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.

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