Friday, October 24, 2014

Packers Injury Updates

Some Packers injury updates, courtesy of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Tyler Dunne:
  • Morgan Burnett (calf) questionable
  • Sam Shields (knee) doubtful
  • Datone Jones (ankle) OUT
  • James Starks (ankle) probable
According to Green Bay Head Coach Mike McCarthy, the fact that this weekend's game is a night one should improve Burnett's chances to play, as the latter is apparently on a "time-clock type thing" right now.

As for Jones, McCarthy said that it was clear he's not ready to play after watching him practice yesterday, a happening that certainly won't help the Pack this Sunday against a strong offense like New Orleans.

Preview: Saints Host The Packers Sunday Night

Playing the Saints in their dome is a tough game for any team, and the Packers are going to have to perform well to win. The good news is that the Packers have been playing almost mistake-free football during their four game winning streak.
Being down two starting defensive backs, CB Sam Shields and probably SS Morgan Burnett to a calf injury, is never a good thing when preparing to face QB Drew Brees. But the Saints might not get much from TE Jimmy Graham, who is playing through a shoulder injury, so their passing attack isn't at 100%.

Rookie S Ha Ha Clinton Dix might receive his first career start in place of Burnett, but he was going to play a lot anyway in the nickel package. I'd also expect to see a lot of SS Sean Richardson, who plays a similar role to what they've asked Burnett to play this season; closer to the line of scrimmage. Shields's absence will give additional snaps to CB Casey Hayward, who I want to see more of anyway. At least for this week, the loss of Shields and/or Burnett shouldn't be a problem.

Here are the current rankings from Football Outsiders:
Team Pass Offense Run Offense Pass Defense Run Defense
Packers 4 7 6 22
Saints 15 2 30 16

I'm not too comforted by the 15th overall ranking for the Saints's pass offense. While they're missing a healthy version of Jimmy Graham, Drew Brees is still the same old Drew Brees, at least according to his current ESPN QBR compared to previous seasons. Since the Packers's have struggled stopping the run, the Saints's running game is looking like a big problem. If they can't stop the run, Dom Capers would have to make some adjustments that could open up the passing game.

However, the Saints's running attack is not at 100% either. The Saints could be without RBs Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas, and starting C Jonathan Goodwin, none of which would help them run the ball. In any case, the Packers are facing an injured Saints's offense that could be slowed down on Sunday.

The key to the game is the Packers's passing offense. The offense is on a role, and being compared to QB Aaron Rodgers's 2011 MVP season. Even if the Saints can move the ball and score on the Packers, it's even less certain that the Saints can stop them at all. Their 30th ranked pass defense is trending down in recent weeks, while the Packers's 4th ranked pass offense has been moving upwards.

Packers 38, Saints 20.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Saints' Brees Still Doesn't Think Packers Game is a Must-Win

It appears Saints' QB Drew Brees doesn't agree with many of his team's fans, surprisingly telling The Green Bay Press-Gazette yesterday that he doesn't consider New Orleans' upcoming home game against the Packers a must-win.

"There's no must-win games until they're must-win games," Brees said. "It's important. It's really important, but nobody needs that kind of pressure."

As was just mentioned, it's safe to say many Saints supporters would disagree with that statement, as the usually-dominant contender currently sits at just 2-4. No, that bad record doesn't guarantee them a bad season, but still, since it obviously isn't likable it's strange to hear Brees say that, as confident as he usually is.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Rodgers Named NFC Offensive Player of the Week

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, in the wake of his dominant performance in Sunday's win over the Panthers, has been named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week, Pro Football Talk reports.

Rodgers, whose Pack currently sit at a division-best 5-2 (though the Lions also posses that record and own the tiebreaker due to their Week 3 victory at Ford Field), completed 19/22 passes for 255 yards and Three Touchdowns in the W, Green Bay's fourth consecutive.

So, considering those numbers are obviously above average it's not that surprising that Rodgers collected this accolade, the tenth time he's done so already in his career.

The Packers New Starting Inside LB: Sam Barrington

The Packers surprisingly gave inside LB Sam Barrington his first NFL start last Sunday against the Panthers. I still think LB Jamari Lattimore is better in pass coverage, though that's not saying much. If LB Brad Jones could recover his 2012 form, he'd be their best coverage LB, but that season seems a long ways away. He's been given extensive playing time in two games (at Seattle, at Miami) and he was terrible in both because of penalties and missed tackles.

ILB Snaps Sack Pass Defense INT Tackles
Hawk 484 0.5 2 0 52
Lattimore 261 0 1 1 34
Jones 113 0 1 0 6
Barrington 50 0 0 0 6

LB A.J. Hawk is slightly behind Jones for the worst grade at inside linebacker, according to Pro Football Focus, this season, though Jones recorded a similarly awful grade in only one-quarter of the number of snaps. Their rankings for Lattimore and Barrington are about the same; both are average players. They aren't making big plays but they aren't getting burned either. I'm not sure how many missed tackles Jones has this season, as a team the Packers are about league average in allowing yards after the catch, but he does lead the team with four penalties this season.

The coaches basically split time for Lattimore and Barrington against Carolina, and that doesn't seem like a bad idea until one of them emerges (or one stumbles). The coaches have a love of A.J. Hawk that makes any reduction in his playing time seem impossible. Jones has clearly made the case that he doesn't belong in the discussion.

One side note; the Packers aren't blitzing any of the inside linebackers much. After recording five sacks last season, Hawk only has a half-sack through seven games. That isn't a problem; it means they're getting enough pressure from their front four that they can drop their inside backers into coverage. I don't have the exact stats on blitz percentages, but it seems like they're blitzing less this season.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Oddsmakers Unsure What to Make of Packers/Saints

It seems this Sunday's Packers/Saints game has confused internet oddsmakers.

As things stand, according to ESPN.com, Bet Online, 5 Dimes, and SportsBetting.ag all have the contest's line listed as even, while other sources like Bovada and Fantasy 911 have New Orleans down as one point favorites.

Remember, going into the nationally televised matchup the Packers are 5-2 and the Saints 2-4, records that may be deceiving given Green Bay's struggles on the road and the home team's unlimited potential. Nonetheless, since the Pack are obviously on a hot streak right now it seems more likely that they'll be the ones who ultimately find a way to win, as bias as that statement sounds.

The Packers Are Very Likely To Make The Playoffs and Torch The Saints's Awful Defense

Obviously (sarcasm alert) the big news of the day is that the Packers got to see Pearl Jam and meet Eddie Vedder, but I was also looking at the advanced stats released today.

Football Outsiders have now put the odds that the Packers will make the playoffs at 89% which is second best in the NFC behind the Cowboys at 90.1%. I'd feel really good about where they stand, but things can change in one play. Unfortunately this might be a jinx, but I'll point out that the Packers were 5-2 last season, just as they are this season, after seven games and then QB Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone in their eighth game.

Overall, Football Outsiders has the Packers ranked as the third best team, mainly on the strength of their offense (third overall), but the defense and special teams are both currently above average. They're way behind the Broncos in the rankings, but Denver's lapping every other NFL team at the moment, so they're is in good company.

They're also ranked 3rd overall on offense by Pro Football Focus, but those stats are better used to evaluate individual players instead of entire teams. For example, the overall PFF rankings currently have the Broncos's offense at number seven overall, one spot ahead of the Bears, which doesn't seem right. Individually, PFF has QB Aaron Rodgers and WR Jordy Nelson as the highest ranked players at their respective positions.
Looking ahead to New Orleans, their offense isn't quite as great as they were in 2013 because of TE Jimmy Graham's injury, but their defense has fallen apart. The Saints are currently ranked as the worst defense in the NFL according to Football Outsiders (the bottom four defensive spots are all occupied by teams from the NFC South and the Packers play both the Buccaneers and Falcons in December). After what the Packers just did to the Panthers last Sunday, I think a match-up between Aaron Rodgers and any team featuring a terrible defense is going to be a lopsided affair.

Monday, October 20, 2014

McCarthy Not Underestimating Saints Despite Their 2-4 Record

Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy is not underestimating the Saints, whom the Packers play next week, despite their current 2-4 record.

"I don't ever put an opposing team's record up," McCarthy recently told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "We stay true to video. They've lost four games, three of them have been by a few points. We stay in tune with what we see on the video."

This weekend, as you may already know, the Saints blew a late lead in a 24-23 loss to the Lions, a fact that seemingly proves McCarthy's point. Nonetheless, since the Packers are still on a hot streak it's likely that they'll win next week's matchup anyway, though nothing is obviously guaranteed after last week's near-defeat in Miami.

Packers Blowout Panthers, 38-17, To Improve To 5-2

I was expecting the defense to have trouble stopping QB Cam Newton on the read option, similar to the problems they had with QB Ryan Tannehill in their previous game in Miami. I couldn't have been more wrong.
It was a great game from QB Aaron Rodgers, who carved up the Panthers' D, but he had help. His pass blockers gave him time to throw and his receivers were finding holes in the zone coverage. Plus RB Eddie Lacy had room to run and both he and RB James Starks averaged over five yards per carry. Everything was working on offense in the first quarter.

And the defense forced three punts in the first quarter, making the score 21-0 by the end of the first quarter, and leading to the biggest non-Buccaneers involved blowout of 2014. This was their second consecutive blowout of an opponent at home (Vikings on October 2nd).

What does it all mean?

On offense; most of the credit should be given to Aaron Rodgers. He's being extremely productive and not making any mistakes (no INTs in his last six games). It's not even luck. Sometimes a defense drops an INT or two when a QB goes on a long INT free streak, but that's not been the case. The Panthers did intercept one pass in the first quarter, but it came after a defensive offsides when he knew he had a free play. While his QBR is only 4th overall this season, it's the seventh best since 2006 (it's a great year for QBs). He's not quite at his 2011 levels, but he keeps getting better each game.

Unfortunately the running game and the offensive line remain inconsistent. When the line is blocking well and giving Lacy running lanes, as they did against the Vikings and now the Panthers, the Packers are almost unbeatable.

On defense; the inconsistency remains. After dominating the first half in Miami, they couldn't stop Ryan Tannehill in the second half. They bounce back this week by holding Panthers to only 3 points while Newton was in the game, and he only led three drives into Packers' territory. QB Derek Anderson led the Panthers on two touchdown drives while some of the starters were still in on defense during the 4th quarter, but the Packers had taken their foot off the gas by that point.

Only one more game remains until the bye week; next Monday night in New Orleans. Aaron Rodgers loves playing indoors and the Saints are 2-4. While the Saints are unbeaten in two home games this season, their wins came against two of the worst teams in the NFL (Vikings and Buccaneers) and they had to come back from 11 points down against the Bucs just to force them into OT (when they won). On the other hand, Drew Brees isn't throwing as many TD passes but he's been almost as good as ever. I'm expecting they'll win, but they can't look past the Saints either.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Reaction: Packers Cruise Past Panthers 38-17

The Packers beat the Panthers in a one-sided affair this afternoon, and really, they did so in an ideal way. Here's my takeaways from it:

1. Aaron Rodgers is Unstoppable Right Now:
Seriously, he is. This game was over in the first quarter.

2. The Defense is Improving:
They still have some work to do, but with the early three-and-outs and Clay Matthews' sudden involvement today they definitely showed some promise.

3. The Saints Should Be Beatable:
A performance half as good as this one will probably be good enough to bring them down next week. Hopefully, at least.

Anyone else have any thoughts on this subject? If so, please share them.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Panthers/Packers Final Prediction

My final prediction for tomorrow's Panthers/Packers game:

Score: Packers 28, Panthers 24
After their indivual performances last week in Miami and Cincinnati, it's clear that both of these teams need a little work. Nonetheless, since the Packers are at home here and still seemingly better I think they'll find a way to win, regardless of how badly their defense performs.

Why?
Because Aaron Rodgers, in my opinion, will get the big touchdowns when he needs them. He won't get a ton of help from the other side of the ball, but considering Cam Newton's always struggled in big situations I expect Dom Capers' guys to have at least one clutch series. Again, AT LEAST one, maybe more. You just never know with them.

Leave your thoughts below on how accurate you think my thoughts are.

Packers Injury Updates: Shields Out, Williams Questionable For Tomorrow

Some Packers injury updates for tomorrow's meeting with the Panthers, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Tyler Dunne. There's kind of a lot of them:
  • CB Tramon Williams (ankle) questionable
  • CB Sam Shields (knee) out
  • DE Datone Jones (ankle) out
  • WR Jarrett Boykin (groin) questionable
  • LB Sam Barrington (hamstring) probable
  • DT Josh Boyd (knee) probable
  • LB Jamari Lattimore (neck) questionable
Williams and Shields, probably the two most notable names on that list, both went down in the second half of Sunday's Dolphins game. Boykin, meanwhile, hasn't played since Week 2's loss to the Lions, solidly being replaced by Davante Adams since.