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.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Packers Fall Behind, Rally In 2nd Half For Overtime Win, 27-24

It wasn't pretty but the Green Bay Packers rallied in the 2nd half to give QB Aaron Rodgers his first career win against the Bengals (and first career OT win too).

What went wrong in the first half. As bad as everything went wrong last week against the Falcons, if it weren't for a couple turnovers, that game could have been close. In similar fashion, they fell behind against the Bengals in part because of another big turnover, this one an INT for a pick-six. The Packers' defense seems incapable of forcing any turnovers so any turnover on offense is magnified. 

The offense struggled by allowing 5 sacks in the first half. RT Bryan Bulaga returned but he didn't look right and left late in the game when his ankle started hurting again. LT Kyle Murphy looked awful, DE Carl Lawson abused him badly and it didn't get better until the Packers started chipping on Murphy's side with Montgomery or Bennett to give him some help. I don't know why it took until after halftime to figure this out.

What went right in the second half. CB Kevin King had another strong game but two guys really stood out on defense.

S Josh Jones. 2 sacks and a team leading 12 tackles is going to get you a game ball but Perry and Daniels out, he was one of the few players making plays. Same goes for ILB Blake Martinez, who was all over the field and in the backfield for a 2 yard loss on a Mixon run at the start of the OT period. One play for Martinez really jumped out, he got caught up in single coverage on WR A.J. Green and normally I'd expect a wide receiver in space to be able to get away from a linebacker, but Martinez closed quickly and tackled Green before he could turn up-field for a 1st down.

And, of course, QB Aaron Rodgers. Once his protection started holding up, he picked apart their secondary. Even while struggling with another drop from Bennett, and a couple of drops/off the hands passes to Allison and Adams, and nothing from the run game. He made so many great plays in the 2nd half, especially the long bomb to Allison in OT which set up the game winning field goal, but the game tying TD pass was something:
Just keep winning and hope for better health, unfortunately on a short week with a Thursday night game hosting the Bears coming up. And the Bears look surprisingly frisky after a win the Steelers in Chicago.

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.