said was he would stay committed to the run. His theory was that even if you're only picking up a yard or two, it still keeps the defense honest and they have to commit extra defenders to stop them. When this happens, the passing game opens up. I know I say it all the time, but the key to excellent offensive football is balance; the Packers realize this and apparently the Patriots don't. The Packers offensive line had a strong game and opened up huge holes for Lacy to run through.
The special teams units basically played even; Green Bay missed a field goal, as did Stephen Gostkowski. Gostkowski' miss was in a bigger situation, which bears noting. Bill Belichick hasn't seen Gostkowski in a lot of pressure situations, and the one he's faced this year was a major failure. He didn't just miss, he shanked it right. He needs to hit those to give the coaching staff confidence to attempt longer field goals in the playoffs. Great kickers step up when needed; Gostkowski needs to do just that.
The Green Bay coaching staff deserves credit for sticking with the run game and maintaining balance because that's the reason they won the game. It kept Tom Brady and the New England offense off the field and limited their attempts to score. In our game preview, we gave the edge to the New England staff, but the Green Bay coaching staff stepped up and had a better gameplan. One thing we highlighted was the battle between Dom Capers and Josh McDaniels; this ended up being a waste of time because McDaniels played right into Capers hands. McCarthy vs. Belichick/Patricia was fun to watch and if we get another chance to see it in February, it will be even better. The Packers are very talented and their coaches know how to use it.