Escaping From the Dawg Pound Keeps Season From Going to the Dogs.

Posted December 11th, 2017 @ 02:12pm

Admit it, with the Pack trailing the Browns by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, you were figuring out how to get away with skipping work on Monday. The thought of facing Vikings fans after putting the one in the 1-12 Browns was too much to contemplate.

Brett Hundley had been outplayed by DeShone Kizer all afternoon. After his brain cramp on fourth and one in the red zone gave the ball back to Cleveland, where they promptly marched down the field to take a 21-7 lead, it looked like the game--and the prospects of seeing Aaron Rodgers on the field again--was over.

But as we've seen a few times during this long, dark Rodgers-less time warp, Hundley saved his best for last, marching the Pack down the field for a game-tying touchdown late and then making Kizer and the Browns pay for their overtime mistake with a scintillating catch and run by Davante Adams that kept the Pack's season alive.

We should learn in the next day or two whether Rodgers is cleared to return, as is expected. If he does, Hundley will have gone 3-5 in games he finished; not horrible, by any stretch, but those two Lambeau duds (against the Lions and Ravens) will likely come back to haunt us when we look back at the season and lost opportunities.

He didn't get a lot of help from the defense on this day, which gave up five yards a carry on the ground (Isaiah Crowell had his most productive game of the season) and provided very little pass rush to help out a banged up secondary. After the first series, it looked like the mercurial Josh Gordon was poised to put up Antonio Brown-type numbers. We must tip our hats to Damarious Randall, who locked down Gordon the rest of the day.

We can also thank Hue Jackson for only calling four running back screens, something that's killed the Pack all season. They targeted Duke Johnson just four times and completed all four. The defense is unlikely to stop anyone the rest of the way, especially with Davon House likely done for the season after injuring his back. Rodgers' pending return makes that a bit easier to swallow.

Offensively, the Packers struggled on the ground all afternoon, even with Browns nose tackle Danny Shelton out with an injury. The game plan was to stack the box and make Hundley beat them and it nearly worked. The Pack worked hard to put the ball in the hands of their playmakers. Once again Adams was the focal point, with 14 targets, but Mike McCarthy made sure Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb got involved early and they ended up with 13 targets between them.

It was clear early that McCarthy was treating this like the playoff game it was: gambling with a fake punt on the first series and going for it on a second fourth down in that opening drive. But those were the only points the Pack could muster in the first three quarters and for most of the day, it looked like the new Browns era, with John Dorsey at the helm, would start out 1-0.

Trevor Davis' 65 yard punt return gave the Pack life, leading to the game-tying touchdown and once again we faced overtime. This time the Pack lost the toss, but at that moment I thought to myself, OK, it's the Browns--they always figure out a way to lose games like this. Sure enough, Clay Matthews finally got to Kizer, causing him to make the game's biggest mistake: his desperation heave landed in the hands of Josh Jones and the Packers were in business. Adams' walk-off catch and run that took him through the end zone and into the tunnel meant that Brett Hundley had won back to back overtime games (fun fact: Aaron Rodgers has a grand total of one OT win in his career).

So at 7-6, the Packers are still alive, barely, for a playoff spot. And now the fun begins. Of course it could end very quickly because, with or without Rodgers, the Panthers and Cam Newton will be extremely tough to stop. But that worry can wait till Sunday. For now, we face the prospect of Rodgers' returning and that's all we could have hoped for. If the medical team clears him, he'll be back under center and you can't overstate what that could mean to the players around him.

Even if the Pack falls in Carolina, we can hope that he'll be out there the following week against the Vikings in prime time. Playing the spoiler is not a role we know too well, but it would feel awfully good to strike a blow to the Purple's playoff seeding.

 

 

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Will This Be Hundley's Final Act?

Posted December 8th, 2017 @ 01:12pm

The Packers begin the fourth quarter of the season in Cleveland on Sunday, the first of three road games left on the schedule, with zero wiggle room in their chase for an unlikely ninth straight playoff appearance.

We all know the storyline: if the Pack can dispatch the winless Browns, they will likely get Aaron Rodgers back for next week's clash in Carolina in a showdown for two teams chasing a precious wildcard invitation. As it stands right now,  the Packers have a five percent chance to reach the post-season (the Falcons win on Thursday night did them no favors). We'll have to root for the Vikings to take down the Panthers and then hope the Pack can deal them a second straight home loss next week.

But first things first. How dangerous are the winless Browns? They shook up their front office on Thursday, firing GM Sashi Brown, who collected draft picks like they were rookie cards. The success of two QBs he passed on, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, likely sealed his fate. He was instantly replaced by former Packer John Dorsey, who will begin the task of evaluating his current roster beginning with the Packer game on Sunday. Will that galvanize the players, knowing that the new boss will be scrutinizing them very carefully?

The Browns are 0-12 and 1-27 under Hue Jackson, but he's been told he'll be back for a third season. They've actually been competitive in almost every game they've played, especially at home, where they lost by three to the Steelers and Titans. They tend to play well into the second half and then shoot themselves in the foot, and then the other foot.

They seemed electrified by the return of Josh Gordon last week, who's been out of football for three years as he wrestled with personal demons. He caught four balls for 85 yards against the Chargers and they just missed on a couple of big plays. With the Packers hurting big time in the secondary, there will be chances for rookie DeShone Kizer to hook up with his speedy receiver.

With Kevin King on IR and awaiting shoulder surgery and Davon House unlikely to play after missing practice this week, Green Bay will line up with Damarius Randall and Josh Hawkins on the outside and probably Morgan Burnett taking on most of the slot duties. The Pack will have to activate one of two young corners: Donatello Brown or Lenzy Pipkins. The pass rush will need to provide a boost, as it did last week against the Bucs. Besides Gordon, rookie tight end David Njoku has proven to be a dangerous red zone and third down target and second year WR Corey Coleman can be a difficult matchup.

You have to believe the Pack will want to rely on its running game, after Brett Hundley's miserable passing performance last week. He has been better on the road and the Browns don't resemble the Steelers defensively, but they are a top 15 defense, sixth against the run. The run defense has sagged since they lost DE Emmanuel Ogbah and Green Bay will deliver a healthy dose of their new thunder and lightning combination of Jamal Williams and Aaron Jones. Mike McCarthy unwrapped some read option with Hundley in overtime last weekend and its success should mean we'll see a little more on Sunday against an aggressive pass rushing unit led by last spring's #1 pick, Myles Garrett.

Will Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb continue to be faces on a milk carton or will Hundley figure out a way to get them involved? If Nick Perry misses the game, will someone step up so the Browns can't just double Clay Matthews all afternoon?

The Browns are winless, but not hopeless and this figures to be a game that will be decided in the fourth quarter. With so much to play for: the pending return of Rodgers and a slight chance at the playoffs, I have to believe the Packers will do enough things right to keep the Browns winless and their flickering playoff hopes alive.

Packers 20  Browns 16

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Bad Brett Returns, But Packers Escape To Stay Alive.

Posted December 4th, 2017 @ 02:12pm

The good news is, if all goes according to plan, that was the last game Brett Hundley will start at Lambeau. His wretched passing performance was masked by a couple of timely zone read runs late, along with a pair of defensive plays that ultimately swung the game in the Pack's overtime win over the Bucs.

I don't know what it is about playing in front of the home fans, But Hundley did not even closely resemble the guy we saw the previous Sunday night in Pittsburgh. He'll have to revert to that guy next Sunday in Cleveland, or the Pack could find itself losing to the currently winless Browns.

The Packers stayed in this one with a solid ground game that averaged nearly seven yards per carry and nearly 200 yards, led by Jamal Williams who has shown he has what it takes to be a lead back in this league. When Aaron Jones returned to spell him for what turned out to be the last play of the game, we were reminded that he can be a game changer when he's on the field. His one carry was the game winner on Sunday.

Hundley's struggles were consistent all afternoon. He missed wide open receivers and made late decisions. The Bucs came in to the game ranked dead last in passing yards allowed, yet Hundley managed just 84 all afternoon. He has become very adept at rendering Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb invisible, so maybe he could moonlight as a magician in the offseason.

Defensively, it was kind of a mixed bag. They sacked a refreshed Jameis Winston seven times and kept big play receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson in check (just four catches for 57 yards between them). Kenny Clark's strip of Winston that Dean Lowry scooped and scored on was the kind of game-changing play we haven't seen enough of this season. And when Kyler Fackrell was untouched on a punt, his block got the Pack's offense moving.

But they still seem confounded by screen passes, and when Jake Ryan and Clark exited with injuries, they could no longer stop the run, making Peyton Barber look like Marion Barber. If not for some strange play calling by the Bucs in the red zone, this game could have gotten away from the Pack late.

But the overtime gods finally gave the Pack a break, giving the Packers the ball first and this time it was Tampa Bay that never got a chance. How many times has this worked against us in recent years? Williams' and Hundley's legs carried the Pack down the field and Jones provided the exclamation point that kept Green Bay's slim playoff hopes alive.

By all accounts, a win in Cleveland would open the door for Rodgers' return the following week in Carolina. But Green Bay will need a much better game from Hundley. The Browns are competing every week and are much better defensively than the Bucs right now. The return of Josh Gordon gave their offense a boost and the Pack will need to treat this like the playoff game it represents to them.

Sunday's overtime win was a shaky first step in running the table. If they can take care of business next weekend, they'll face the prospect of Aaron Rodgers having Carolina on his mind on December 16th.

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