Who gets your game ball?
Posted December 5th, 2016 @ 04:12am
For me, the Pack's victory over the Texans felt like a plate of kung pao chicken with a side of fried rice. Satisfying in the moment, but leaving you feeling a bit empty and hungry for more an hour or so later.
Yes, the snowy conditions made things difficult on both sides of the ball and Aaron Rodgers was clearly not close to 100%, but this game felt like so many recent games at Lambeau, where inferior teams hang around and find themselves in position to steal a game late.
Let's start with the defense. Brock Osweiler was overmatched from the start, unable and unwilling to throw the downfield until he was forced to play catch up. For the most part, the defense did what we expected them to do. Nick Perry and Jake Ryan left the game early with injuries, but both returned in the second half. Dom Capers was aggressive, but the constant blitzing got his unit in trouble. Time after time on third and long, the Texans handed off and converted: third and eight, third and nine, third and 12. They converted six out of 15 third downs--it felt like they were more successful than that.
But overall, the defense was okay and will need to be much better next Sunday--more on that in a bit.
With Aaron Rodgers limited, the offense lacked the explosiveness it showed last week. The running game was stuck in neutral until McCarthy finally gave up on James Starks and put Ty Montgomery back there. Those maddening wide runs with Starks on third and short are hopefully officially in mothballs.
The Packers offense awakened in the nick of time when it orchestrated a beautiful 98 yard drive that started near the end of the third quarter and ended early in the fourth. They finally converted on a third and one when Montgomery broke loose for eleven yards. The drive included three catches by tight ends and was punctuated by a 32 yard touchdown pass to Nelson, aided by a corner who slipped on the route.
The Pack D forced a punt and then another impressive touchdown drive gave the Pack a 14 point lead and we could all exhale. This time it was an eight play 89 yard drive. Two catches by Jordy Nelson totaling 50 yards were the highlights, with Rip bulling ahead for the final three yards. On the heels of Davante Adams' emergence in recent weeks, Nelson was the offensive star of the game, making big catches all afternoon.
So after slogging along for nearly three quarters, the offense awoke in the nick of time, but there were causes for concern, like the third down play calling and the bizarre decision to go for it on fourth and two in a tie game in the second quarter. It appeared that Rodger changed the play ro a run at the line of scrimmage. In a game of field position, where the team was struggling to convert on short yardage, it seemed highly questionable decision.
So it was a win with warts, but at this point we'll take what we can get. Rodgers' streak of winning December home games of eight years and counting is still alive, but it will be tested in a big way next Sunday when the Seahawks come to town. Their Sunday night demolition of the Panthers will have everyone on their bandwagon, but they've been a different team on the road and for the Packers it's more of a playoff type game than it is for Seattle.
Detroit's surprise performance in New Orleans has them in control of the North and the Packers know they're running out of wiggle room. For Week 17 to determine the North, the Pack needs to keep winning and hope the Lions slip up either at the Giants or the Cowboys on a Monday night.
NBC put up a stat on Sunday night that the Seahawks are just 2-2-1 this season when one of their big three on defense misses the game (Sherman, Chancellor and Thomas). The broken leg suffered by Earl Thomas means the big three won't be intact next Sunday afternoon. So we got that going for us, but the Seahawks' offense was in rhythm and the Packers will need to play their best game to get past them. They opened as 2.5 point road favorites.
Rodgers' hamstring will get as much attention as a mall Santa this week as we all hope he's closer to 100% next Sunday and play more like the surgeon he was in Philly last Monday before he tweaked it.
He said he thought the team could run the table and they're 2-0 since. But next Sunday will be the toughest test before what we hope is a Week 17 play-in game.
Posted December 2nd, 2016 @ 04:12pm
Before we get started, I want to give you all a heads up that there's a fun feature about me and my Twin Cities Packers show up at packers.com:
Was Monday nigh's win in Philly a one-off or will it serves as a springboard to a run at the NFC North title? The question will be answered Sunday afternoon when the Pack finally returns to Lambeau for some December football.
Here come the Texans, losers of two straight, yet hanging on to the lead in the muddled AFC South. Here comes a Texans team built on defense and running the football. A team that invested tens of millions of dollars in Brock Osweiler. If they could rewind the clock and undo the deal, they would do it in one second. Added bonus, JJ Watt wouldn't be injured yet.
Osweiler has done nothing to justify the team's ridiculous investment. He's turned all world wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins into a mere mortal. The team's offensive shortcomings, including a banged up Lamar Miller, should be precisely what the doctor ordered for the Pack's beleaguered defense.
We can thank the Eagles' mediocre skill position players in part for the Pack's defensive renaissance on Monday night. The Texans bring in a similar type of group, Hopkins not withstanding. With Damarius Randall having one healthy game under his belt and Quentin Rollins playing much better on Monday, the secondary appears healthy enough for the challenge the Texans provide.
As usual, it will start with the run defense. Lamar Miller will be the team's offensive focal point, and the Pack needs to keep him under wraps. Bill O'Brien would like nothing more than keeping Aaron Rodgers and company off the field by extending drives and chewing up the clock. Maybe the Pack gets Jake Ryan back, after it sounded like he'd be ready last Monday. Ryan's presence would be huge, especially if Clay Matthews' shoulder keeps him out, or limits his effectiveness.
The Packers' success is always wrapped around Rodgers and we have no idea the severity of his hamstring injury. Conventional wisdom: the Packers are on a short week and it hasn't had a chance to calm down completely. So Mike McCarthy will keep him from under center and continue to move the ball the way they did in Philly, with a quick rhythm passing game, where #12 gets rid of the ball quickly and lets his receivers do the work after the catch. Needless to say, the weapon that is Rodgers' legs will be kept on ice this weekend.
Assuming Rodgers is close to healthy, the Packers should be able to handle the Texans' defense. The loss of Watt would be tough for any defense; the unit continues to play well though, led by linebackers Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Merciless. Coordinator Romeo Crennell loves to blitz a lot because his back end can't cover anyone. Provided the Pack's offensive line can continue to dominate the line of scrimmage and keep Rodgers upright, the Pack's passing game should flourish.
There have been no guarantees at Lambeau for the past year and change, losing two of the last three. But with three December games at home, this is the time of year the team needs to reclaim their football palace. Can't see this team not building on what they did on Monday night.
Packers 27 Texans 17
Posted November 29th, 2016 @ 03:11pm
It wasn't quite as world changing as setting foot on the moon, but the Packers' dominant 27-13 win in Philadelphia reminded us that that they do have enough healthy bodies to compete in a tough environment.
Aaron Rodgers played flawlessly from the first snap, leading the Pack on a vintage opening drive that set the tone for the game. Finally, we saw a game plan that fit the Packers' talents, allowing Rodgers to get rid of the ball quickly to neutralize a tough Eagles pass rush, and giving the receivers a chance to pick up yards in chunks after catching short passes. And when Rodgers didn't see anything, he tucked the ball in his arm and took off running.
The defense predictably surrendered an opening drive touchdown itself, but who would have thought that would be the last time Went and company would reach the end zone? The defense was still pretty mediocre overall, but benefited from facing an average offense that lacks playmakers. The game turned on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix's interception with the Pack leading by four and the Eagles driving. Rodgers and Davante Adams hooked up immediately on a 50 yard play and Mason Crosby's field goal bumped the lead to seven. The Eagles would get no closer.
Adams has been a revelation over the last six weeks or so, developing into the team's top receiver one year later than Rodgers and McCarthy predicted. Clearly he wasn't ready to handle that role last season, with Jordy Nelson out. The team's patience with him has been rewarded and his chemistry with Rodgers is carrying this offense right now.
The most impressive and unexpected stat of the night was Green Bay's third down efficiency. Their 10-14 performance was the best on third down in the NFL this season, and the Eagles entered the game as the league's third best defense on third downs.
A tip of the cap to the Pack's offensive line, which allowed zero sacks against Jim Schwartz' aggressive defense. Playing without two starters, they didn't miss a beat, keeping studs Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham at bay all night. Jason Spriggs has been a revelation at right guard--he may be the starter there next season.
The only buzzkill of the night was Rodgers tweaking his hamstring early in the second half. It obviously removed his ability to run with the ball, as well as playing from under center. We'll find out over the next few days the severity of the injury. He downplayed it after the game, but it's a short week and those types of injuries can get much worse, if you're not careful.
The announcement 90 minutes before kickoff that Jake Ryan would be inactive was a surprise, based on news reports over the last 48 hours. It meant Clay Matthews had to return inside and help man the middle of the field. For the most part, the unit did its job holding the Eagles to 81 yards on the ground and not allowing the electric Darren Sproles to make any back-breaking big plays.
The secondary still has issues, and will throughout the remainder of the season. But they got a shot in the arm with the return of Damarius Randall and were able to keep Wentz and company from extending drives, holding them to 5-11 on third down and 0-1 on fourth down. The Packers won't face any more dynamic passing attack until week 17 in Detroit.
If the Pack can duplicate Monday night's effort over the last five games, they may be playing for a division title in Motown on January 1st. For now, we'll be happy to know that the Packers have the ability to look like the Packers again. And now they return home for December games against the Texans and Seahawks. If they can get that Lambeau mojo back, Rodgers' declaration of 'running the table' may not be as far-fetched as it sounded last week.