Monday, September 18, 2017

Packers Fall Behind Big Early, Lose In Atlanta, 34-23

Well that was a mess. After reading just before the game that Green Bay Packers' LT David Bakhtiari, to go along with RT Bryan Bulaga, were both out of the game and they were stuck with Kyle Murphy at LT and Justin McCray at RT, I pretty much put this game into the loss column. For good measure, 3rd string tackle Jason Spriggs was also injured. The entire offensive line was a mess but I'll give the three regular interior lineman a mulligan for this night. The offensive flow (and all the penalties) with a 4th and 5th string tackle were bad but it was actually better than my low, low expectations.
It was tempting to have given up on this game and spared Aaron Rodgers the beating he took but they never want to give up on a game. It was a long shot, but the Falcons are now known for giving up big leads, and the home crowd abandoned them long before the end, the stadium looked nearly empty in the 4th quarter.
After the disastrous NFC Championship Game last season, when the Packers were so banged up by the end of it that Letroy Guion had to finish out the game at RG, and now this one, there's something about injuries and games in Atlanta. Of the names above, losing Bulaga and Bakhtiari before it even started and made me pessimistic, and then losing Nelson and Daniels on consecutive series officially made me write this game off.
Damarious Randall has been trending downward ever since he started his NFL career strong in his rookie season (unbelievable now, but true). It started unraveling for him during their playoff loss to the Cardinals at the end of the 2015 season. A few weeks ago, Quinten Rollins was being written up as the best cornerback in training camp, but he looks two steps behind in coverage and he had trouble tackling. Kevin King looks like a rookie some of the times, but he actually makes plays (only he and Burnett were credited with a pass defense for this game). I thought they also benched FS Kentrell Brice for Josh Jones, Brice doesn't look like a difference maker in the secondary, but Jones was actually an injury replacement. It was hard to tell about Davon House because Matt Ryan spent so much of his time going after Randall and King. House should keep playing (depending if he's healthy next week) but it looks like it's time to let the rookies (King and Jones) play.
As bad as Randall was in the first half, Martellus Bennett might have been worse. On a team leading 11 targets, he had 5 catches for 47 yards. He also drew a stupid personal foul in Week 1. The offensive PI was weak because it was within 1 yard from the line of scrimmage but the rest of his night was bad enough. Hopefully he fits in better as the season goes on.
And yet the Packers almost managed to get back into this game. Even though they were missing their four best offensive starters not named Aaron Rodgers. And missing their best defensive player (Daniels). The Packers were living in Seattle's backfield last week, but without Daniels they rarely were disruptive behind the line of scrimmage against Atlanta.

Also the real reason they lost this game: 2 killer turnovers. I'm not sure if Rodgers felt like he had to do more without Nelson and his two best lineman, but the overthrown INT on a pass attempt to Allison (which led to a end of the half TD for the Falcons) and the reckless attempted pass/turned into a backward lateral to his right tackle on a busted play were not things I usually see from him. Those two turnovers led directly to 14 points and were the difference in the game. Almost everything went wrong but the turnovers are what lost it.

It's never helpful to lose a game to another NFC team but it's still just one game. The first order of business is to get everyone healthy. None of these injuries seem season ending (so far) and the Packers get a little breather with a home game next week against a struggling Bengals team.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Packers Defeat Seahawks By The Low Score of 17-9

It was pretty frustrating to watch the Green Bay Packers in the first half, when the defense was shutting down the Seahawks but the Packers' offense couldn't sustain anything to overcome some usually terrible starting field position.

The one thing I'd ask Mike McCarthy, if I ever had the chance to meet him in person, is please stop using your own timeouts late in the half in the hope that the defense will come up with a stop and Aaron Rodgers can get the ball back. It never works, the opposing offense always gets something going, and all he did was help the other team's clock management. In this case, he used his own time outs to help the Seahawks make a final drive that led to a field goal at the end the first half.
Their four man pass rush and run defense looked great, but Seattle's offensive line is a mess and they couldn't protect Russell Wilson or open up any running lanes for their backs. RG Jahri Evans struggled a little, and backup RT Kyle Murphy struggled a lot (he should get "credit" for allowing at least a couple sacks) but Seattle's defensive line is going to be a problem for all their opponents. OLB Nick Perry looked like a god to start the game but that probably had to do with Rees Odhiambo, who was making his first career start at left tackle.
Daniels was a beast, but he's not going to have the same success every week. How will the run defense and secondary hold up against a competent NFL offensive line? The nitro package, which is just their nickel package plus SS Morgan Burnett playing a roving DB/LB roll depending on the match-up, looked great this week but might look overwhelmed against a real rushing attack (like next week against the Falcons).

Same for the offense. Whichever receiver was lined up against CB Richard Sherman, in this game it was usually WR Davante Adams, didn't do much, but that's not going to be the case every week. Though the Packers' run offense hasn't been a big threat in a while, and it might be a struggle to get Ty Montgomery yards on the ground all season long.

Though they had the advantage of playing this game in Lambeau, this might still turn out to be their toughest game of the season.  Still it's just one win on the road back to repeating as NFC North champs.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Packers Set The 53-Man Roster With No Big Surprises, Sign Ahmad Brooks

Amongst all the roster moves made by the Green Bay Packers, the most impactful was the signing of veteran OLB Ahmad Brooks to effectively take over the role of former OLB Julius Peppers. Brooks isn't going to start, both OLB Nick Perry and Clay Matthews returned to practice this week, but theys didn't have any of the other OLBs step up to claim the role Peppers played last season. Brooks is on the wrong side of 30 and probably in decline, but he should still be good in a limited role and he's needed.
They traded OLB Jayrone Elliott to the Cowboys and claimed OLB Chris Odom. Eliott was hurt during the preseason and didn't impress as much as he had in the previous years. They didn't receive much for him, a conditional draft choice, and I'd expect whatever that condition is won't be met, so they'll get nothing. Odom had an impressive preseason, but he might not last much longer if they need a roster spot for WR Geronimo Allison after Week 1.

Released G Kofi Amichia, WR Malachi Dupre, and WR DeAngelo Yancey. These three are specifically mentioned because they are the only former draft choices that were released, and Amichia and Yancey were signed to the practice squad. Only Dupre is truly gone, which is kind of a quick fall for a player who opened some eyes early in camp. But he took a vicious hit in the first preseason game, and though he returned a couple weeks later, he didn't make much of an impression over the final couple games.

WR Max McCaffrey is released. There really weren't any duds amongst the wide receivers this preseason, and a couple of them had to go. He kind of fell into the same category as Dupre; they both looked like two of the smallest and slower wide receivers in camp. That's why Yancey and Davis are still around, while McCaffrey is gone.

QB Taysom Hill. I didn't understand all the love for Hill, who's main ability seemed to be his legs which isn't going to work for him in the NFL. Plus he's a 27 year old rookie who's gone through multiple season ending injuries while at BYU. Being healthy and able to take over an active roster spot when needed is key for someone on the practice squad. They released Callahan too, but Hill was claimed by the Saints. Would the Packers have chosen Hill over Callahan for the practice squad? It really doesn't matter when discussing the practice squad QB.

In the end, I'm not surprised by any of the final cuts they made to their roster. I like the Brooks signing and I'm ready for the regular season to begin.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Should The Packers Have Traded For Sheldon Richardson?

The Green Bay Packers pass rush is usually a concern and the idea of acquiring a defensive lineman who can play inside or outside, is great against the run, and has some pass rushing skills is an exciting idea. Instead the Packers watched as the Seahawks traded for Jets's DL Sheldon Richardson:
The Seahawks gave up WR Kearse and a 2018 2nd round pick for Richardson. I'll ignore the swap of 7th round selections (a small get for the Seahawks). The salary cap should not have been an issue, the Packers have over $21 million of space and Richardson's cap hit to the Seahawks is just over $8 million. Do the Packers have the assets to make a similar trade?

A 2018 2nd round pick. GM Ted Thompson doesn't trade picks but he did have that pick available, and just like with the Seahawks, it should be late in the 2nd round. It's against his nature to trade a pick for a player, but this was technically possible.

WR Jermaine Kearse. Is this a salary dump or do the Jets need a receiver? The Jets receiving corp is a disaster and if their front office thinks Kearse is the answer, I feel sorry for Jets fans. Kearse is terrible and overpaid ($2.2 million cap hit for the Jets). For the Packers to have surrendered a receiver like Cobb or Adams would have been an overpay (based on Kearse's value) and it's too close to the start of the season to mess around with one of QB Aaron Rodgers's top 2 or 3 receivers anyway. If this was just a salary dump, the Packers don't have any salary they're looking to dump, so the Packers might have made this trade look better by not asking the Jets to take anyone back.

DE Dean Lowry. He probably would have lost his starting spot to Richardson. Though he's currently nursing a sprained MCL, he doesn't need surgery and he should be back soon (maybe not Week 1), so the Packers didn't need Richardson to replace Lowry. Also, they're expecting big things from him in his 2nd season and might not have even viewed Richardson as even an improvement over Lowry.

Richardson "has been a headache off the field." I always think of him as the guy who pretended to be Rex Ryan and called a timeout in a game against the Packers. I think talent is much more important than the ability to be a great teammate, but he wouldn't be bringing any intangible people skills to the locker room.

Richardson is a free agent after the season. Would he even consider re-signing in Green Bay? Surrendering a 2nd round pick for one season of Richardson, who they might not even think is better than Lowry, would be an awful result.

I really like the idea of adding a Pro Bowl defensive lineman on a defense that could use some help and the cost of a late 2nd round pick isn't terrible, but digging deeper, if Richardson would only be a rotational lineman for one year at the cost of a high draft pick plus a useful WR (if the Jets required a receiver in addition to the pick) that would have been too much and more than the Seahawks paid. I was initially disappointed at the idea of missing out on Richardson, but standing pat was probably the better decision.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Preseason Week 3: Packers Lose in Denver, 20-17

Against the Broncos, there were some concerns about the backup offensive line and defensive front seven, but these aren't new concerns for the Green Bay Packers. The biggest problem in this game was that QB Aaron Rodgers didn't throw the ball well. He only played two series and completed 3 of 5 attempts, but one of those attempts should have been an INT if WR Davante Adams hadn't stole it away from the cornerback. But Aaron Rodgers isn't a real concern, not based on 5 attempts in a single preseason game, so there wasn't anything too bad with the loss.
The most disappointing thing about this preseason has been that I wanted to see more of the revamped secondary. Rookies CB Kevin King and S Josh Jones have played well, so the answer to the question about them is that they seem to be good so far. But other questions haven't been answered. Will Randall and Rollins be the starting CBs along with King or will CB Davon House start even if he ends up missing the entire preseason? Last season's starting CB LaDarius Gunter has been moved into a reserve role, which is good because King is a better player, and maybe even Gunter's roster spot is in jeopardy. The lineup in Denver with Randall and King outside, Rollins in the slot at cornerback, and Jones and Burnett all over the field at safety with Brice patrolling centerfield, appears to be the Packers' secondary to start the season. Then some combination of LBs Ryan, Martinez and Thomas will make up the back seven of the defense.
The second biggest disappointment is the EDGE position. Datone Jones and Julius Peppers left in the free agency, which is OK, and they added Biegel in the draft to go along with more from Fackrell. Unfortunately neither Biegel or Fackrell seem to be working out, and injuries keep appearing as Elliott has a bad back and Perry just hurt his ankle against Denver. Clay Matthews isn't known for his perfect health either, which unfortunately makes their interest in LB Ahmad Brooks seem legit. Fixing the secondary was more important this offseason but their step back at the EDGE position is a problem.

RT Bryan Bulaga missed the Denver game due to an ankle injury in practice and Jason Spriggs showed why he's still only a backup. Spriggs got beat badly a couple times by spin moves, once by Von Miller but another time by somebody else, and he hasn't shown that he's good enough to start. But maybe we're all wrong about what we see during the preseason. Last year, LG Lane Taylor had the worst preseason performance by any player I can recall. Instead of releasing him, they released Josh Sitton to open up a starting spot for Taylor, who went on to have a good 2016 season. And this is also nothing new for the Packers, who never seem to have a decent backup tackle on the roster, JC Tretter and Don Barclay in past seasons weren't the answer at tackle either. As long as Bulaga is back to start the season, maybe none of this matters.

So there's only one more preseason to game to go, though none of the starters should play and 53-man roster has probably already been decided on by the coaches and front office. Still, I'll never complain about watching more Packer football.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Preseason Week 2: Packers Defeat Redskins 21-17

I skipped writing a review of the Green Bay Packers' first preseason game of 2017 against the Eagles because I was busy at the time and many of the "problems" I saw in that first game seemed to be offseason rust (shaking off the cobwebs or pick a similar saying). And a lot of those things went away in their second preseason game, like I hoped they would.

I'm not going to write about the fringe roster battles yet (Will there be a 3rd QB battle? Which of the dozen WRs will they keep?). Right now, I'm watching to see that all the starters are all in place (they almost all are). For the bottom of the 53 man roster (and practice squad) there's still more up-and-down over the last two preseason games to see who will make the cut.

First team offense: QB Aaron Rodgers wasn't expected to play but he did (briefly). My guess is that he prefers playing on the road in the preseason, he played almost the entire 1st half back in 2015, during a preseason game in New England, one in which Tom Brady barely stepped onto the field. In any case, Rodgers stepped on the field for one drive and went 75 yards in 15 plays for a touchdown. There wasn't a big strike, in fact the longest play of the drive was a 13 yard scramble on a busted play. It was a veteran quarterback at the top of his game taking apart a 1st team defense that wasn't scheming to stop him. TE Martellus Bennett ended the drive with a touchdown catch, split wide against a single LB in coverage. It was nice to see them connect, but there's no way a defense will let a LB go outside in single coverage during the regular season. Other defenses will switch a DB or safety over.

While Rodgers was sharp, so was everybody else on the first team offense. Rookie RB Jamaal Williams got the start while RB Ty Montgomery was hurt, and he found little room to run. Maybe that's a sign that they'll still have trouble running the ball this season (free agent RG Jahri Evans wasn't the problem, he actually looked good at getting to the second level) or maybe that the Redskins spent most of their time in their base defense which is probably better against the run with an extra linebacker or two. In any case, the first team offense looks ready for the regular season to begin.

First team defense: This got a little interesting because some players were held out.
It sucks that S Josh Jones missed the game. The Redskins left their 1st team offense on the field for the entire 1st half and Jones could have used the experience. I haven't been excited about the return of Davon House as the new No. 1 CB, I don't believe he's the answer, but his absence, along with Randall's, gave second year CB Josh Hawkins a lot of playing time with the first team defense and he delivered.
I have to admit that I wrote off Hawkins after his struggles last season. He had a strong couple games to start the 2016 preseason, but then faded in the final couple. He still made enough of an impression to earn a spot on the 53-man roster, but when injuries left them looking for help at cornerback, he only made a brief regular season appearance, got burned badly, and spent the rest of season hidden at the bottom of the roster. I wasn't optimistic he'd earn another roster spot this year. Instead, he's become a fierce hitter and the most exciting CB to watch in their first two preseason games. House and Randall aren't going anywhere, but based on their past performances, the starting CB job should be an open competition. If Hawkins continues to earn the top grade, then he should win the job.

The rest of the 1st team defense looked good against the Redskins' No. 1s. They slowly pulled the starters, Matthews, Daniels, and Perry all left after the first series while others played most of the 1st quarter. Kirk Cousins had his best success throwing to TEs and RBs, who were covered by linebackers, but those players might have been covered by Burnett or Jones in the regular season. Rookie CB Kevin King looked much better in his 2nd NFL game, and he's playing with a big chip on his shoulder. He actually might need to calm it down, to make sure he avoids any taunting penalties.

That might have been the last preseason game for a number of veteran starters on the offense and defense, and that's fine because they look ready for the regular season on both sides of the ball. They still enter the season with the same concerns about pass rush and pass coverage that they had all offseason, but they look as good as they're going to get with the current roster. They still have two more preseason games to go and then finalize the 53-man roster, but I'm ready for the regular season to begin.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Did WR Malachi Dupre Break Out At Packers Family Night Practice?

I don't want to make a big deal out of the Green Bay Packers' annual Family Night televised scrimmage. It's not a real game setting which makes player evaluation almost meaningless, though it is fun to watch (when it isn't getting rained out). But it was interesting to see one of their rookies make a big play on Saturday night:
I'm down on CB LaDarius Gunter after last season, in some games he was a life saver when all the other CBs were injured but in other games his obvious weaknesses were completely exposed (see NFC Championship Game). I don't think he has a long-term future with the Packers. So outplaying him isn't a super-impressive feat of strength. But this isn't the first time Dupre's name has come up in training camp and he might be a prospect who was written off too soon.

Amazingly Dupre was thought of as a 2nd round prospect, and even a Top 10 1st round prospect, by some a year ago. But he committed the cardinal sin of having a worse college season than the year before (though he led LSU in receptions and receiving yards in 2015 and 2016) in large part due to a terrible quarterback situation. He also disappointed with his measurables at the NFL combine; he wasn't actually as tall as he was listed in college, he had "small" hands, and he wasn't the fastest receiver with a 4.52 40 time.

But he is a former five-star college recruit who was a high school state champion in track-and-field. And receivers can play a lot faster than they look if they're a great route runner,. Although he measured shorter than expected at the combine, he's still over 6-2 (above average for a Packer wide receiver) and he was the 3rd best WR in the vertical jump at the combine which might mean he'll play taller than his actual height.

Still, so far all he's done is look good in practice and training camp. It's how he does, and whether he can hold onto the ball, during their preseason games that'll really matter. But he should be in a good position to see a lot of playing time because there's no need to give a lot of snaps to Nelson, Cobb and Adams. I'm curious whether they'll hold Nelson out entirely considering he tore up his knee during a preseason game in 2015. Also, QB Brett Hundley missed practically the entire 2016 preseason so the Packers are probably eager to get him throwing as much as possible. Dupre hasn't proven anything yet, but he has become one of the players I'm most eager to see during the preseason.