Monday, September 24, 2018

2018 Week 3: Packers Lose An Ugly Game In D.C. to the Redskins, 31-17

My first reaction was that this game exposed all of the Packers weaknesses on defense. A confused secondary, led by safety Kentrell Brice, who's first post-game comment was to throw his coach under the bus.
The buck stops somewhere else! I'm not a fan of his (unfortunately I don't see his replacement currently on the roster) but he wasn't the only one. CB Jaire Alexander, CB Tramon Williams, and CB Davon House all had pass interference penalties (on one drive!) as part of a disastrous first half. Washington has one of the least impressive groups of receivers in the NFL (Richardson only had that one big reception, Doctson had zero receptions, and Crowder had a nice game as their No. 3 receiver). Whatever adjustments were made at halftime worked because those problems didn't show up in the second half. But most teams who commit 11 penalties for 115 penalty yards are going to lose.

They also had a lot of trouble on the defending the edge against the run. While Adrian Peterson looked a lot better than I expected, his big 40+ yard run went right at OLB Kyler Fackrell, who continues to receive playing time for no good reason. OLB Reggie Gilbert wasn't much better against the run on the edge, often getting swallowed up inside.

The pass defense's biggest struggle was against TEs, Davis and Reed were killing them. It was the first game for ILB Oren Burks but I'm not exactly sure how much he played as he rotated with Morrison and Whitehead inside. But it wasn't a problem in the 2nd half, maybe Whitehead was playing more later in the game. Morrison was dumped by the Colts because of his problems in coverage, so he's not part of the solution.

And zero pass rush. Once DC Mike Pettine started dialing up some DB blitzes, they got some pressure, but the front four did little outside of the roughing the passer call on Clay Matthews. Those calls are an embarrassment for the NFL, it's called a tackle and it shouldn't be a penalty, but that call was not why they lost the game.

I don't know if I'd even blame the defense for the loss though they've got to find a way to create more of a pass rush (legally) and improve their pass defense. But on second viewing, the offense found a way to maximize their worst plays and avoid their effective ground game.
Their offense is better with Randall Cobb but I can't understate how bad he was on Sunday. He was targeted 11 times and those 11 plays went for 23 yards and a fumble. He was targeted every sixth play, no one was targeted more and he produced absolutely nothing. Adams also had a drop (and a TD reception) and TE Lance Kendricks continued his pass-dropping ways from the preseason with another big drop in this game. There's no reason for Kendricks to play anywhere except special teams. Overall, it's amazing the Packers only lost by 14 points when they committed 115 penalty yards and their No. 1 target was clearly their worst offensive player.

And Mike McCarthy, if you're averaging almost 6 yards on the ground and your most dynamic running back has just returned (Aaron Jones had 7 yards per carry! On only 6 (team leading!) carries) and your franchise quarterback is hobbling around on an injured knee, why don't you run the ball? Over 50 pass plays were called and only 15 running plays. Yes, they were trailing the entire game, but those passes to Cobb weren't working all game. And the Redskins struggled covering Ty Montgomery out of the backfield. Rodgers had something to do with throwing all those attempts to Cobb but the last pass attempt to him was a designed quick screen pass that led to his fumble. A lot of this is always second-guessing but McCarthy's 0 for 3 this season in coming up with offensive game plans that out-coach their opponent and he didn't adjust at halftime.

A week ago, their upcoming Week 4 game hosting Buffalo looked like a relaxing Sunday, before the Bills stomped all over the Vikings in Minnesota in Week 3. The players need to play better and the coaches, especially on offense, need to come up with a better game plan. This game was bad, but they're a better team than what they showed against the Redskins.

Monday, September 17, 2018

2018 Week 2: Packers Host The Vikings, Ends in 29-29 Tie

I'm really OK with this tie. It's not a loss (really, that can matter in tie-breakers) and the Vikings are a really good team who could have easily won if their kicker hadn't missed three field goals (they should bring back Ryan Longwell). Of course, the Packers could have won if this hadn't been called a penalty.
I get it, it's not an illegal hit, but they didn't lose the game because of this call. They had other chances to win.

I was really disappointed in Mike McCarthy. The Packers were in 3rd and long too many times and ran the ball about half as many times as they threw it. Ty Montgomery was really effective as a runner, averaging over 6 yards per carry, but he only had 5 attempts. Also the play calling, after Clinton-Dix intercepted Kirk Cousins with just over 2 minutes to go. They probably couldn't have run for a first down but they could have made the Vikings use all their time outs before the Packers kicked a field goal. I guess he wanted to put the game away with a first down, or a touchdown, and his defense was probably on fumes in the heat, but he has to put that pressure on the Vikings (make them use all their timeouts) and make their final drive as difficult as possible.

It wasn't a great game for Mike Pettine either, though it's a lot to ask of him to know everything about his players in only his 2nd game with the Packers. When Kevin King went down with a groin injury, replacing him on with Davon House over Josh Jackson looks like a big mistake in hindsight (he probably won't do that again). Also, giving Kyler Fackrell meaningful defensive snaps isn't going to work, but he only has so many outside linebackers on the roster to work with.

While I understand why both coaches did what they did, neither of them pushed the right buttons with those critical decisions. I don't have anything to say against any of the players, they played as well as I would expect. I'm sure Aaron Rodgers would have loved a due over on that two play sequence in the middle of OT when at the Minnesota 37 yard line he fumbled a hand-off attempt (play action? I'm not sure what he wanted to do there) and then a sack to move them out of field goal range, but I'm not saying anything critical of him while trying to play on one leg.

It's disappointing but it's not a disaster either. The next three games could be an interesting run, next week against the Redskins (who didn't look good against the Colts) and then back-to-back games against two of the weaker teams so far this season (Lions and Bills). Just focus on the next game and work on staying out of the loss column.

Monday, September 10, 2018

2018 Week 1: Rodgers Rallies The Packers to 24-23 Victory Over The Bears

I gave up on this game. After Aaron Rodgers's left knee was rolled to it's side on a sack (knees are not supposed to bend that way!) he couldn't walk off the field under his own power which led to this:
That's it for the 2018 season. They'd manage a few wins (DeShone Kizer couldn't go winless for another entire season, could he?) but they're not going anywhere with an improving but still mediocre defense and old school play calling from Mike McCarthy. Kizer did give me a little hope that he wasn't going to be a repeat of Brett Hundley with a drive into the red zone but on the drive's final play he ran right into LB Khalil Mack's arms for a fumble. On the next drive, an ill-advised screen pass was called and Kizer threw a pick-six right to Mack (they must be good buddies by this point) for a 17-0 halftime deficit. Kizer was a different type of awful than Hundley, not as ineffective but more turnover prone. Wake me up in September 2019.

But then...
and then...
then another touchdown pass to Davante Adams, and then the dagger!!!
This is old school, but it reminded me of a 1989 game against the Saints (without the QB injury), when I completely gave up on a game though I shouldn't.

The rust in the first half (pre-knee injury) had vanished. The pass protection was great and Rodgers's passes were just beyond the defenders' fingers. Bears CB Kyle Fuller dropped a game ending INT but bad hands is why those guys were switched to DB in the first place.

There were still some zeroes in this game. Newly named starting RG Justin McCray was terrible in the first half (it looked like he missed the rushing DL on the stunt who went unblocked when Rodgers suffered his knee injury) and much better in the second. Clay Matthews is still useful but every few weeks he has one of these awful games, his only big play was a roughing the passer penalty on 4th down that gave the Bears another chance at the end of the game. Jamaal Williams seemed to have a knack for running into a pile instead of finding some daylight.

A knee injury for Rodgers is bad but it's much better than a lost season. Maybe it's an MCL sprain, which he obviously can play through but who knows when it would be healed. It's going to be a struggle to win the division or make the playoffs, so these divisional games are must-wins. Rodgers recovered in the second half to pull their season back from the brink, but that's still a dangerous place to find themselves after one game. Whew!

Friday, August 31, 2018

The Packers Preseason Is Over and Here Are My Choices For The 53-Man Roster

I didn't have a tough time choosing between players, I had a tough time filling all 53 spots!

After other teams make their final cuts, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Packers kick the tires on a few different players for their 53-man roster and the practice squad.

I wanted to keep just the players I'd like to see them keep but I ended up making some practical decisions because I had extra roster spots to fill.
QB (3): Rodgers, Kizer, Boyle. No surprises here after they traded Brett Hundley. My initial thought was to release Boyle and sign him to the practice squad, but I had room on the 53-man roster so here he is.

RB/FB (4): Williams, Jones, Montgomery, Ripkowski. Though they'll add someone to fill in while Jones is suspended. But I don't expect it'll be another running back for Week 1.

WR (6): Adams, Cobb, Allison, Kumerow, Moore, Valdes-Scantling. I'm not sure about Kumerow's shoulder but he's deserved a spot. Moore kept improving throughout the preseason so I'm thinking good thoughts about him entering the regular season. Trevor Davis has special return skills and he's pretty good on special teams coverage, but his inability to play receiver and hold onto the ball means it's time to go.

TE (4): Graham, Lewis, Byrd, Tonyan. Man, Kendricks has been such a disappointment since he signed, but I still hate releasing a former Badger. Byrd and Tonyan played well this preseason, though Tonyan's a little small for the position.

OL (8): Bakhtiari, Taylor, Linsley, McCray, Bulaga, Spriggs, Patrick, Pankey. I like the starting five and I'm not a fan of any of the backups other than Patrick. Spriggs will stay because he was a high draft pick and, like Pankey, they can both play tackle. Both #69 and Bulaga missed time this preseason due to injury so they need depth at tackle but I wish I didn't have to include either Spriggs or Pankey. I don't understand why they thought Byron Bell was a good idea.

DL (5): Lowry, Wilkerson, Adams, Clark, Daniels. They had a bunch of decent defensive lineman but none of the others stood out especially and they don't really need that many DLmen.

LB (10): Biegel, Burks, Donnerson, Gilbert, Martinez, Martini, Matthews, Morrison, Perry, Thomas. Surprisingly the converted safety Thomas gets my vote, there has to be roles for Martini and Thomas to play. Donnerson forced a fumble and showed just enough to keep him around. Biegel too. Gilbert better be on the field for every likely passing down this season. From what I've seen of Morrison when he was with the Colts (he's still only 23 years old!) is that he's got some skills, though he had problems with pass coverage and penalties, and he could be explosive on the inside blitz with a limited role. Please, no more Fackrell.

CB (6): Alexander, House, Jackson, King, Williams, Waters. Unlike the situation on the offensive line, I kept the undrafted player Waters over the former 2nd round pick Rollins, unfortunately I'm not a big fan of either of them. Though Waters was injured during the Chiefs game so maybe it'll leave the door open for Rollins.

S (4): Brice, Clinton-Dix, Jones, Evans. I'm not a big fan of any of these guys, except Clinton-Dix definitely is a starting caliber safety. I'd have loved to have seen what Eric Reid could have done for them.

Special Teams (3): Crosby, Scott and long-snapper. Scott finally started looking like the big hang-time punter I saw in college over his last couple preseason games. I don't care about who gets to be the long-snapper (bring back Rob Davis!).

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Green Bay Packers After Their First Two Preseason Games of 2018

I'd have like to seen one game on the road, obviously I will get to do just in their last two preseason games, because maybe it's just these vanilla preseason games but things seem to come to easy at home in the preseason. It's just not an accurate picture. Though it is good to see that TE Jimmy Graham is ready to give them what he was signed for.
Other than former Packers Morgan Burnett, I was underwhelmed with the Steelers' secondary, but I don't know them well enough to say whether they're any good or if it was just a bad day.

After the inevitable regular season injury to either Adams and/or Cobb, the Packers will need at least one other receiver to step up. Jake Kumerow has been the talk of training camp and the star of their first two preseason games, but he just injured his shoulder. Marquez Valdez-Scantling had a big game against the Titans and followed it up with one catch. DeAngelo Yancey has taken a lot of snaps and provided little. I'm not sure what Geronimo Allison is up to. If Kumerow is healthy he should be their No. 3 receiver, then I wouldn't be surprised to see them keep Moore and Valdez-Scantling based on potential and release everyone else.

Robert Tonyan! Though he's a bit small for tight end. I'm not ready to save him a roster spot but I'll be watching his next couple games.

So Jason Spriggs and Kyle Murphy are not good. Most backup tackles in the NFL are not good, and this is no surprise. If Bakhtiari or Bulaga miss regular season games, I'd hope they'd move Justin McCray tackle (at least his injury appears minor) though I'm not sure who would take over at right guard, I haven't watch Spriggs much at that position.

Kizer seems slightly better than Hundley. I think they gave Hundley his chance, he was mostly awful, and I expect their willing to give Kizer a chance (he's a first round talent!). Boyle might stick over Hundley because he can go to the practice squad (though they tried to slip Taysum Hill through waivers last season for the practice squad and that didn't work).

Muhammad Wilkerson made some plays in the backfield and ran down some guys (though I'm still suspicious after the Jets ran him off their team) and looked like a play maker in his first action. No Mike Daniels yet but I love him, and Kenny Clark too. Dean Lowry and Montravius Adams look like good rotational lineman. It's not a surprise but that D-line looks good.

Oren Burks is flying around the field, on special teams too, and is doing what I hoped he would. Blake Martinez is ready to start alongside him. Nick Perry is now back and Clay Matthews isn't being asked to do much except go nowhere on a straight four man rush (it's the boring preseason). Reggie Gilbert is still looking like a ignored player but they can't ignore him much longer during the regular season, right? Ahmad Thomas is an interesting player, but he's still a converted college safety and more of a project than actual depth. This is a thin group.

Pick-six for Tramon Williams and Josh Jackson! Williams and House seem ready to be the veteran fill-ins for the short-term while Jackson, Alexander and Kevin King develop (it doesn't appear that Jackson will need much time to develop). Though King is still not healthy enough to play. Eventually I expect they'll keep Lenzy Pipkins for depth and release everyone else. Still that's not great but better than last season.

At safety, Josh Jones isn't stepping up and I'm not a Kentrell Brice fan. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix might never make another but at least he's a legitimate starter. I'm not sure what the plan is at safety. Though I doubt they'll pursue George Iloka, I'm not a fan of his but he does look better than their in-house options.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

2018 Packers Training Camp Roster: Inside Linebackers

ILB Jake Ryan has been lost for the 2018 season due to an ACL injury and here's what the Green Bay Packers will be missing without him on the field:
Also on special teams, where he played a lot of snaps last season. His effectiveness against the run surprised me, I've loved his effort on the field but viewed him as a jack of all trades, master of none. He's definitely limited in pass coverage, which is essential for a modern day NFL linebacker. While he was lacking as a starter, he will be missed, if nothing else for depth and on special teams.

Blake Martinez and Oren Burks. Without Ryan, these two are the only inside linebackers currently on the roster who were drafted. Martinez is the only one with starting experience. If crisis strikes, Clay Matthews could theoretically be moved back inside, but that doesn't seem imminent. Martinez has looked great at times, especially early last season, and he's always been a potential play maker. I knew the Packers had high hopes for Burks, they wouldn't have drafted him in the 3rd round unless they did, and the early results on Family Night look promising:
With all the different packages used in the NFL, and the emphasis on pass defense, Ryan was always going to play a limited role on defense. It doesn't help to lose someone like Ryan, but if any two inside linebackers were going to stay on the field for most of the defensive snaps, it was going to be Martinez and maybe Burks.

While none of the other inside linebackers currently in camp are going play a significant role on defense, Ryan's absence does open the possibility for one of them to sneak on to the 53-man roster for special teams purposes.

Even with Ryan, this was not going to be an area of strength heading into the season. While the team has used mid-round draft selections on Ryan, Martinez and Burks in recent years to address inside, it never was enough on its own, without also an in-house veteran or free agent addition to bridge the time from before until after these three were drafted.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

2018 Packers Training Camp Roster: Tight Ends

Some years I wouldn't give the TE position a post all its own, but this has been quite the offseason.
Despite name recognition and the highlight real above, its easy to be critical of this signing. TE Jimmy Graham isn't what he was during his peak days with the Saints. According to Football Outsiders, he was the 27th best TE last season, a few spots behind the Packers's other free agent TE signing, Marcedes Lewis. While he was a big red zone target (10 TD receptions) he wasn't much of a help otherwise with a poor 59% catch rate and only 520 receiving yards on 96 targets.

But they had to have him. Over the past few seasons, the offense has struggled without a quality receiving TE. The offense stalled in 2015 without WR Jordy Nelson and a receiving TE, and the 2016 offense only got in gear after TE Jared Cook returned from an early season injury.

Also, they had to go to into free agency because to draft and develop a rookie TE is a crapshoot. After Jermichael Finley retired, they drafted Richard Rodgers, but he never developed into much and wound up signing a small contract with Philadelphia in free agency. They can't afford to miss on another Richard Rodgers.

As a receiver, Lewis will sort of duplicate Graham's role as a red zone target, which isn't a bad thing. Though neither of them will stretch the middle of the field. TE Lance Kendrick might look better in 2018 catching passes from Aaron Rodgers instead of being used as a short yardage dump-off receiver who had trouble with dropped passes, as he was in 2017.

It's depressing that Graham is only in Green Bay because the 2017 offseason was such a disaster. That's not to blame them for viewing TE Martellus Bennett as an upgrade over Jared Cook, I agreed with their decision, but it obviously backfired in about the worst way possible and set them back a year.

Despite having three veteran TEs already on the roster, the Packers have another four previously undrafted TEs coming into training camp, led by former practice squad player Emanuel Byrd, who received a dozen snaps during their embarrassing Week 17 surrender in Detroit last season. Mike McCarthy's love of blocking TEs might create an opportunity for one of them with a strong camp.