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.