How are you feeling about the Pack after the win over the Lions?
Posted September 26th, 2016 @ 02:09am
There are two paths you can choose to take following the Pack's 34-27 win over the Lions. You can take the path that celebrates the first half offensive awakening and stout defense that had the Pack up by 28 points. Or you can take the other path, the one that can't get past the Lions comeback, where Marvin Jones channeled his inner Stefan Diggs and the Packers offense went dormant.
I'll be taking the first path. Was I thrilled with the second half? Of course not. We'll get to that in a bit. As usual, Aaron Rodgers responded to the national criticism as he always does. Four first half touchdowns and a near perfect opening 30 minutes--hitting all kinds of throws to all kinds of receivers and suddenly it was 2014 all over again. And the running game was humming along as well.
The only thing that gave us pause, was the end of the half bomb to Marvin Jones, sprung when Josh Hawkins lost his footing and missed a tackle. Suddenly it was 31-10, the Lions had a faint pulse and they would be getting the ball to start the second half.
Credit Matthew Stafford, who got into a rhythm in the third quarter, even though the Pack's run defense--along with its big lead--made the offense one dimensional. The Lions have plenty of receiving weapons and Jones and Ebron were tough matchups for the depleted Packers defense.
Much was made of the defensive injuries to both teams going in, with the Lions missing their top two players, Ziggy Ansah and DeAndre Levy. The Pack had to dig even deeper, missing five defensive starters and causing Dom Capers to rely on guys who have had few, if any snaps before this game--guys like Brian Price, Marwin Evans, Kentrell Brice, Jarwin Evans and Dean Lowry. Plus Jayrone Elliott and Chris Banjo were getting their first snaps of the season.
That's one reason I'm not going down path number two. It's not realistic to expect defensive excellence when the unit is missing half of its starters, including key guys at each level: Guion, Matthews, Shields and Burnett. Yet the defense was more than sufficient in this game. Things started to break down late, but the guys were gassed--a number of guys were asked to play a lot more snaps than usual, including Peppers and Perry. Perry was the defensive star of the day, with seven tackles, two sacks, a pass defended and two QB hits.
And when the game got a little too close for comfort in the fourth quarter, the defense got a stop, when it needed it most. Hopefully the unit will be a lot healthier when they take the field next, in prime time against the Giants (the G-men will be coming off a short week, playing that Monday night at US Bank Stadium).
As for the offense, when you put up 31 points in a half, it seems you invariably slow down in the second half. The Pack only got the ball once in the third quarter, when a nine play drive stalled and they settled for a field goal. The Lions hit pay dirt before and after that drive and it was 34-20 early in the fourth quarter.
The teams traded punts, and then the Packers had their worst drive of the day--at the worst possible time: a three play series with Eddie Lacy on the sidelines, featuring a run and catch by James Starks that netted eight total yards. Punter Jacob Schum may have saved the day by leaping for a high snap and getting a punt off. The Lions hit again when Damarius Randall tripped in coverage allowing Jones to score and pass the 200 yard mark. It was another tough day for Randall, despite an early interception, when he wrestled the ball away from Eric Ebron.
As you know, the Packers iced it by keeping the ball for the final eight plays, featuring a heavy dose of Lacy, who cracked the 100 yard mark on 17 carries. With Rodgers in sync with his receivers and Lacy looking like Lacy, all was right again for the offense. Except for the Jared Cook injury. He re-injured his ankle in the second quarter and was in a boot and on crutches after the game. Tests are forthcoming, but it doesn't look like he'll back on the field for a while.
It was the only real negative coming out of this one, except for those of you who are dwelling on how close the game got late. I'll still chalk it up to a defense stretched thin by injuries that was on the field a bit too much in the second half. Some of those young guys got some invaluable experience. Hopefully they'll be relegated to the bench in a couple of weeks as the regulars get back on the field.
Finally, gotta give my kid some kudos. Jackson predicted the score on the nose on "Packer Preview." He also thought his Vikings would win and their performance in Charlotte will have many across the nation jumping on their bandwagon. And rightfully so. With Arizona, Seattle and Carolina looking vulnerable, the Vikes will be atop the NFC power rankings heading into week four.
The Packers showed they're starting to figure things out. They're not yet where they want to be, but Aaron Rodgers looked like his old self, as did Jordy Nelson. And for this Packer fan, that's what I really wanted most to see on this September Sunday.
Posted September 23rd, 2016 @ 02:09am
I hope you've all enjoyed "What's wrong with Aaron Rodgers Week." By now we've all read story after story, reminding us that Rodgers has not looked anything like a former MVP for the better part of a season now. The numbers don't lie, but it's far too early in the 2016 season to panic.
Two games in, the Packers offense ranks at or near the bottom of the league in most statistical categories--the once potent Pack attack suddenly is devoid of big plays and game changing players. Mike McCarthy has been too quick to abandon the running game and continues to feature plays where the receivers go deep downfield. More often they not, they have not gotten open and Rodgers has been forced to either hang on to the ball too long or try to fit the ball into a tight space. Wouldn't it be nice to see McCarthy work in more slants, hitches and screens, to take advantage of the quick, jukey talents of Cobb, Nelson and Montgomery? And wouldn't it be nice to see Jared Cook used as the weapon we all believe he can be?
Rodgers perhaps doesn't have the confidence and swagger to tell us all to R-E-L-A-X right now, but with four consecutive home games upcoming, the team will have plenty of time to figure out what's wrong with the offense. None of these opponents provide anything close to an elite defense (Lions, Giants, Cowboys and Bears), so if we head toward November with the offense still stuck in neutral then we can have a serious conversation.
The revival needs to start on Sunday, against a Lions team that will be missing its best player, pass rusher Ziggy Ansah. Their next best defensive player, Milwaukee native DeAndre Levy, is also likely out--he hasn't practiced all week. We've come to expect big Rodgers bounce backs, on the heels of rocky performances. Sunday, it would be nice to see the offense click against this banged up unit.
It would be a surprise if we don't see Jared Abbrederis and Ty Montgomery get some snaps. The Pack hasn't really gone past the top three guys yet. Without a dangerous pass rush, look for more four receiver sets. I expect the offense to be up tempo, feeding off the energy of the crowd at the home opener.
But the Lions come into this game with a much different mindset than they have the last 25 years. For the first time they're not being asked why they can't win in Wisconsin, since the long streak was snapped last season. There will be no intimidation, to mental hoops to jump through--the Lions know they can win at Lambeau.
They're coming off a lousy showing as well, losing at home to the lowly Titans. After an explosive showing in the opener in Indy, the offense stalled last week and is dealing with the season-ending loss of running back Ameer Abdullah. That leaves them with Theo Riddick, a dangerous receiver/scat back type who is unlikely to find much footing between the tackles against the Pack's top ranked rush defense.
Green Bay's defense is as banged up as Detroit's, if not more so. Not practicing this week are Clay Matthews (hamstring), Morgan Burnett (groin), Leroy Guion (knee), Datone Jones (knee) and Sam Shields (concussion). And with the pass defense looking shaky last week against the Vikes' lone weapon Stefon Diggs, they'll have their hands full with Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, Anquan Boldin and Eric Ebron.
With the bye week coming up next week, the Pack may be tempted to try to get by without a few guys to give them extra time to heal. It will be interesting to see how the team deals with those injured guys.
As usual, the Lions are weak up front, despite a bushel full of high draft picks on the offensive line. The Pack should have the advantage with their pass rush, even if a couple of them are not at 100%. Moving Matthew Stafford off his spot and making him get rid of the ball quickly is the recipe to stop the Lions. Not breaking any news here: a shaky secondary can be made to look a lot better with a strong pass rush.
I don't expect a 40 point explosion this Sunday. But I do expect this offense to take some major steps forward, even if it's a rainy afternoon, which appears likely. The Packers will begin the process of quieting the critics by looking a little more like the Packers.
Packers 26 Lions 19
Posted September 19th, 2016 @ 01:09pm
This one is on McCarthy and Rodgers.
Yes, Sam Bradford's play was exemplary and Stefan Diggs showed again that he's a star in the making, but the Pack's defense overall was not the issue on this night. Statistically, the teams were basically even in total yards and time of possession.
Mike McCarthy did not have a great night calling plays and Aaron Rodgers struggled all night with ball protection and accuracy. It added up to just a 14 point night, which will not win you many games in the NFL.
Let's start with the head coach. He'l defend the decision to pass up a 32 yard field goal late in the third quarter that would have tied the game. "We were on a 12 play drive and I thought the advantage was to the offense in that situation," he said after the game. But handing the ball to James Starks on fourth and two against that defense was a disaster. That decision completely changed the momentum of the game. Through two games, fourth downs have been killers for the Pack on both sides of the ball.
I would have liked to see a larger dose of Eddie Lacy in the second half; he's one of those guys who gets better as the game goes along. But McCarthy went pass happy and his quarterback didn't deliver.
Rodgers was off his game from the start. Through two game,s the offense still looks an awfully lot like last year's. There were seven active receivers on the roster, but only three saw the field (why did Ty Montgomery get no snaps?). And the Pack seems intent on getting Jordy Nelson into the flow--he again was the clear cut leader in targets. With the Vikes' pass rush causing problems all night, it's a head scratcher that we don't see more screens and quick hitches dialed up. The Pack's offense seems to always be determined to go downfield, even if nothing is open.
Obviously, the Vikes' defense was up to the challenge. I thought the Pack would find mismatches in the secondary, but their coverage was solid all night. Randall Cobb and Jared Cook were afterthoughts as the Pack zeroed in on Trae Waynes, who's horrid night was saved by his game-saving pick late in the fourth quarter.
Credit where it's due: Mike Zimmer's defense wreaked havoc all night. But the Packers' D wasn't far behind. The run defense was exemplary, completely bottling up Adrian Peterson, before he left with an apparent knee injury. The problem, of course, was the Stefon Diggs-Damarius Randall matchup. Coming off a game where he was the highest graded CB in week 1, Randall was abused by Diggs all night.
Sam Bradford's play was outstanding--he was getting pummeled all night but stepped up and made big play after big play. It looked like he and Diggs had been playing together for years, not days. With the Pack concentrating on stopping the run, Randall was forced to win one on one matchups and on this night he was not up to the challenge.
Despite the fumbles, the late pick and the sluggish offense the Packers were in this one till the final minute. There's no shame in losing a division road game by three, especially on a special night like this was.
But as the team heads back to Lambeau for the next five weeks, there is much work to be done on the offensive side of the ball. This next stretch of home games against the Lions, Giants, Bears and Cowboys will tell us all we need to know about the 2016 Packers. Those four defenses will provide opportunities for the Pack's offense to awaken from its slumber. But if we're still scratching our heads a month from now and the team doesn't score points in bunches against those teams, we'll know there are serious issues for the once potent Pack.
The sky is not falling. The season is young and the Packers are heading home until Halloween weekend. There's plenty of time to get the offense on track. But McCarthy needs to take a good, hard look at his personnel and understand he may have to change some things.
Last week Zimmer said, 'you can't really call this a rivalry until we win a few of these.' After Sunday night, I think we're all ready to call this a rivalry. And one that will resume on a cold Christmas Eve day in Lambeau--likely with a division title at stake.