1.20.2011

Emotion is for fans...and Jay Cutler

Heeere Cutler Cutler Cutler...Nice Cutler...Want some cheese?

I honestly can't remember the last time I had as much fun watching a Packers game as I did last Saturday night. Tramon Williams was positively electric in the first half, and I found myself jumping and screaming, high fiving family members as he took Matt Ryan's pass to the house. Meanwhile Aaron Rodgers played as perfect a game as a quarterback can play. This left me incredibly stoked for a match-up with the Bears.

I wanted to write more about the Packers-Bears rivalry this week, but two things stopped me. For one, we've touched a lot on that topic this season, and there's little left to be said. But moreso than that, Mike McCarthy has downplayed the importance of the rivalry all week, and I think it's important to explore why.

In his press conferences he's acknowledged the rivalry and its importance to the fans, and that his players are aware of said importance. But he's also very clear that it's the fans who this particular match-up matters most to, not the players. This stands in stark contrast to Lovie Smith, who has played up the Packers-Bears rivalry from day one.

Then McCarthy made an interesting comment. When asked if he's pushed the historical relevance of this playoff match-up, he said that after teaching the newcomers about the history leading into the first match-up, he feels they "get it" and don't need the constant reminder. If you think back to last season, you'll recall McCarthy learning this the hard way.

With Brett Favre in his first year as a Viking, by several accounts there was added pressure for each match up. The result was the Packers pressing too hard in each game, and though they played hard in each, the opposing veteran QB calmly shredded the secondary twice en route to a season sweep. Mike McCarthy learned what happens when you put too much emphasis on one game, and you'll note that this season he has been very consistent with how he approaches each week. That business-like approach is really paying dividends for the Packers in the playoffs, and figures to keep his players' focused this weekend.

Meanwhile, Lovie's decision to put so many chips on wins over the Packers could potentially
backfire with his more emotional players. Emotion can be a powerful tool in football when reined in, but when it boils over players make mental errors. When I look at the Bears, the player that is most prone to boiling over is Jay Cutler. The irony is I don't think Cutler even buys into the rivalry. He's a bit of an anti-star, sitting sulkily at the podium after games regardless of outcome, refusing to become part of the Chicago scene. So Smith's approach shouldn't affect him, in theory. But Cutler has shown a tendency to let his frustration get the best of him, and the Packers defense can capitalize on that.

Dom Capers' defense is engineered to get into the head of the quarterback, to force them to make poor throws. The likes of BJ Raji and Clay Matthews terrorize the backfield while Tramon Williams and Nick Collins snatch errant passes from the air. And of course there's Charles Woodson, who does both. The past four weeks they've gotten into the heads of QBs Eli Manning, Michael Vick, Matt Ryan, and, yes, Jay Cutler. I see no reason why they won't do it again.

11 comments:

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