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.