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.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Packers Preseason Game 4, Packers Lose To Chiefs, 17-7

The last preseason game for the Green Bay Packers is usually a downer, with most all the starters sitting, and this one was no exception. It was also the first preseason game this year against a team that made the playoffs last season, which is currently run by former Packer scouting director John Dorsey, so it also featured the best level of competition they've faced so far.

Packers offense:

The problem was the offensive line, which featured the same five backup players throughout, plus some snaps for undrafted rookie Kyle Steuck at guard. When QB Joe Callahan wasn't running for his life, he was getting sacked. The running backs had no where to go (2.4 ypc). The lineman committed multiple holding and illegal blocking penalties. When you can't protect the QB or run the ball, the offense is going nowhere.

RT Kyle Murphy allowed a couple more sacks and showed he isn't ready to pass protect in the NFL. LG Lane Taylor was all-around terrible. C Don Barclay was floating his long snaps to Callahan and didn't prove that he can play inside this season any better than he played tackle last season. Rookie LT Jason Spriggs was again solid, except for a couple plays when he lost his balance and taken out of the play, which has happened to him in every preseason game. However, undrafted free agent Lucas Patrick was impressive, and his only struggles seem to be related to the giant club he's had to play with on his injured right hand. They better stash him on the practice squad.

WRs Davante Adams and Ty Montgomery are on my bubble, and neither one stood out. Both started out strong, Montgomery even blocked a punt on special teams, and then they both did nothing except drop passes in the second half.
Packers defense:

It looked like they were playing with no inside linebackers. Even ILB Blake Martinez struggled during his brief playing time. This was the first preseason game for ILB Jake Ryan and he looked a step behind on every play. Both Chiefs rushing TDs happened when the ILB failed to make the tackle in the backfield. ILB Carl Bradford didn't show the same rush to the ball that he's had earlier this preseason.

There wasn't much of a pass rush either. OLB Reggie Gilbert did nothing, and OLB Kyler Fackrell only stepped up after the bottom of the Chiefs roster started playing late in the game. All the interior tackles played well, and they probably gave GM Ted Thompson something of a good problem to sort out who to keep.

Backup QB Tyler Bray led both Chiefs' TD drives, and after a slow start for him (this was his first preseason game) he took advantage of soft coverage from the Packer defensive backs. The coverage scheme was easy for a veteran like Bray to read, so was it the DBs fault for behind a step behind or was it the scheme? If it is the fault of the scheme, that's not a problem because they won't be playing that the exact same coverage throughout an entire game during the regular season. They did record two INT (Josh Hawkins seen above plus another from LaDarius Gunter) and only had two pass interference/holding penalties. This is still a deep group of backups, and deciding who to keep won't be easy.

Packers special teams:

With no offense from either team for long stretches of the game, it was a punting clinic, and it provided a good opportunity to watch new Packer punter Jacob Schum. He doesn't have a big leg (his 45.5 yard average was 10 yards less per punt than Chiefs P Dustin Colquitt) but he was more consistent than former P Tim Masthay (almost all of Schum's punts were near the sidelines) and he was better at pinning them inside the 10 yard line. Masthay's best punts are probably better than Schum's best punts, but the Packers will probably know what to expect from Schum on each play compared to Masthay's inconsistent punting.
It's time to shave the mustache, put the jersey back on, and get ready for the regular season starting in 10 days at Jacksonville. This is going to be a great team, no matter how the final roster cuts work out over the weekend, and they're currently favored to win every, single one of them.