Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Packers (5-6) End Losing Streak, Beat Eagles in Philly, 27-13

The Green Bay Packers entered their Monday night game on a four game losing streak. The Eagles were ranked No. 2 overall in DVOA according to Football Outsiders and were far and away the best team at home this season. So, of course, the Packers were in control for the entire game and cruised to a 27-13 victory. Unfortunately there were a couple of dark clouds.
And LB Clay Matthews injured his shoulder. He's not the same player anymore but with all the injuries at ILB (both Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez missed this game) it would be a huge loss if he couldn't play next week. I'd think Rodgers's hamstring injury would have to be very bad for him to miss any playing time, but it should limit his ability to run as he had been doing all season.

This might have been the offense's best game of the season, though they still can't run the ball (even with their 1st rushing TD from a running back). Rookie RG Jason Spriggs had his first NFL start in place of T.J. Lang, and he was asked to take on All Pro DT Fletcher Cox. He struggled, he was pushed deep into the backfield on multiple plays and Cox got free on a stunt that led to a personal foul, but later in the game C Corey Linsley started helping on double-teams. I was ready to give up on WR Davante Adams after the first three weeks but he keeps getting better as the season goes on, though he still doesn't have the break out speed to separate on deep routes. RB Christine Michael was only in for a few snaps and the sooner he can earn the trust of the offensive coaches for more playing time, the better. Considering how well the Eagles's defense has been this season, this was a spectacular game for the offense.

The defense wasn't epic (13 points, 292 yards allowed) but it looked epic in comparison to what's been on the field over the past four weeks. During that four game slide, they faced three Top 10 pass offenses, according to Football Outsiders (Falcons #3, Redskins #6, Titans #8), and all three shredded them. Their loss to the Colts will stand out all season long as one in which they just didn't show up as a team, but those three road games, against top pass offenses while their own secondary was dealing with injuries, was a disaster. The return of CB Damarious Randall helped, but the Eagles were missing a bunch of skill players (RB Ryan Mathews, WR Nelson Agholor; WR Jordan Matthews was injured during the game) and turned a weak offense into a toothless one.

The Eagles entered this game ranked No. 22 overall in pass offense according to Football Outsiders. The Packers' remaining opponents (Texans-No. 32, Seahawks-No. 7, Bears-No. 21, Vikings-No. 14, Lions-No. 9) don't have nearly the passing firepower as the Falcons, Redskins and Titans. The Seahawks remain a tough match-up, but the Seahawks and Eagles are ranked about the same by DVOA (No. 1 and No. 2 according to Football Outsiders entering this week) and the Packers were in control for nearly the entire game in Philly. There's no reason they can't do it again in two weeks against the Seahawks in Lambeau. While the Vikings and Lions present some problems, the fact that neither of those teams can run the ball at all is a big help.
It's not likely that they'll actually win out and finish 10-6 but their win over the Eagles showed it's possible. One step at a time, beat the Texans next week and we'll see.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Packers (4-6) Keep Losing, Fourth Straight Loss, This Time Its the Redskins 42-24

In their first two losses of the season to the Vikings and Cowboys, turnovers by the offense doomed them. Then in their loss to the Colts, it was basically everything (offense, defense, special teams) coming out flat. And in three of their last four losses (Falcons, Titans, and now Redskins), the offense kept them in the game (their special teams have done nothing positive this season) but their pass defense has just collapsed.

The pass rush is part of the problem, though they usually get at least one big play per week from Julius Peppers, Nick Perry and Mike Daniels. But it's the secondary that has fallen apart. At the end of this loss to the Redskins, the only healthy cornerback on the field was LaDarius Gunter, and even he gave up a long touchdown reception. CB Quinten Rollins played in the past couple games, but he's still listed each week on the injury report and it's obvious he's playing through his groin injury. 
There's not much to hope for until DC Dom Capers finds some solution on defense. They aren't going to be great but they shouldn't be giving up 40+ points per game either. At least the offense has been playing well, despite the lack of any running game. The return of TE Jared Cook and the injury to RG Don Barclay (with rookie Jason Spriggs as his replacement) made the offense better this week.

They'll have an extra day next week (in Philadelphia on Monday night) to get ready, and QB Carson Wentz is the worst QB they've seen in a while. The Packers's secondary is obviously shaky and they've drawn the bad luck of facing five Top 10 pass offenses according to Football Outsiders (Falcons #2, Cowboys #3, Titans #6, Redskins #8, Lions #10) and having lost to four of them. They faced three of those teams during their four game losing streak. They still have the Seahawks (#9) and the Lions (#10) waiting to torch their secondary, but if there is a silver lining, most of their other remaining opponents are having trouble passing the ball (Eagles #23, Texans #32, Bears #21, Vikings #15). The NFC North title and the playoffs look out of reach for the first time since 2008, but I'd like to see them win again and get back to .500 for the season.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Packers (4-5) Have Now Lost 4 of 5, Lose in Tennessee to the Titans, 47-25

The 2016 season has been a major disappointment and it continues to trend downward for the Green Bay Packers. They've just lost their second consecutive game to an AFC South opponent with a losing record and once again allowed an early touchdown to fall quickly behind by 7 points.

Against the Titans, on their first offensive play, I don't know if it was sloppy defense or great blocking, LT Taylor Lewan took out both DT Mike Daniels and FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix before RB DeMarco Murray was off to the races.
Overall it was a terrible game for the Packers. They had a ton of penalties (12 for 107 yards) and lost two offensive lineman to injuries during it (Lang and Bakhtiari) which contributed to 5 sacks. On defense, they had no pass rush and their pass coverage was a mess. And for the second consecutive week, their special teams failed with a fumbled punt return and a missed extra point. The offense spent the first couple possessions trying to run the ball while Rodgers was out of sync with his receivers and were down 21-0 by the end of the 1st half.

There's plenty of blame to go around, but the pass coverage was the worst of it. They have to blitz to get a pass rush (where have you gone Nick Perry?) but both CB Demetri Goodson and Quinten Rollins have been a bust as the starter opposite CB Ladarius Gunter. While Gunter is getting better, (he's still had the occasional bad game) Goodson and Rollins are getting worse. The defense is playing some zone coverage to try and help, but that doesn't work when the quarterback has time to throw. There is the hope that the defense could turn it around quickly if both LB Clay Matthews and CB Damarious Randall could return next week.

As bad as they played in this game, they almost got back into it. During the 4th quarter, they were losing by 16 points but driving at the Titans' 41 yard line with 12 minutes to go. On 4th down, TE Richard Rodgers dropped a pass he should have caught for a 1st down. If they could have kept it going and scored a touchdown, they could have cut the lead to one possession with plenty of time remaining.

With an 8-8 finish the most likely scenario for the 2016 Packers, I'd normally consider this a lost season and they should start working in earnest on their college draft scouting. But the Vikings keep losing (4 in a row) and now the Lions are in 1st place in the NFC North with a one game lead over the Packers and a tie-breaker advantage over the Vikings. All three teams are majorly messed up in a one way or another. The Packers haven't been encouraging to watch over the past few weeks but if they can turn it around at any point over the next couple weeks, they should still have a shot at making the playoffs.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Packers (4-4) Lose At Home to the Struggling Colts, 31-26

The Green Bay Packers did feel like they played the first three quarters with low energy. The offense was moving well at times during the first half, but they kept leaving points on the field as six of their first nine offensive possession finished in Indianapolis territory with only had 13 points to show for it. The defense was playing great (at times) and forced the Colts into three-and-out on three of their eleven possessions, but they also allowed three long touchdown drives plus a long drive at the end of the game to run out the clock. And the special teams were a complete disaster. They came out with low energy on the opening kickoff and spent the next three quarters digging the hole deeper.
The Packers' special teams unit had been OK entering this game (it was ranked No. 17 overall) but then allowed two long kickoff returns (one for a touchdown, the other set up a field goal) and K Mason Crosby missed a 48 yard field goal. That's a big deficit to overcome from special teams alone, considering how the offense and defense were playing.

Over the past three games, it seems like the offense now knows how to use it's personnel. They'll go deep with WR Jordy Nelson or WR Jeff Janis (you can't drop that one Jeff!) while the rest of their receivers are better used on short passes or passes out of the backfield to Montgomery or Cobb. What's holding back the offense is the absence of a quality running back and I'm not pinning my hopes on RB James Starks. It is amazing how they can manage 116 yards rushing on 19 carries with scrambles by QB Aaron Rodgers and hand offs to Montgomery.

The defense seemed out-schemed in this game. The Packers played more zone than usual and it worked at times (2 early INTs) but then it gave up chunks of yards on all of the Colts's long touchdown drives. The front four wasn't generating enough pressure against a make-shirt Colts' offensive line which forced the Packers to blitz more with their DBs. That led to some big completions when the blitz didn't get there in time (or when FS Ha Ha Clinton Dix missed a huge sack opportunity on the Colts' last possession).

The only silver lining is that it seems to be a race to the bottom in the NFC North. The Vikings are in free fall, currently on a three game losing streak, and the Lions have moved ahead of the Packers with 5 wins. If the Packers win the rest of their NFC North head-to-head games, then they'll probably win the NFC North. The division winner might finish with only 9 or 10 wins. That's not pretty, but they just need to find any way into the playoffs and hope the team clicks at the right time.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

The Packers and Vikings Just Keep Losing

The Green Bay Packers made some transaction noise on Monday when they released RB Knile Davis. But that wasn't a big surprise. Over the past three seasons, Davis hadn't been able to get onto the field in Kansas City and the Packers saw more good from rookie RB Don Jackson, though neither player has done much over the past two games.

But the big news on Monday was that the Vikings lost, ugly, for the second week in a row. The Packers have lost two of their last three games and I thought they were giving up too much ground on the Vikings to overtake them in the NFC North. Instead, the wheels are coming off for the Vikings.
The Vikings have some problems on defense. They had trouble pressuring QB Jay Cutler on Monday night and rookie SS Jayron Kearse struggled in his first NFL start (replacing injured SS Andrew Sendejo). But overall these are minor complaints and as many as five of their defensive starters might be traveling to the Pro Bowl at the end of the season. Their big problem is the offensive line.

The Bears were all over QB Sam Bradford while only rushing four players, allowing their inside linebackers to drop back in coverage and smother all the short passes he threw to his running backs and tight ends, while giving him no time to look down field for his wide receivers. They were a disaster on running plays too, failing to get any push or create any cut-back lanes. The Vikings have now scored only 10 points in each of their last two games, and both of their touchdowns were late points in garbage time when the game was out of reach.

They'll get a breather next week when they host the Lions, and go up against the worst defense in the NFL. But then they travel to D.C. to play the Redskins and return home to host the Cardinals. Then they play on a short week and travel to Detroit, before they host the Cowboys on December 1st. While they'll beat the Lions next week, those next four games are all challenging for different reasons. If they don't solve their offensive line problems, what looked like a 13-3 team a couple weeks ago is starting to look 10-6 (or worse).

If the Vikings could run the ball and had a mobile quarterback, they could adjust to having the worst tandem of tackles in the NFL (LT Jake Long and RT T.J. Clemmings). But they only moved the ball well against the Bears when they got their wide receivers involved (Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen) and Bradford needs time to throw to be able to get them the ball.

Although the Packers have lost two of their last three games, and are looking ahead to a three game stretch on the road after they host the Colts next week, the Vikings are unraveling at the right time to give the Packers a chance to regain their footing (and health in the secondary) to overtake them in the NFC North race.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Packers (4-3) Stumble on the Road, Lose in Atlanta, 32-33

This was about as even a game as I've seen in recent years from the Green Bay Packers. Neither team's defense could do much to stop the other team's offense. The score was obviously close, a one point margin, but nearly everything was close during this game. Yardage, time of possession, neither team had a turnover (WR Davante Adams fumbled but it went out of bounds), neither team bothered much with their running games, etc.
The Packers's offense is going to be limited for the rest of the season by their inability to run the ball but it's getting better in some ways. WR Jordy Nelson had one of his best games and forced the Falcons to commit more defenders in coverage to stop him. The absence of WR Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery hurt, but they've found the best role for Adams (short routes instead of mid-range to deep sideline routes) and they used Nelson, WR Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis and even Geronimo Allison (his first game off the practice squad) to work downfield. With all those receivers running deeper routes, it opened up a lot of short routes for Adams (who could make one defender miss and pick up several more yards) and huge running lanes for QB Aaron Rodgers, who ran for a career high 60 yards and multiple first downs.
CB LaDarius Gunter has had an up-and-down season, but this was one of his up-games. He drew WR Julio Jones in coverage and Jones was a non-factor for most of the game, especially after he sprained his ankle in the first half. But the rest of the coverage was poor. The other starting CB (Demetri Goodson) allowed a long TD pass, and they would have had a better match-up against No. 2 WR Mohamed Sanu, who led the Falcons in receptions and receiving yards, if the Packers had their top 3 CBs available.

The late game loss of Gunter was significant too. On the game winning TD pass, the Packers had ILB Jake Ryan lined up in single coverage against Sanu, and being down to two healthy CBs (plus utility DB Micah Hyde) might have been part of the reason they found themselves in such a bad match-up on the decisive play of the game. Shields's long-term health is a concern but the other three players should return and make the defense much better.

This loss hurts. They led for much of the game and the defense couldn't make the late lead hold up. The next two games are more manageable, against the Colts and Titans, before two tough prime time road games at Washington and Philadelphia. The two NFC East games are looming large because they might be the key to a Wild Card spot at the end of the season. They just got to keep focused on winning each game, and getting their missing players back healthy.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Packers (4-2) Bounce Back and Dominate Bears, 26-10

It was close game in the first half because the Green Bay Packers had two drives stall within field goal range and another one end at the Bears's one yard on a failed 4th down run by WR Ty Montgomery. But the game was never in doubt because the Bears's offense never showed up, which was kind of surprising because the Bears's offense came in ranked No. 19 overall vs. the Packers No. 14 overall, according to Football Outsiders. They should have been able to keep pace to some degree but they couldn't do anything except patch together one scoring drive for a field goal in the first half.

The Bears's offense would have been better if they hadn't lost QB Brian Hoyer to a broken arm in the first half, but they already were without WR Eddie Royal, who missed the game due to a toe injury. The Packers have been getting killed by No. 1 receivers but WR Alshon Jeffery, who's having a great season, couldn't get anything going with only 3 receptions on 11 targets. Four days ago, CB Ladarius Gunter was getting torched by the Cowboys but he was looked like a quality NFL CB against the Bears.

The Packers came into this game with an advantage on special teams but they gave that away because K Mason Crosby had his worst night in a while. He missed a field goal and had his first missed extra point since 2014. Those two misses kept it a two score game and theoretically gave the Bears a chance. But their offense played so badly, and backup QB Matt Barclay couldn't do anything except throw 2 INTs, so they never really had a chance.

On offense, it was QB Aaron Rodgers's first 300 yard passing game in a while and he played very well, except for another fumble that was recovered in the end zone by the Bears for their only touchdown. Montgomery had another strong receiving game but his running game is not working. RB Knile Davis was limited because he doesn't know the playbook yet and they weren't able to use him yet. WR Randall Cobb had another great game and it was his 2nd consecutive game with a TD reception. WR Jordy Nelson was a forgotten man. And the big story was the huge game by WR Davante Adams.
I'm not Adams's No. 1 Fan, but he started out the season with a touchdown reception against Jacksonville and he's slowly getting better this season. But I don't want to make too much out of his this game. If you watch all 13 receptions, you'll see that Adams is either wide open due to a busted coverage or being covered by CB De'Vante Bausby. If Bausby's name doesn't ring any bells, it's probably because he was undrafted in 2015 and promoted from the Bears's practice squad about 5 minutes ago. The Packers used a lot of multiple receiver sets to expose Bausby in one-on-one coverage and Adams torched him. He's not going to get that favorable of a match-up every week.

Now the Packers have a little extra time off until they face the Falcons on October 30. Rodgers should like playing in the dome but this should also be a major challenge for them. The Falcons's offense is really humming along so far this season. They're also currently ranked ahead of the Packers according to Football Outsiders, and so far the Packers have beaten all the teams ranked below them while losing to two teams ranked ahead of them.