Thursday, April 27, 2017

Packers NFL Draft 2017: Jahri Evans Signs, Signals That They Won't Draft an Offensive Lineman Early

Previously I liked the idea of the Green Bay Packers selecting OG Forrest Lamp in the 1st round to replace T.J. Lang at RG and maybe provide them an eventual replacement for RT Bryan Bulaga. But GM Ted Thompson had other plans.
A few years ago, Evans was an All-Pro and arguably the best guard in the NFL. He's not that player anymore, but he can still play and he started all 16 games last season for the Saints. Every other free agent guard ranked higher than Evans who actually made the rounds in unrestricted free agency signed a big multi-year contract, making Evans the best of the rest. Also, Seahawks GM John Schneider openly admitted he blew it by releasing Evans in 2016 because he's such a great leader, which should make him a great fit in the Packers' locker room. This looks like a solid signing because he's a veteran leader who's coming to Green Bay to win a championship, he can still play, and he probably signed an affordable one-year deal for around $1 million.

This allows them to move Don Barclay to a backup role at center and guard, with Jason Spriggs as their backup tackle. They also have Kyle Murphy and Lucas Patrick around as young-players-with-upside. Evans is a solid signing and he addresses an obvious weakness, leaving them little room or need to spend a high draft pick on an offensive lineman, though I wouldn't rule out them selecting one in the mid-rounds because they can certainly find an upgrade over Barclay, Murphy or Patrick.

As for who they'll draft now, Justis Mosqueda pointed out 5 cornerbacks with potential 1st round grades who could all be available by the time the Packers are on the clock in round one. I don't know which of them would be the best fit, but cornerback is such a position of need that if they selected any one of them, I'd say it's a great selection and expect that they took the best of the bunch.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Packers NFL Draft 2017: Who Will The Packers Select?

I don't know which college players the Green Bay Packers should draft next week based on their talents. I watch just enough college football (mostly Big 10 football) to over (or under) rate certain players. But GM Ted Thompson drafts more for need then he would ever admit publicly. For example, selecting DT Kenny Clark last year after DT B.J. Raji decided to take a "hiatus". So I'm looking at a list of potential draftees based on the team's current needs.
Of the eight players listed above, three of them are cornerbacks. It's debatable that recently re-signed CB Davon House is their best outside corner, and that is a sign that they need some serious help. Watching Corey Hayward and Micah Hyde leave in free agency in consecutive years is another sign that they believe they'll find someone to play in the slot. Ohio State's CB Gareon Conley would have to slip a few spots, but LSU's CB Tre'Davious White and Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey should still be available. It's a very good draft for cornerbacks so if they want a good one at the end of the 1st round, they should have more than one option.

It'd be a very boring selection and it's not their greatest position of need (which is cornerback), but I'd love to see them draft Western Kentucky OT/OG Forrest Lamp. The current starter at right guard appears to be Don Barclay, which isn't good news but isn't quite as bad as it sounds either. If the Packers can survive with Lane Taylor at LG, they can probably get by with Barclay at RG. Also the right tackle position isn't entirely solid either though injury-prone RT Bryan Bulaga is coming off a mostly healthy 2016 season. Jason Spriggs looked good at times but he also looked lost at times during his rookie year. Having a player like Lamp who could be needed to start at right tackle in a year or two wouldn't be a bad thing, especially if he can start at RG in 2017.

Western Michigan's WR Corey Davis is an example of a player I'm not fully respecting because the only time I saw him play was in the Cotton Bowl, and he was relatively quiet until he caught a too-late TD pass with a couple minutes left in the 4th. It's really not a position of need for 2016 but it could be in a couple years if WR Davante Adams is allowed to walk as a free agent, and the Packers can never have too many wide receivers. Still, it seems unlikely that arguably the draft's best wide receiver would still be available at the end of the 1st round.

Oh God, Alabama LB Reuben Foster. Before the NFL Combine, it would have been a dream come true if Foster was still available at the end of the 1st round. His talent is there for everyone to see, and then the NFL Combine came and showed publicly all of his flashing red flags for everyone to see. Sometimes the Packers stick with troubled players who they believe in, but that's the exception to the rule. I can't see the Packers taking any chances with Foster.

I'm concerned about the edge position but I don't think the Packers would have let DE/LB Datone Jones walk to the Vikings on a one-year, prove-it deal, unless they weren't concerned about it. LB Clay Matthews should be healthy next season, LB Nick Perry's been re-signed, and the usual cast of guys with upside are their backups. So I can't see the Packers drafting an edge player with a high pick and that would rule out both Houston's Tyus Bowser and Wisconsin's T.J. Watt.

So that leaves one of the few corners who project at the end of the 1st round (and probably fit the Packers's preferences) and Lamp for RG, and I'd like to see Lamp, if he's still available. It'll probably be one of those cornerbacks.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Packers Sign Ricky Jean Francois and Christine Michael

I wasn't sure the Green Bay Packers were going to wade into the free agent waters again, but they did lose several veterans this offseason. Plus the DT Letroy Guion suspension saps their main source of depth on the defensive line. Typically the Packers don't sign veteran free agents like these two players or like Martellus Bennett and Davon House, but they need depth and these two signings are some pretty safe.
Without Jean Francois, the top backup behind Daniels and Clark (to start the season while Guion is suspended) is former practice squad player Brian Price. I don't think the Packers had any interest in bringing back Mike Pennel, who wasn't good last season after he returned from suspension, and he's signed with the Jets. There's no upside with Jean Francois but he's played in all 16 games in 6 of the last 7 seasons, so he's a reliable veteran. He's a different type of Letroy Guion, which is all they need as a rotational tackle behind Daniels and Clark. And he brings no risk on a one-year contract. They did draft Clark and Lowry last year, so a high draft choice seems unlikely, but they'll bring in at least a couple more rookie for depth.
Weeks ago, I thought it would be Eddie Lacy that the Packers would re-sign as the veteran depth behind Ty Montgomery and whoever the Packers select in the draft. But Lacy received too much money from the Seahawks and he might have not been a good choice anyway if he's still rehabbing his foot and overweight. I can't recall injuries every being a problem with Christine Michael, so he too is a reliable veteran, who they must like well enough if they brought him back after his late season stint with the team. The contract terms weren't disclosed but it's likely to be under $1 million on a one-year contract, so he too brings no risk too.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Packers 2017 Free Agency: They're Letting Everyone Go

After the initial flurry of free agency and the signing of TE Martellus Bennett, the Green Bay Packers spent the next week watching as their unrestricted free agents signed with other teams. Two players signed for reasonable one-year deals that maybe would have been good deals for the Packers. But they did have one signing of their own.
I was hoping GM Ted Thompson would go after one of the top free agent corners who could take over on the outside across from CB LaDarius Gunter, but instead he brought a familiar face back who was released after two seasons in Jacksonville. House is far from a comparable replacement for CB Sam Shields, but his one-year, $2.8 million deal comes with no risk. And House has played like a No. 1 corner, sometimes. They had to add someone to compete with Russell and Rollins, and they at least did it. While House basically takes Hyde's roster spots, they didn't play the same role when they were with the Packers (House typically outside, Hyde in the slot or safety) but the Packers might prefer Rollins in the slot anyway. They at least know what they're getting with House, who spent his first four NFL seasons in Green Bay. However, they still have to address this position early in the upcoming draft.

Now for two players I thought they'd re-sign:
Based on the above, it looks like they just let their top pass rusher walk to the Vikings on a reasonable one-year "prove it" deal, similar to the one they gave to OLB Nick Perry last year. In Perry's case, he proved himself with a big 2016 season and received a multi-year deal as his reward, and their stats through their first four seasons are awful similar. Jones could easily have a breakout 2017 season with double digit sacks. PFF is a great resource but the Packers have their own charting and apparently didn't believe that Jones was twice as good as Perry last season. Jones has bounced around in his first four seasons, first at DE, then at OLB, and he even played over the center a lot last season on passing downs. Maybe he's not a good fit for Capers's scheme, but he's a good player and it's too bad they couldn't have worked something out to keep him.
The Bob McGinn report being referred to is the one that said RB Eddie Lacy was weighing 267 lbs. when the Seahawks signed him. There are two problems here: 1) Lacy isn't a good player when he's overweight, and 2) he's still hurt. I had hoped the Packers would re-sign him as a low-cost candidate for next season but the Packers rarely (never?) sign injured players. He's not technically injured, he passed his physical, but still going through rehab on his injured foot so that he can't keep his weight down is a bad sign. I'm not at all surprised they didn't get him back.

It wouldn't be a shock to see the Packers sign another free agent between now and the draft on a low cost deal, but it's just as likely that they're finished. This was a worst offseason than usual with a couple more departures than I was expecting. But they might have upgraded the tight end position, which was the secret to their late season offensive success, and kept their best pass rusher. QB Aaron Rodgers will miss Lang, but I'd imagine he's happy with the addition of Bennett. This offseason has made them a little worse but it can also be viewed as a wash.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Packers 2017 Free Agency: The Good and The Bad

Every year GM Ted Thompson waves good bye to one or two members of the Green Bay Packers who played a significant role in the past. And next year the Packers usually return to the top of the NFC North anyway. There isn't anyone essential that's been lost but they do have to figure out who's going to replace Hyde, Lang and Peppers. In order of the players that they've lost:

TE Jared Cook. Technically he's still a free agent but he's not coming back because the Packers signed Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks. Cook transformed their offense when he returned from injury mid-season but so can Bennett who I've gotten used to as an annoying match-up problem when he played for the Bears. I also had some concerns about Cook because of the occasional drop and fumble. Also, Bennett's a real TE while Cook was more like an oversized WR. This is a swap for a better player and a good move.
DB Micah Hyde. I've been a big fan of his but obviously the coaches had some reservations. He was never in the mix to start at corner or safety in four seasons and even when they were falling apart last season at corner, he only played on the outside in the playoffs when the Packers were completely out of options (he did pretty well). It's OK to let a free agent walk if the coaches don't view him as a starter, especially when a deep cornerback draft is on the horizon. Unfortunately I've recently lost some faith in their front office's ability to scout corners (see Randall, Rollins) or know when they should keep a free agent DB (see Casey Hayward).

RG T.J. Lang. He's the loss that hurts the most but I've been bracing for it the minute I saw him being carted off during their playoff loss in Atlanta. The Packers were in the bidding but they didn't match the Lions' price. There were a lot of signs that Lang was soon to be a former Packer. GM Ted Thompson has a long history of letting interior offensive lineman leave in free agency (Wahle, Rivera, Wells, Dietrich-Smith) and you can add the release of Josh Sitton last year too. There are good reasons not to give offensive lineman their third long-term contract once they're over age 30 and none of those departures listed above came back to haunt them. The concern is that they don't have a replacement on hand because they also let JC Tretter leave in free agency. The remaining free agent guards are the sort of older veterans, major injury concerns, or disappointments that the Packers never sign, or might sign on a minimum contract, and none of them could be considered a realistic replacement anyway. This is not a good year to draft a guard either. OL Don Barclay was re-signed on a one-year deal if no one else works out, but I'd have to imagine they'll give second year players Jason Spriggs and Kyle Murphy the first opportunities.

OLB Julius Peppers. He had a great three year run in Green Bay. He's an athletic freak who doesn't seem to have missed a game due to injury since 2007. His stats were down a little but they tried to play him less while also asking him to do more than just rush the passer. Carolina was going to have the hometown pull over him that the Packers couldn't match and it's unrealistic to pay him several million per season when he's not playing starter's snaps. But he can still play for a couple more seasons and he'll be missed. Luckily this is a pretty strong draft for edge rushers.

Friday, March 03, 2017

The Packers Are Going To Draft Running Backs!

The NFL combine is happening this weekend in Indianapolis. GM Ted Thompson and his coaches are saying the usual stuff about wanting this or that free agent back, which usually means nothing in of itself. Most of the skills being tested don't amount to much, but sometimes a legitimate warning sign emerges. However, some of the statements being said make more sense than others:
The 2016 running back position was like the 2015 offensive line. After every offensive line starter missed at least some time during the 2015 season, and they were forced to play Don Barclay at left tackle in a disastrous game in Arizona, the Packers responded by drafting two offensive lineman in 2016. 

Right now, the only running back on the roster is Ty Montgomery, though former practice squad players John Crockett and Don Jackson finished the season on I.R. I'm a big Montgomery believer but he's only one guy and is often hurt or trying to return from injury. They can't rely on him exclusively. They are thin! Where do they go from here?

Free agency. GM Ted Thompson's least favorite place. I'm not a fan either. There are some big names available (Adrian Peterson! Jamaal Charles!) that I can't imagine Thompson pursuing. At least one former player has said Peterson's a really bad idea, and he certainly knows the Packers' front office better than we do. James Starks is already gone, and I haven't seen any interest in re-signing Christine Michael. It's really easy to see them re-sign Eddie Lacy, who's exactly the type of running back Mike McCarthy prefers, but after two injury filled seasons, he's not someone they can rely on. So maybe Lacy (depending on whether a market emerges for him) and probably no one else.

The draft. Since the roster is bare and free agency is a no-go, this is really the only option. If they want to draft a new version of Eddie Lacy, runners like D'Onta Foreman and James Conner will be available in the mid-rounds. The Packers have previously drafted versatile backs like Johnathan Franklin in 2013, Alex Green in 2011, and Brandon Jackson in 2007, but none of those players were very successful. I'm not sure if they've given up looking for those types of backs but a bigger back seems much more likely.

If Jackson and Crockett return (exclusive rights free agents are usually brought back) to go along with Montgomery, and then the Packers re-sign Lacy on a one-year deal, they can draft a big McCarthy type back with a mid-round pick (Foreman, Connor, whoever) and give themselves five running backs. It's almost a given they'll sign at least one undrafted rookie back after the draft, but because of their concerns surrounding Lacy and even Montgomery, I could see them wanting to draft a better caliber player so they aren't forced to started an undrafted rookie again, like they did last season with Jackson. If the Packers do draft multiple players at any one position in 2017, running back might be the spot.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Packers 2017 Free Agency: Perry, Lang and Tretter

The Green Bay Packers took care of their most important free agent (LT David Bakhtiari) during the season. There are some starters and key rotational players about to hit unrestricted free agency, but I feel much less optimistic about re-signing them once that GM Ted Thompson allows them to test the market. There are plenty that he does re-sign, and maybe some of those players and agents just need the official start of free agency to confirm the market, but there are some players that he has no intention of re-signing.

He's sure to re-sign several of their free agents. But the first three ones I'm looking at are the trickiest of the offseason.

OLB Nick Perry. Since the Packers selected him in the 1st round he's been often injured, sometimes great as a pass rusher, and sometimes great against the run. In 2016, he put it all together for the first time in his career (even the injury part, as he played the final few games with a cast on his hand). After accepting a modest one-year, $5 million contract in 2016 (a pay cut from the cost of picking up his 5th year rookie contract option) he'll be looking for a big pay day this offseason. He's not good enough for the franchise tag, but he should receive a Jamie Collins type contract (four-years, $50 million). That's not too rich for the Packers, they have the cap room and he's worth that type of money based on his 2016 season. He missed a lot of time over his first two seasons, but he's played in 14 games or more in each of the past three seasons. He'll also be nearly impossible to replace in any way other than in the draft (and even then...) I expect he'll be re-signed.

LG T.J. Lang. I think his last time in a Packer uniform was, unfortunately, as he was being driven off the field in Atlanta with a leg injury. GM Ted Thompson doesn't often re-sign a drafted player to a 2nd free agent contract, and this would be Lang's 3rd contract with the Packers. Thompson also hasn't shown much interest in re-signing interior lineman to a new contract that would start or stretch into their mid-30s (Marco Rivera, Scott Wells, Josh Sitton). Lang's a great player who doesn't need to take a discount and should have many teams interested in him. He's been a great Packer and I don't want to see him leave, but I'd be surprised to see him return in 2017.

C J.C. Tretter. The stats love him and he's a quality young center in a free agent class that doesn't have any other ones:
If a team is making a free agent center a priority in free agency, they'll be targeting Tretter. And speaking of injury prone, Tretter's only played in 31 games in his first four NFL seasons, he ended the 2016 season on I.R. and had surgery in January. He's a good player but I only see him as a center, and he's not better then Corey Linsley. Another future compensatory pick for the Packers!

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Way Too Early Look At The 2017 Fantasy Football First Round

The biggest bet game of the year (the Super Bowl) is over, the previous link is from Covers.com, so now I won't be losing any money until March Madness begins. But once again I also lost money on my fantasy football team last season, which was a disaster.

In my final game, I started Jonathan Stewart and Ryan Mathews, both barely ranked in the Top 25 for running backs last season. I had hoped my wide receivers would carry me but DeAndre Hopkins got hit with a case of the Osweilers and A.J. Green missed the last four games of the season. My best non-QB player probably was Stewart! What a terrible season.

My number one problem last year was that I didn't end up with any outstanding running back. I used to see maybe one wide receiver drafted in the first round, and now there were four drafted in the top 10, including my first round pick on Hopkins, because there weren't enough quality running backs to go around. But I expect we'll see a more traditional draft in 2017 because there are so many proven, young running backs available after the 2016 season.

Here's a look ahead based on Matthew Berry's early 2017 rankings. I'll look at the Top 13 players for Packer related reasons:

1.  RB1 Le'Veon Bell. He fell into my draft's second round last year because of an early three game suspension. It seems like a player who gets suspended once is a risk to get suspended again, and he's technically a free agent though the Steelers aren't letting him go anywhere. He's great but I'd prefer either of the next two players.

2. RB2 David Johnson. The Cardinals were awful last season but he was great, which is a good sign that he'll be great again in 2017 no matter what happens around him. His scary knee injury in Week 17, his knee was twisted up like a pretzel, might have been a good sign because it suggests he's close to indestructible. A couple weeks after his MCL sprain, he's stand jumping out of a pool. He's going to be great.

3. RB3 Ezekiel Elliott. Great things were expected from him as a rookie and he delivered. And Dallas is a great place to be with a great young QB, great young offensive line, and a No. 1 WR to distract the defense.

4. WR1 Antonio Brown. He didn't score in 2016 like a No. 1 overall pick, but Martavis Bryant applied for reinstatement, and his return could make his 2017 look like his 2016 was supposed to be.

5. WR2 Odell Beckham Jr. Nothing against him as a player, or him as a side show, but QB Eli Manning was one step closer to finding a fork in his back last season. There aren't a lot of great skill players on the Giants besides Beckham but still, Manning should have been better. I'm not a big fan of Beckham in 2017 because of his quarterback.

6. RB4 LeSean McCoy. A change of coaching staff, change in quarterback, wondering whether WR Sammy Watkins ever be healthy, bad weather Buffalo during my fantasy playoffs... I'd love him in the NFC South, but I'm not sure about him in Buffalo next season.

7. WR3 Mike Evans. He's great and an unstoppable deep threat last season, but I'd have trouble selecting him at this point and passing on the next two players.

8. RB5 Jordan Howard. With a full season as a starter and a hopefully better quarterback situation, he could be outstanding next season. Or he could be a one year wonder and a huge bust. Who knows! I'd take a chance on him.

9. WR4 Julio Jones. How'd he only have 6 touchdowns last season? That seems like a fluke. Even if the Falcons offense takes a step back overall, he could easily double his TD receptions next season anyway.

10. WR5 A.J. Green. It didn't help that he missed 4 games but he wasn't a superstar for most of the season anyway. He'd get his targets and yards but he rarely found the end zone. The Bengals offense looked blah last season. Maybe a healthy Tyler Eifert will help but I'm not liking him as a first round pick in 2017.

11. RB6 Melvin Gordon. I love ex-Badgers but as much as it was fluke that Gordon didn't score a single TD as a rookie, his 12 TDs in 2016 felt like just as much of a fluke. I'm not a fan of him at this spot in the draft.

12. RB7 DeMarco Murray. He found a great place in Tennessee, and the offense could easily improve with some better receivers. I'd be completely happy with him at the end of the first round.

I'm going to No. 13 just so I can include a Packer!

13. WR6 Jordy Nelson. I'd rank him higher because he was so much better later in the season after he shook off the rust. I do worry about how much more punishment his 30+ year old body can take, but he's still great.

20. RB11 Devonta Freeman. I'm a huge fan so I'm including him. This ranking is too low. Ranking him behind Blount and Peterson? I understand the concern that he shares time with Tevon Coleman, but he's going to be great again next season anyway.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Packers Free Agency: The Release of Sam Shields

My previous post was about how I considered whether the Green Bay Packers might change their typically cautious free agent ways if they decide to release CB Sam Shields and then go after one of the top corners in a strong free agent class. Step one happened on Wednesday, they released CB Sam Shields. Step two, an aggressive move in free agency, remains an option. How big a blow was his absence last season while the secondary was shredded on a weekly basis?
Huge. And his absence next season will be huge. From the stand point of on-the-field performance, this is a disastrous move. They can't sign Richard Sherman to replace him (and Revis isn't that player anymore) and basically anyone else is a step down.

But this roster move isn't about his football play, it's about the five documented concussions he's had during his career (along with who knows how many undocumented ones). This is like past ones with TE Jermichael Finley (never re-signed after a spinal injury) and FS Nick Collins (released after a spinal injury) and it hurts just as much as those roster moves. All three of them are great players, in the primes of their careers, and they were cut short due to serious injuries.

The defense has to sort out it's situation at outside LB with three players (Peppers, Perry, Jones) headed to free injury, but having an upgrade at cornerback (not from Shields, but from his replacements last season) is the more important task. There's always the draft but they tried that in 2015 and ended up with Randall and Rollins. Just like with Shields back in 2010, they did better job that year finding an undrafted corner (Gunter). With the salary cap room saved by releasing Shields, it would be best spent targeting a free agent corner who would fit in Capers's system.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Could The Packers Change Their Free Agency Ways For A Cornerback?

The Green Bay Packers don't avoid free agency, they talk to a lot of free agents during the offseason, but they never overpay. If a free agent is available at the right price (like LB Julius Peppers and TE Jared Cook) then it happens once ever other year or two. But they aren't going on a NY Giants-like spending spree no matter what's been reported.
Maybe they'll be more active but not more aggressive. The only player they really need to keep happy is QB Aaron Rodgers. But he's under contract for three more years (and he'll probably keep playing beyond 2019) and he hasn't seemed to be demanding a free agency spending spree. The Packers are usually focused primarily on keeping their own free agents.

If the Packers do change their free agent ways this year, the one position that stands out is cornerback. Obviously it's a need (based on last season) but the Packers had a plan with CB Sam Shields as their No. 1 guy and now his career is in doubt because of repeated concussions. The Packers would have a $3,125,000 cap hit if they released him but they might not have any choice and they save $9,000,000 that they could use on a free agent cornerback, in what is a pretty good group of free agent corners.

Over The Cap lists seven unrestricted free agents who could be available. Rams' CB Trumaine Johnson reminds me of Shields as an all-cover, no-tackling type. Texans' CB A.J. Bouye, Johnson, and Bills' CB Stephon Gilmore should all cost more on an annual basis than Shields but prices have gone up since Shields signed his four-year extension. Even players like Jaguars CB Prince Amukamara and Patriots' CB Logan Ryan, who should cost less and aren't as good as Shields, could at least plug the dike and allow the other cornerbacks to move down the depth chart.

If anything, the Packers will probably address this position in the draft with someone like Washington's CB Sidney Jones or Iowa's CB Desmond King. But this is an unusual situation at cornerback with Shields so maybe his injury forces the Packers to do something they don't normally do.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Packers Were Beaten By Falcons in NFC Championship Game By A Lot

It's hard for the Green Bay Packers and all of their fans to start Sunday with a whole lot of optimism and then have all of the adrenaline leave your body by the end of the day.
The Packers and mostly QB Aaron Rodgers pulled a formerly 4-6 team through an eight game winning streak to make it to the NFC Championship game. But there were problems under the surface and they all seemed to take center stage against the Falcons.
It felt like that first round bye made all the difference. The Falcons were mostly healthy while the Packers were losing players due to injury left and right. How much of that was due to having to play an extra playoff game (against a great opponent) and having that one extra week to rest?

Losing CB Micah Hyde in the 2nd quarter from a paper thin secondary was horrible. DT Letroy Guion finished up the last few minutes of the game at right guard because the Packers ran out of offensive lineman (Taylor, Lang and Bulaga were all hurt). Holding WR Jordy Nelson's ribs together with military-grade kevlar was kind of symbolic of the game. The Packers just ran out of gas.

On offense: They played OK but they had a couple uncharacteristic problems. They didn't do a good job of picking up the blitz, and I haven't seen the receivers drop that many receptions in a while. In someways, the drops are nothing new; TE Jared Cook seems obligated to drop every third pass to mix in with his great receptions. The fumble near the goal line by FB Aaron Ripkowski hurt too. But these problems alone didn't decide the game.

Special teams: K Mason Crosby missed his first FG attempt in the playoffs since 2010. Again, he didn't cost them the game, but they couldn't afford to miss out on any points.

On defense: The defense had to slow them down, make them settle for field goals, like the did to the Cowboys the week before. Instead the pass rush didn't get anywhere near QB Matt Ryan, which was especially a problem on 3rd downs, they didn't force any turnovers, and the Falcons scored a touchdown on nearly every drive. Other than the long TD reception by WR Julio Jones when he ran through a couple tackles, the Packers did a good job at preventing the big plays. But it didn't do them any good because the Falcons were marching down the field. The Falcons spread the ball around through the air, and were still able to take advantage of Jones against CB Ladarius Gunter, who's had a fantastic season considering he wasn't expected to be more than the No. 4 CB this season. He has a role on the defense but not against No. 1 wideouts. And I lost count of all the missed tackles. The entire team struggled but the defense fell apart.

While this could be viewed as another lost opportunity (Mike McCarthy now has a record of 1-3 in NFC Championship games) another way to look is that this was a flawed team (especially in the secondary) that still got within a game of another Super Bowl. It was a great season, even if it didn't end up with a trip to Houston and another championship.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Everyone Says The Falcons Will Beat The Packers

Statistically, the Falcons have been a better team over the course of the 2016 season, and they should defeat the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game. Of course, the Packers haven't lost since November and are in the midst of "run the table" but the Falcons haven't lost since early December and their defense has been playing great over their past several games. So maybe those two hot streaks will cancel each other out and it'll come down to who's the better team. Statistically, the Falcons are better.
While I was worried about facing the Giants in the cold at Lambeau, or having to win a game in Seattle, I wasn't worried about playing in either Dallas or Atlanta under a roof. QB Aaron Rodgers thrives in those games, even if his Georgia Dome record is only 2-2, he's been lights out.

The big concern is injuries. Nelson, Adams and Allison are all still maybes and if all three can't play, that's a big problem. Cobb's been playing fantastic since taking a couple weeks off to heal late in the regular season, but Davis and Janis have done basically nothing this season. Janis might just live for the postseason, but that's not really something to count on. This could either be an OK situation or a big problem.

Even if the situation at receiver is the worst case scenario, at least Rodgers can lean more on TE Jared Cook and his running backs. Also, add to the list below that the Packers didn't have RB Christine Michael last time.
QB Matt Ryan did shred the Packers defense in their early season match-up but that was the start of a four game losing streak during which the secondary completely fell apart. It's still the same cast of characters in the secondary (minus Morgan Burnett, who appears likely to miss the game with a quad injury) but they've not been as bad over the past couple months. Hopefully they can just hang on. 

Facing Dallas in Dallas, and Atlanta in Atlanta, is a challenge but those were the exact match-ups I was hoping they would face. Injuries and an MVP season from Matt Ryan are both tough to overcome, and the odds are against them, but this is the tough road to the Super Bowl and I'm very optimistic that the Packers will win in Atlanta.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

What Are The Packers Like Without Jordy Nelson?

So the real bad news from after the Green Bay Packers' victory over the Giants:
WR Jordy Nelson is the No. 3 ranked receiver according to Football Outsiders and led the NFL with 14 touchdowns. What's more impressive is that most of his production came during "run the table" time. He was so much better in the latter part of the season, and there's no way they're better without him than with him.

The good news is that the Packers did score 38 points against the Giants last weekend without him. But the bad news is that the offense fell off a cliff in 2015 without him. Assuming he cannot play in Dallas, the offense should look like they did in the 2nd half against the Giants instead of the struggling 2015 unit.

WR Davonte Adams and Randall Cobb. Without Nelson in 2015, both receivers struggled and Adams was a disaster. But 2016 is a different season for Adams. Though he's far from a perfect receiver (he's dropped three TD passes over the past few games) he's much better playing the role of a short(er) route runner. Cobb looked like a different man after having taken a couple weeks off to rest and playing exclusively in the slot against an over-matched nickel corner.

WR Geronimo Allison. If he's dropped a pass this season, I don't remember it. He's like the anti-Adams, and he's taken over the role the Packers seemed to foist onto Adams in 2015 as a deep threat. He doesn't draw a lot of attention in coverage and he's a good route runner (without a lot of speed). He'll kind of take over the James Jones role from last season.

TE Jared Cook. What a difference he's made. When Nelson was out last season, I expected the Packers would lean heavily on Eddie Lacy and the tight end position to make up some of the production. But Lacy struggled with his weight in 2015 and TE Richard Rodgers just can't do too much on offense. But Cook can truly replace some of what Nelson provided and he's been a major part of the "run the table" offense.

RB Ty Montgomery. Somehow he avoided destroying all the ligaments in his knee when he got twisted up like a pretzel in the 2nd half against the Giants, so he's still a factor. He's what I hoped Lacy could have been as a rushing threat and a receiver out of the backfield.

RB Christine Michael. Oh, the burst through the line. He doesn't bring a lot of skills to the field (he's not better than Montgomery) but when he finds a running lane, he explodes through it. He'll only get a few touches, but he'll be a home run threat when it happens.

As much as I'll miss seeing Nelson in Dallas (assuming that's the case), the additions of Cook, Montgomery and Michael make up for it in ways that the Packers didn't have on their roster in 2015 (Montgomery was out most of the 2015 season).

Monday, January 09, 2017

Packers Win Wild Card Round Over The Giants, 38-13

The Green Bay Packers aren't known for their slow starts but it does happen from time-to-time. They played a very sloppy first half against the Lions in Week 17. Against the Giants, they spent the first 25 minutes of game time with the offense firmly left back in the locker room. And then they lost WR Jordy Nelson to a rib injury! With about 5 minutes to go in the first half, the Packers offense had somewhere around 7 yards of total offense, for the game!

The defense was in trouble too. QB Eli Manning was accurate on his passes for their first two possessions and the Giants were moving up-and-down the field. Luckily the cold ball was a problem for them and there were multiple dropped passes (one on 3rd down and one in the end zone). The Giants only had 6 points (two field goals) to show for what should have been at least two field goals and a touchdown.

Surprisingly, it was the often absent special teams unit that gave the Packers their first boost. A big kickoff return by WR Jeff Janis after the second Giants field goal flipped the field position battle and pinned the Giants inside their 10 yard line. Then the defense had a big three-and-out, Micah Hyde had a nice punt return to the Giants 38 yard line, and QB Aaron Rodgers found WR Davante Adams in the end zone on a perfect pass just past the defender (who was all over him) and the length of Adams's arms.
The Giants had completely dominated the first 25 minutes of the game but they hadn't built a significant lead. All it took was one touchdown pass to take it away. After the Packers defense forced another punt, Rodgers happened again:
Then it was an 8 point deficit at halftime. That felt like a dagger but the Giants came out strong in the 2nd half. The Packers punted on their first 2nd half possession. Then they got stopped on 4th down on their second possession, gave the Giants great field position, and a blown coverage handed the Giants a long touchdown pass to make it 13 to 14.

And then the Packers stomped all over the Giants for the rest of the game. From the 5:16 mark in the 3rd quarter, the Packers outscored the Giants 24-0. Nothing worked for the Giants with two three-and-outs, a completely shredded New York Pass Defense, and even their special teams fell apart with a kickoff return run out of bounds at their 3 yard line. The Giants have the best defense that made the playoffs this season (only the Broncos were better during the regular season) and Rodgers completely shredded them.

It's hard to judge the players on this game. The defense was a complete wreck early in the game and they were only saved by some dropped passes, while the offense couldn't do anything (4 first half sacks and a lot of punts). And then over the last 20 minutes of the game, each unit was unstoppable. Which of them will show up in Dallas next week?

This was a great win and a little bit therapeutic for two previous home playoff losses to QB Eli Manning. It's not a game that could be taken for granted and (eventually) the Packers brought their "A game" (2nd half edition). The Cowboys have had a great season and they won't be taken for granted, but the Packers are rolling as they make their plans to head down to Dallas next week.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Packers (10-6) Win The NFC North Title in Detroit, 31-24

Breathe a sign of relief Mr. Run The Table:
No one's been better over the last six games than QB Aaron Rodgers, as the Packers turned a 4-6 record and a long-shot playoff dream into a 10-6 run the table reality. The offense was sloppy in the first half against the Lions, in parts because of penalties and the desire to hide RB Ty Montgomery off the field. In the second half, Montgomery played a lot more and everything started working, even though he didn't end up with a huge stat line (61 yards from scrimmage). The threat of a running game (Aaron Ripkowski doesn't count) is a huge advantage as it opens up the field.

About WR Geronimo Allison. Basically what we saw from him against the Lions was the same thing he's been doing since the preseason. He's not blazing fast, but he runs good routes and he doesn't drop the ball. He's moved into the role the Packers were trying to give to WR Trevor Davis, who hasn't been seen returning punts or running routes for the past several weeks because he couldn't stop dropping and fumbling the ball. Cobb's absence has opened up the No. 3 WR spot temporarily for Allison and he should be a factor in the playoffs if Cobb isn't ready next week.

The defense isn't as bad as it was in 2011 or 2013 (really, those were some dark times) but it's still not good. The pass rush was great early in the season but it's faded over the past few games while two of their best pass rushers have dealt with injuries (LB Clay Matthews will have shoulder surgery in the offseason, LB Nick Perry is playing with a clubbed hand after December hand surgery). The run defense isn't as good as it was back in September but it can be stout when it wants to be with Daniels, Clark and Guion in the middle. Also, DT Mike Pennel is eligible to return. It isn't important to have him back against the Giants (who can't run the ball) but he'll be welcome if they have to travel to Dallas the following week. Of course, the big story is the cornerbacks.

I've been pleasantly surprised by CB Ladarius Gunter this season, and he's had some good moments, but as the only competent cornerback this season, it seems more like he's been avoided because the opposite side of the field has been so poorly defended. It looked scary on Sunday, but CB Quinten Rollins appears to be doing well after his neck injury, though I'm not counting on either him or CB Damarious Randall next week. As poorly as those two have played when healthy, I've been wondering for the past few weeks whether they'd be better of having DB Micah Hyde outside at corner and S Marwin Evans in the dime role. But if Randall and Rollins can't play, they'll need a couple more DBs for depth, which means CB Josh Hawkins will be active and they might have to promote Waters or Whitehead from the practice squad. This group isn't going to turn into a strength over the remainder of the playoffs, but it might hold up against a struggling Giants passing attack.

They've done a great job this season just to hold it all together after a mid-season collapse, and respond with a six game winning streak to advance to the playoffs. But all the remaining playoff teams have problems on their roster at one position or another. If their offense can keep rolling (and keep avoiding turnovers) and the defense can just be decent, then they can make a run in the playoffs.