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.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Jordy Nelson Is Out For The Season And Who's Going To Replace Him

The word from WR Jordy Nelson and his doctors is bad, and his 2015 season is already over.
If I had one complaint about the offense last season; it was a bit top heavy. But there's also no reason to complain that QB Aaron Rodgers had three elite receivers to work with (Nelson, Cobb, and Lacy). Below is the statistical breakdown from Football Outsiders and it includes almost everyone who caught a pass in 2014:
DYAR Passes Rank
Nelson 482 151 2
Cobb 479 127 4
Adams 19 66 63
Boykin -38 12 n/a
Quarless 24 46 22
Rodgers -8 30 34
Lacy 112 55 4
Starks -20 29 46
Using their stat DYAR as a guide, the Packers now have to replace about 40% of their receiving production. Most of that is expected to go to WR Davante Adams but there's no guarantee he'll stop dropping passes and become a consistent 300 DYAR weapon. Maybe they can turn Lacy into a Le'veon Bell type threat as a receiver. They could get more from the tight end position, but last season those two were more of a safety valve than a downfield threat, and the Packers will still need a dump-off option for Rodgers in 2015.

I think the answer is going to be that everyone will have to step up. I'm looking back at the 2012 season, when Nelson and WR Greg Jennings were lost for a combined 13 games due to injuries, and here's the statistical receiving breakdown from Football Outsiders:
DYAR Passes Rank
Cobb 300 104 12
Jones 287 98 13
Nelson 257 73 17
Jennings 38 62 64
Driver 13 13 n/a
Finley 84 88 10
Crabtree 69 12 n/a
D.J. Williams -32 15 n/a
Alex Green -20 29 39
Kuhn 60 18 n/a
C. Benson 45 15 n/a
The Packers got some sneaky good production out of four players (Driver, Crabtree, Kuhn and Benson) who caught just over one pass per game. They didn't have anyone like that in 2014, and maybe Kuhn can do it again in 2015. Whoever wins the battle for the No. 3 tight end might be asked to be like Tom Crabtree. TE Justin Perillo seemed to be the No. 2 tight end during their first preseason game against the Patriots, but he missed the Steelers game with a concussion and TE Kennard Bachman didn't impress against the Steelers.

Maybe WR Ty Montgomery will surprise me, or WR Jeff Janis, but I look at what Davante Adams did in 2014 and find it hard to believe either one of them could be better as a rookie than Adams. Cobb excelled as a rookie in 2011 but he's the exception, not the rule. WR Myles White has his moments in the preseason, along with some drops, and seems like an unlikely savior.

Other than WR Koren Robinson in 2007, I can't think of a veteran receiver that the Packers even tried to plug into Mike McCarthy's offense, and Robinson wasn't a success. James Jones is mentioned now as a trade target, if the Giants do release or trade him, but the Packers drafted three receivers in 2014 to replace him. Plus the Giants wouldn't gain much in trade and Jones has gotten off to a strong start with them. I can't see any other veteran free agent fit, and there should be some demand when teams like the Bears and Panthers are also trying to replace injured wide receivers.

So it's a tough situation for Green Bay. Instead of relying on Nelson to get open against whatever tight coverage faced him, the Packers are probably going to have to get creative with different personnel and spreading the ball around to many receivers.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Packers Lose Preseason Game, Jordy Nelson Probably Tore His ACL

Things might change on Monday after the MRI on WR Jordy Nelson's knee is reported, but it sure looked like an ACL tear on TV because it was a non-contact injury after a reception, like something snapped when he stretched out his leg. And maybe it's not season ending, not all ACL tears are the same anymore, but it will change their season on offense.
There's no doubt that his loss would hurt them, but they've partially been here before, playing a partial season without Nelson. In 2012, he missed several games because of a hamstring injury, and QB Aaron Rodgers's stats...looked about the same in 2012 as they did in 2014. Here's how they overcame his absences and here's one big difference.

WR Randall Cobb and WR James Jones. These two took over as the Packers's leading receivers in 2012 without Nelson. Cobb's still in town doing his thing, and while Jones is gone, WR Davante Adams is expected to do more in 2015 and can take over Jones's role. Now the Packers still did get some healthy games from Nelson, WR Greg Jennings, and TE Jermichael Finley, and the rest of the 2015 receiving core (Will Montgomery, Jeff Janis, and Andrew Quarless/Richard Rodgers) isn't at those players' 2012 levels. If Aaron Rodgers can coax two 60 reception, 600 yards seasons out of two of those players, they won't be too far off of their 2012 pace in 2015.

RB Eddie Lacy. While the receiver depth in 2015 isn't as strong as it was in 2012, the Packers didn't have a running game in 2012. That season, RB Alex Green was their leading rusher, and his 2012 performance makes their decision to draft Lacy in 2013 even more obvious in hindsight.

As for the rest of the preseason game, it was disappointing to allow 15 unanswered points to end it and lose (even it was the preseason) and there were a couple of culprits:

QB Brett Hundley. He looked good against the Patriots, and looked like a confused rookie against the Steelers. He'll get a couple more chances in their last preseason games to get some on-field experience before he spends most of the regular season on the inactive portion of the 53-man roster.

LT/RT Don Barclay. After a bad game against the Patriots, he was even worse against the Steelers. He got to play 1st team LT while David Bakhtiari is out with a knee injury and he allowed multiple sacks, including the safety while Rodgers was still in at QB and the hit on Scott Tolzien that knocked him out of the game with concussion symptoms. The bigger problem is that they don't have an obvious second choice to replace Barclay. OL JC Tretter played some tackle (poorly) last season, though I haven't seen him lined up at tackle once this preseason, and he's probably the next best in-house option.

Backup and rookie cornerbacks. While CB LaDarius Gunter continues to look like another undrafted CB gem from the U (following in Sam Shields's footsteps) and rookie 1st round CB Damarious Randall had an INT, rookie 2nd round CB Quinten Rollins struggled and so did a number of backups. With the exception of Rollins, none of these DBs should have been expected to make anything other than the practice squad, so it's not exactly the biggest concern.

Penalties. Especially the roughing the passer and punter 4th quarter penalties that helped the Steelers come back. Again, these penalties were committed by players that weren't expected to make the team, so it's not a big problem.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Green Bay Packers Week 1 Preview

Below is a sponsored post about the questionable decision to rely on QB Jay Cutler as your fantasy quarterback in 2015 and how every Packer receiver and back is a great fantasy option. Should Lacy be every draft's top overall pick? I'm also all-in on WR Davante Adams as a solid fantasy option this season. The Packers's defense might be pretty good if one of their rookie cornerbacks can quickly become an interception machine.

Football season is officially upon us, as teams have reported to training camp in preparation for the 2015 schedule. This is a time for optimism, as just about every team in the NFL feels like they have a chance to make the playoffs. However, one team feeling especially confident is the Green Bay Packers. It all starts with a week one match up against the Chicago Bears. On paper, this should be a victory for Green Bay even on the road. Will they be able to get off to a hot start before the big week 2 matchup at home against Seattle?

The Chicago Bears had obvious struggles last year all season long. After deciding to bring back Jay Cutler, he did not really live up to expectations. Some people have him as one of their fantasy football sleeper picks 2015, but it just seems a bit too risky to rely on him in the passing game. Chicago did give him a new weapon in Kevin White, but he is already going through some injury issues in training camp. As of right now, no one even knows when he will be able to contribute in what would be his first NFL game.

On defense, Chicago seems pretty lost as well. They should be somewhat improved from last year, but that isn’t saying much. They were one of the worst teams in the NFL on that side of the ball, and Green Bay made them pay in the two matchups last year. Scoring a combined 93 points, the Packers were simply unstoppable. Most of key players on offense return for Green Bay in 2015, but they need to remember that this is a new year. Everyone is well aware of what Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and the rest of the offense can do, so Chicago will have some sort of plan to limit them. They will also be a bit motivated since this is the first week of the season and they were embarrassed twice by the Packers in 2014.

Losing by a combined 62 points can definitely motivate a team to try to lay it all on the line to make a statement win in week one. As much as Chicago will be trying, it just doesn’t appear as though they have the talent to beat Green Bay right now. They did make some moves that should improve this team in 2015, but they aren’t a legitimate Super Bowl contender in 2015 like the Packers. Green Bay could be looking ahead slightly to Seattle, but that will only keep the game close. The Packers win, but it isn’t nearly as easy as last year. Look for a win by one, maybe two touchdowns to kick off the year.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Packers Cruise In Preseason Opener: 22-11 Over Patriots

During the 1st quarter, when QB Aaron Rodgers was in the game, the Packers couldn't score on multiple red zone opportunities. The backup defense failed to contain on either edge at the start of the 2nd quarter when RB Jonas Gray ran for a 55 yard touchdown and then a two-point conversion. The Packers also failed to convert on either of their two point conversion attempts. I mention these bad plays at the start of this post because other than those problems, the Packers were in control in every other aspect of this game and wasn't even as close as the score might indicate. Also the stats below don't reflect all the penalty yards the Patriots gave up.
The backup quarterbacks. After a sloppy performance in the televised practice on Family Night, I was a little down on the backup QBs. But against the Patriots, Scott Tolzien and Brett Hundley each threw a touchdown pass and neither had a turnover. That doesn't sound like a major accomplishment, but these preseason games have featured a lot of bad backup quarterback play over the past couple seasons. That's promising.

The 2015 draft class. 1st round CB Damarious Randall sat out with a groin injury which probably gave more playing time to 2nd round CB Quinten Rollins and undrafted CB LaDarius Gunter, and both of them played like they were ready to start in Week 1. Gunter came away with a nice INT when he stole a bouncing ball right in front of the receiver, while Rollins seemed to be running the receiver's routes for them and missed out on an couple of interceptions in the 2nd quarter. 3rd round WR Ty Montgomery didn't light up the box score as a return man but he looked really comfortable on special teams, and he caught a couple passes too. 4th round LB Jake Ryan had 6 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for losses, and 1 QB hit; he looked like the downfield, hard charging inside LB I've been hoping they would find for the past few seasons.

WR Jeff Janis. He's had some drops in camp and appeared to be on the outside of a roster with too many receivers, then he goes and catches a touchdown. He can be a deep threat with his speed and size (and single coverage) even if he isn't often a target.

The second string defense and second string offensive line. It's always a little deceptive to see the backups beating up on other backups (DE Jayrone Elliott's outside rush doesn't look as fast in the regular season) but they were flying around there and hustling to every play, like a pack of guys battling for a roster spot should look. There were a couple of free rushes to the quarterback and some blown blocking assignments, but mostly held up better than I've come to expect from preseason pass protection.

RT Don Barclay. He'll probably be given some slack for playing in his first game in over a year after a serious knee injury, but he was beaten badly on a couple plays. They have some good options (Taylor and Tretter) for the backup jobs on the inside, but Barclay's their best option as a backup tackle. LT Jeremy Vujnovich played better on the other side but he isn't obviously a better option at this time.

TE Andrew Quarless. He too probably deserves a break after a terrible past few weeks off the field, but he got off to a terrible start as the starting TE. He cut a route short of a 1st down on a 3rd down reception and then got blown up on his run blocking assignment when they went for it on 4th down. He also had a drop pass on the next drive. It took a while for TE Richard Rodgers to find the field, I didn't see him until after TE Justin Perillo got into the game, so Quarless should be the starter (depending on if he gets suspended to start the season).

RBs John Crockett and Alonzo Harris. They each scored a touchdown and they give the Packers a couple more running backs to think about. They were also facing a bunch of backups.  which included a keystone cops moment when on Harris's touchdown run, three Pats defenders ran into each other instead of tackling Harris.

It's just a preseason game, but there was very little bad to come out of it. No injuries and a really good showing from the 2015 draft class. Another preseason road trip is coming up to Pittsburgh on Sunday August 23rd.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Packers Backup QB Situation: Patriots Release Flynn and Sign Lindley

I had just wrote about how the backup QBs didn't impress on Family Night, and then this happened, but I don't think it'll change anything for the Green Bay Packers:
If Matt Flynn was released because he was outplayed by Lindley, then that would be very bad. Ryan Lindley is a terrible NFL quarterback and Flynn should never lose a roster battle with him. But that does not appear to have been what happened.

I'm not exactly sure why Flynn didn't pass his physical but it might have something to do with his elbow and there might be something really wrong with it. The injury first surfaced in 2013 and he might have hurt it during a 2012 preseason game with the Seahawks. The Packers were so desperate for help in 2013 that they might have signed Flynn (and re-signed him in 2014) despite this concern. It might explain why they finally had to let him go and draft a young QB (Brett Hundley) in much better health.

I wish a healthy Matt Flynn were available to solidify the No. 2 QB spot while Hundley has time to develop as the No. 3, however, that doesn't look like an option. They probably have to get QB Scott Tolzien ready enough to be competent enough if he's forced to play.

Packers Family Saturday Night Practice

It's just another practice, but it takes place in front of 67,000 and is live streamed, so it's not just another day of training camp for the Green Bay Packers.
A few things I took away from the practice:

The backup quarterbacks struggled. QB Aaron Rodgers also threw a pick but I'm not worried about him. All three backups have NFL potential but none of them, so far, has shown that they can put it all together in a game setting. QB Scott Tolzien would seem to be the leader in that category since he's been with them since 2013, but he didn't get into the end zone on the two-minute drill to end practice, and he had a long discussion with Mike McCarthy afterwards, appearing to discuss what went wrong. McCarthy looked a bit frustrated during the conversation.

The backup wide outs dropped passes. WR Davante Adams put on a show during practice, and you know Nelson and Cobb are one and two on the depth chart. Rookie 3rd round WR Ty Montgomery has gotten off to a great start (and he was a great college player), and even practice squad WR Myles White has received praised. They look like the top five receivers and everyone else (Abbrederis and Janis being the most notable) appear to be on the wrong side of the roster bubble because they aren't healthy (Abbrederis has been recovering from a concussion) or been dropping passes.

NT B.J. Raji. I'm not his biggest fan, but it was good to see him back on the field. With the exception of second year DT Mike Pennel, who had a couple moments last season, they played without a nose tackle last season. Seeing Raji's large frame back on the field actually looked like a good sign for the defense.

Monday, August 03, 2015

The First Week of Packers Training Camp Is In The Books

Though the Green Bay Packers started training camp last week, I haven't been too interested in who's playing in the first few practices of the season. It'll be the preseason games that really matter. But early season injuries are a big deal and several players were held out of practice to start the second week.
Only four names really need to be discussed.

LB Clay Matthews had been practicing but he was held out for the first practice this week due to "knee soreness" and I don't think it's a big deal. Matthews said he's "just taking care of my body" and they probably don't want him to overdue it. Plus it's more practice time inside for LB Nate Palmer, who's coming off a lost 2014 season due to injury and changing positions.

WR Jared Abbrederis. I thought he would need a strong 2015 camp to bounce back from a lost 2014 season (knee injury) and that hasn't worked out for him so far. I'm a little worried about this concussion, he insisted that he's only had one concussion in college, but that could potentially be more of a problem than a bad knee. There is a lot of competition at receiver but he still has the preseason games to prove his worth.

LB Mike Neal. He's coming off a terrible 2014 season, and it's not clear when he'll be returning from offseason hernia surgery. They have some depth outside at linebacker in the meantime.

CB Quinten Rollins. Their 2nd round pick was held out for the first week with a hamstring injury. His absence gave more screen time to undrafted rookie CB LaDarius Gunter and he looks like a keeper, which isn't a problem since they have to replace the three cornerbacks they lost in free agency. Also, the news that CB Casey Hayward had foot surgery this offseason gives me some concern about his long-term future, which potentially makes Rollins even more important.