The 4th Quarter

Now that we’ve passed the third quarter of the season and reached the fourth, it is time to look back at the third quarter to see how they progressed, and look ahead to the fourth quarter and what the team needs to do to continue to improve. The team made a remarkable recovery in the third quarter, winning all of their games, and are now poised for a playoff push.

A look back at my third quarter thoughts shows good progress in the third quarter almost across the board, keyword almost however.

Our line has stabilized, the lineup has become a constant week to week, and as a result their performance has dramatically increased. A decrease in the number of offensive line injuries has gone a long way to solving this problem.

Aaron Rodgers has undergone a remarkable transformation, his indecisiveness from earlier in the season is gone helping him to reach a level of play that has few peers in the league. Over the 3rd quarter of the season, Aaron has played as well as any QB.

The McCarthy from past years has returned in full force. He has gotten back to the Packers identity, quick passing, high tempo, take some shots, lots of movement and substitution, and power running. Along with it, the offense has dominated time of possession, and has dictated every game.

Our defense’s pressure has been improving dramatically. The third quarter saw a rise in defensive front 7 creativity, and strong rookie impacts, which has helped the pressure. I believe that Clay earned his double against the Ravens, a doubled player will work wonders on the overall pressure scheme moving forward. We haven’t had a player worthy of a double until Clay took that next step last night. As sad as it is to say, the change from Aaron Kampman to Brad Jones has been a big positive for the defense; Brad’s coverage ability allows Dom to bring more ILB/CB/S blitzes than he could with Kampman, while maintaining pass defense integrity.

But then there is special teams, and the penchant for the yellow hankie. All you can do at this point is shake your head at that unit.

Now riding a wave after a strong third quarter, what should we be looking for?

The Return Game: This seemingly has gone from bad to worse. The team has been giving up at least 1 long return each week. Their own return units rarely even have an average return. There seem to be more plays with penalties than plays without. Any improvement will have a big impact on this team. We have one of the league’s top offenses and defenses, both units are dragged down by the league’s worst special teams unit. This team loses the hidden yards battle in a staggering fashion weekly. They don’t need to be great, but a little improvement will go a long way.

Develop Swagger: Something happens with teams, when they go on a 5-6 week stretch of solid play and winning, where swagger kicks in, a confidence that elevates the team. When swagger develops, it acts like a jolt in the arm, making good teams great. That shot doesn’t last forever, eventually a team comes down from it. This is often seen in the teams that dominate early, the swagger that develops around weeks 5-6. it’s effects begin to dissipate around weeks 12-13, even if the team still carries itself with swagger. New Orleans and Minnesota are definitely seeing this, both coming off of their worst games of the year. From an analytical perspective, ideally a team would be better off saving that jolt until very late in the regular season, letting the jolt carry them through the playoffs. The Packers, entering the fourth quarter, are very close to developing that swagger. It is no more than 2 games away. Keep winning, beat the Bears and Steelers, and this team will get a strong jolt of swagger at exactly the right moment. If so, the Packers will become a fearsome playoff opponent.

Find Playoff Focus: With the team controlling its own destiny yet not having earned the postseason yet, the team as a whole needs to galvanize its focus on the big prize. With the ultimate prize tangibly within their grasp, as well as an end of failure, there should be no more decent practices or off days. The team should have the focus and singular purpose that every day is a great day of preparation. The fact that teams in the hunt tend to shift into playoff gear early, while teams that clinch early take time off and let up, only to try to develop that extra gear once playoff preparation starts, is a big reason that many of the teams that clinch early are so ineffective in the playoffs.

Stay Healthy: Nothing that the team can control, but pray for luck to be on our side injury wise for the remainder of the year. We’ve thus far been able to absorb every major injury without a hiccup, but that isn’t a given for any more injuries.

The Packers have the look of a team on the verge of making a strong playoff push; continue what was begun and finish the job, ride this wave and run hot into the playoffs. The fourth quarter will ultimately determine how the final endgame shapes up for the Packers, or even if it exists at all.


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