Monday, December 28, 2015

Cover Your Eyes: Packers Beaten Badly In Arizona, 38-8

I thought the loss at Denver was going to be their worst loss of 2015, but the Green Bay Packers one upped themselves with a terrible loss in Arizona. Still, it's good to remember that they've already made the playoffs and knocking the Cardinals out of the No. 2 playoff spot was always a long shot.

The Cardinals overall have been a better team this season, but the Packers can make themselves a whole lot better if they could get their offensive lineman back healthy. That would make them a much, much better team:
The Packers have asked a lot of backup LT/RT Don Barclay this season, and he's been a complete disaster. The former undrafted player had some good moments in 2012 and 2013, but those are long gone. On the play above, he was a revolving door for veteran DE Dwight Freeney, who had been looking for an NFL job for months before the Cardinals finally called him in October, and he had three sacks on Sunday. Barclay has been a lot worse than former 1st round OT Derek Sherrod, who was so bad in 2014 that he was cut mid-season though he only had played in a couple games. If the Packers had any other decent backup tackle, Barclay would have probably been released mid-season too. They have to go with someone other than Barclay for the rest of the season, to at least give themselves a chance.

In Barclay's slight defense, the entire line was a disaster. DE Calais Campbell was a nightmare in the middle (he drove LG Josh Sitton back on a play in the first quarter that led to a sack). RT Bryan Bulaga was having a bad day too until he was sidelined with an ankle injury.

The good news is that none of the injuries to their starting offensive lineman are serious. But they won't be back to full health before the playoffs start either. If Sitton and Lang can continue to play next week while LT David Bakhtiari and Bulaga (and Corey Linsley too) rest, maybe they'll be in good enough shape for a playoff run. But then Mike McCarthy is going to have to work out a different game plan to account for a couple of missing lineman against the Vikings.

As for the rest of the team, there's one other personnel move that would help; it's time to bench WR Davante Adams. I've been all for giving him another chance this season but bad things seem to happen when he's in the game. He spends too much time dropping passes and running poor routes with only the occasional big play to make up for it. He should get another chance to prove himself next preseason, after another off-season of work and practice, but right now they should be giving their other receivers more playing time. WR Jared Abbrederis is healthy now and he's had the entire season to get used to the offense, after barely playing at all last season or this preseason because of injuries. While I'm not his biggest fan, WR Jeff Janis can't be much worse than Adams at this point.

While the offense might be the weakest it's been since Aaron Rodgers became the starting QB, it can be a lot better with those couple moves. Meanwhile, the defense and special teams are about as good as they've been at any time over the past several seasons, though Dom Capers has to improve a pass rush that disappeared against the Cardinals after two early sacks. They have to focus right now on getting as healthy as they can over the next two weeks, and make a couple moves on the offensive side of the ball (Barclay and Adams) so that this was their last loss of the season.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Packers Clinch Playoff Berth, and Then Defeat The Raiders in Oakland, 30-20

Shortly after the Packers' game started in Oakland, the Giants came up short of an amazing comeback against the Panthers and their loss clinched a playoff spot for the Packers. With their win in Oakland, the Packers still have a one game advantage for the NFC North title over the Vikings, and a chance to earn themselves a bye in the playoffs if they win out (at Arizona, home for the Vikings).

I'd expect Arizona will be playing all their starters next week, though they've clinched their division. Cards HC Bruce Arians never seems to take his foot off of his team's gas pedal for any reason. I know we're getting close to the end of the season, but things can still change drastically from week-to-week. The Packers have made the playoffs, and I'm sure they'll be playing to win next week in Arizona, but it won't be a tragedy if they fall short. Arizona's been great all season long and playing them in Arizona during the playoffs won't be any easier than playing them in Lambeau.

But I can't see how the Packers would win the NFC North without beating the Vikings in Week 17. The Vikings play the Giants next Sunday, and the Giants might have nothing left to play for if Washington wins next Saturday. Meanwhile, the Vikings are still looking to win the division. They'll have to beat the Vikings if they want either the bye or a home playoff game.

Not that having home field is a necessity. They didn't need it when they last won the Super Bowl.

As for the game, I'm probably in the minority but it was a good win. QB Derek Carr was ranked ahead of QB Aaron Rodgers by Football Outsiders before the game, and the Packers pressured him into two terrible first quarter interceptions. Though the defense has often struggled this season, they were very good at almost everything in this game except covering WR Amari Cooper, who caught a late first half touchdown on a blown coverage (I think CB Casey Hayward was supposed to run with him but it was hard to tell since neither him nor Demetrius Randall made a move towards Cooper) and he had a third quarter touchdown when he just beat Randall down the sideline. But then shortly after Cooper's second TD reception, the Raiders matched the Packers' earlier blown coverage with their own blown coverage and the Packers never trailed again.
The Raiders had no offense in the fourth quarter, the Packers' defense did a really good job of applying pressure and in coverage, and it didn't matter that the Packers' offense stalled too (other than a 92 yard drive that stretched from the end of the third quarter and into the fourth quarter). It was a very inconsistent game (again) for the offense but winning by 10 points on the road to an improving Raiders team is not a gimme, and a necessity if they still have hopes of moving up in the playoff standings.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Packers Win Over Cowboys; Tough Road Game Ahead In Oakland

I've been off from blogging for a little while because I've been traveling, but I did stop at Lambeau Field during that trip to watch the Green Bay Packers defeat the Cowboys. Here's a picture from my seat:

I imagine watching the game from home would have been a lot like it was at the stadium. It was frustrating because the Packers were clearly the better team (having the right side of the offensive line back made a huge difference) but they couldn't put the Cowboys away until the middle of the 4th quarter. The Cowboys's offense never showed any signs of life, other than three big runs that set up their two scoring opportunities, but most of the game was tighter than it should have been.

And that's a problem, that the Packers aren't capable at the moment of putting away teams early. At least it was an improvement over falling behind against the Bears and Lions at home before mounting a not-quite-enough comeback at the end. But the Raiders are much better (currently No. 12 overall according to Football Outsiders) than the Cowboys and QB David Carr is currently ranked ahead of QB Aaron Rodgers per FO's website.

While Cooper and Crabtree are their big name receivers, they aren't tearing it up according to FO's advance stats. It's sneaky good production from guys like WR Seth Roberts and RB Marcel Reece (as a receiver) that's been their big advantage. The Packers's secondary should match up well (even if CB Sam Shields misses it because of his concussion) because six other members of the Packers's secondary have positive grades in pass coverage according to Pro Football Focus, plus LB Joe Thomas (who's become their pass coverage LB in rotation with LB Jake Ryan) makes it seven. The Raiders don't have much of a rushing attack so the Packers's suspect run defense probably won't face much of a test.

The Packers's offense has to focus on protecting Aaron Rodgers. LB Khalil Mack has been a monster this season, and is coming off a 5 sack game at Denver. His success is forcing teams to pay less attention to this teammates, and seven of them currently have positive pass rushing grades according to Pro Football Focus. If they can protect Rodgers, the offense be able to put some points on the board.

If the Packers really want to grab the two seed from the Cardinals, then they're going to have to win this tough road game against a pretty good team that still has dim playoff hopes. And then win again next week on the road against that same Cardinals team that's battling for a playoff bye. With their win against the Cowboys behind them, the last three games look like a tough road before the playoffs.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Down The Stretch: The Packers Last Four Games of the 2015 Season

Despite their mid-season swoon on offense (if their injuries at receiver weren't enough, the injuries on the offensive line are a bigger problem at the moment) and their defense's struggles to create a pass rush without blitzing a defensive back, the Green Bay Packers are at 8-4 and a top the NFC North. The main concern is going to be the Minnesota Vikings and winning the NFC North title, though a wild card birth is a strong possibility even if they struggle down the stretch.

With one game remaining against each other, and both the Packers and Vikings are traveling to Arizona for one game, their schedules are very similar. Each team plays another team with a long-shot chance at the playoffs (Packers at Raiders, Vikings host Giants) and another one against a team that's just finishing out the season (Packers host Cowboys, Vikings host Bears).

Confidence is important for a team, not the most important thing but it's a factor, and for what it's worth, the Packers have a lot of confidence after winning a game on a Hail Mary pass while the Vikings completely fell apart at home against the Seahawks. It's never a good thing when a team's star player starts calling out his coaches in public.
I'd love to say I know how the next four games are going to go for the Packers but they've been so inconsistent while losing four of their last six games that it's hard to predict. However, the Broncos game being the exception, after every time they've fallen behind recently, they've managed to stage a late game rally or comeback win. So no matter how bad they look (i.e. the first quarter against the Lions) they'll still have a chance to rally. The Cowboys game should be a win but nothing is a given right now. Traveling across the country to play the Raiders feels like a trap game before they visit the Cardinals (which is their toughest remaining game). Then it'll be a rematch against the Vikings which might be the game to decide who'll make the playoffs.

Friday, December 04, 2015

More Video of Packers Hail Mary Win Over The Lions

A video posted by Brandon Movitz (@brandicle) on

Packers Pull Off Hail Mary In Detroit: Beat Lions 27-23

Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

On the final play of the game, the Packers drew what was probably the weakest face mask penalty I've ever seen (it only looked weak on slow motion replay, at full speed it looked a lot worse) but that's not what I'm talking about by luck. How many times does a Hail Mary work? QB Aaron Rodgers said he's never thrown one before. How many times are there four fumbles in a game and the Packers recover all four of them?
The Packers are usually not a slow starting team, but this game featured one of the slowest starts I can remember from them, on both sides of the ball. The Lions easily moved down the field against the Packers' defense for their first two scoring drives, and I can't remember the last time Rodgers threw too high for a receiver and had it intercepted. The Packers looked dead in the first quarter with 38 yards of offense and 1 interception, while the Lions had three scoring drives and 133 yards of offense. Lions 17, Packers 0.

But the defense came alive in the second quarter and forced four Lions punts, though the Packers' offense remained scoreless. Both teams were hurt by their inability to run the ball, and the Lions are hurt just as badly as the Packers by their lack of depth at wide receiver. Here are some of the first half stats and it's real ugly for the Packers' offense:
Team Yards 3rd Down % Turnovers Score
Packers 78 0% 1 0
Lions 151 29% 0 17
The Lions started the second half off with a 71 yard drive that led to another field goal, and it pushed their lead up to 20-0, but then they only had 84 yards on their next four drives combined, including a strip sack fumble that set up the Packers' second touchdown. While they did score another field goal in the fourth quarter, their offense had four chances to put the game out of reach and the Packers' defense stopped them.

As for the offense, obviously this was TE Richard Rodgers's game, but a lot of breaks went the Packers' way and none of these breaks were bigger than their fumble luck. While the Lions had one fumble that was recovered in their red zone, the Packers had three fumbles and they recovered them all, including a fumble by RB James Starks that was recovered by WR Randall Cobb for a touchdown.

The offense also started playing better. Even before he caught that Hail Mary pass, Richard Rodgers had around 70 yards receiving in the second half, WR Davante Adams had his first touchdown reception of the year, and Starks was good for some yards on screen passes. Rookie RB John Crockett, he was with the Packers during the preseason but was just re-signed this week, got a few carries to give the offense their best rushing yards (other than Aaron Rodgers's touchdown scramble) of the night.

So the Packers played what was probably their worst all-around quarter of the season in the first quarter, trailed 17-0, and then managed to do just enough on offense (along with a little fumble luck) to get themselves in place for the game winning Hail Mary pass. In the end, there are no style points and it's all about which team gets the W, but this was one of the least impressive wins I can remember and I don't feel like this 2015 team has turned a corner. I don't think their season would have been over if they'd lost this game either, but they need at least 10 wins from somewhere to make the playoffs (maybe 9 wins would get them in too) and this gets them a third of the way there.

Now the Packers get a little time off and don't play again until Sunday night, December 13th, at Lambeau against the Cowboys. And I'll be there! Freezing my butt off no doubt but I'll be having a great time. Hopefully I lose my voice and watch the Packers earn their ninth win of the season.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Packers Lose Another NFC North Game At Home: Bears 17, Packers 13

It was appropriate that the Green Bay Packers' last offensive play against the Chicago Bears was an incomplete pass to WR Davante Adams. There might have been nothing he could have done on that particular play but this post is going to be all about him.
When the offense is struggling, it's usually because one thing is broken. In prior years, sacks have been a major problem and its easy for one sack to put the brakes on an entire drive, even if it doesn't happen on 3rd down. It's the same with incomplete passes, and while fingers could be pointed at WR James Jones (who had zero receptions on six targets against the Bears) for disappearing from game-to-game, or WR Randall Cobb for a down season, the spotlight is glaring on Adams.

Currently Adams has a negative DYAR ranking according to Football Outsiders. Most receivers are positive, but there are some good receivers with negative one. WR Dez Bryant currently has a negative DYAR because of his foot injury and the three headed QB hydra that's been a problem all season in Dallas. Adams had a high ankle sprain earlier this season to blame, but it looks a lot worse when you compare Adams to all the other receivers that have registered a negative DYAR since 2008 (the first year QB Aaron Rodgers became a starter):
Player Season Passes DYAR
Davante Adams 2015 64 -28
Jarrett Boykin 2014 12 -38
Myles White 2013 12 -21
It's a very short list and only includes wide receivers who had at least 10 targets during any season since 2008. Neither White or Boykin are still with the team (for good reason) and at least with them, they were obviously not part of the solution and given very few opportunities. On the other hand, the Packers have been forcing the ball into Adams over the past few weeks and he led the team in targets during each of their losses to the Lions and the Bears. During those two close, home losses, on passes to Adams, Rodgers was 12 for 32, 93 yards, 0 TDs, and 1 INT.

Obviously that's cherry picking, another player to pick on is James Jones who had zero catches for zero yards in those two games. But Adams hasn't made up for it in other games so they could overlook his flops (and drops) against the Lions and Bears. Adams doesn't have a single receiving touchdown in 2015, and his negative DYAR not only stands out poorly in 2015, Aaron Rodgers has never had a receiver struggle like Adams.

Mike McCarthy said after the Bears game that he's going to make changes. Adams is the obvious choice, but TE Richard Rodgers also has a negative DYAR in 2015 (he was negative in 2014 too) and might have fallen behind TE Justin Perillo. Run and pass blocking might also play a factor in this decision too.

The first replacement for Adams is probably WR Jeff Janis. While it may seem like it's about time, over their last two games, Janis has played on 32 offensive snaps and he's had the ball thrown to him twice for zero receptions. It doesn't look like he's getting open and/or earned his quarterback's trust. It's probably a stretch to imagine either WR Jared Abbrederis or WR Ty Montgomery will return to health by Thursday. There's someone on the practice squad, but I'm not going to even consider him. If injuries are still a problem, there isn't a strong Plan B available.

So the good news is that there is a solution. Focus on the good receivers with positive DYAR (Cobb, Jones, Janis, Perillo) and significantly reduce the roles of the receivers who are negative (Adams, Richard Rodgers). Both Adams and Rodgers were 2014 draft choices and still probably need time to develop, but if it hasn't happened yet then it's probably not happening this season. They can be considered as part of the future but not the present. The playoffs are still within sight as they currently hold a wild card spot, and have two more NFC North games remaining. Making an adjustment to their offensive game plan, along with the healthy return of RB Eddie Lacy over their last two games, could get them right back on track for the NFC North title.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Packers Host Bears On Thanksgiving; Plus Brett Favre Is Honored At Halftime

I'm never thrilled to see the Green Bay Packers play on a short week, so I'm not a fan of them playing on Thursday night. But it is cool that this is the first Thanksgiving game in Green Bay since 1923.

In honor of the ceremony for Brett Favre at halftime, has put together a very slick interactive webpage and it's really about time he's been honored. I've been a reluctant to say much about him lately, the dramas in 2008 and 2009 still linger with me, but he's one of the all time greats and should have his number retired.

While it's been a surprisingly good season for the Chicago Bears, and QB Jay Cutler is back to being a good quarterback (he's currently ranked No. 8 this season according to Football Outsiders), the Bears were/are in danger of coming into this Thanksgiving game severely undermanned.
They're already going to miss TE Martellus Bennett and WR Eddie Royal, two players who'd start if they were healthy, and losing Jeffrey and Forte too would take away almost all of Cutler's supporting cast. They survived last week without them (Bennett played but was hurt mid-game) against the Broncos; RB Jeremy Langford had a touchdown and WR Marquess Wilson had a career game. Even if Jeffrey and Forte do play, they'll be hurting and somewhat limited on the field. And I haven't even mentioned that they might be without their best pass rusher; Pernell McPhee.

Unfortunately the Packers aren't in perfect health either. The big problem is the offensive line, where every starting lineman is on the injury report and C Corey Linsley is not going to play. Backup C JC Tretter should be fine in his first career NFL start. Since Tretter was supposed to be the starter last year over Linsley (before Tretter got hurt) it's appropriate that he's getting some recognition, finally.

Maybe none of these injuries matter because Cutler's always been very bad at Lambeau in addition to a 1-13 lifetime record against the Packers, but this has been the year for long losing streaks to be broken (the Lions won for the first time in Wisconsin since 1991). Still I'm not expecting the Bears to win on Thursday and they might not even be competitive if the Packers play like they did last Sunday against the Vikings.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Packers End Three Game Losing Streak With A 30-13 Win in Minnesota and Take First Place Back From Vikings

Well that's the Green Bay Packers I've been used to seeing. Though QB Aaron Rodgers still isn't on the same page as his receivers and he had a completion percentage of under 50% (though his receivers had a couple terrible drops) with a poor yards per attempt of 6.2, but there were three big changes from last week's home loss to the Lions.

His top two targets were WR James Jones and WR Randall Cobb. It wasn't a great game for Cobb outside of his touchdown reception but WR Davante Adams proved against the Lions that he's only a No. 3 WR right now. Adams still had a good game against the Vikings (4 targets, 3 receptions, 36 yards) but he's only a complementary player right now and he appropriately had half as many targets as either Jones or Cobb. Right now the offense works when Rodgers leans on his best receivers and gives them a chance to make a play. Against the Lions, when Jones had zero receptions, that was a big reason why they lost that game. Also, Fear The Hoodie.
The return of RB Eddie Lacy. I had written off Lacy for the near future (I'm sure I wasn't alone) and he surprised me with a 100 yard game. The running game won't carry them but the offense works a lot better when they're getting something on the ground. It's also his 2nd consecutive 100 yard game in Minnesota, and he ran for 94 yards with a touchdown in the Metrodome during his rookie season, so there's something he likes about playing in Minneapolis.

The defense recorded 6 sacks. The Packers' defense is all about getting pressure on the quarterback, and when the pass rush isn't working, they end up with the bad defensive performances they had in Denver and Charlotte. The defense wasn't unstoppable, QB Teddy Bridgewater was very good when he wasn't running for his life, but they also did a very good job against RB Adrian Peterson (and forced a fumble). Bridgewater can't carry the offense by himself and the Packers did a very good job of taking away his pass protection and his running game.

The game was closer than the score in a lot of respects but the Vikings were flagged for 110 penalty yards and gave up a 70 yard return to WR Jeff Janis. That's a lot of extra yards to overcome.

There were a couple injuries to DB Micah Hyde and C Corey Linsley that weren't talked about after the game, hopefully they aren't serious, and they'll have to bounce back quickly because of the short week before their Thanksgiving game against the Bears.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Packers Lose Third Straight; Embarrassing Loss At Home To 1-7 Lions

The only good news is that the Green Bay Packers have seven more games to figure out what's gone wrong over the past three losses. As bad as it looks now, it wasn't this way four weeks ago. They're certainly capable of making adjustments and getting themselves back on track.

On defense: where's my pass rush? Another week, another zero sack game. They played another shaky offensive line, but they still haven't gotten to the quarterback and it only seems to be getting worse. They've got play makers (Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones) and they have to start making plays.

On offense: it's frustrating because they've scored 28 points combined in their last two fourth quarters but only 10 points combined in the last two first halves. Dropped passes were a problem and QB Aaron Rodgers and his receivers often don't seem to be on the same page. It didn't help that Rodgers's accuracy was off early in the game. But the biggest problems were WR Davante Adams and WR James Jones:
Adams ended the game with 21 targets and 79 yards. That's about as inefficient as it gets. Their best receiver this season has been Jones, and he had zero receptions in this game and has only 3 in their last three games. Throwing the ball 21 times to your worst receiver and only twice to your best receiver is not a successful formula. They knew that Adams would be going up against a back-up cornerback and this might have been their attempt to push him into a big game.

The receiver who did step up against the Lions was TE Justin Perillo. I've thought that the best option would be for the Packers to get as many receivers involved in the passing game as possible, to compensate for the loss of WR Jordy Nelson. Rodgers was a combined 16 of 18 for 134 yards and 2 TDs on passes to Perillo, TE Richard Rodgers and RB James Starks. These three receivers aren't getting separation in the passing game against anyone but they're also big receivers and if anyone's great at throwing a receiver open, it's Aaron Rodgers. These bigger guys have to run their route and fight for the ball when it comes to them in tight coverage.

I don't want to make a big deal out of WR Jared Abbrederis's game. It was great that he got his first NFL reception and caught 4 passes for 57 yards, but he also had a fumble out of bounds and suffered a rib injury. If he's having trouble staying healthy and holding onto the ball, he's not going to be a help. WR Randall Cobb had another inefficient game as he continues to struggle as the No. 1 receiver, but they just have to keep him involved and hope he can improve as the entire offense improves.

Also, for the second consecutive game, the interior of the offensive line struggled. Against Carolina, the pass blocking assignments were missed in the first half, and against the Lions, the run blocking assignments were missed. The Lions's defensive tackles were in on nearly every running play right at the line of scrimmage. The running game has vanished in too many games this season and it's putting more strain on the struggling pass offense.

So the answer on offense should be less of Adams and Cobb and more of everyone else. Aaron Rodgers got into the habit last season of leaning heavily on his top two receivers (for good reason, they both had a great season) but that isn't the case anymore. They also should be more aggressive on 4th down, especially on their opponent's side of the 50 yard line. It would help if WR Ty Montgomery would return since he's been their 2nd most efficient receiver (behind James Jones) this season according to Football Outsiders. This is the third week in a row that they came into a game with a plan, and it didn't work. If the players can't execute the plans that have been drawn up, it's time to find some new plans.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Mike Daniels and The Interior Defensive Lineman Have To Start Bringing the Pass Rush Back

This season, when I'm watching the Green Bay Packers defense, I often focus on DE Mike Daniels at the snap. Whether he beats his blocker(s) is a strong indicator whether the defense is going to make a play or not, and over the last couple weeks, I've noticed that he's usually not winning the one-on-one battle against his blocker. I'm not blaming him for the entire defense's struggles over the past three games but the interior pass rush has been part of the problem.
At the link above, NT B.J. Raji tries his best to explain what's gone wrong. He mentions the defensive mentality and playing with his instincts. Maybe he's trying to say that the defense wasn't playing their game and they've let the offense dictate the approach.

It's not been a case of playing against superior opponents either. On the offensive line, the Panthers are pretty good on the interior of their offensive line, led by C Ryan Kalil. On the other hand, the Broncos don't have a very good line (LG Evan Mathis and RG Louis Vasquez are good in run blocking and pass protection, respectively, but neither one is great at both) and the Chargers' offensive line is a borderline disaster.

Maybe it's just a matter of pushing through their mid-season exhaustion and minor injuries. The defense was on the field a ton against the Chargers (Daniels recorded 73 snaps out of 94 played). They did have the bye week right after that game and before they played the Broncos, but it might not have been enough of a break. Having their last two games on the road hasn't helped either.

A lot things have gone wrong for the defense over their last three games but benching ILB Nate Palmer and reviving the inside pass rush might fix the problem. When you watch the Packers host the Lions, keep an eye on Daniels (and DE Datone Jones, when he rotates in on the defensive line) and see if they can get in the face of QB Matthew Stafford as he's trying to throw.

Monday, November 09, 2015

I've Got The Two Game Losing Streak Blues: Packers Lose at Carolina, 37-29

I was expecting a lot better from the Green Bay Packers, who followed up their worst loss of the season (at Denver last week) with their worst half of the season (first half against the Panthers). The Panthers were outplaying them on the offensive and defensive lines. They couldn't get anywhere near QB Cam Newton or protect QB Aaron Rodgers. The secondary couldn't cover and the Packers' receivers weren't getting open.

The good news is that they came out in the second half and played the style of game I'd rather see them play. No more JC Tretter at tight end. Instead they spread out their receivers and started attacking down field. The offensive line still struggled but they weren't allowing free releases on blitzes up the middle anymore. The long touchdown pass to WR Randall Cobb that got them started wasn't anything exotic, a good old wheel route that left the cornerback a step flat footed, but it'd been a while since Rodgers even attempted a pass like that. What was looking like another embarrassing blowout turned into a near comeback.
There are still problems on offense, especially at tackle, and their conversion rate on 3rd down remains terrible. They had almost as many conversions on 4th down (2) as 3rd (3). The running game didn't help but it was better in their previous two games. WR Davante Adams finally came alive, which helps because spreading out with multiple receivers in the shotgun is their best formation at the moment. It would also help if WR Ty Montgomery could return next week.

As for the defense, their pass rush has vanished over the past three games and it's turned them into one of the worst (if not the worst) defense in the NFL over that time. The secondary will get better once CB Sam Shields returns but they've got to find their pass rush. They rarely made Newton move around in the pocket and they finished the game with no sacks. Their defense goes into funks, especially on the road (remember back to 2014 when they got overwhelmed by the Saints in New Orleans), but it's something they could snap out of quickly.

It's time to dump these last two games down the memory hole. It'll all be a distant memory if they win their next four games, which are all divisional, including two Thursday games. Taking care of the division and winning those four alone will win them the NFC North and put them into the playoffs.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Playing The Panthers on the Road Isn't The Same As The Broncos

At first glance, a road game against Panthers for the Green Bay Packers, one week after getting pummeled by the Broncos on the road, looks like a terrible matchup. The Broncos defense is far and away the best defense in the league, according to Football Outsiders, but the Panthers are ranked No. 2 overall. They have a lot of talented players on defense, highlighted by LB Luke Kuechly and CB Josh Norman, and their offense has played a whole lot better then the Broncos this season. If the Broncos can completely outplay the Packers, so can the Panthers.

On the other hand, facing the Panthers is completely different than facing the Broncos:
Last season, the Packers hosted the Panthers and beat them 38-17. Sure the game was at Lambeau and the Packers still had WR Jordy Nelson, but for the most part these are the same two teams and the Packers crushed them. The game wasn't even as close as the score would appear because the Panthers had two late touchdowns (it was 38-3 entering the 4th quarter).

The Panthers haven't exactly played an awesome schedule. Winning at Seattle is impressive and they just beat a 2014 playoff team at home (Colts) but four of their wins have come against teams from two of the worst divisions in football (AFC South, NFC South) and another win was against the Eagles, who don't have a NFL caliber QB. Their defense has taken advantage of playing against teams that feature some of the worst QBs in the NFL (even the Saints game was against Luke McCown). The best QB by far they've faced this season is QB Russell Wilson. The 2nd best QB was Blake Bortles. They haven't been tested much.

The Panthers secondary isn't the same as the Broncos. CB Josh Norman is arguably the best CB in the NFL but the Panthers also feature arguably the worst pair of cover safeties (Kurt Coleman and Roman Harper) of 2015. Harper's more of a linebacker than safety and Coleman is on his 3rd team in 3 years. All these guys aren't maintaining coverage against the Packer receivers for several seconds like the Broncos did last week, and the Panthers' pass rush is struggling (they traded for DE Jared Allen to provide some type of outside pass rush). When QB Aaron Rodgers extends plays because of his pass protection, he's going to find open receivers on Sunday.

The Packers can stop the run if they want to. The Panthers might have the worst group of wide receivers in the NFL, headlined by WR Ted Ginn, who dropped everything he touched in his last game. Even without CB Sam Shields, I don't expect the Packers to give the Panther WRs a ton of respect. The Packers run defense is a lot better if either safety drops down into the box. They also appear willing to bench ILB Nate Palmer mid-game, as he was against the Broncos. If the Panthers struggle with their passing game and don't force the Packers to play two deep safeties, then their offense is going to be in a lot of trouble.

This is still a road game (always tough) and a really good opponent but in no way am I expecting a repeat of last weekend's game vs. the Broncos. The Packers will start looking like the Packers again in Carolina.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

All The Packers Must Fix The Offense Articles Are Coming Out After Getting Clobbered By The Broncos

The short answer remains that the Green Bay Packers miss WR Jordy Nelson. By one measure, he accounted for 40% of their passing offense in 2014. So now some good intentioned articles are focusing on how the Packers can improve mid-season without Nelson.
Author Andy Benoit liked it when the Packers brought a wide receiver out of the backfield on short passes. I actually wish the Packers would do that more with RB Eddie Lacy instead of WR Randall Cobb, though Cobb has better hands. There's always the potential for a big play when Lacy has the ball in the open field and he hasn't been nearly productive enough this season in Nelson's absence.

When I initially looked at how the Packers could replace Nelson, I focused on the Packers getting more receivers involved in 2015. That hasn't happened but here's who can step up.

WR Davante Adams. He's missed most of the season with ankle injuries but finally returned against Denver. Unfortunately he did next to nothing in the Broncos game but it was only his first game back. He's got to get better as the season goes on.

WR Ty Montgomery. He's been sparingly used and plays an almost identical role to Cobb but he's also been the 2nd best WR of those who have had fewer than 32 targets this season. An ankle injury kept him out against Denver and he'll be welcomed back.

TE Justin Perillo. Perillo is the preferred No. 2 TE at the moment. The answer might be more receivers out in the formation with fewer blockers, and Perillo could become that forgotten TE in two-TE sets that can take advantage of a linebacker in coverage.

RB Eddie Lacy. He too has been battling an ankle injury but looked like his old self in the Denver game. Hopefully he can finish the season strong.

But maybe nothing will help as much as avoiding negative plays and converting on a higher rate of 3rd downs. Their 3rd down conversion percentage has been slowly sinking all season long, and it bottomed out at 25% against the Broncos. Remember that early drive when Lacy carried it twice from on 2nd and 3rd and short when they didn't pick up the 1st down? They can't afford any negative rushing plays at the moment and have to find plays that work on 3rd and short.

As much as the knee injury to Nelson has been the big story of the season on offense, a lesser story is the trifecta of ankle injuries (Adams, Montgomery, Lacy) that has taken away the three players who combined could replace Nelson's production. It's next man up time for one (or more) of these players to make the offense better for the rest of the season.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Packers Outplayed In Denver: Lose To Broncos, 29-10

Well at least LB Clay Matthews's ankle injury doesn't appear to be serious. That's about the best thing that can be said about this game. Otherwise they were outplayed on both sides of the ball. But still, it's just one game that doesn't hurt them much (except their pride) because it was a road loss, against an AFC team (so no playoff tiebreakers). It reminded me of their Week 1 loss in 2014 against the Seahawks and obviously they bounced back from it. They'll bounce back this season by taking care of the Panthers next week (a game that does have playoff seeding implications in the NFC) and making sure they win all their upcoming divisional games.
It was frustrating to watch them get outplayed and outcoached. The defense was more outplayed then outcoached. Denver's offensive line has been a mess this season, but the bye week seemed to help them. They're probably more healthy and they also used recently signed OT Tyler Polumbus (who's generally awful) in an odd offensive line rotation that worked on Sunday night. LB Clay Matthews said they wanted to pressure QB Peyton Manning so he'd have to move around the pocket but Manning had good protection and room to step up. Denver was going to be able to run the ball against the Packers (everyone usually can) so it was going to be a long night once they got their passing game working. Losing CB Sam Shields early certainly didn't help, and a terrible game from CB Casey Hayward showed why they used their top two draft picks in 2015 on cornerbacks.

It's rare to see the Packers outplayed and outcoached on offense but it does happen sometimes (in 2014-at Seattle and at Buffalo). The Packers wanted to run the ball and throw quick passes on shorter routes, but the running game wasn't great and the receivers couldn't get open which QB Aaron Rodgers pointed out in his post game interview. Denver's D has been outstanding this season so there aren't any obvious weaknesses in coverage to attack, and they had a physical coverage plan to attack the Packers' receivers. That aggressive plan also led to a bunch of coverage penalties but it also kept the Packers' offense from getting into a rhythm. Maybe going with deeper routes or more passes to Jones and Adams on the sidelines would have helped but that strategy could have led to more hits on Rodgers.

It's disappointing, but looking at the 2015 schedule, if there was going to be one low point on it, this was going to be that low point. Nothing to do now but to forget about it and start getting ready for the Panthers.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Packers On The Bye Week: Sitting Strong at 6-0

When Football Outsiders recapped the Week 6 games, they specifically mentioned two NFC North teams (Packers over Chargers and Vikings over Chiefs). These were both close, one score victories by two NFC North teams, but according to Football Outsiders's advanced metrics, neither game was as close as the score suggested. The Packers significantly outplayed the Chargers in their win, and the Chiefs significantly outplayed the Vikings in defeat. The Chargers looked better than they were because they ran almost twice as many plays as the Packers (which in itself is a problem) while the Chiefs were hurt by penalties and every big play went against them.

It's too early to say the Packers are guaranteed to win the NFC North, they've only played one divisional game so far, but they're up by three games already and their only significant competition (Vikings at 3-2) are ranked as the 26th best team by Football Outsiders after Week 6. But it's fair to say that they're in great shape to win the division.
One other interesting note on the 2015 season is how it's top heavy. There are five unbeaten teams still remaining but no winless teams and 12 teams with only 2 wins, which means there's a lot of mediocrity. There are only 10 teams with a winning record and 19 teams with a losing record. There are a lot games left to play but there aren't a bunch of teams hot on the Packers' heels either. It gives them some cushion just in case they struggle early next month when they travel for two tough road games (at Denver, at Carolina).

Monday, October 19, 2015

Damarious Randall Comes Up Big: Packers Hold On For 27-20 Win Over Chargers

On one hand it's pretty good to see that when the Green Bay Packers struggle with their pass offense and defense they can still win a game and never trail in it. On the other hand, they weren't slouches either. On a per pass attempt basis, QB Aaron Rodgers's stats were just as good as QB Philip Rivers (though Rivers re-wrote the Chargers' record book on Sunday with new team records for completions, attempts, and yards in a single game) but problems on 3rd downs held them back again. And though the defense struggled a lot, when they needed a big play to close out the game, their rookie CB came up big.
I was debating afterwards whether Rivers's pass attempt could have been better, but on replay, it looked like a heck of a pass. He had a tight window at the front of the end zone and he can't throw it high because his receiver is only 5 foot 8. He threw it right where it should have gone but Randall made a great play on the ball.

It was a weird day for the defense. Their troubled run defense shut down the Chargers' ground game even without NT B.J. Raji and SS Morgan Burnett while their fantastic pass rush went missing. The stat line shows 3 sacks and 13 QB pressures, but most of those came late when DC Dom Capers dialed up the blitz as much as he dared. And the Chargers' offensive line had been a wreck for most of the season. Without a pass rush, the Chargers were great at converting on 3rd down (50%) even without a running game and this wasn't the first game the defense has had trouble getting off the field. But they were a surprisingly good bend-but-don't-break defense, which is unusual for them. On the Chargers' last 4 possessions, they ran 38 plays for 209 yards but came away with only 3 points. For as many passing yards as they allowed, to only surrender 20 points is a victory.

Mike McCarthy was asked in the post-game press conference about what happened to RB Eddie Lacy? His answer focused on RB James Starks, who he said deserved some playing time while Lacy's been banged up (though Lacy's not listed on the injury report). Starks proved his coach right and exploded for a big run and his best game in a long while, but keeping Lacy on the bench when the team is lacking play makers (WR Randall Cobb was held to only 2 receptions and he had a big drop) is an odd choice. It worked OK this week since Starks was great and WR Jeff Janis had his first receptions of the season (for big yards) but I'd rather see Lacy play a more prominent role because there's no one else like him on offense.

Getting more from Lacy would also probably help their continued struggles on 3rd down. They were only 3 for 9 on 3rd downs and needed to sustain drives to match what the Chargers are doing. 33% isn't their lowest conversion rate of the season, that came last week against the Rams when they were at 31%, but that hardly makes it better. As much trouble as the defense had getting off the field, the offense struggled to stay on it.

This is probably the best time for their bye week, as they're scheduled to play two currently unbeaten teams on the road to start November (Broncos then Panthers). The injured players can hopefully get better and the coaches can consider some mid-season adjustments.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Packers Defense Is Rolling But What About The Offense?

I've been spoiled by QB Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers offense for a while. But for the first time in maybe forever, in the Football Outsiders weekly rankings, the offense (5th overall) is rated lower than the defense (4th overall). Most of this has to do with a much better performance this season by the defense, but last season, the offense was rated No. 1 overall by FO. What's to account for this mini-slump on offense?
The short answer is that the offense is missing WR Jordy Nelson. It's also been missing WR Davante Adams, but the good news is that he's back at practice this week. As good as WR James Jones has been, which isn't his fault because Nelson is one of the best in the NFL, he hasn't been effectively a replacement for Nelson. Jones and rookie WR Ty Montgomery are effectively replacing what was hoped for from Adams. Despite the extra attention above, Cobb's basically been the same as last season, though a few more passes have falling incomplete to him.

His absence has also hurt the ground game, probably because the opponent's safety is less worried about deep coverage without Nelson around and more interested in RB Eddie Lacy. The run game wasn't helped when RT Bryan Bulaga missed a few games either. Lacy's yards per carry are significantly down this season (4.6 in 2014 vs. 4.1 in 2015) and it's even worse for RB James Starks (3.9 in 2014 vs. 3.3 in 2015). With the run offense struggling, it's getting harder to convert on 3rd down. Here's how they've done through the first five games:
Team 3rd Down % Points Scored
Week 1 Bears 60% 31
Week 2 Seattle 36% 27
Week 3 Chiefs 36% 38
Week 4 Niners 33% 17
Week 5 Rams 31% 24
The offense has scored 17 points in their last two games, and the 3rd down conversion percentage is trending downward with each passing game. The Bears have one of the worst defenses in the NFL and that Week 1 conversion rate on 3rd down is looking more like the exception not the rule. The Packers converted for a 1st down on 47.2% of their 3rd downs in 2014 vs. 38.3% overall in 2015, so many drives that kept going last season are ending up with a change of possession.

Unfortunately there's no easy answer to get the offense back to how it was in 2014. Bulaga is back, which can only help since he's much better than Don Barclay, and Adams will eventually recover from his high ankle sprain. Montgomery should continue to improve during his rookie season. But the only player who can really take them to the next level is Nelson. So the best offense in the NFL might just have to settle for being No. 5 overall this season.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Packers Sack, Intercept The Rams: 24-10

It was the second consecutive lackluster performance for the Green Bay Packers offense, but it was the second outstanding game for the defense (at least against the pass). Somewhere QB Nick Foles is still having nightmares:
The pressure on Foles was relentless, mostly from LB Clay Matthews, LB Julius Peppers, and DE Datone Jones. The coverage was good too, notably from CB Sam Shields, but the pressure was so bad that Foles couldn't get anything going. In his first 4 games this season, he had 1 INT but he had 4 INTs against the Packers.

The run defense gave up a ton of yards to RB Todd Gurley, but his offensive line was run blocking better than they were pass blocking and the Packers usually allow an extra DB to play instead of a run stuffing LB/DE. When Gurley got into the open field, he did look a lot like RB Adrian Peterson but for Gurley it's more about his speed than his power. He was lethal in the open field and the Packers run defense isn't, which was a bad combination. But the Rams' complete inability to throw the ball wasted his effort.

The big story was that QB Aaron Rodgers threw an INT for the first time since 2012 at Lambeau. The first one was tipped at the line and LB James Laurinaitis made a great diving grab. The second INT looked trapped and probably wasn't intercepted. He was also stripped sack when DE Robert Quinn (one of the best edge rushers in the NFL) beat LT David Bakhtiari off the edge. It counts as three turnovers but they weren't bone headed plays; they were great plays by the Rams. He still led them on three scoring drives and took advantage of some bad/blown coverage on long TD passes to WR James Jones and WR Ty Montgomery.

The Rams' run defense has been very good this season, and the Packers didn't have much success on the ground against them. Their lack of run success probably played a factor in their lousy conversion rate on 3rd downs (31%) for the second week in a row.

There were a couple injuries to NT B.J. Raji, RG T.J. Lang, and LB Nick Perry. Lang said his was "nothing serious" but it's not clear how bad it was for Raji and Perry.

The Packers have one more game next week (hosting the Chargers) before their bye week. QB Philip Rivers might be the best QB they're scheduled to face this season but he's got issues behind an injured offense line, which might be a huge problem for him against the Packers' fearsome pass rush.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Packers Hosting St. Louis' Pass Rushers On Sunday: Bryan Bulaga Is Back Just In Time

As it was explained to me by a colleague earlier today, the Rams only play well against NFC West teams but they're terrible against everyone else and I shouldn't worry about them in Lambeau against the Packers.

However the Rams do have a fantastic pass rush and the Packers have struggled protecting QB Aaron Rodgers. But one of their best lineman will be returning from injury just in time.
Depending on the game, Bulaga's replacement, RT Don Barclay, has varied from OK to horrible. There really is no comparison, and Bulaga is significantly better.

There will be a few notable Packers missing: WR Davante Adams is still out with a high ankle sprain, and SS Morgan Burnett with a calf injury. Both are listed as questionable, but the fact that neither one practiced on Friday is bad sign. The offense has continued to play well without Adams as Jones and Montgomery have stepped up in his absence. But the run defense has really struggled except when they're bringing an extra safety down into the box, which they can get away with against QB Colin Kaepernick, but not against QB Nick Foles, who has a good deep ball. Burnett was strong against the run last season and he's been missed so far in 2015.

He's struggled in limited snaps, but it was also reported that SS Sean Richardson suffered a serious neck injury. I had forgotten about the serious neck injury he suffered in 2012, and that was one I didn't think he come back from. This one might end his career.

The Packers favored by 9 points, and the Rams might be without a couple of notable players: LB Alec Ogletree and WR Kenny Britt. Those might not seem like the biggest names ever, but Ogletree enters this game as their leading tackler and Britt as their leading receiver in yards. Ogletree is definitely out, though Britt is expected to play through his injured knee.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Week 4 QB Rankings: Aaron Rodgers Is Near The Top

After the Pro Football Focus article that gave QB Aaron Rodgers a negative score for throwing for 5 TDs and 0 INTs against the Chiefs, I wanted to look at how quarterback performance matches up with a team's record. They can write about the plays that are expected or plays the other team should make, but a negative shouldn't be taken from a positive. I'm not big on intangibles, but they are part of the game and players have to make plays. Some do, some don't.

There are 6 teams without a loss after 4 games, and as you might expect, most of those teams' without a loss are getting great play from their quarterbacks.
Week 4 QBR 2015 QBR FO
2015 Losses 2014 Rk
1 Roethlisberger 91.3 2 72.1 6
2 Dalton 87.7 0 53.9 2
3 Rodgers 87.3 0 77.4 4
4 Brady 83.1 0 74.6 1
5 Ryan 81.4 0 71.0 5
6 Palmer 80.3 1 67.7 3
9 Bridgewater 65.1 2 56.9 29
15 Cutler 58.2 3 52.8 16
25 Stafford 50.3 4 53.5 19
The two exceptions are Carolina and Denver, who are winning despite mediocre QB play from Peyton Manning and Cam Newton. They're undefeated because of their great defenses and some help from the schedule makers.

The point is that Rodgers is just above or just below of three other undefeated QBs (Dalton, Brady, Ryan) which is right where he should be.

Former Packers head coach Lindy Infante Has Died

For those of you who don't remember (refuse to remember) the bleak era of the late 1980s, Lindy Infante was the coach who gave all of us Green Bay Packer fans a glimmer of hope with an unlikely 10-6 record in 1989 (though no playoff berth).
Unfortunately he couldn't build on that surprising 1989 season and GM Ron Wolf fired him in December 1991. Wolf then hired HC Mike Holmgren, traded for QB Brett Favre, and shocked the NFL world by luring free agent DE Reggie White to Green Bay, but Infante's contributions weren't part of the turnaround.

The best I can recall from Wolf's The Packer Way book, he wasn't too impressed with Infante's team in 1991 while Infante believed his players were just the victim of unfortunate events. Infante really believed in his players (to his determent) and Wolf knew it was time to clean house (with a couple exceptions, such as WR Sterling Sharpe and LT Ken Ruettgers). But I'll always remember that 1989 season.

Monday, October 05, 2015

The Defense Shuts Them Down: Packers Defeat 49ers, 17-3

It was a historic performance for the Green Bay Packers defense who held the 49ers to their worst offensive performance since 1963 or 1964. As the game went on, the Packer fans in attendance took over and flipped the home field advantage.
Why was the defense so good? RB Carlos Hyde couldn't run the ball, the run defense was all over him on every carry, and QB Colin Kaepernick has no accuracy downfield. At first, he wouldn't throw the ball deep, but when he finally did start going deep, he usually threw it out of bounds. He connected on one long pass to WR Torrey Smith but that was the exception. In the first half, Kaepernick had some success on designed cut back runs, but in the second half, FS HaHa Clinton-Dix went into the box to shut it all down. There were times in the third quarter when it looked like the Packers were playing with a single deep safety, sometimes it looked like it was only 4th stringer S Chris Banjo deep, but the 49ers still couldn't take advantage of it.

With so many defenders playing near the line, and LBs Nick Perry and Jayrone Elliott adding extra pressure along with the usual suspects (Matthews, Peppers, Daniels, etc.), they overwhelmed the 49ers' underwhelming offensive line.

I'd love to write that the Packers D has stepped up, but this was more about how far Kaepernick has fallen. When the announcers start talking about how much the coaches love QB Blaine Gabbert, it's a big problem. Until Kaepernick re-discovers his accuracy, he's not a starting NFL QB.

The offense struggled and QB Aaron Rodgers was frustrated in the first half. He admitted that they were off today. It looked like all the injuries finally caught up to them. Some of the receivers didn't seem on the same page, and that probably doesn't happen if Nelson, Adams and Quarless were playing instead of Montgomery, Janis and Backman.

But no starter was missed as much as RT Bryan Bulaga. I was OK with RT Don Barclay allowing pressure as long as he didn't allow hits or sacks. However, in this game, he gave up a couple hits and sacks in addition to all the usual pressures. That allowed 49ers LB Aaron Smith to get to know Rodgers up close and personal. I doubt the coaches will make a change at this point because Bulaga should be healthy in three weeks, and then Barclay can go back to the bench.

Another problem on offense was their 3rd down conversion rate (5 for 15) which is usually around 40 to 50 percent. They were 3 for 4 on 3rd downs in the 3rd quarter, and that's the quarter in which the offense score 10 points on consecutive drives. The reasons listed above ("off today" and Barclay) caused most of the problems, but penalties were also a semi-problem. LG Josh Sitton never commits penalties and he had two holding penalties on Sunday. Barclay will still be a problem in the near future, but otherwise the offense should be much improved by returning home to Lambeau for next week's game.

It wasn't the most impressive win, but winning on the road is never easy, and they've opened up a two game lead over their next closest NFC North rival.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Not Everyone Was A Fan Of Aaron Rodgers' Dismantling Of The Chiefs

I love Pro Football Focus because each week (and season) it assigns a grade to each player, and this is especially helpful for players like offensive lineman who rarely generate any traditional stats at all. PFF assigns one point for a good play and one negative point for a bad play. The only problem is that it's subjective; a person assigns the grade and different people focus on different things.

It's like with scouting, where some teams see QB Aaron Rodgers as worthy of a 1st round pick and 22 other teams (the Vikings twice!) decide he's not the best available player on their 2005 draft board. Different scouts have different opinions. I'll look at other stats when they're available for players, such as ESPN's QBR and Football Outsiders, and add additional facts to PFF's grades, such as I did last week about how the huge negative grade PFF assigned to David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay against the Seahawks wasn't the whole story.

So PFF got a lot of flack (deservedly) this week for assigning a negative grade to Rodgers after he threw for 5 touchdowns and no turnovers. Their defense of this grade has generated over 700 comments. For some comparison, they gave a positive grade to QB Nick Foles as he led the Rams to 6 points, no touchdowns, and the loss at home against a weak Steelers defense.
So how did Rodgers earn a negative grade?

Of his five touchdown passes, only two of them earned him a positive grade. The other three were "expected throws" to WR Randall Cobb and Cobb earned the positive grade (not Rodgers) for "fighting through contact or defeating the coverage with speed to the edge."

He earned negative grades for two turnovers that didn't happen. One of them, a dropped INT by LB Josh Mauga, was a real negative for Rodgers. He either didn't see him standing there or threw an ill advised pass. The other was a fumble in the second quarter when he stood in the pocket too long, but it was overturned by a penalty on CB Marcus Cooper. Rodgers picked on Cooper the entire game, and when he fumbled the ball, Rodgers was looking into the corner of the end zone where Cooper was defending. The flag was for illegal contact, and while sometimes those flags are called for a quick jab after 5 yards, on that particular play, Cooper was riding the receiver out of the back of the end zone. Somehow, PFF didn't appear to give Cooper a negative grade for that terrible penalty. The only reason it wasn't pass interference was that he didn't actually throw the ball. He held the ball too long because his intended receiver was being ran right off the field.

So two positive touchdown grades, and two negative turnover grades, and something else slightly bad, pushed him down to a negative 0.8 grade. That would be OK so long as you ignore everything else that was going on:
Rodgers is like an offensive coordinator standing on the field. He's watching everything, reading defenses, and picking them apart, like he did to the Chiefs on Monday. How about a positive grade for every time he adjusted the pass blocking? Or every time he saw single coverage while he was lined up before the snap and threw the receiver open? Or whenever he saw CB Tyvon Branch was "covering" someone and threw the ball to that receiver? Did he get any points for his two hard counts, when he drew off-side penalties and threw a long pass/touchdown while the defense was standing around? He made a 100 little decisions that made it look easy to throw 5 touchdown passes against the Chiefs, but he appeared to have received no points for it.

Many NFL QBs (such as Nick Foles) didn't manage a single TD pass last week, but Foles didn't receive any negative grades for the passes he couldn't even attempt because he couldn't move his team's offense into scoring position. It's a flawed scoring system that considers any NFL touchdown an "expected throw" because it's never that easy. Quarterbacks are so important to any offense that they always deserve some of the credit for their team's success.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

It's Hard To Lose When Aaron Rodgers Is Playing Like This: Packers Over Chiefs, 38-28

The Chiefs scored on three late touchdown drives and made a comeback seem possible, even if it was never very likely, but the Packers stopped a two-point conversion and recovered the resulting onside kick before running out the clock.

The Chiefs were going to have problems on defense, and losing one of their starting cornerbacks mid-game (when another startering CB was already suspended) made it almost impossible. The Chiefs should have known what was coming, the Packers just kept throwing touchdowns on a variation of the same play to WR Randall Cobb, but apparently they didn't have the personnel to adjust. LB Justin Houston was held in check, and outside of a nice overload blitz in the first half and a couple of bull rushes from LB Tamba Hali, the Chiefs couldn't sack or hit QB Aaron Rodgers, who ended up with 333 yards, 5 TD passes and no turnovers.
They built a huge 31-7 lead but the Chiefs got back into the game for a couple reasons.

The Packers couldn't run the ball late without RB Eddie Lacy. While he did play for most of the game, he appeared to have a slight limp near the end, and the offense went with RB James Starks on their final two drives. The Packers brought in their biggest lineman, G Josh Walker, for some power rushing that went nowhere. They probably would have been better off spreading the Chiefs out and seeing if Starks could make a defender miss in the open field. They punted on 4 of their 6 second half possessions, and they couldn't eat up enough clock.

The defense was a disaster in the red zone. It wasn't a monster game for RB Jamaal Charles, except when he got the ball within 10 yards of the goal line, and then he was automatic for a touchdown run. These red zone problems popped up last season too, and they don't seem to have gotten a lot better in 2015. They probably missed SS Morgan Burnett because the secondary seemed confused a lot of the time. I thought they might go with disappointing SS Sean Richardson, but instead they started rookie CB Damarious Randall and Chris Banjo played safety in their dime packages. Randall did make a couple plays, but then got lost on a couple others, especially when he was spun around and beaten badly by WR Jeremy Maclin on a long catch and run. This was pretty disappointing because the defense was all over QB Alex Smith, who was sacked 7 times, and shut down the Chiefs for first 40 minutes.

There were also 12 penalties on the Packers, which isn't going to make Mike McCarthy very happy. The defense needs to straighten out their confusion in the secondary, and I can't believe I'm writing this, but maybe the return of DE Letroy Guion from suspension will help their run defense. It's never easy on the road, but the Packers travel to San Francisco next week, and 49ers are coming off two road beatings and a 40 point loss. It'll be a good test to see if the Packers can contain a good rushing attack that features a QB who's absolutely torn them up on the ground in the past.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Packers Will Be Without Morgan Burnett Against The Chiefs

While the Green Bay Packers offense has been dominant (thanks Aaron!) the run defense has been the worst in the NFL so far in 2015 (according to Football Outsiders), and the injury to SS Morgan Burnett is not helping:
It's good to see that Lacy and Adams should play. But the drop off from Lacy to James Starks isn't as great as the drop off from Burnett to SS Sean Richardson. Starks was effective in relief against the Seahawks, but Richardson's looked a bit lost at times. Richardson's negative grade at Pro Football Focus is almost the same as Burnett's after two games, but Richardson's struggles have come in half as many snaps and he's not been playing through an injury. Burnett was great against the run in 2014, so his absence is a big loss when the Chiefs's best offensive weapon is at running back.

While RB Matt Forte was dominant on the ground in Week 1, the Chiefs aren't going to copy that game plan. Their head coach is still Andy Reid; who's never been known as a run-first play caller. But without Burnett, holding the Chiefs to under 4 ypc is probably a pipe dream. Burnett's loss combined with the season ending injury to LB Sam Barrington takes away the two defenders who were expected to be responsible this season for calling out the defenses. The duties have largely switched over to LB Clay Matthews, and while neither Burnett or Barrington are irreplaceable, their combined absence is sure to have some negative effect.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Packers Might Throw The Ball A Lot Against The Chiefs

Mike McCarthy never abandons the run completely. Sometimes it's a key part of the game plan and sometimes it's just there to distract the defense, and with RB Eddie Lacy, the defense can never ignore the ground game. But this looks like the week that the Packers will go into a pass heavy mode.

Part of the problem stems from their bookend tackles. Here's the analysis from Pro Football Focus after their win over the Seahawks:
They’re teammates on the Packers, and teammates on this list. Aaron Rodgers was running for his life as Barclay, filling in for injured right tackle Bryan Bulaga, allowed an unbelievable 10 QB hurries. Bakhtiari was hardly better, allowing seven QB hurries and both of the Seahawks’ sacks.
Neither of them is particularly strong when it comes to getting a push in the run game, or holding up against a bull rush on passing downs, but that pass blocking criticism above is a little too harsh. While they did allow many QB hurries, those hurries rarely resulted in hits or sacks. Both tackles were pushed around but they stayed on their blocks, which made pursuit difficult, and Rodgers moved around to find wide open areas where he picked the defense apart, as he did on this touchdown pass:
The tackles can hold up against the pass rush better than they can open up big holes for the running backs. It also doesn't help that Lacy might miss the game as he recovers from a sprained ankle. Though RB James Starks proved that he can be effective replacement, the Chiefs defense is really good against the run.

The Chiefs are ranked as currently having the 2nd best run defense by Pro Football Focus, and the 3rd best by Football Outsiders. But neither site had them ranked highly against the run in 2014, so these first two games might have been a sign that they played against teams (Houston and Denver) who are having trouble running the ball.

The Chiefs were pretty good to really good against the pass in 2014, depending on the site's rankings, mostly because of LB Justin Houston, who's a terror rushing the passer. But they're still missing their top cornerback for one more game, and outside of Houston, their pass rush and coverage isn't dominate. Despite Houston's presence, I don't know how they'll game plan for him, they'll probably have an easier time throwing than running against a stout run defense.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Packers Beat Seahawks 27-17, But Lose Eddie Lacy To Ankle Injury

It was hard to watch all the carts drive off players during the first half (Eddie Lacy, then Davante Adams and Josh Boyd). But QB Aaron Rodgers was fantastic once again, including a sick touchdown pass to WR James Jones (of course) against CB Richard Sherman while jumping in the air. However, LB Jayrone Elliott was the surprise, big playmaker of the game.
Elliott has been a star of the last two preseasons, but it hadn't carried over into the regular season yet. The Packers tried everyone at outside linebacker in this game and they all struggled to generate a pass rush or contain QB Russell Wilson on the bootleg and cut backs. Most of the pass rush came against Seattle's interior lineman. Elliott was the last outside linebacker to take the field (Peppers, Matthews, Perry, Mulumba, and Neal all played snaps outside before Elliott) but the interception above was the turning point, and his forced fumble on RB Fred Jackson sealed the victory.

The pass coverage had at least one busted coverage and CB Micah Hyde allowed a couple big plays, but generally the coverage was tight and TE Jimmy Graham was held to only one catch. After getting exposed last week in Chicago, CB Sam Shields was rarely seen against the Seahawks (which is probably a good sign that he's getting the job done and we don't see him). The interior of the defensive line (Raji, Daniels, and Pennel) often overpowered the unheralded interior lineman of the Seahawks, and they were the big reason why RB Marshawn Lynch never got going on the ground.

RT Don Barclay struggled badly in the preseason during his first action since injuring his knee in 2014, but he was decent in place of RT Bryan Bulaga. Though it wasn't a perfect performance; he did miss blocks and was overpowered on one sack (LT David Bakhtiari was overpowered on the same play). It wasn't perfect and Rodgers was hit on more plays than I'd like to see, but his lineman overall gave him time to throw and RB James Starks some room to run against a tough run defense.

While Starks did have a great game, except for a first half fumble which, at least, wasn't turned into any points by the Seahawks, it was made possible by an ankle injury to Lacy. The early indication is that it's not serious, so hopefully it will be one of Starks's few big moments in 2015. He's a solid running back, but his track record with injuries makes it unlikely he'd survive an entire season.

It was a small coming out party for WR Ty Montgomery, who didn't blow up the stat sheet (4 receptions for 37 yards) but he had a couple 3rd down receptions on their final scoring drive that helped eat up a lot of clock. Also, he slipped away from Sherman in the first half and drew a 50+ yard pass interference call. It's not going to be all Jones as a replacement for WR Jordy Nelson, and it looks like Montgomery can take on some of the responsibility.

The Packers now get a little more time to recover, and let Lacy's ankle heal, as they don't play until next week Monday night. The Chiefs are a good team but playing them in Lambeau (the Packers last game against the Chiefs was in 2011, when they lost their only regular season game that year on the road in Kansas City) is a big help.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Packers Lose Starting Linebacker Sam Barrington For The Season

LB Sam Barrington is not my favorite player, he had a huge negative grade from Pro Football Focus in 2014 and a slightly negative grade on his only 16 snaps of 2015, but it never helps to lose a starter for the season.
The Packers have already previewed their defense without Barrington. They played most of the Bears game without him, and the different schemes involved a lot of Nate Palmer and Clay Matthews. They were the only other inside linebackers who played last week. LB Jayrone Elliott unexpectedly received some playing time, but maybe that was because LB Nick Perry was stinking up the joint (his negative 4.3 grade from PFF was the worst of any defender last Sunday) and he wasn't playing just so Matthews could spend more time inside.

It's going to be a rocky ride for Palmer, who's new to the inside backer position, still playing with a splint on his injured hand, and now has to wear the speaker helmet for the coaches instructions on the field. Maybe with an extra week to prepare, they'll plan on working rookie Jake Ryan into the defense, though he didn't take the field against the Bears (except on special teams). Without a lot of depth on the inside, the loss of Barrington might become a big problem if Palmer struggles with his role on defense.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Packers Start 2015 1-0: Defeat Bears 31-23

The big story was obviously WR James Jones, who looked like he never left Green Bay. He signed early this week after being released by the New York Giants, and caught two touchdowns with a 3rd that was taken away by a penalty.
Technically the Packers had 30 run plays to only 23 pass attempts, but 8 of those rushes were by QB Aaron Rodgers and one was a lateral to TE Richard Rodgers after the pass protection broke down. So the Packers are keeping their pass heavy ways even though Tom Clements is technically calling the plays now instead of Mike McCarthy. Rodgers still calls a lot of the plays himself, so some things won't change, and again it was a nearly flawless game from Rodgers with a QBR of 94.4, 3 touchdowns and no turnovers. He even looked good when running, though I hope he does less of it as the season goes on.

Only five receivers were targeted, which surprised me because I was expecting the Packers would rely on many receivers to overcome the preseason loss of WR Jordy Nelson. All those targets that would have gone to Nelson last season have to go somewhere. Instead, they got a break when the Giants released Jones. I wasn't sure he would actually move ahead of WR Ty Montgomery, but it doesn't look like JJ's forgotten any of the offense, while I'm sure Montgomery is still learning it. Though Montgomery did make his mark with a big kickoff return.

Oh, CB Sam Shields. The Bears saw something they liked, and almost every running play and crossing route went to Shields's side of the field. He's great in single coverage down the sidelines, he knocked a touchdown pass away from WR Alshon Jeffrey in the end zone, but he struggled with nearly every open field tackle that came his way. It'll be something to watch as the season goes on, and the absence of starting S Morgan Burnett might have made the situation worse.

LB Clay Matthews is still a beast. He ran across the field to tackle a running back from behind on one play, and on the game clinching INT he ran from left to right tackle to make the interception. He didn't have a huge impact as a pass rusher, it was LB Julius Peppers's day in that department, but as long as Matthews's is healthy and still running at full speed, it's only a matter of time until the sacks come.

LB Nate Palmer in pass coverage. As you might expect, there's been some rough patches watching Palmer, a former college defensive end, adapt to life as a pass covering inside linebacker in the NFL. And he's coming off a lost season, and played the entire preseason with a giant club on his injured hand. The Packers lost LB Sam Barrington mid-game with an ankle injury, and though Barrington's no great shakes in pass coverage either, he's still probably better than Palmer.

As much as they struggled with RB Matt Forte on defense, they once again had no problem with QB Jay Cutler (who always seems to play his worst against the Packers) and the offense hummed along with the addition of Jones. Next week they host the Seahawks, who are looking for answers after their upset loss to the Rams, in arguably the biggest regular season game of the season.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Packers Beat Saints On Thursday and Set Their 53 Man Roster on Saturday

Few projected starters took the field for the Green Bay Packers last Thursday against the Saints, and those that did see the field like DE Mike Daniels weren't there for long. It was the QB Brett Hundley show again as the Packers have found a NFL starting QB in the 5th round but I'm not sure if anyone played well enough on Thursday to have changed the team's mind.
WR Ty Montgomery didn't take the field against the Saints which looked like a sign that he had the No. 3 job locked up, that was until the Giants released WR James Jones. He hasn't been gone for long and should step right back in. Plus he's been working this year with former Packer coach Ben McAdoo in New York. Though Janis catches a TD pass in almost every preseason game, he also vanishes for stretches and does drop a pass or two. White is a handy emergency receiver who's familiar with the system but he has either a drop or penalty in every game. I love Abbrederis's game, but he had a fumble in his only preseason game played (ball security in the preseason is huge) and he hasn't been healthy over the last two years.

They keep nine offensive lineman. OL Don Barclay and Josh Walker led everyone in snaps played this preseason, but neither of them was very good. At times, as many as four starting lineman were out with injuries, so this might have to do more with keeping depth than quality.

RB Alonzo Harris stays, RB Rajion Neal is released. I'm a little surprise that either of them were kept. It had to help Harris that he's a big guy, he out weighs Lacy, and McCarthy generally prefers size and power.

They keep five defensive lineman. This could become a seven man rotation after DE Datone Jones and DT Letroy Guion finish their suspensions but they won't have much depth for their first game. Despite being a 3rd round pick, Thornton never did show much (though he was never terrible either) and his release isn't a big surprise. I'm not sure how DT Josh Boyd has kept his job, the Saints shoved him all over the place in the 1st quarter, but he'll be part of the rotation in 2015. Hopefully Pennel and Gaston play bigger roles during the regular season than Boyd.

They keep nine linebackers. I'm a little surprised to see LB Nate Palmer survived the transition to inside backer while wearing a club on his broken hand, but his rivals (like Carl Bradford) never surpassed him. LB James Vaughters had a nice preseason and it would be good to see him back, and LB Joe Thomas (though he's too small) is another quality player, though neither brings something that they don't currently have on the roster from another player. I hope they find a role for rookie 4th round LB Jake Ryan during the regular season.

They'll have three rookie cornerbacks on the 53-man roster. CB Ladarius Gunter was the surprise of the preseason and it's not at all to see him make the roster in addition to their two top draft choices, who both struggled as the preseason wrapped up. They really needed someone like Gunter to emerge because they lost three veteran CBs this offseason (Williams, House, Bush) and they needed replacements. Who'll be that 3rd CB, someone who occasionally lines up outside in place of Shields or Hayward? Gunter deserves the job on merit but it's not clear he's actually moved ahead of either Russell or Rollins so far.

It's a pretty deep roster and while WR Jordy Nelson's loss casts a shadow over the preseason, he's the only player currently on the I.R. In recent years, the Packers have sometimes had several players on the I.R. to start the season, so Nelson's injury is huge but overall the roster is in good health. Compare that to their first opponent, the Bears, who have five players on I.R. right now. It does seem like Aaron Rodgers is correct and the preseason is too long, especially that fourth game that probably changed their roster little, but I don't see how that would have avoided Nelson's knee injury. Bring on the Bears!

Monday, August 31, 2015

2015 Preseason Game 3: Packers Lose To Eagles 39-26, Down 25-0 After 1st Quarter

The 1st quarter against the Eagles was as bad as it gets for the Green Bay Packers. It was a complete team meltdown, but mostly it was the defense just not defending:
The special teams started off the game by allowing a 67 yard kickoff return. P Tim Masthay looked terrible early (but better later) and the Eagles had fantastic field position on almost every possession. QB Brett Hundley looked great overall but his first pass attempt led to a shoulder injury for WR Randall Cobb (it might be minor) and his second one turned into a pick-six when TE Richard Rodgers slipped and fell while running his route. And all the penalties, penalties, and more penalties.

And unfortunately this just happens sometimes. Especially early in the season. Last season, the Packers were bad in Week 1 at Seattle, then at home in Week 2 against the Jets, and lastly in Week 3 in Detroit, before Aaron Rodgers told everyone to R-E-L-A-X and they won 13 of their last 16 games.

There was a lot of bad on defense. LB Sam Barrington was abused in coverage, and while he's not my favorite player, he was about average against the pass last season. There was little pass rush and QB Sam Bradford was barely touched in the pocket. The running lanes for the Eagles' running backs were enormous. But the Packers weren't doing anything special in their scheme either; they seemed to be in their standard nickel package the entire time. The Packers' D isn't the best in the NFL and once in a while they're going to have a bad quarter or two. And it was very nice to see LB Clay Matthews, healthy and back on the field.

Injuries, injuries, injuries. Cobb was the worst news, and it didn't look good for CB Micah Hyde either, who was taken off on a cart. RT Bryan Bulaga twisted his ankle, but later in the game, after getting some ice on it, he was sitting on the bench and putting his shoe back on. He didn't look seriously injured. I'm expecting the entire starting offensive line will be ready to play by Week 1, and that'll be a big help.

Hundley played with the first team offense but he only had RB Eddie Lacy for 4 carries, and he only played with two starting offensive lineman. So his performance with much less than the 1st string offense against the Eagles 1st string defense looks even better. I hope he's never needed in 2015 but after the 2013 collarbone debacle, the Packers need a reliable backup, when necessary.

WRs Jeff Janis, Ty Montgomery, and Myles White. They bring different talents to the field, though Montgomery and Janis are similar type deep threats, down the sidelines and in the middle of the field, while White is more of a short yardage menace. I could see the coaches mixing and matching during the season, depending on the match-up and maybe just seeing who has the hot hand.

TE Kennard Backman. He's playing at a thin position, and he finally showed something as a pass receiver. He made a difficult catch behind his body while getting hit, and then turned a short pass into a lunging touchdown reception. He also drew a holding flag, so he's still a rookie and not going to take any serious playing time away from either Quarless or Rodgers, but he's also looking like he'll make the 53-man roster.

RB Rajion Neal. He's had a great camp and starred against the Eagles with a long TD reception, and some hard running behind an offensive line that wasn't giving him much help. I'm not sure they'll keep a fourth running back but he could be back on the practice squad.

So I wouldn't worry too much about the defense but the special teams need a lot of work. Some of that will work itself out after the 53-man roster is set, but some of their problems might not be so easy, such as what to do with Tim Masthay. And the most important thing will be to get everyone healthy.