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.