Saturday, September 20, 2014

Quarless Fined By NFL for Role in Jets Endzone Fight

Packers Tight End Andrew Quarless' role in Sunday's endzone fight with the Jets is apparently not being ignored by the league. 

According to ESPN.com's Mike Mazzeo, Quarless has been fined $8,268 for his actions during the scuffle, the same one that has also led to fines of Jets Defensive Linemen Muhammad Wilkerson ($20k), who was disqualified, and Sheldon Richardson (same amount as Quarless).

Quarless, though he was clearly in the center of the issue, was not penalized on the play, a successful two-point conversion pass from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb in the middle of the third quarter. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Preview: Packers at Lions on Sunday

While the Packers have had a lot of recent success against the Lions (QB Aaron Rodgers is 9-1 against them, the Packers have gone 8-4 at Ford Field, which opened in 2002) they're coming off a 40-10 beating on Thanksgiving in 2013 in Detroit. That's something to build on for the Lions, but their big win was on a short week against a visiting team without their starting quarterback.

So far in 2014, both teams are 1-1 and on similar tracks. Both have lost by double digits on the road against a likely playoff team (Seahawks and Panthers) and both beat a struggling New York team at home. Pro Football Focus currently has the Lions ranked as the No. 4 overall team based on the dominance of their victory over the Giants (currently ranked as the No. 25 team overall) and the Packers at No. 15 because they spotted the Jets an 18 point lead before turning it around. If momentum means anything, the Packers went on a tear in the second half against the Jets as they came back for the win, while QB Matthew Stafford struggled after they fell further behind and the Panthers started getting after him in the second half.

The key to this game might be the Lions secondary. It was a big question mark coming into the season and it's been wrecked by injuries. Though it took the Packers almost the entire first half to get the passing attack going against a struggling Jets secondary. Also, the healthy starters in the Lions's secondary (Glover Quin and Darius Slay) have positive grades from Pro Football Focus and their pass defense is ranked ninth overall according to Football Outsiders.

On the other hand, the Lions have the third ranked run defense so far according to Football Outsiders. This is probably not the week to expect a breakout game from RB Eddie Lacy.

The Packers's defense has been a disappointment so far this season, outside of a dominant game from DE Mike Daniels and solid play overall at cornerback. As usual, the Lions can throw it and WR Calvin Johnson is a dominant receiver, but they still don't have a solid No. 2 receiver (the only receiver other Johnson with a positive receiving grade currently according to Pro Football Focus is TE Joseph Fauria). The Packers are one of the worst teams at stopping the run so far this season, but the Lions are just as bad at running the ball, so no team should have an advantage in that regard. This is probably the hardest area to predict because I don't know what to expect from Stafford. He's had some great games against them (his start against them in Detroit in 2013), but he's also had some stinkers (his start against them in Detroit in 2012).

Is RT Derek Sherrod the worst starting right tackle in the NFL? This doesn't look like it's Bryan Bulaga's week to return, so they're going probably going to start Sherrod again. Surprisingly, I don't think Sherrod is the key to the game. While keeping the quarterback protected is always going to lead to better results on the field, on some plays last week, Rodgers had a ton of time to throw but he was eventually taken down on a coverage sack. Sherrod has to protect better, but it's also time for the receivers other than Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb to get involved, especially if Lacy is likely to be shut down by a great run defense.

If the Packers are going to win, it's going to be a close victory. The defense has to play better. So far this season, the Lion passing attack has been better the Packer passing attack, and that has to reverse. Packers 24, Lions 20.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Matthews Thinks "He Can Do it All" Right Now


Packers LB Clay Matthews thinks "he can do it all" right now.

"I think I can do it all," Matthews recently told FOX Sports in reference to his wanting to expand his role on Green Bay's defense. "I think over the years I've been known as a sack guy, but I think what's been lost in the shuffle is the fact that I can cover, I can play in space and rush the passer as well."

That "sack guy" comment certainly rains true. Nonetheless, if Matthews could do a little more this season I'm sure the Pack would take it, as their defense has been pretty inconsistent over the first two games.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hyde Confident He'll Play Sunday

Packers Safety Micah Hyde is confident he'll play Sunday, the Green Bay Press-Gazette reports. 

According to the Press-Gazette, Hyde is currently experiencing swelling and soreness after suffering a knee injury in last weekend's game against the Jets, although nothing appears to be that serious.

So, in a move that should help the Pack's return game when they head to Ford Field four days from now, Hyde is expected to be ready for the contest, even if doing so may take a little longer than usual.

Hyde, a second year player out of Iowa, sustained the wound while fielding a routine punt.

Where Did All Of Aaron Rodgers's Weapons Go?

Over the past few seasons, QB Aaron Rodgers has been pretty consistent about spreading the ball around. Last season, WR Jordy Nelson led the team with 126 targets (22% of all pass attempts) with WR James Jones second at 16%. It's a little harder to rank TE and the other WR position because Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley each missed 10 games, but WR Jarrett Boykin was targeted on 14% of pass attempts and Finley and TE Andrew Quarless combined were targeted 15%.

I'd expect the top two receivers (Nelson and Cobb) to be targeted on 20-25% of pass attempts, the number three wide receiver at 15-20%, and the number one tight end at about 15%. But that's not at all what's happened so far this season.

Coming into this season, Boykin was expected to be the number three WR and he's only been targeted three times in two games (one reception). The starting TE, Richard Rodgers, hasn't been targeted a single time. Instead, 30 of 75 pass attempts (40%) have been thrown to Nelson. That might not seem like such a bad idea, targeting their best receiver 40% of the time (Cobb's at 20%), but Aaron Rodgers's yards per game are at 242.5 in 2014 (down from 268.8 in 2013) and RB Eddie Lacy's per game yardage is half of what he had in 2013. The offense hasn't been as effective when they can only count on Nelson for yards and Cobb for touchdown receptions.

I don't know why Boykin or Richard Rodgers have been invisible in the first two games, but rookie WR Davante Adams did emerge against the Jets with 5 receptions on 7 targets. Adams played little against the Seahawks in Week 1 (no targets) but if he kept up his Week 2 usage over the course of the entire season, he would receive about 20% of all pass attempt. That's the usage I was expecting from their number three receiver. Maybe Boykin is better suited as the number four receiver and Adams will move ahead of him shortly.

Whatever happens, the Packers have to find away to get more receivers involved in the offense.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Packers Listed as 1 1/2 Point Underdogs For Sunday's Lions Game

In an early prediction that blatantly shows Vegas' home-field bias, the Packers have been listed as 1 1/2 point underdogs for this Sunday's game at Ford Field. 

In their last two games this weekend, as you probably already know, both Green Bay and the Lions looked lousy, with Detroit falling 24-7 to the Panthers and the Pack barely beating the Jets. 

So, with those results now on the record, it's not surprising that the upcoming contest is expected to be close. No, that isn't necessarily the case for the right reasons, but still, since it is in fact true it seems reasonable to get excited for the divsional Week 3 meeting, one that could definetely end up affecting how the year plays out.

What's Going On With The Packers Defense?

In Week 1, against a pretty good Seattle offense, the Packers defense allowed 36 points and maybe that can be excused as one bad game. However, the badness lingered into the second quarter against the Jets, and the clouds didn't lift until DE Mike Daniels started to take over. There are three things on my mind and the first one is addressed by this is a very interesting tweet from former Packer LB Brady Poppinga:
I can recall one play when Matthews was acting like a middle linebacker in pass coverage, and also the one pass down the sidelines that was covered by LB Julius Peppers, who was tied for the team lead last Sunday with two pass defenses. So far, Mike McCarthy is supportive of deploying two of the best pass rushers in the NFL into coverage, but it's obvious the coaches aren't playing to those players' strengths. An occasional zone blitz can be useful to give the defense some unpredictability, but I find it hard to defend dropping Matthews into coverage 35% of the time. Matthews and Peppers are known for making plays at or behind the line of scrimmage, and moving them away from it doesn't make a lot of sense.

Jamari Lattimore or Brad Jones? While Jones was a disaster against the Seahawks (he was probably playing hurt), Lattimore earned a positive grade from Pro Football Focus for his start against the Jets. I'm not a huge Jones fan, but he has played very well at times, and it's hard to believe Lattimore can be anything more than an adequate starter. I'd like to see what Lattimore would do with another start, and I wouldn't mind if they kept Sam Barrington loose in the bullpen either.

Where in the world is Casey Hayward? I did notice during the Jets game that Hayward seemed to be riding the bike on the sidelines instead of lining up on the field. If the Packers were going to improve their defense, I expected Hayward (who was arguably their 2nd best defensive player in 2012 before an injury plagued 2013 season) would be a big factor. There currently seems to be a mystery injury surrounding him, but there could be another couple factors as to why he's on the bench. One of his final plays in Week 1 was a killer 15 yard personal foul that ended their slim comeback hopes against the Seahawks. Also, CB Davon House played very well this preseason and he's clearly outplayed Hayward so far this season (two pass defenses for House against the Jets and a positive rating from Pro Football Focus). The defense needs to force more turnovers and no one has more potential for grabbing INTs than Hayward (6 INTs during his rookie season) but he injuries and more competition might be pushing him to the sidelines.

So the defense is still a work in progress. Despite having the entire preseason to figure everything out, everything is not figured out. There isn't an obvious fix here, expect that it's time to unleash Matthews and Peppers, and it's something to keep an eye on.

Monday, September 15, 2014

McCarthy Impressed After Packers Rally to Beat Jets

After the Packers rallied from an early 21-3 deficit to beat the Jets yesterday, team Head Coach Mike McCarthy was impressed by the team's staying focused. 

"It's a game of adversity," McCarthy told ESPN Wisconsin following the W. "It's a game of momentum swings. It's a game of big plays. We were in a spot, but our players stayed the course."

Yes they did. Though it wasn't an ideal victory by any means for the Pack, it was definitely a good showing of patience, as most clubs wouldn't turn things around in that kind of situation much less eventually win.

Reaction: Packers Beat Jets 31-24

Well, yesterday's game wasn't what we thought it would be.

Going into it, I was pretty confident in an easy, 17+ point victory, a fact that made the Jets' early 21-3 lead a little surprising. 

Still, at the end of the day the Pack got the win, which I guess is all that matters. So, since this is in fact a reaction post, here's two things I'll take away from this weekend's W:

1. It doesn't matter that this game was close:
It's week two right now guys. As long as they got the victory we should be okay. 

2. A lot of games could go like this this year:
It's not news to any of you that the Packers have a great offense and a terrible defense. So then why is it surprising that this happened? In my opinion, when facing the Green Bay D Geno Smith is just as good as Cam Newton. He'll keep his team in the contest, but will still fall in the end due to the Pack's home field advantage.

How Did The Packers Manage To Comeback and Beat The Jets 31-24?

The big story for the Green Bay Packers in their first win of the 2014 season was the monster 200+ yard game by WR Jordy Nelson. He almost single-handedly brought them back. And after a very shaky start to the game, which featured a fumble on the opening snap and bad protection on their second drive, the offensive line settled down and gave QB Aaron Rodgers time to throw. Sometimes too long; at least one sack happened because he held the ball too long. For some reason, the Jets decided to focus on shutting down the Packer running game instead of the passing game, and that too helped make the big comeback possible.
Here's the big question; What the hell happened to the defense? After allowing touchdowns on the Jets' first three possessions, the defense held them to only 132 yards on their final eight drives. Here are a few observations:

The defense is soft up the middle. It seems like Dom Capers is daring the opposing offense to call a running play right up the middle on 3rd and long. I guess the idea is that the defensive players will swarm to make the tackle. Well, early in the game, the Jets had a few big plays right up the middle. A 13 yard pass to WR Jeremy Kerley on 3rd and 11. QB Geno Smith scrambled for 9 yards on 3rd and 6. RB Bilal Powell ran for 11 yards on 3rd and 13 (the Jets converted on 4th down). Eventually the defense adjusted. DE Datone Jones said they stopped a lot of substitutions, and also DE Mike Daniels started to take over. It also looked like DT Josh Boyd held up pretty well inside too. Those plays weren't there for the Jets by the middle of the second quarter.

LB Clay Matthews stopped overrunning plays. It wasn't just Matthews, but the Packers have been terrible at stopping change of direction because they are over pursuing on the fake. Matthews was especially fond of running hard down the line of scrimmage, only to watch Smith roll to the other side. At some time during the 2nd quarter, either the Packers adjusted or the Jets stopped trying to exploit it.

The Jets couldn't run the ball. For a team that is expected to be a good running team, RB Chris Ivory and RB Chris Johnson did little on the ground. So it was up to Geno Smith to make plays, which leads into my last point.

Smith couldn't complete anything. After starting out 8 for 10 passing on the Jets' opening three touchdown drives, he completed only 8 of 22 on their final eight drives. He went on a long drought with several incompletions in a row. He only completed 55.8 percent of his passes in 2013, so accuracy is not his strong suit. Going through a long stretch with no completions and no running game is going to create a come back opportunity. While the defense was improving, Smith seemed to go into a funk at the right time.

So the defense remains a big question mark. After struggling badly Week 1 in Seattle, they looked completely outplayed for over a quarter against an offense led by Geno Smith. The talent/production looks overmatched on the inside of the defense (defensive tackle/inside linebacker) and there aren't enough splash plays/turnovers created by the big playmakers to offset it (only 1 turnover recovered in each of their first two games).

Saturday, September 13, 2014

NFL Week 2 Predictions

I wanted to do this last year, but never quite got around to it. Anyway, from now on I'll make my NFL predictions every Sunday here on the site along with the phrases "easily" or "in a close one" to describe how I think the games will be won. So, without further ado, here they are:

Game: Jets at Packers
Prediction: Packers win easily

Game: Dolphins at Bills
Prediction: Bills win in a close one

Game: Lions at Panthers
Prediction: Panthers win in a close one

Game: Falcons at Bengals
Prediction: Bengals win in a close one

Game: Saints at Browns
Prediction: Saints win easily

Game: Patriots at Vikings
Prediction: Patriots win easily

Game: Cardinals at Giants
Prediction: Cardinals win in a close one

Game: Cowboys at Titans
Prediction: Titans win easily

Game: Jaguars at Redskins
Prediction: Redskins win easily

Game: Seahawks at Chargers
Prediction: Seahawks win in a close one

Game: Rams at Buccaneers
Prediction: Buccaneers win easily

Game: Chiefs at Broncos 
Prediction: Broncos win easily

Game: Texans at Raiders
Prediction: Texans win in a close one

Game: Bears at 49ers
Prediction: 49ers win easily

Game: Eagles at Colts
Prediction: Colts win in a close one

By the way, I know these picks are late since the Steelers and Ravens played Thursday. I'm doing these on Sunday on purpose because this is the day people seem to care the most.