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Making plays is more important than the contract size

I’m pushing back against commentators with a narrow argument.

It’s not often something I hear or read something from sports media that gets me riled up, but I heard a commentary this morning that I felt I had to respond to. Bart Scott and Ian Fitzsimmons filled in on the ESPN morning show Mike and Mike today and began discussing the recent comments by Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers that he was on the back 9 of his career. The conversation eventually turned toward the fact that the Packers have only played in one Super Bowl despite having one of the greatest quarterbacks in Rodgers.

Their comments went to this idea that the lack of Super Bowls was due to the Packers, and general manager Ted Thompson specifically; are cheap and unwilling to sign big money free agents. That may be true but it ignores other factors. Their theme was that the Packers haven’t done enough to put talent around Rodgers. That is not true. It is a misconception that the Packers don’t sign free agents. They choose to keep a healthy salary cap by not to over paying for players from other teams, instead focusing on keeping their own big name players. This is evidenced by the re-signing of Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, Mike Daniels, and David Bakhtiari; all of whom would have been coveted on the open market. The Packers are one of the better teams at talent evaluation, and the number of late round and undrafted free agents on the roster supports that statement.

The real reason the Packers have been unable to reach the last game of the season is due directly to the play on the field. Every football game hinges on making more plays than the other team. It’s easy to say that those players simply aren’t talented enough to make the necessary plays but if that were true then they wouldn’t have made it to playoffs to begin with. Look at other teams that don’t have top tier talent surrounding their super star quarterbacks. The Packers have made the playoffs every season since 2009. That’s 8 consecutive trips to the postseason. Only the New England Patriots have done the same.

You can argue that the Patriots have played in three Super Bowls and that they put talent around their star. That’s not true either. If you compare the Patriots and Packers rosters, I’m not sure New England would win out. The difference is that somehow Bill Belichick knows how to get his players to be in the right position to make the right play better than Mike McCarthy.

For example, let’s look at how the 2014 season ended for each team. The Packers went to Seattle to face the league’s best defense and were winning late into the game. Morgan Burnett intercepted Russell Wilson, a turnover that should have ended the game. Inexplicably Julius Peppers signaled for Burnett to give himself up on the play despite plenty of open field to advance the football into Seahawks territory. On the ensuing drive, tight end Andrew Quarless allowed a third down pass to go through his hands while running a route beyond the first down marker. After the Seahawks were able to score on their next drive but they still needed help to stay in the game. On the Seattle onside kick, tight end Brandon Bostick ignored his blocking assignment and leaped into the air allowing the ball to bounce off his chest and away from Jordy Nelson who was supposed to receive it. It ended up in the hands of a Seahawks player. These mistakes by the players are the reason the Packers season ended that day, not a lack of talent.

The New England Patriots ended that same season with a win in Super Bowl LXIX over the Seahawks. The only play that needs to be mentioned is the one that everyone already knows. The Malcolm Butler interception. The only thing special about that play is that it was made. The play call was good, but if not for Brandon Browner disrupting the pick route and Butler making an exceptional play on the ball that game may have ended differently. It’s not about whether or not the ball should have been given to Marshawn Lynch, it’s about the Patriots players doing the right thing and coming up with a play when they were supposed to. Players not plays.

The juxtaposition of those two results shows just how important it is to remember that all players in the NFL are talented, it is their play on the field that determines who wins and who loses. And for all you Texans fans, this should be obvious. It’s easy to say that Bill O’Brien is predictable with his play calling, but that doesn’t matter if Brock Osweiler doesn’t execute those plays. He didn’t and now he’s gone. Heading into last season, no one would have said A.J. Bouye was as talented as some of the other players at his position. He spent the season making plays when they presented themselves and that helped the Texans to end the season as the number one defense.

Hearing such a narrow perspective on why the Packers have failed to make it back to the Super Bowl belies the point I am making. I don’t like that commentators with a national audience are perpetuating this myth and I felt it important to push back against their narrative. Remember, if they are talented enough to play in the NFL then they are talented enough to make the plays they should. It is when the plays aren’t made that teams fail to win, not when they don’t have big name free agents next to them.

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