Yes, the replacement officials were responsible for yet another NFL game degenerating into a farce. And, yes, the leagueís integrity took another hard body blow in the Green Bay Packersí loss to Seattle on Monday night.
But the incompetence of the officials cut both ways and has since Week 1.
The bottom line is the Packers lost their third straight game, going back to last yearís divisional playoff against the New York Giants, to an opponent with a talent-laden pool of pass rushers and coverage folks; and Aaron Rodgers and the offense have struggled mightily each time.
In those three games, Rodgers has been sacked 15 times. Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, the Packersí supposedly big-play receivers, have caught one pass that covered more than 20 yards. Combined, Jennings and Nelson have 25 catches for a paltry 9.2 average, including just eight for 54 yards versus the Seahawks.
No. 1, the Seahawksí corners are so good at bump-and-run, Jennings and Nelson couldnít get off the line of scrimmage. James Jones had the best game of the wide receivers and thatís probably because heís the strongest of the group.
One of the keys for Seattle was taking away the Packersí quick slants, both outside and inside. When a quarterback is under siege like Rodgers was in the first half, his saving grace should be the quick slant over the middle to a slot receiver.
But the Seahawks didnít have to leave the middle open. They didnít have to blitz to get pressure. And, much like the San Francisco 49ers, they have two downhill safeties and two inside backers who can run and make plays on the ball.
Whatís more, those linebackers could get even better depth because they didnít have to worry about the run. Once the Packers started running the ball in the second half, the middle of the field opened up somewhat and their play-action passes were more effective.
Something else the Seahawks took away was the back-shoulder fades and jump balls on the sideline. At 6-foot-3, one of Nelsonís strengths is his ability to go up and get the ball. But Seattleís corners are just as big or bigger.
The Packers also lost four points on Donald Driverís second-half drop in the end zone. He looked every bit his 37 years trying to leap and catch that ball.
There are times when he needs to get rid of the ball. When you look at career sack percentages, most of the great quarterbacks are near the top of the list. In other words, theyíre among the toughest to sack. Rodgers, on the other hand, ranks near the bottom in the company of Jon Kitna, Kyle Boller and the likes.
Maybe only two or three of Seattleís eight sacks were coverage sacks. But in this down-to-the-wire game, one of the differences between the teams was that when Russell Wilson was under pressure, he had the wherewithal to get out of the pocket and throw the ball away.
He carried twice in the first half. That was part of the pass-rush problem. To use a baseball analogy, it would be like a batter knowing he was going to see nothing but waist-high fastballs. Those Seattle defensive linemen are young and fast, and they had no other responsibility than to tee off and go after the quarterback.
Thatís tough on an offensive lineman. Look at the difference in the pass protection in the second half when the Packers tried to run the ball. With Bensonís wide-shoulder build, heís one of those big backs who probably needs to get the ball to be effective. When he puts his foot in the ground and goes, he looks good.
Maybe there are times he could hit the hole quicker ó just put his head down and get what he can. But two runs out of 27 offensive plays in a half? In their three most recent losses, the Packers have averaged fewer than five rushing attempts by tailbacks in the first half.
It was like a one-on-one pass-blocking drill, and the Packersí tackles, Bryan Bulaga and Marshall Newhouse, were losing their battles. They were turning their shoulders and leaving the inside lane open. They were getting knocked off balance. Bulaga gave up two sacks and eight hurries, according to Pro Football Focus.
Marshawn Lynch rushed for 98 yards, but he gained a big chunk of that on sheer willpower, not by running through wide creases.
Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji and C.J. Wilson played strong at the point of attack. Granted, Seattleís offensive line isnít anything special. But give Pickett, Raji and Wilson credit. They played low, maintained good arm extension, ate up space and covered two gaps. And Pickett and Raji, especially, did a good job of flowing laterally down the line of scrimmage without giving up ground or inside leverage. And thatís a tough thing to do.
Jerron McMillian, Casey Hayward and Sam Shields have made a big difference the past two weeks.
McMillian isnít just a run-stopper. His interception could have been the game-saving play if it hadnít been nullified by the questionable roughing call on Erik Walden. Hayward made a nice play to break up a third-down pass in the first half and made a possible touchdown-saving tackle on a third-down, red-zone play on Seattleís next to last possession.
On the play where Shields was called for interference on that same series, he did everything perfect. He squeezed the receiver to the sideline and jumped to the highest point to play the ball. Then on the final series, he broke up one pass in the end zone and was in position to bat down the final pass until he was flagrantly pushed in the back.
Former Press-Gazette sports editor Cliff Christl and former football coach and player Eric Baranczyk offer their analysis of Green Bay Packers games each week.