“It’s a similar feel to a big game, a playoff game. I don’t want to say the Super Bowl. There’s a big atmosphere outside the stadium, but the only thing that matters is taking care of business on the field.” – Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, on the pregame hype at Lambeau Field for Thursday night’s kickoff to the 2011 NFL campaign.
The start to the 2011 NFL season lived up to all the expectations. It was a big game, offering the feel of playoff atmosphere resonating throughout Lambeau Field. While the past two Super Bowl winners provided offensive fireworks, it was a goal line stop that ultimately took care of business. Clay Matthews and Morgan Burnett (14 tackles) denied rookie Mark Ingram at the one-yard line on the final play of the game. It sealed the deal on the Saints furious fourth-quarter rally. Despite many clamoring for a better play call, the opener was more than hype; it was pure entertainment between two NFC powerhouses.
Good: Packers second-round draft pick (final pick, #64 in round two) Randall Cobb from Kentucky scored two touchdowns in his NFL debut. Both saw him elude tacklers on his way to the end zone. One via the catch, while the other came by way of 108 yards (second-longest play in NFL history) on a kick return. How did the former Wildcat standout slide past the first round? The remarkably sensational Aaron Rodgers was 14-15, for 188 yards and three touchdowns in the first 15 minutes of action. The no-huddle, shotgun offense allowed Rodgers to spread the ball around to Greg Jennings (does he use Stickum?), Jermichael Finley, Jordy Nelson, and Cobb with the greatest of ease. Darren Sproles replaced Reggie Bush quite admirably, as he returned a punt 72 yards to pay dirt and piled up 75 yards receiving. Both Drew Brees and Rodgers displayed nimble footwork in the pocket, thus, showing why the two superstar signal callers are the best at what they do for a living. NFL fans were treated with arguably the best opening night ever. Offense was at a premium, which meant the scoreboard was lit up, proving, it was an abundance of excitement to witness.
Bad: The two short-yardage plays called by the Saints should have been flipped around. Down 35-27 late in the third period of play, Sean Payton dialed up a run play for Ingram on third and one at the Packers 7; which resulted in no gain. The ensuing play on fourth and one, the same run should’ve been called rather than an ordinary play-action that fooled absolutely no one. On the final play of the game at the Green Bay 1, Payton had Brees hand the rock off to the first-year back, which wasn’t a bad idea, considering the Packers and everyone else believed Brees would throw the ball instead. What was wrong with this, was not the play, but the formation. In this case, I think you have to spread out the alignment if you want to run Ingram in that situation with the game on the line. As for Green Bay, it’s clear James Starks is the starting running back, not Ryan Grant.
Next: 1-0 Packers @ Panthers, 1 ET. 0-1 Saints vs. Bears, 1 ET.