Monday, November 13, 2017

Packers End Three Game Losing Streak, Defeat Bears, 23-16

It was hardly a blow out win for the Green Bay Packers. It took an assist from a sloppy Bears team (8 penalties) and one of the worst coaches' challenges of all time, but their three game losing streak is over.
The run defense was good for the second week in a row and this time it was against a good rushing attack (Bears) instead of one that is usually among the worst in the league (Lions). But the pass defense was a mess again. They did record 5 sacks, which usually happened when the coverage held up downfield. But the Bears have probably the worst group of receivers in the league, it's so bad that Dontrelle Inman immediately became their No. 1 receiver after one week of practices. Inman had 58 receptions in 2016 but only had 2 with the Chargers in 2017 before his trade last week to the Bears. Trubisky had never completed more than 20 passes or thrown for more than 200 yards in a game until he faced the Packers. The Bears' top 3 wide receivers (and targets) combined for 13 receptions, 189 yards and 1 touchdown, which was more than the Packers' top 3 wide receivers combined (11 rec., 162 yards and 1 touchdown).

There's not much that can be done to improve that unit the rest of the season. CB Davon House is getting worse, Trubisky seemed to be targeting him in coverage during the 2nd half. CB Kevin King is their best cornerback, but he still has a couple plays per game when he looks like a rookie. CB Damarious Randall has been better at playing in Morgan Burnett's hybrid role but they already have Burnett (when healthy) to play there. S Kentrell Brice is on IR and not coming back this season, not that he was making much of a difference anyway. At least they have an easier match-up against QB Joe Flacco next week.

As for their new quarterback:
This was Hundley's best game as a starter but he's still inexperienced. He's making crazy mistakes like when he called a timeout for no reason and when he threw the ball away on a busted play instead of running into about 10 yards of open green in front of him. He shouldn't be taking so many sacks and he needs to quit running backwards in a loop for about 10 yards whenever he's forced out (or thinks he's being forced out) of the pocket. Some quarterbacks never figure these things out but at this point I'm willing to cut him a little slack in his first three NFL starts.

And despite everything I wrote above, this was his best NFL game against a solid Bears' defense in wet weather conditions. He made a couple of highlight reel completions to Adams, including one for a touchdown, and he didn't turn the ball over. He wasn't very mobile, at some point during the game he injured his hamstring and played through it, but he still ran for a big 1st down late in the game and he's already run for two touchdowns in his first 3 NFL starts. His completion percentage was over 70% for the game.

A win is always a good thing, and at least the Packers looked a lot better than they did against the Lions. I'm not looking for a big playoff run or expect Hundley to transform into Rodgers v.2 by season's end, but they played better and hopefully they keep it up over the next 7 games.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Packers Problems Are More Than Just Hundley and Bennett

There's a lot going on with the Green Bay Packers between QB Brett Hundley playing poorly, Colin Kaepernick questions swirling around, and TE Martellus Bennett quitting on them. But don't sleep on the fact that the defense got rolled by Matthew Stafford last Sunday and the wheels seem to be coming off.
I've been wondering what the heck the Packers' safeties have been doing this season (Morgan Burnett is playing well, when healthy, but he's been a linebacker/slot corner this season). I've rarely seen any of them with a big pass defense or turnover. They usually show up one or two seconds late after a big gain to get in on a tackle. Against a team built around a short passing game, like the Lions, I'd expect the safeties are playing a little deep but then ready to come crashing down on the short yardage play. They're kind of doing it but the crashing down is tentative and it's not blowing up any plays.
Again, there are reasons the coaches are running this hybrid combo coverage to try and confuse the quarterback (a questionable decision against a veteran like Stafford). But when the pass rush doesn't come anywhere near Stafford, he can wait a couple seconds until the cornerback releases the receiver into the massive void created between the corner and the deep, deep safety. Also, while Stafford isn't always accurate, he was really sharp last Sunday, though I don't know I'd scheme with the expectation that the quarterback isn't going to be accurate. I'm not sure why the safeties have to be so deep against a Lions team without much of a downfield passing threat. I don't know everything that's going on here, but the results on both of the above plays is that it made it way too easy for the Lions.

There were some good things that happened on defense. DT Kenny Clark played great and along with Mike Daniels they shut down the middle of the line against the run. DE Dean Lowry isn't much of a pass rusher but he's turned into a good early down lineman. And OLB Vince Biegel was good in his first action of the year, considering he's only played about a one week's worth of football in 2017, and he'll be a big upgrade in the rotation over Fackrell and Odom, once they let Biegel's snap count go up.
I don't know what to say of a rested defense coming off a bye week, at home against an opponent they know so well, who gets rolled like this. I'm thinking of a lot of things and some of them could be very bad for the rest of this season and cost a lot of coaches and players there jobs in the offseason. Maybe that's what needs to happen in January.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Packers Lose Third Straight: Packers 17, Lions 30

Sometimes you lose by 13 points and the game is closer than the score might indicate. This was the opposite of that for the Green Bay Packers. They were outplayed badly on defense and on offense. They came off the bye week as flat as any well rested team can be. I mentally checked out in the 2nd quarter and started comparing them to the 1987 Green Bay Packers (the defense was better that season). A team that can't score more than 20 points or hold any opponent to under 20 points is going to be bad.
The Lions can't run the ball (and didn't) but they have an effective short passing game that feasted on a Packer team with no pass rush and defensive backs who couldn't keep up with any receivers (they only recorded 1 pass defense). I wasn't optimistic about the secondary coming into the season. They've been better than last season's horror show but they're still bad.
The good news is that the defense is going to look a whole lot better over their next two games, when they battle two quarterbacks (Mitchell Trubisky and Joe Elite Flacco) who have lower QBRs than Brett Hundley.
Midway through the 3rd quarter, the Packers had the ball on 4th down at midfield. If Aaron Rodgers was on the field, the Packers would have run a quick slant or maybe a naked bootleg off play action. But with Hundley, they ran a pseudo jet sweep with WR Randall Cobb that lost 3 yards, and led to the above tweet by former Packer TE Tom Crabtree.

Maybe he's just the next great garbage time quarterback. Until early in the 4th quarter it looked like he would be held to under 100 yards passing for the 2nd straight game but two late touchdown drives after the game was out of reach boosted his passing yardage to 245, his completion percentage to 68.4% and his QBR to 51.5.

The optimist sees that 4th quarter and thinks he's adjusting to the starting role. The realist is still thinking back to the 2nd quarter:
He's been really bad over the past 2+ games but there aren't any better solutions on the roster. He got his starting offensive line back (except now it looks like Bryan Bulaga's season is over) and maybe 4 out of 5 ain't bad. The 4th quarter was probably a mirage but an optimist can say it was a sign of hope. It doesn't get any easier for him the rest of November with three good to great defenses ahead on the schedule. I'm not expecting any playoff run in their future but I do hope that Hundley can keep improving enough to make their games watchable and competitive for the rest of the season.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Packers Lose To Saints, 26-17: It's Time To Talk About Brett Hundley

I had high hopes for the Green Bay Packers in QB Brett Hundley's first career NFL start. The Saints' defense is good, but not great, and almost the entire Packer starting offensive line was back this week. RB Aaron Jones has emerged as threat on the ground. Instead this happened:
The only way it could have been worse is if he had a bunch of turnovers. Otherwise this is as bad as it gets. Look at all those passes within 10 yards, there's nothing to force the defense to respect the deep ball or protect the middle of the field. His protection was lousy for most of the game, he rarely had a clean pocket to step up into, and when he extended the play his receivers weren't getting open.

Maybe this was by design and HC Mike McCarthy wanted to keep the game plan conservative. Maybe this isn't just on Hundley, though his downfield accuracy wasn't always the best. His line could have blocked better and his receivers weren't getting open. I also have to watch the All-22 film later this week to see what was going on in the secondary.

Both of their touchdown drives were real, Jones was great on the ground and Hundley completed a couple really good passes on the 2nd touchdown drive. With more experience, it might only gets better from here. But with his huge head start; it's his 3rd year on the team, in the same offense, and with a whole week to prepare, I expected a lot more. How the rest of the team plays almost doesn't matter if he's this bad the rest of the season.

And the defense forced two INTs, which they have to do to help the offense out. The Packer pass rush had trouble against a good Saint offensive line and QB Drew Brees almost always had a clean pocket to step up into. They allowed a lot of yards but it might not have looked so bad if the Packers' offense could have stayed on the field (only 4 for 11 on 3rd down). It wasn't a great performance, but they gave them a chance to win.

It's a downer to watch Hundley have such a bad game going into the bye week. There's a long break ahead, no game until Monday night November 6 and then another home game, this time against the Lions. Hopefully the coaches and Hundley learn a lot from this game and he looks much better by then.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Checking In on The Packers' 2017 Defense Through Six Games

There's going to be a step-down on offense (hopefully just a small one) with QB Brett Hundley which is going to put pressure on the Green Bay Packers' defense to step it up.
The defense comes in ranked 23rd by Pro Football Focus, and 18th at Football Outsiders. But as the PFF article notes, injuries to key players (Nick Perry, Mike Daniels, Morgan Burnett) have held them back. Daniels and Perry played the past couple weeks, but while Daniels is not currently listed on the injury report and he hasn't since duplicated his Week 1 dominance against the Seahawks. Perry has been playing with a cast after hand surgery and he hasn't been as effective since his return, being one-handed. Burnett is still currently out of practice dealing with an injured hamstring.

Even at 100%, the defense has been limited by a lack of playmaking in the secondary and not much from either of their star edge rushers (though Perry's got a good excuse). Free agent OLB Ahmed Brooks hasn't made much of a difference yet (currently limited by a back injury). Though LB Blake Martinez has been outstanding at times, and so has rookie S Josh Jones. Their injuries at cornerback were ridiculous against the Vikings, though House, King and Randall all seem currently on track to play next Sunday against the Saints. They'll probably still be without Burnett, and even with their cornerbacks potentially returning, they'll need more from their safeties than they've been providing.

Meanwhile, the usually awful Saints defense has been much better this season, currently they're ranked ahead of the Packers by both PFF and Football Outsiders, in large part thanks to rookie CB Marshon Lattimore. It's not exactly a big test for Hundley, the Saints still have issues on defense and they'll be playing them at Lambeau, but it won't look good if he struggles at home with a week to prepare against a mid-tier defense, plus he gets back his starting tackles (both currently limited in practice).

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Aaron Rodgers Will Have Surgery, Packers Sign Jerod Evans (of course)

The combination of having a broken collarbone on his throwing shoulder and the need to have surgery is probably the worst news for QB Aaron Rodgers that the Green Bay Packers could have heard. This isn't going to be like 2013 when he came back from a broken collarbone after having missed several weeks. Even then, when he did come back for the final two games of the season, he wasn't as good as usual because he'd been standing on the sidelines and not practicing for a while. Given usual cautiousness of Packers' training staff, I'm expecting his 2017 season is over.

So it was obvious that the Packers would sign QB Jerod Evans to replace him. Who's Jerod Evans?
I know there's a petition for them to sign QB Colin Kaepernick instead and it really is historically ridiculous that he isn't on an NFL roster. Rodgers himself thinks Kaep should be on somebody's roster, and I agree with him. But GM Ted Thompson, with only a couple exceptions, avoids signing veterans and looks for the youngster with upside. Signing Kaepernick would have not been a typical move for the Packers and signing Evans is.

It shouldn't be lost in this that there's a lot to like about Evans. He's big, fast, and he's got a strong arm. He was great for Virginia Tech last season and on the scout team he'll probably be good at pretending the opponent's QB, whether that QB is a traditional pocket passer or more mobile. And they wanted to promote QB Joe Callahan to the active roster now as the backup (no veteran was going to pick up the playbook in a couple days, it has to be Callahan this week) so it made sense that the new No. 3 QB should be eligible for the practice squad.

Speaking of things lost in this, to open a spot for Callahan they placed CB Quinten Rollins on injured reserve. I'm not a fan of Rollins, but I'd really like to see CB Josh Hawkins spend more time on the bench and losing Rollins doesn't help make that possible.

The big problem with Evans is that he's only played one season of FBS (he was previously at community college). Who advised him to leave for the NFL after only one year of college? After being signed as an undrafted free agent, he didn't even make it into training camp with the Eagles before being released in late May. The Packers have found arguably the least experienced QB possible.

Back in 2013, the Packers rotated Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn into the starting lineup to replace Rodgers. The situation is different this time, Hundley is established as the obvious replacement. But the offensive line is a wreck at the moment and it's possible that Hundley could wind up injured too. Then it's down to Callahan and The Least Experience Player in the NFL. There's no way they could be competitive in a game over the next couple weeks if the worst case scenario occurred and they had to turn to Evans, who's coming off an injury from last May. I expect they feel that the new No. 3 isn't someone they'll actually have to turn to, but that decision seems risky at the moment.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Packers Lose To The Vikings, Lose Aaron Rodgers

My first thought is that losing QB Aaron Rodgers for most of the season or the entire season is all that really needs to be said about the Green Bay Packers's loss to the Vikings in Minneapolis.
My second thought is that I'm a huge Packers fan, and I'll keep watching and rooting for them. Hopefully Bakhtiari and Bulaga can come back soon. Otherwise they'll be stuck with their 5th string LT and the dude they signed off the Cardinals practice squad at RT. And hopefully LG Lane Taylor can come back soon, otherwise QB Brett Hundley isn't going to have much of a chance (see the beating he took from the Vikings on Sunday) and they won't be able to run the ball much. It was like watching the preseason offensive unit all over again (except with the starting wide receivers) as the game wound down.

The defense held up surprisingly well after they were forced to give Lenzy Pipkins and Josh Hawkins substantial playing time at cornerback. They forced two turnovers that made the score a lot closer than the game on the field actually was. However it came against a non-juggernaut Vikings offense that was already without arguably their best three starters (Bradford, Cook, Diggs).

But at this point all the long-term hopes for this season can be put away. It's time to get as many guys healthy again as possible and fight like an underdog for each win.