Monday, December 26, 2016

Packers (9-6) Build Big Lead, Fade In 4th Quarter, Beat Vikings in Lambeau, 38-25

The talk that QB Aaron Rodgers is in the mix for MVP is nice but it ignores his mid-season slump and a couple early season games when he couldn't stop fumbling the football. Though he's finishing up the 2016 season on a hot streak.

Over the past few games, with the return of TE Jared Cook from injury and the elevation of Ty Montgomery to starter at running back, the offense has transformed from good to great. A few weeks ago, I knew they needed to find some threat of a running game to open up the passing game, and Montgomery has provided a legitimate rushing threat that defenses have to consider. The return of Cook, as a hybrid WR/TE who always has a few inches height advantage over any defender, has been an additional wrinkle. But it's really been the effective running game that's allowed some wide open spaces for Jordy Nelson downfield.
The injuries are starting to pile up (RT Bryan Bulaga and CB Ladarius Gunter both left the game early) though they are something that every NFL team is dealing with at this point. The real problem is that the cornerbacks aren't getting any better.

CB Damarious Randall was benched last week but he ended up playing a lot after Gunter was injured. It looks like his confidence (or his knowledge of the defensive schemes) are shot. He spent a lot of time looking around at his teammates after a Viking receiver (usually WR Adam Thielen) torched him. Unfortunately CB Quinten Rollins is just as ineffective, more because of bad technique (getting turned around by a receiver or not enough recovery speed). To be fair, CB Micah Hyde gave up a late touchdown reception too. Other than giving the undrafted rookies a shot (which isn't a good option at all) or moving a safety or two to cornerback (again, not a good idea this late in the season), there's not much to do other than stick with those top three cornerbacks.

And that is the biggest issue going forward. They still need to beat the Lions next week. Then how can these cornerbacks possibly hold up over a four game playoff run to the Super Bowl? Every contender has some significant weakness but being bad against any NFL passing attack is a big problem. I'm enjoying the current winning streak and looking forward to a big game next week against the Lions, but anything afterwards would just be gravy. This defense doesn't look good enough to hold up for a playoff run.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Packers (8-6) Survive The 4th Quarter, Hang Onto Defeat The Bears, 30-27

I'm writing this after the Redskins lost at home to the Panthers on Monday night. With the loss, the Redskins fell out of the final Wild Card spot and behind the Green Bay Packers in the playoff standings. The Redskins are one of four teams (along with the Lions, Buccaneers, and Vikings) battling the Packers for two playoff spots (the second Wild Card spot and NFC North title). All four of those teams lost this weekend, except the Packers, who now can win the NFC North title by winning their last two games.

So losing a big 17 point lead on the road against the last-place Bears looks embarrassing but what's really important is the win. Something none of their playoff rivals could do in Week 15.

QB Aaron Rodgers doesn't look quite right with injuries to both legs. WR Davante Adams dropped two touchdown passes. WR Randall Cobb was questionable right up until game time, and he's obviously hurt because he wasn't even targeted once against the Bears. Luckily Rodgers had an explosive ground game (WR/RB Ty Montgomery!) because none of his wide receivers were useful to him. Except for WR Jordy Nelson, who also had a big drop, but made up for it with this great route which turned what should have been an overtime game into a last second win.
Rodgers was really good and that pass to Nelson was great, but the story was Ty Montgomery. If his position change from WR to RB wasn't official, it should be now. His ability to find openings in space and break tackles makes him the No. 2 weapon behind Nelson. Adams will bounce back and TE Jared Cook has quietly become a dangerous option since he returned from injury. If they can get anything from Cobb down the stretch, this offense has suddenly become very dangerous.

The defense struggled against QB Matt Barkley, of all people. He had a big statistical game (except for the 3 INTs plus one fumble) and he was very good at directing their offense (when he wasn't turning the ball over). The pass rush wasn't much of a factor because Barkley was able to get the ball out so quickly. That was made possible because CB Damarious Randall was giving so much cushion to the receivers he was covering. Barkley seemed to ignore CB Ladarious Gunter almost the entire game and focused on throwing to whoever Randall was covering.

The coaches noticed too and Randall was benched during the 4th quarter. Unfortunately his replacement was CB Quinten Rollins, who was torched just as badly as Randall. Both corners gave up too much ground at the snap and seemed more concerned about getting beat deep than giving up a short pass. But it was those short passes that wrecked everything the Packers were trying to do on defense.

This isn't a new story. The pass defense has been a problem all season long. CB Sam Shields is badly missed while Randall and Rollins have regressed in their second seasons. There isn't an obvious replacement without moving CB Micah Hyde from his current hybrid role into a true outside corner, but that potentially weakens two positions. Randall had a bad game against the Bears but he's had better games in the past, and he remains their best option for the rest of the season.

They should be pumped for their home finale of 2016 against the Vikings, who looked like they had completely quit on the season when they got demolished by the Colts in the first half last week. They can't just assume the Lions will lose in Dallas and they need to beat the Vikings, and then they can focus on beating the Lions in Detroit on New Year's Day.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Packers (7-6) Clobber The Seahawks, 38-10, In Lambeau

I was optimistic about this game though the Green Bay Packers entered it as an underdog and the Seahawks have statistically been a much better team this season. But you can throw stats out the window when it comes down to one game, and one team showed up with their worst performance of the year.
One stat that defined this game; turnovers. Seattle had 6 turnover and the Packers had none.

Even if the turnover battle was even, the Packers might have had an edge. Their offensive line is the team's unsung MVP and they kept QB Aaron Rodgers clean for almost the entire game. He had plenty of time to wait for a receiver to get open as the pass rush wasn't a problem. CB Richard Sherman was his usual All-Pro self, but the Seahawks badly missed FS Earl Thomas. His replacement, FS Steven Terrell, didn't provide the same play making at all. That's a tough role to fill but Seattle's defense didn't have anyone to fill it.

TE Jimmy Graham, who I worried about coming into this game, didn't catch his first pass until midway through the 4th quarter. But he was a factor on the first INT, when Graham slipped and SS Morgan Burnett jumped in front of him for the interception. Though the morning's snow was all cleared away by game time, the Seahawks still seemed to have trouble with their footing. Burnett's INT was a great play by him, but the next 4 INTs were a series of missed balls and deflections that landed right into a Packer defender's hands. Each defender did a great job to keep their eye on the ball, but it just bounced their way all game long. Seattle had an opening drive for a field goal, and scored a late garbage time touchdown, but otherwise almost everything was working for the Packers' defense. It was a strange sight, considering how the defense fell apart during their recent four game losing streak.

The Packers had to keep winning, and they did it. Now they finish the season with the rematch stretch against the NFC North, three games they probably have to win. They can move ahead of the Vikings (7-6) in a must-win game in two weeks at Lambeau but they can't over look the Bears next week in Chicago, despite the fact they haven't lost in Chicago since 2010. The Bears did beat them last season and they're still playing hard for their coaches and fans.

The big problem remains the Lions, who sit 2 games ahead in the standings with only 3 remaining. However, the Packers finish their regular season on a must-win game in Detroit, so they can close the gap by one game then (and they have the tie-breaker due to the earlier win over the Lions in Lambeau). Meanwhile, the Lions other remaining two games are brutal (at Giants, at Cowboys).

And worst of all is the injury to QB Matthew Stafford's throwing hand. That is a major problem for them against any NFL team for the rest of the season. QB Derek Carr looked terrible last week trying to throw with an injured finger on his throwing hand. QB Carson Palmer would disagree but his finger injury last season held back the Cardinals' offense over the final few games. The Lions will try to remain positive but that is a major problem for them.

Friday, December 09, 2016

What To Expect When The Packers Host The Seahawks

I've been dreading this game because the Seahawks keep looking better each week. There are some odd things about this match-up, such as that the Seahawks' leading rusher will be playing for the Packers. As I looked closer at the match-ups, there are some major concerns and the Seahawks are 3 point favorites for a good reason, but there are reasons to be optimistic.
The loss of FS Earl Thomas, one of their best defensive players over the past several seasons, is a huge blow. In his place is FS Steven Terrell, who was released by the Jaguars and Texans before earning a spot with the Seahawks, and this will be his 2nd NFL start. On what might be a snowy field. He'll have a lot of help from his talented defensive teammates but his lack of experience could help the Packers.

Football Outsiders currently has the Seahawks ranked as the 5th best defense, just below the Eagles, who the Packers played pretty well against two weeks ago. Though the wheels have seem to come off the Eagles D over the past couple games. The Packers did well against the Eagles by holding up against their pass rush (except for rookie RG Jason Spriggs, who struggled against All-Pro DT Fletcher Cox, though RG T.J. Lang might return this week). If the Packers can protect QB Aaron Rodgers, then they should have some success against them.

The defense is a bigger concern. Their outside pass rush is weakened by the loss of OLB Nick Perry and who knows who might be healthy to play at the other LB spots. While Seattle's offense is only ranked 13th overall, that's about the same as the Lions and Colts. The Lions tore apart the secondary while the Colts only did OK (Luck was intercepted twice). The good news is that against the Lions their secondary was falling apart with injuries, and it's somewhat stable at the moment since CB Damarious Randall has returned. They might do better against WR Doug Baldwin but TE Jimmy Graham is problem. And QB Russell Wilson has been running better the past couple weeks too. RB Thomas Rawls had a huge game last week against the Panthers, but he's their 4th biggest concern (at best). It'll be a small victory if they can keep them under 30 points, though if the weather's bad, then the game might be low scoring.

If the Packers win, it'll be a close win, but they have a chance, and I'm optimistic.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Packers (6-6) Beat The Texans In The Snow, 21-13

It's hard to arrive at any conclusions about the Green Bay Packers during a snow game when the elements turned the ordinary into a challenge. Each team had some forgettable moments with turnovers and bad play from their secondaries that could have either made a game of it for the Texans or turned it into a blow out for the Packers. Sometimes it looked like the players were on skis. FB Aaron Ripkowski had a Texans's defensive lineman sliding alongside him on his touchdown run. On the touchdown pass to WR Jordy Nelson, LG Lane Taylor was pushed back like a blocking sled (Rodgers rolled out to his left to avoid him) and slid back a couple feet while standing straight up.
The offense still can't run the ball much and it's kind of strange how it's hard to tell whether its RB Christine Michael or WR Wes Montgomery carrying the ball. No receiver other than Nelson had more than 19 yards receiving and WR Davante Adams had one of those forgettable home games (1 catch on 7 targets) that he had too often last season. The offensive line was great in protection (1 sack, 4 QB hits) and rookie RG Jason Spriggs looked a lot better this week in place of T.J. Lang than he did last week, when he had to hold off All-Pro DT Fletcher Cox. They didn't have much success on 3rd down (33% conversion rate) which is why they lost the time of possession battle and didn't have much offensive yardage (309 in total) for the game.

A long final drive helped push QB Brock Osweiler's stats up to about the same as Rodgers, and it soured what was looking like a decent performance by the Packers' secondary. While it still didn't look great for Osweiler, remember that he's arguably the worst full time starting QB in the NFL and the Texans' passing "attack" is also the worst. The run defense was weirdly good; great most of the time on early downs but then they would give up big chunks of yards (multiple times for 1st downs) on long draw plays that shouldn't have worked that well. They're looking much better against lesser offensives but they haven't turned the corner either.

It was a game they had to win to keep their weak playoff dreams alive. Onward next week to face the Seahawks in a much tougher game when they'll need everything to go right for them in order to win it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Packers (5-6) End Losing Streak, Beat Eagles in Philly, 27-13

The Green Bay Packers entered their Monday night game on a four game losing streak. The Eagles were ranked No. 2 overall in DVOA according to Football Outsiders and were far and away the best team at home this season. So, of course, the Packers were in control for the entire game and cruised to a 27-13 victory. Unfortunately there were a couple of dark clouds.
And LB Clay Matthews injured his shoulder. He's not the same player anymore but with all the injuries at ILB (both Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez missed this game) it would be a huge loss if he couldn't play next week. I'd think Rodgers's hamstring injury would have to be very bad for him to miss any playing time, but it should limit his ability to run as he had been doing all season.

This might have been the offense's best game of the season, though they still can't run the ball (even with their 1st rushing TD from a running back). Rookie RG Jason Spriggs had his first NFL start in place of T.J. Lang, and he was asked to take on All Pro DT Fletcher Cox. He struggled, he was pushed deep into the backfield on multiple plays and Cox got free on a stunt that led to a personal foul, but later in the game C Corey Linsley started helping on double-teams. I was ready to give up on WR Davante Adams after the first three weeks but he keeps getting better as the season goes on, though he still doesn't have the break out speed to separate on deep routes. RB Christine Michael was only in for a few snaps and the sooner he can earn the trust of the offensive coaches for more playing time, the better. Considering how well the Eagles's defense has been this season, this was a spectacular game for the offense.

The defense wasn't epic (13 points, 292 yards allowed) but it looked epic in comparison to what's been on the field over the past four weeks. During that four game slide, they faced three Top 10 pass offenses, according to Football Outsiders (Falcons #3, Redskins #6, Titans #8), and all three shredded them. Their loss to the Colts will stand out all season long as one in which they just didn't show up as a team, but those three road games, against top pass offenses while their own secondary was dealing with injuries, was a disaster. The return of CB Damarious Randall helped, but the Eagles were missing a bunch of skill players (RB Ryan Mathews, WR Nelson Agholor; WR Jordan Matthews was injured during the game) and turned a weak offense into a toothless one.

The Eagles entered this game ranked No. 22 overall in pass offense according to Football Outsiders. The Packers' remaining opponents (Texans-No. 32, Seahawks-No. 7, Bears-No. 21, Vikings-No. 14, Lions-No. 9) don't have nearly the passing firepower as the Falcons, Redskins and Titans. The Seahawks remain a tough match-up, but the Seahawks and Eagles are ranked about the same by DVOA (No. 1 and No. 2 according to Football Outsiders entering this week) and the Packers were in control for nearly the entire game in Philly. There's no reason they can't do it again in two weeks against the Seahawks in Lambeau. While the Vikings and Lions present some problems, the fact that neither of those teams can run the ball at all is a big help.
It's not likely that they'll actually win out and finish 10-6 but their win over the Eagles showed it's possible. One step at a time, beat the Texans next week and we'll see.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Packers (4-6) Keep Losing, Fourth Straight Loss, This Time Its the Redskins 42-24

In their first two losses of the season to the Vikings and Cowboys, turnovers by the offense doomed them. Then in their loss to the Colts, it was basically everything (offense, defense, special teams) coming out flat. And in three of their last four losses (Falcons, Titans, and now Redskins), the offense kept them in the game (their special teams have done nothing positive this season) but their pass defense has just collapsed.

The pass rush is part of the problem, though they usually get at least one big play per week from Julius Peppers, Nick Perry and Mike Daniels. But it's the secondary that has fallen apart. At the end of this loss to the Redskins, the only healthy cornerback on the field was LaDarius Gunter, and even he gave up a long touchdown reception. CB Quinten Rollins played in the past couple games, but he's still listed each week on the injury report and it's obvious he's playing through his groin injury. 
There's not much to hope for until DC Dom Capers finds some solution on defense. They aren't going to be great but they shouldn't be giving up 40+ points per game either. At least the offense has been playing well, despite the lack of any running game. The return of TE Jared Cook and the injury to RG Don Barclay (with rookie Jason Spriggs as his replacement) made the offense better this week.

They'll have an extra day next week (in Philadelphia on Monday night) to get ready, and QB Carson Wentz is the worst QB they've seen in a while. The Packers's secondary is obviously shaky and they've drawn the bad luck of facing five Top 10 pass offenses according to Football Outsiders (Falcons #2, Cowboys #3, Titans #6, Redskins #8, Lions #10) and having lost to four of them. They faced three of those teams during their four game losing streak. They still have the Seahawks (#9) and the Lions (#10) waiting to torch their secondary, but if there is a silver lining, most of their other remaining opponents are having trouble passing the ball (Eagles #23, Texans #32, Bears #21, Vikings #15). The NFC North title and the playoffs look out of reach for the first time since 2008, but I'd like to see them win again and get back to .500 for the season.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Packers (4-5) Have Now Lost 4 of 5, Lose in Tennessee to the Titans, 47-25

The 2016 season has been a major disappointment and it continues to trend downward for the Green Bay Packers. They've just lost their second consecutive game to an AFC South opponent with a losing record and once again allowed an early touchdown to fall quickly behind by 7 points.

Against the Titans, on their first offensive play, I don't know if it was sloppy defense or great blocking, LT Taylor Lewan took out both DT Mike Daniels and FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix before RB DeMarco Murray was off to the races.
Overall it was a terrible game for the Packers. They had a ton of penalties (12 for 107 yards) and lost two offensive lineman to injuries during it (Lang and Bakhtiari) which contributed to 5 sacks. On defense, they had no pass rush and their pass coverage was a mess. And for the second consecutive week, their special teams failed with a fumbled punt return and a missed extra point. The offense spent the first couple possessions trying to run the ball while Rodgers was out of sync with his receivers and were down 21-0 by the end of the 1st half.

There's plenty of blame to go around, but the pass coverage was the worst of it. They have to blitz to get a pass rush (where have you gone Nick Perry?) but both CB Demetri Goodson and Quinten Rollins have been a bust as the starter opposite CB Ladarius Gunter. While Gunter is getting better, (he's still had the occasional bad game) Goodson and Rollins are getting worse. The defense is playing some zone coverage to try and help, but that doesn't work when the quarterback has time to throw. There is the hope that the defense could turn it around quickly if both LB Clay Matthews and CB Damarious Randall could return next week.

As bad as they played in this game, they almost got back into it. During the 4th quarter, they were losing by 16 points but driving at the Titans' 41 yard line with 12 minutes to go. On 4th down, TE Richard Rodgers dropped a pass he should have caught for a 1st down. If they could have kept it going and scored a touchdown, they could have cut the lead to one possession with plenty of time remaining.

With an 8-8 finish the most likely scenario for the 2016 Packers, I'd normally consider this a lost season and they should start working in earnest on their college draft scouting. But the Vikings keep losing (4 in a row) and now the Lions are in 1st place in the NFC North with a one game lead over the Packers and a tie-breaker advantage over the Vikings. All three teams are majorly messed up in a one way or another. The Packers haven't been encouraging to watch over the past few weeks but if they can turn it around at any point over the next couple weeks, they should still have a shot at making the playoffs.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Packers (4-4) Lose At Home to the Struggling Colts, 31-26

The Green Bay Packers did feel like they played the first three quarters with low energy. The offense was moving well at times during the first half, but they kept leaving points on the field as six of their first nine offensive possession finished in Indianapolis territory with only had 13 points to show for it. The defense was playing great (at times) and forced the Colts into three-and-out on three of their eleven possessions, but they also allowed three long touchdown drives plus a long drive at the end of the game to run out the clock. And the special teams were a complete disaster. They came out with low energy on the opening kickoff and spent the next three quarters digging the hole deeper.
The Packers' special teams unit had been OK entering this game (it was ranked No. 17 overall) but then allowed two long kickoff returns (one for a touchdown, the other set up a field goal) and K Mason Crosby missed a 48 yard field goal. That's a big deficit to overcome from special teams alone, considering how the offense and defense were playing.

Over the past three games, it seems like the offense now knows how to use it's personnel. They'll go deep with WR Jordy Nelson or WR Jeff Janis (you can't drop that one Jeff!) while the rest of their receivers are better used on short passes or passes out of the backfield to Montgomery or Cobb. What's holding back the offense is the absence of a quality running back and I'm not pinning my hopes on RB James Starks. It is amazing how they can manage 116 yards rushing on 19 carries with scrambles by QB Aaron Rodgers and hand offs to Montgomery.

The defense seemed out-schemed in this game. The Packers played more zone than usual and it worked at times (2 early INTs) but then it gave up chunks of yards on all of the Colts's long touchdown drives. The front four wasn't generating enough pressure against a make-shirt Colts' offensive line which forced the Packers to blitz more with their DBs. That led to some big completions when the blitz didn't get there in time (or when FS Ha Ha Clinton Dix missed a huge sack opportunity on the Colts' last possession).

The only silver lining is that it seems to be a race to the bottom in the NFC North. The Vikings are in free fall, currently on a three game losing streak, and the Lions have moved ahead of the Packers with 5 wins. If the Packers win the rest of their NFC North head-to-head games, then they'll probably win the NFC North. The division winner might finish with only 9 or 10 wins. That's not pretty, but they just need to find any way into the playoffs and hope the team clicks at the right time.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

The Packers and Vikings Just Keep Losing

The Green Bay Packers made some transaction noise on Monday when they released RB Knile Davis. But that wasn't a big surprise. Over the past three seasons, Davis hadn't been able to get onto the field in Kansas City and the Packers saw more good from rookie RB Don Jackson, though neither player has done much over the past two games.

But the big news on Monday was that the Vikings lost, ugly, for the second week in a row. The Packers have lost two of their last three games and I thought they were giving up too much ground on the Vikings to overtake them in the NFC North. Instead, the wheels are coming off for the Vikings.
The Vikings have some problems on defense. They had trouble pressuring QB Jay Cutler on Monday night and rookie SS Jayron Kearse struggled in his first NFL start (replacing injured SS Andrew Sendejo). But overall these are minor complaints and as many as five of their defensive starters might be traveling to the Pro Bowl at the end of the season. Their big problem is the offensive line.

The Bears were all over QB Sam Bradford while only rushing four players, allowing their inside linebackers to drop back in coverage and smother all the short passes he threw to his running backs and tight ends, while giving him no time to look down field for his wide receivers. They were a disaster on running plays too, failing to get any push or create any cut-back lanes. The Vikings have now scored only 10 points in each of their last two games, and both of their touchdowns were late points in garbage time when the game was out of reach.

They'll get a breather next week when they host the Lions, and go up against the worst defense in the NFL. But then they travel to D.C. to play the Redskins and return home to host the Cardinals. Then they play on a short week and travel to Detroit, before they host the Cowboys on December 1st. While they'll beat the Lions next week, those next four games are all challenging for different reasons. If they don't solve their offensive line problems, what looked like a 13-3 team a couple weeks ago is starting to look 10-6 (or worse).

If the Vikings could run the ball and had a mobile quarterback, they could adjust to having the worst tandem of tackles in the NFL (LT Jake Long and RT T.J. Clemmings). But they only moved the ball well against the Bears when they got their wide receivers involved (Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen) and Bradford needs time to throw to be able to get them the ball.

Although the Packers have lost two of their last three games, and are looking ahead to a three game stretch on the road after they host the Colts next week, the Vikings are unraveling at the right time to give the Packers a chance to regain their footing (and health in the secondary) to overtake them in the NFC North race.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Packers (4-3) Stumble on the Road, Lose in Atlanta, 32-33

This was about as even a game as I've seen in recent years from the Green Bay Packers. Neither team's defense could do much to stop the other team's offense. The score was obviously close, a one point margin, but nearly everything was close during this game. Yardage, time of possession, neither team had a turnover (WR Davante Adams fumbled but it went out of bounds), neither team bothered much with their running games, etc.
The Packers's offense is going to be limited for the rest of the season by their inability to run the ball but it's getting better in some ways. WR Jordy Nelson had one of his best games and forced the Falcons to commit more defenders in coverage to stop him. The absence of WR Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery hurt, but they've found the best role for Adams (short routes instead of mid-range to deep sideline routes) and they used Nelson, WR Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis and even Geronimo Allison (his first game off the practice squad) to work downfield. With all those receivers running deeper routes, it opened up a lot of short routes for Adams (who could make one defender miss and pick up several more yards) and huge running lanes for QB Aaron Rodgers, who ran for a career high 60 yards and multiple first downs.
CB LaDarius Gunter has had an up-and-down season, but this was one of his up-games. He drew WR Julio Jones in coverage and Jones was a non-factor for most of the game, especially after he sprained his ankle in the first half. But the rest of the coverage was poor. The other starting CB (Demetri Goodson) allowed a long TD pass, and they would have had a better match-up against No. 2 WR Mohamed Sanu, who led the Falcons in receptions and receiving yards, if the Packers had their top 3 CBs available.

The late game loss of Gunter was significant too. On the game winning TD pass, the Packers had ILB Jake Ryan lined up in single coverage against Sanu, and being down to two healthy CBs (plus utility DB Micah Hyde) might have been part of the reason they found themselves in such a bad match-up on the decisive play of the game. Shields's long-term health is a concern but the other three players should return and make the defense much better.

This loss hurts. They led for much of the game and the defense couldn't make the late lead hold up. The next two games are more manageable, against the Colts and Titans, before two tough prime time road games at Washington and Philadelphia. The two NFC East games are looming large because they might be the key to a Wild Card spot at the end of the season. They just got to keep focused on winning each game, and getting their missing players back healthy.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Packers (4-2) Bounce Back and Dominate Bears, 26-10

It was close game in the first half because the Green Bay Packers had two drives stall within field goal range and another one end at the Bears's one yard on a failed 4th down run by WR Ty Montgomery. But the game was never in doubt because the Bears's offense never showed up, which was kind of surprising because the Bears's offense came in ranked No. 19 overall vs. the Packers No. 14 overall, according to Football Outsiders. They should have been able to keep pace to some degree but they couldn't do anything except patch together one scoring drive for a field goal in the first half.

The Bears's offense would have been better if they hadn't lost QB Brian Hoyer to a broken arm in the first half, but they already were without WR Eddie Royal, who missed the game due to a toe injury. The Packers have been getting killed by No. 1 receivers but WR Alshon Jeffery, who's having a great season, couldn't get anything going with only 3 receptions on 11 targets. Four days ago, CB Ladarius Gunter was getting torched by the Cowboys but he was looked like a quality NFL CB against the Bears.

The Packers came into this game with an advantage on special teams but they gave that away because K Mason Crosby had his worst night in a while. He missed a field goal and had his first missed extra point since 2014. Those two misses kept it a two score game and theoretically gave the Bears a chance. But their offense played so badly, and backup QB Matt Barclay couldn't do anything except throw 2 INTs, so they never really had a chance.

On offense, it was QB Aaron Rodgers's first 300 yard passing game in a while and he played very well, except for another fumble that was recovered in the end zone by the Bears for their only touchdown. Montgomery had another strong receiving game but his running game is not working. RB Knile Davis was limited because he doesn't know the playbook yet and they weren't able to use him yet. WR Randall Cobb had another great game and it was his 2nd consecutive game with a TD reception. WR Jordy Nelson was a forgotten man. And the big story was the huge game by WR Davante Adams.
I'm not Adams's No. 1 Fan, but he started out the season with a touchdown reception against Jacksonville and he's slowly getting better this season. But I don't want to make too much out of his this game. If you watch all 13 receptions, you'll see that Adams is either wide open due to a busted coverage or being covered by CB De'Vante Bausby. If Bausby's name doesn't ring any bells, it's probably because he was undrafted in 2015 and promoted from the Bears's practice squad about 5 minutes ago. The Packers used a lot of multiple receiver sets to expose Bausby in one-on-one coverage and Adams torched him. He's not going to get that favorable of a match-up every week.

Now the Packers have a little extra time off until they face the Falcons on October 30. Rodgers should like playing in the dome but this should also be a major challenge for them. The Falcons's offense is really humming along so far this season. They're also currently ranked ahead of the Packers according to Football Outsiders, and so far the Packers have beaten all the teams ranked below them while losing to two teams ranked ahead of them.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Packers Surprisingly Make A Trade For Chiefs RB Knile Davis

The depth behind RB Eddie Lacy was already non-existent after RB James Starks had surgery, and something needed to be done at running back. But I thought GM Ted Thompson would be wait until next offseason and the Green Bay Packers would make due with Lacy and WR Ty Montgomery, until Starks returns in a few weeks. Then it was announced that Lacy's ankle sprain is actually something more and he's seeking a second opinion. So the timeline to add depth was moved up to NOW and something had to be done and it was.
The good news is that burst of speed he showed after he got a wide open running lane. He's not a small back (5-10, 227 lbs.) but he has the speed to run away from guys. That extra gear is something the Packers haven't had from a running back in a while. The Chiefs aren't dealing away a problem either, they just have an embarrassment of riches at running back. They already had two quality backs ahead of Davis (Ware and West) and RB Jamaal Charles returned from injury last week. Davis made the roster this year because he's a special teams player (see above) but he was the 4th or 5th running back on the depth chart, which is too many backs for any NFL roster.
While the above aren't actual quotes, it looks true. The Chiefs were probably going to have to release Davis (5 RBs on a 53-man roster isn't workable) as soon as they needed a roster spot. But the Packers aren't the highest team on the waiver wire so they had to give up something to make sure they could get him. A conditional 7th round pick in 2018 is about the smallest draft pick an NFL team can surrender.

The Packers need a running back right NOW, and Davis has legitimate NFL skills. Unfortunately he's still not a very good player. His only significant playing last came in 2013 as a rookie, and according to Football Outsiders, while his teammate Jamaal Charles was the 3rd best RB in the NFL that season, in the same offense, Davis was one of the ten worst backs in the league. And the fumbles, oh the fumbles. He isn't a long-term solution but he's the best player they'll find right now.

The other bad news related to Davis's addition is that they moved CB Sam Shields to I.R. Shields is getting better and expects to play in a few weeks, but the move to I.R. confirmed it's going to still be a few more weeks. The cornerback position has been a dumpster fire this season and the only player who can really turn it around is Shields, but we'll have to wait longer to see him. Rob Demovsky might be correct and it's possible we'll never see Shields in a Packer uniform again. I'd be surprised if the Packers brought him back next season.

So Lacy and Shields are out, and the Packers traded for the best running back who was actually available at the moment. It's a desperation move, but at those two positions, that's the spot they're in. The good news is that Davis can help, especially if he can avoid fumbling the ball.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Packers (3-2) Get Rolled By The Cowboys at Lambeau, 30-16

There were a lot of reasons why the Green Bay Packers should be hanging their heads after trailing for the entire game against the Cowboys, at home, but they never gave themselves a chance with four turnovers.
Five fumbles (three lost) and one terrible INT from QB Aaron Rodgers. Two more fumbles from Rodgers who'll have to spend some more time with the wet-ball drill this week. Whatever else was a concern about the Packers on Sunday might have vanished if they had avoided these turnovers. The turnovers are the story of the game. But there were some other problems.

RB Eddie Lacy. His ankle was re-injured and it was again a problem again this week because there's absolutely zero depth behind him. Plan B can't be WR Ty Montgomery, who's useful as a 3rd down/Reggie Bush type of running back, but they need another real running back option behind Lacy. This might not be something that can fixed until the offseason.

QB Aaron Rodgers. His accuracy has been slipping since the middle part of the 2015 season. Against the Cowboys, it was shocking to see him throw that INT right at a defender and miss high to WR Randall Cobb wide open at the back of the end zone. But these are things that normal QBs do. The INT that QB Dak Prescott threw to SS Morgan Burnett was a bad, inaccurate pass, is one example. Rodgers's worst is still very good and this wasn't going to be his greatest game ever, but it would have been pretty good without those fumbles. Avoid the turnovers and he'll be fine, even if he's never quite as good as he was back in 2011.

CB LaDarius Gunter. With Sam Shields missing another game due to his concussion, Quinten Rollins injured, and Damarious Randall missing most of the game with a recurrence of his groin injury, the Packers relied heavily on Gunter, and he fell way short. On his two worst plays, a long completion to WR Terrance Williams and a touchdown reception to WR Cole Beasley, he was looking into the backfield (or maybe he was thinking about jumping a short route) and got burned when the receivers ran to the sidelines. He looked good last week against the Giants but he was exposed badly against the Cowboys. His only possible, non-injured, replacement is CB Demetri Goodson, who's recently returned from his four game suspension, and he marked his return by drawing a flag for pass interference on almost his first play of the game. Theoretically, rookie CB Josh Hawkins could play more, but he was burned badly by the Lions for a long touchdown and he isn't a strong option either. I'm not a Gunter believer, but they don't have too many options at the moment.

The run defense. It was never that good (2 ypc through the first 4 games) and they didn't tackle well in this one. But they aren't that bad either (Elliott had 5.6 ypc) and the truth is somewhere in between. Their inability to stop the run wasn't the reason they lost this game anyway.

The pass rush. It's been a potent force this season but the Cowboys arguably have the best offensive line in the NFL. Outside of the strip sack by LB Julius Peppers, they couldn't get to Prescott in this game. For as much that was going wrong for the defense in this game (bad coverage, bad tackling against the run, no pass rush) it's actually kind of amazing the Cowboys only scored 30 points. Their pass rush will look much better against practically every other opponent the rest of this season.

They don't have too much time to reflect on this loss as the injury depleted Bears (and LG Josh Sitton!) return to Lambeau on Thursday night. I'm never a fan of Thursday night games and this might be a real stinker between two teams coming off ugly home losses. Go Pack Go!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Green Bay Packers vs. New York Giants Game Recap

By Steven Callahan, Writer at the Green Bay Packers Blog.

The Green Bay Packers earned a win that could help them greatly in the big picture in the NFC, defeating the New York Giants 23-16. This win snapped a three game-losing streak the Packers had to Eli Manning and the Giants, who are now in a 2-3 hole. The Packers (3-1) were in full control for the entire game, never trailing at any point and totally shutting down the Giants’ offense.
The Packers’ defense held Eli Manning and the rest of the Giants’ offense in check for most of the game, with the only touchdown coming with 2:54 remaining. Eli had his worst game of the season, recording a season-low in yards, completion percentage, and average yards per completion. Eli finished the game with 199 yards on 51.4% passing, with an average of 5.69 yards per completion, one touchdown, and a QB rating of 21.7, just 1.4 points higher than his season-low against the Minnesota Vikings in his previous game.

The Packers’ defense completely shut down the lousy attempt for the Giants to establish any sort of a run game. These are the stat lines for the three Giants’ running backs: Bobby Rainey’s five attempts for 22 yards, Orleans Darkwa’s seven attempts for 11 yards, and Paul Perkins’ two attempts for nine yards. Without Rainey’s 14-yard run and Darwka’s six-yard run, they recorded an average attempt of two yards and one yard on the night.

A key to the Packers’ victory was their win in both the time of possession battle and third-down conversion, which go hand-in-hand. The Packers had the ball for 36:38 on 12 drives while the Giants just had possession for 23:22 on 11 drives. The Packers converted on nine of 19 third down attempts and held the Giants to only four third down conversions on 13 attempts.

Aaron Rodgers had a decent day at the office, but nothing special. Rodgers completed on 51% of his passes for 249 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions for a QB rating of 69.4. Rodgers’ two interceptions came at key moments, the first on the Giants 21-yard line after a 71-yard drive and the other in their own territory in the second quarter that led to the Giants’ second field goal of the game.

With top corners Sam Shields and Damarious Randall ruled out, two second-year corners Quinten Rollins and LaDarius Gunter stepped in and did a fine job on the outside against Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard, while cornerback Micah Hyde and rookie safety Kentrell Brice also excelled in nickel and dime packages. Head coach Mike McCarthy credited his unit after the game saying, “With the young secondary, those young corners did a heck of a job.” Beckham caught five balls for 56 yard and a late fourth quarter touchdown, Sterling Shepard had two receptions for 14 yards on seven targets, and Victor Cruz did not record a single catch.

After their loss to the Minnesota Vikings on national television, many started to doubt how successful the Packers would be this season. After their wins against the Lions, they would have two weeks to focus in on stopping Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, and that is exactly what they did. The Packers now have the upper hand in the Giants in the playoff race and will now look to do the same against the Dallas Cowboys this weekend in another home game.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Packers (3-1) Hold On At Home To Beat Giants, 23-16

With a quarter of the season in the books, its been a mixed bag from the Green Bay Packers. The wins haven't been overly impressive (battling against the Jaguars, holding onto early leads at home against the Lions and Giants) but they weren't terrible in their lone loss either (at Minnesota, losing by one score against arguably the best team in the NFC). Obviously 4-0 and the NFC North lead would be better but 3-1 and a manageable remaining schedule is very good too.

Against the Giants, it was a really impressive performance by the pass defense. While they were missing their starting cornerbacks (Shields and Russell were inactive due to injury), the return of S Morgan Burnett allowed DB Micah Hyde to return to his usual utility role, and CBs LaDarius Gunter and Quinten Rollins were great against the Giants Top 3 receivers (Beckham, Shepard, Cruz). Those three receivers only gained 70 yards on 21 pass attempts to those three receivers. The Packers played both two deep safeties (Clinton-Dix and Burnett) for most of the game and effectively took the sidelines away from the Giants. But they had trouble against the Giants's tight ends (Tye and Adams were targeted 5 times for 64 yards, and QB Eli Manning overthrew Tye on one attempt that might have gone for a touchdown). None of the inside linebackers looked great in coverage, and ILB Joe Thomas had multiple missed tackles. But the run defense was solid again (allowing 2.9 ypc), the pass rush was all over Manning (4 sacks, 5 QB hits), and the secondary had their best game of the season.

I'm still of the opinion that WR Davante Adams is part of the problem, not the solution, but he did have a great game while also being the intended target on one of QB Aaron Rodgers's 2 INTs.
But their best receiver was WR Randall Cobb, who seemed to pick up a first down with every reception. On the other hand, while WR Jordy Nelson did catch a touchdown, he was also targeted 13 times for only 4 receptions (and one of his targeted attempts bounced off his hands for an INT). The ground game has been productive, when they've actually used it this season, and RB Eddie Lacy was having his best game of 2016 until he injured his ankle. RB James Starks struggled to replace him as either a receiver or runner in the 2nd half. Overall it was a pretty mediocre performance through the air against a Giants secondary that's been struggling with injuries (both CBs Eli Apple and Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie missed their last game in Minnesota, and both left early in this one).

Though their four-game home stand continues next week, it also presents a bigger challenge when the Cowboys visit Lambeau. The Boys have looked impressive while on their current four-game winning streak despite missing their their two best offensive players (Romo and Bryant). QB Dak Prescott has done a great job protecting the ball while moving the offense, while their defense has been doing just enough to win.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Preview: Packers Host Giants on Sunday Night

The Giants are traveling to Lambeau Field on Sunday night and in need of a change in momentum. They've lost their last two games, their secondary is a mess of injuries, and their star player has been acting like a seven year old though I doubt they'd really consider benching him.
Both defenses are dealing with similar problems. They are both missing starters in the secondary due to injury, and they've seen their pass defenses starting to unravel. For the Giants, it's more like a death by a thousand cuts, with different receivers burning them at different times over their past two losses. For the Packers, the loss of CB Sam Shields (concussion) has exposed CB Damarious Randall, who's been burned badly by the last two No. 1 receivers he's faced (Stefon Diggs and Marvin Jones). It also looked like Randall injured his groin during the first half against the Lions, which is probably why he struggled to keep up with Jones in the second half of that game. SS Morgan Burnett should return on Sunday, but Randall will probably be less than 100% (if he plays) while Shields is still out. Both defenses have been great against the run, though the Packers own a much higher ranking on Football Outsiders.

Both offenses are playing a similar style too (not surprising since Mike McCarthy's former assistant coach Ben McAdoo is now the head coach of the Giants). They both pass the ball much better than they can run it. Neither one is as good this season as they've been in the past, but the Packers are still ranked No. 11 though the air according to Football Outsiders, which is better than the Giants can boast so far. The Vikings were daring the Giants to run the ball last week (often lining up with only six men in the box) and the Giants could only manage 78 yards rushing.

Covering the Giants's receivers under normal circumstances would be a challenge and the injuries in the Packers's secondary are going to make more of a challenge. Because of the poor Giant ground attack, QB Eli Manning might be throwing the ball a lot, and despite the recent meltdown by WR Odell Beckham Jr., they'll probably have much more success this week than they've had during their last two losses.

The Packers offense hasn't been too interested in running the ball either (RB Eddie Lacy's averaging fewer than 15 rushing attempts per game, so far) and a depleted Giants secondary is sure to be QB Aaron Rodgers's main target, even if the Giants see the return of a couple cornerbacks from injury.

The key advantage for the Packers, despite some similarities (they can pass but they can't run, they can stop the run but cannot pass), is that the Packers are a little better at all these things than the Giants. Another key is that while the Giants have been playing (and losing) the past two weeks, the Packers are as healthy as their going to get coming off the bye week. All of this means that the the Packers are listed as heavy 7.5 point favorites (only the Patriots, featuring the return of Tom Brady, who gets to beat up on the Browns this weekend, are more favored).  The game might look like a repeat of the Lions game, with both teams struggling at some point, and the Packers just doing a bit more to hang on for the win.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Green Bay Packers: Post-Bye Schedule

By Steven Callahan, Writer at the Green Bay Packers Blog.

Most people aren’t fans of such an early bye week. They would rather save this week for later in the season, when they can fully recharge their batteries for the second half of the season. The Green Bay Packers unfortunately do not have that luxury this season, as they their bye week falls in week four. In an ironic way, this bye week couldn’t come at a better time.

Head coach Mike McCarthy admits that the Packers caught a break withthis bye week. McCarthy said this week, “I never thought I would say this, but for as different a schedule that we have, it’s a great time to have the bye, because we need it. That’s where we are.” McCarthy is referring to the injury bug that is going around his team, as four defensive starters sat out against Detroit and tight end Jared Cook sprained his ankle.

The Packers head into the bye with a 2-1 record and are coming off a game where Aaron Rodgers threw four touchdowns. Here is how the rest of the schedule looks for the Packers.

October: Giants (2-2), Cowboys (3-1), Bears (1-3), at Falcons (3-1)

The Packers come out of the bye with three straight home games, ending with the Bears in a Thursday night game. The Packers and Giants always seem to have great games while the Cowboys will be looking to avenge the Dez Bryant “Was it a catch?’ game. This game may be Dak Prescott’s final game, as Tony Romo is expected to return after the Cowboys’ bye week. The Giants are definitely a playoff caliber team, but the Packers should have the edge on both the Giants and Cowboys since the games are at Lambeau.

The Packers then face the Bears on a short week. The Bears are one of the worst teams in the league, but these Thursday night games are so unfair on the players and coaches that nothing can be a sure thing. The Packers should be able to handle the Bears, but it should be noted that the Bears beat the Packers last year on a short week (Thanksgiving night). The Falcons offense has been one of the league’s best this season, as their 34.7 points per game is the highest in the league. Expect a shootout in week eight against the Atlanta Falcons.

November: Colts (1-3), at Titans (1-3), at Redskins (2-2), at Eagles (3-0)

The Packers’ schedule lightens up in November, starting off with the Colts at home. Indianapolis depends too much on Andrew Luck’s comeback ability, which isn’t a good idea in a November game at Lambeau. As Mike McCarthy mentioned, the Packers schedule is “different” and this three-game stretch is a perfect example why. The Pack will play three straight road games - four out of five games when you count the Falcons game - including a Sunday night game against the Redskins and a Monday night game against the Eagles.

On paper, the Packers have more talent than all of these teams, but right now the Eagles are playing great and you can’t count out the Colts or Redskins. It will be an interesting month for the Packers.

December and January: Texans (3-1), Seahawks (3-1), at Bears (1-3), Vikings (4-0), at Lions (1-2)

The Packers simply have to beat the Texans at home, so let’s move on from that. Playing the Seahawks in week 14 is as tough of a matchup as you are going to get, especially with these two teams expected to be in the thick of a playoff race. The last three games will come against divisional opponents, two of which will be on the road. The week 16 matchup against the Vikings could possibly be the most important game of the entire season, since it can essentially be for the NFC North crown. Let’s hope the week 17 game in Detroit is meaningless and the Packers know exactly what seed they are in the playoffs, whether it is as division champion or Wild Card team.

With 13 straight weeks of football left for the Green Bay Packers, their stamina, focus, and preparation will be tested for the next three months. There is no soft part of the schedule, as the Packers will have to earn every win from here on out. It should be an exciting 13 weeks for Packers fans. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Packers (2-1) Hold On To Beat Lions, 34-27

After the Green Bay Packers built up a 31-3 lead over the Lions, it looked like an easy, bounce back win. But with less than a minute to go in the first half, WR Marvin Jones ran by, and ran around, undrafted rookie CB Josh Hawkins for a 73 yard touchdown pass and the Lions made a game of it in the second half.
QB Aaron Rodgers might have felt like he was back, though it was mostly that WR Jordy Nelson was back. Rodgers targeted Nelson early and often, and those two led the team on five first-half scoring drives. But no one else really got going. There was talk of featuring Ty Montgomery and Trevor Davis, and Davis did draw a monster pass interference penalty but he also dropped his only recorded target of the game. Montgomery had a carry (filling the Randall Cobb backfield role) but he didn't have a pass thrown his way. The biggest change was that Rodgers didn't force it to either Davante Adams and Randall Cobb (only 5 targets combined) and instead spread the ball around to several receivers. But it was Rodgers to Nelson that was doing all the damage.

The Lions don't have a great secondary, also about half of their defense is currently injured, so this wasn't much of a test for the Packers' offense. RB Eddie Lacy had another strong game (he's at 5.0 ypc after 3 games) but he's not a big play maker. When he gets into the open field, there's no threat that he's going to outrun any defender. Maybe that's why the Packers kicked the tires this week on free agent RB C.J. Spiller; they could use another explosive player, especially a big play threat in the backfield.

This game was also another big lead at home that Mike McCarthy let become close. I don't disagree with the strategy to run out the clock with a big lead, when your team has nearly any other QB in the league. But Rodgers is so careful with the ball (Week 2 Vikings game excepted) that there's little risk in keeping the playbook wide open. The defense had a lot of trouble getting off the field, the Lions dominated the time of possession battle, and those two late game drives that ended in punts couldn't have come at a worse time for the defense.

As for the defense:
That unit is scrapping the bottom of the roster's barrel. That lineup was probably last used in the final mop-up, rest all the starters, preseason game at Kansas City. That's not a great NFL defense.

But that's where they are after all their injuries. I liked CB Josh Hawkins during the preseason, but he's a work in progress and Marvin Jones proved he's not ready. I've been up-and-down on CB LaDarius Gunter over the last year, but he's starting to look better with some more playing time. Both 2015 draftees, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, were terrible against the Lions (Randall was dealing with something) and no matter what happened against the Lions it's another bad game for both of them, and another sign that they're both regressing instead of improving. Randall at least made up for it some what with another INT.

But the run defense was once against outstanding (though the Lions have been inept at running the ball for the past few seasons) and the pass rush was strong even without OLBs Clay Matthews and Datone Jones. Nick Perry had 2 sacks in an expanded role (and a stupid 15 yard penalty) while rookie Kyler Fackrell had his first NFL sack against the Lions rookie 1st round LT. The run defense and the pass rush was still there, even while the secondary fell apart without CB Sam Shields. It looks like Shields will return later this season, but his retirement might be happening soon because of the severity of his concussions. What was looking like a strong position back in August is becoming a major concern in the short and long terms.

I dislike early bye weeks, but the Packers are dealing with so many early season injuries that they could use the week off right now. Their next game might be a match-up nightmare against the Giants, who feature three quality wide receivers while the Packers might not currently have a single, healthy cornerback who'd have any chance against WR Odell Beckham Jr. But it'll also be at Lambeau, a week after the Giants take on the Vikings in Minnesota, so the Giants might be worn out while the Packers are rested and had two weeks to prepare.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers Preview

Steven Callahan is a new writer at the Green Bay Packers Blog and I'm very pleased to publish his first article.
The Detroit Lions (1-1) and Green Bay Packers (1-1) both are coming off games they know they should have won. The Lions blew a 15-3 fourth quarter lead to the Tennessee Titans at home, while the Packers lost to the Minnesota Vikings 17-14 on Sunday Night Football. It is obviously way too early to talk about playoff implications, but all division games in the NFL mean a lot.

The Lions saw the Titans score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including an Andre Johnson red zone touchdown catch while he had three Lion defenders draped on him. This is the second straight game the Lions defense gave up big points late in the game. They allowed Andrew Luck and the Colts to score 17 in the fourth quarter of their season opener in a game they nearly let slip out of their hands.

The Packers offense looked below average against the stingy Vikings defense, scoring just two touchdowns. Aaron Rodgers played pedestrian at best, throwing for 213 yards, one touchdown, and one interception for a quarterback rating of 52.8, far below his 103.8 career rating (the highest of all-time, no big deal). The Vikings defense seemed to rattle Rodgers, sacking him five times, and never letting him get into a groove. Besides a 39-yard catch by Jordy Nelson, there was no other completion over 15 yards.

The Packers and Lions had two very memorable games last season. After losing 24 straight games in Lambeau Field, the Lions finally won in Green Bay for the first time since 1991. The Packers got their revenge and still figured out a way to torment the Lions, as Aaron Rodgers’ prayers were answered on a 61-yard Hail Mary to Richard Rodgers at Ford Field. Rodgers threw the ball 70 yards in the air, something only he can do.

For the Packers, the game will be decided on both sides of the passing game. Matthew Stafford is currently seventh in the league with 600 passing yards and tied for second place in touchdowns with five. However, the Lions have been one of the worst pass defenses, ranking 22nd with 592 passing yards allowed and 28th with 5 passing touchdowns allowed. Rodgers has owned the Lions in his career, throwing an average of 253 yards per game, 26 touchdowns, and averaging a QB rating of 105.9. All these stats have combined for a career 11-3 record against them.

The Packers also need to take advantage of the Lions’ lack of discipline. The Lions committed an eye-popping 17 penalties for 138 yards and got three touchdowns (3!) called back along with five first downs due to penalties last week. Rodgers and the offense need to take advantage and test this Lions’ secondary, as it is likely they either give up a big play or get called for a penalty. The defense also needs to create pressure all game, as the Lions have been called for nine offensive holding penalties this year. This could mean big games for Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews on the edge.

There has been a lot of talk this week about the Packers not playing up their standards. A NFL executive has said, “This isn’t a typical Ted Thompson roster. They need Aaron Rodgers to cover up more holes than usual. There has been some deterioration there.” So what better way to address the state of the team than beating the Lions at home? The Lions are a team filled with defensive problems as well as injuries, with running back Ameer Abdullah being placed on the IR, and also Ezekiel Ansah, DeAndre Levy, and Kyle Van Noy not practicing.

The Lions are hurting, can’t stop the pass, and entering an environment where they have won once in 24 years. Look for Aaron Rodgers to get back on track in his first game at Lambeau this season. The Packers have to seize this opportunity to send a message to the league that they may be working out the kinks, but they are still one of the best teams in the NFL. However, if the Packers do lost this game, it may not be time to R-E-L-A-X.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Bench Davante Adams, Fix The Packers Offense

I don't really know if all it would take to improve the Green Bay Packers offense is for them to bench WR Davante Adams, but its an easy thing to do and there's a professional consensus forming that Adams is not part of the solution.

Speaking of Cian Fahey, his look back at QB Aaron Rodgers's 2015 season might be the definitive work on the subject, and he came to the conclusion that Rodgers's biggest problem is that he can't catch the ball for his receivers. He specifically points out the limitations with Adams and TE Richard Rodgers (their 2nd leading receiver in 2015, amazingly). Rodgers has already lost his starting job to TE Jared Cook, but Adams has remained the No. 3 receiver so far.

The downside with giving it a try, benching Adams as the No. 3 receiver in favor of someone else, doesn't have much downside. Adams currently boasts a decent ranking according to Football Outsiders in part because he leads the league by a mile in yards gained on pass interference calls. He's also sporting a terrible 43% catch rate, though he is more likely to be asked to catch a low-percentage deep ball then anyone else on the team so far. The positives have been one great TD grab at Jacksonville and two DPIs accepted. The negatives have been a fumble, multiple drops, and some bad route running. The negatives seem to outweigh the positives so far. While it's only been two games so far this season, this comes on the heels of a terrible 2015 season, so there's been plenty of time to evaluate that Adams just isn't a positive on offense.

Also the Packers do have some options, apart from the receiver who's been wearing a club on his hand (WR Jeff Janis). I'm not convinced that any one of Ty Montgomery, Jared Abbrederis or Trevor Davis is going to be a star but they can't be much worse than Adams anyway. As a deep threat, Davis might be the most natural replacement to stretch the field, as they've been trying to do with Adams, until Janis is able to use both hands.

I just want to see them try anyone over Adams for a while and see what happens.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Packers (1-1) Lose To The Vikings In Minnesota, 17-14

It was infuriating to watch the Green Bay Packers struggle to move the ball, at all, on offense in the first half, and to watch WR Stefon Diggs destroy CB Damarious Randall, but as I look back while writing this article, most of their team played great against the Vikings. Instead there were some key battles that they did not win, and it cost them.


The running game. The Packers aren't giving RB Eddie Lacy a lot of carries, and they aren't using him as a receiver at all, but he's been effective running the ball. One run in particular, LG Lane Taylor (he's no Josh Sitton) was shoved three yards backwards into Lacy, but Lacy cut it back, ran through a couple defenders, and got almost 10 yards on the play. On the flip side, for the second week in a row, their opponent was held to under 2 ypc by the re-vamped front seven (plus the first game for Kenny Clark). The Vikings offensive line didn't have much of a solution to stopping the pass rush either as LB Julius Peppers led the way on 1.5 of their 4 sacks and on 3 of their 10 QB hits. The Vikings couldn't run the ball or protect QB Sam Bradford.

While WR Ty Montgomery did block a punt, the Vikings also pinned the Packers inside the 20 yard line on FIVE other punts. The Packers were killed by field position, and the Vikings had no turnovers on offense to flip the field position in the Packers' advantage.

I don't know if QB Aaron Rodgers throws that pass if it wasn't 3rd down with time running out in the game. They'd been picking successfully on CB Trae Waynes all night for a bunch of interference calls and a TD pass. Except the pass was going WR Davante Adams, who seems to run the softest routes of any of their receivers, and Waynes was able to jump in front of him for the INT. An incompletion wouldn't have been setting up 4th and long, and if there was more time on the clock, my guess is that Rodgers puts more air under that ball where only Adams could catch it. Instead he threw it more in the field of play to give Adams a better chance, and Waynes beat him.

I wish they would take Adams out of the offensive rotation. Whatever good feelings he gave off in Week 1 against the Jaguars, he gave back in this game. And Adams was a disaster last season. In the second half, they started using two TEs as receivers, especially Jared Cook, and the offense seemed to open up. If they want to keep the defense honest with an occasional bomb, send Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb deep and keep Adams off the field.

Damarious Randall. I've been down on him since late last season, and he's still trending downward. With Quinten Rollins also struggling, and Sam Shields out with a concussion, he's at the top of a short list of options to stop their opponent's No. 1 receiver. It was appropriate that he was beaten on the game losing 3rd down attempt and committed interference against Diggs.

It's harsh to beat up two guys (Adams and Randall) for a team loss, this would have been a much different game without all those fumbles for example, but both of them were asked to step up when the team needed them at the end and they came up short. They'll stick with Randall for now, because they don't have a lot of options and he deserves time to turn it around this season, but they need to evaluate what the best role for him is on the team in the future because it might not be at corner. At receiver, they have other options instead of Adams and I hope this game proved that enough is enough with Adams.

Speaking of Adams, his lowest point as a Packer was when he was targeted 21 times for 79 yards last season in their first home loss against the Lions in forever, and next week they face the Lions again in Lambeau. This would be a good time to re-think the offense without Adams in it.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Packers (1-0) Beat The Jaguars in Jacksonville, 27-23

It wasn't the easiest win, as the Green Bay Packers fell behind in the first half, re-took the lead before halftime, and were able to match field goals with the Jaguars in the second half to hold onto the win. As I was watching it, I was thinking about how it would have been a huge let down to lose to an 11 loss team in what might be their easiest road game of 2016. But the Jaguars are better now and one game isn't going to make or break their season.

An early INT by Blake Bortles turned out to be his only turnover of the game, and some big pass plays to Allen Hurns, Marcedes Lewis, and Julius Thomas led their offense. Anyone who plays fantasy football knows the Jaguars have some legitimate offensive weapons. Also the Jaguars have spent a lot of money on their defense in free agency (mostly to Malik Jackson) and used a Top 5 draft pick on Jalen Ramsey (who's feeling a bit cocky at the moment). If they had put more pressure on QB Aaron Rodgers (zero sacks) then they might have had a shot at shutting down the Packers' offense. But they couldn't stop Eddie Lacy (4.4 ypc) and Rodgers finished with the 4th highest QBR in Week 1 (so far).
Packers offense: So above is one of the plays that'll be on the short list for plays of 2016. His offensive line played great, though they would have been even better with former LG Josh Sitton. Bob McGinn had a great article about how the front office blew it with Sitton, though his loss is still not going to be a season changing mistake. His replacement, LG Lane Taylor, probably had the lowest grade of their five lineman according to PFF by surrendering three QB hurries (I recall one play when ILB Paul Posluszny ran right past Taylor) but his run blocking appeared strong and he didn't allow a sack.

WR Jordy Nelson was back, and Rodgers again focused in on his top three receivers. This time it was Davante Adams joining Nelson and Cobb, and those three were targeted on 24 of his 33 attempts (73%). It was a big surprise that TE Jared Cook was only targeted twice, and he might have been a help early in the game when Rodgers struggled to get the ball to Nelson and Adams (3 straight punts in the first half). Rodgers barely played this preseason, Nelson didn't play at all, and everyone's timing looked bad as they shook off the rust in the first half. I was ready to give up on Adams after he missed two catchable passes on 3rd downs but he redeemed himself later.

Mike McCarthy started the game by calling a lot of running plays, but that faded as the game went on, and Lacy ended up with only 14 carries. I'd like to see a lot more from Lacy but he'll probably just remain a complementary weapon.

Packers defense: Speaking of players who barely played this preseason, the defense featured two of them, with only one of them being a success story in Week 1. The success was ILB Jake Ryan, who was held out for most of the preseason with a hamstring injury. Against Jacksonville, he was second on the team with 7 tackles and he was very active in the middle of the field, usually tackling T.J. Yeldon for a short gain. The entire defense did a great job against the run (Jags only had 1.8 ypc) and Ryan was a big part of it. The bad news was Morgan Burnett, who had an impressive stat line (9 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for a loss), but committed two penalties (both led to 1st downs) and he looked a step slow in coverage. While Ryan was able to play in their final preseason game, Burnett's back injury (which kept him out for most of the preseason) might still be bothering him.

The front seven did a great job against the Jaguars offensive line. Bortles did a good job of getting the ball out as quickly as he could before the pass rush came, but the Packers still had 3 sacks and shut down the Jaguars' running game. Nick Perry was great against the run and he spent a lot of time in the Jaguars' backfield (1 sack, 2 tackles for a loss) while Clay Matthews missed a couple tackles and Julius Peppers didn't record a single stat. Joe Thomas grabbed the lone INT and he was in on the final stop to end the game. It was a quiet game for Mike Daniels (hopefully it wasn't an SI cover jinx) but that was mostly because he faced a bunch of double-teams.

The secondary was a mixed bag. Burnett struggled and CB Quinten Rollins allowed a TD pass. On the other hand, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was great and Damarious Randall had the top defensive grade from PFF. I was worried about Randall after a bad playoff game and a poor preseason (in limited playing time) but he's bounced back.

Next up is a big game, Sunday Night Football to open the Vikings's new US Bank Stadium on September 18.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Packers 2016 Roster: Josh Sitton Released, Signs With Bears

Every year I write a post before the start of the season about the players who were kept or released by the Green Bay Packers, and the composition of their initial practice squad. Most of these moves weren't a surprise, though I expected a couple more players like Janis and Davis would end up on I.R. instead of the 53-man roster, and the practice squad is made up of most of the players I expected. But one move was just shocking:
This was unbelievable. I couldn't write about it on the Saturday when it happened. It took me two more days to process it and try to come a conclusion of why they did it. It would have been OK if they allowed him to leave in free agency after the season, gained a compensatory draft pick for their loss, and moved onto the next man up. I don't agree with the timing of this move, and the following is the best sense I can make of it.
When asked point blank if Sitton's release makes the Packers a better team, Mike McCarthy dodged the question. Instead he made the above statement. Sitton's release probably doesn't make them a better team for Week 1 at Jacksonville, but he thinks this will be better overall for the team. How this makes "all aspects of (the) program" better is open to speculation.
Lane Taylor, their new starting left guard, was so bad during their last preseason game against Kansas City that I thought he would be the player being released on Saturday, not Sitton. But this decision isn't just about one preseason game. They've been watching Sitton for the past eight years and Taylor for the past four years. All of that experience went into their decision. McCarthy seems to be saying that Taylor is just as good as a run blocker and he'll be a good pass blocker with more game experience. He might be right, he might be wrong.
McCarthy digressed a little bit and talked about premium vs. non-premium positions. He called the quarterback the most important position on the team, and while he didn't specifically say his guards were playing a non-premium position, that's the implication. Playing a lesser, but still good, player at guard won't change the outcome of any game. I think the switch from Sitton to Taylor is going to lead to at least a couple more sacks this season. At the most, three or four. Of course, it only takes one sack to cause a significant injury to Aaron Rodgers but that appears to be an acceptable risk in their book, and guards are a lot less likely to make bad plays that lead to sacks than tackles. They felt this is a risk worth taking because of all the benefits it provides (salary cap room for extensions, avoiding the risk of Sitton's decline due to weight loss and/or bad back, sometimes Sitton could be a pain in the ass).

I don't like this move, but I'm usually on the wrong side of hanging onto to veterans for too long. The release of Josh Sitton feels all kinds of wrong, but it's more likely that this was the right decision when we're looking back on it in a few years.