Pack Leaps to Division Lead, Led by Lacy's Legs

Posted November 24th, 2014 @ 01:11am

Say what you want about the 2014 Packers, they are able to assume different identities depending on the situation facing them. In the two 50-point explosions, the passing game was on fire, as the Bears and Eagles defenses basically dared Aaron Rodgers to throw the ball.

We figured the Vikings would play a lot of cover 2, to try to force the Pack to run, or dink and dunk and earn their yards and shorten the game. Once again, like in the first matchup, the Packers were happy to morph into a running team, as Eddie Lacy led the offense with his second 100 yard rushing day of the season--both coming against the Vikes, finishing with a season high 125 on the ground on 25 carries.

Is there anything more satisfying than running out the clock on the road by pounding the ball down your opponents' throats? When the Pack took over at their own 20 with 3:23 to play and their lead cut to three, everyone in the house knew the Pack would ride Lacy and try to run out the clock. And the Vikings were powerless to do anything about it. Props to injured guards TJ Lang and Josh Sitton, who helped trigger the running game all afternoon.

Was it pretty? No. Was the Pack perfect? Hardly. But that's to be expected in a game like this. I thought it would be a one possession game late and it was, but it was a little closer than I (and virtually everybody not named Paul Allen) expected. The Pack committed eight penalties, which is not like them. But they won the turnover battle (1-0, the Pack is now +34 in turnover differential in 53 division games under McCarthy) and held Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikes to 38% on third downs.

The rookie QB saved the defense on a number of occasions, missing some throws that could have been big gainers. There's a lot to like about his game. He seems to have the poise in the pocket of Russell Wilson and the ability to extend plays and make the right decisions. But he was dreadful for the most part on throws that went 20 yards downfield--he needs to improve in that department. The team could use some receivers that can get some separation--that would help him too.

It wasn't a great day for the Packers defense but they made just enough plays to get the job done. They'll need to be a lot sharper next Sunday when Tom Brady and the high flying Patriots come to Lambeau for a Thanksgiving weekend classic. Weather permitting, it has the looks of an 80-point pinball affair.

They're not all going to be pretty. But with cold weather in store in four of the next five games and beyond, I like having Eddie Lacy in the backfield bouncing off defenders. 70 of his 125 yards came after first contact--a season high. That kind of production will keep opposing defenses honest and Rodgers will become even more dangerous.

At 8-3, the Pack has vaulted to the #2 spot in the NFC and have their eye on the top spot. The Cardinals fell to 9-2 in Seattle and still have road games to play in Atlanta, St. Louis and San Francisco and home games with the Chiefs and Seahawks--a tough slate.

The Packers have an easier road; but next Sunday's test, which will assuredly be billed as a possible Super Bowl preview, will provide the Pack with a chance to stake their claim that they're the NFL's top dog as the calendar turns to December.

Rodgers vs. Brady. Is it Sunday yet?

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Can Pack Stay Hot? Take It to the Bank.

Posted November 21st, 2014 @ 04:11pm

It's Vikings week, where we in Minnesota always have a little extra at stake. In the 20 years I've lived here, I've taken many the hard climb up the steps from the lower section at the Metrodome, listening to the jeering of Vikings fans after another Favre-era loss.

Lately, there hasn't been much jeering. Outside of the meaningless 2012 Ponder-led finale, the Pack has been in solid control in this series and they come into this game riding a wave unlike any we've ever seen.

But one thing we know about the NFL: you can't take any game for granted--especially division games (are you listening Kansas City?). While the Vikings are going nowhere this season, they still feel the burn of last month's 42-10 prime time shellacking and will be focused and ready to show the gap between the teams isn't that wide.

But the startling lack of offensive firepower for the Purple makes it hard to believe they'll be able to keep up with the Pack, meaning they'll likely need some help from special teams or the rare Packer turnover. They have no healthy running backs, except for Ben Tate, who they claimed on waivers a couple of days ago. He may be forced to play, with Matt Asiata out and Jerick McKinnon banged up. He's shown ability when filling in for Arian Foster in Houston the last couple of years ago. But is he ready to handle pass protection duties against Dom Capers' unpredictable looks?

Teddy Bridgewater makes his first start against the Pack and to give you an idea of who he has to throw to, former Packer Charles Johnson may start. Greg Jennings has been out all week with a rib injury and Jarius Wright (hamstring) is out as well. Cordarelle Patterson has been a non-factor in the passing game, but expect Norv to try to find ways to get the ball in his hands somehow. I mean, who else is there? Tight end Kyle Rudolph returned against the Bears, but his snaps were limited and he doesn't appear anywhere near 100%.

The Packers defense appears to have the clear upper hand in this matchup. If Clay Matthews' groin tightens up and Nick Perry doesn't play, it will force others to step up, but on a cold day with an inexperienced QB, I don't see the Vikings marching up and down the field very often. The pass rush should disrupt Teddy all day and force him to check down, and with the team's inability to stretch the field, the safeties will set up camp within ten yards of the line of scrimmage and look to wreak some havoc.

Offensively, the Pack has been the London Philharmonic lately. You may remember it took a while to get going in the first matchup, with five three and outs. In that game, one big play to Jordy Nelson and then a couple of quick picks allowed the Packers to downshift and coast to an easy victory. Aaron Rodgers passed for 150ish yards in that one. I'm guessing he eclipses that total on Sunday. The Vikes will try to take Nelson away with a safety shading his way. That will open up opportunities for Randall Cobb and Davante Adams. Whoever is lucky enough to see Josh Robinson across the line will be smiling like Rodgers was last weekend.

The running game should also have its way--the Vikings are in the lower third in run defense and will be forced to try to slow the Lacy-Starks combo without the benefit of having eight guys in the box.

I'm interested to see the split of Vikings-Packer fans at the Bank. Wouldn't surprise me to see/hear a near 50-50 split. If the Pack figures out its special teams errors of a week ago and takes care of the ball, I don't see how the Vikings make it interesting. Chances are, a few bounces will go their way, which may keep Wayne Larrivee from giving the dagger until the 2:00 hour.

Packers 27  Vikings 13

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Peaking Too Early? Is It a Thing?

Posted November 19th, 2014 @ 06:11pm

During his weekly radio appearance on Tuesday, Aaron Rodgers was asked if there was a danger of peaking too early. "I don't even understand what that means," he told ESPN Milwaukee. "We're just playing well right now. I don't believe in peaking early."

He doesn't, but we fans do. The NFL season is a long, winding roller coaster ride, where the flavor of the week is applauded, from Seattle to Denver to Arizona to New England. You want your team to be the one that is playing at its best as the playoffs begin. Often, the team everyone is celebrating in November is long forgotten in January.

Why? Usually an injury or two derails a team's acceleration. The Packers are as healthy as they've been all season and it's showing on the field. It's amazing what can happen when your offensive line, skill guys, pass rushers, D-backs and your QB all play every week. But that can change at the drop of a hat, which causes fans to utter the dreaded "P" word.

Today, the Packers are the Vegas favorites to win the Super Bowl at 4/1 (vegasinsider.com) despite the fact that if the season ended today they'd be the #5 seed in the NFC with a road playoff game wildcard weekend at the locale of one of Rodgers' greatest games: Atlanta. Yes, the 4-6 Falcons would host the Pack in the first round.

But with six games to play  the Packers are on a roll, with a favorable schedule where the road games (Minnesota, Buffalo and Tampa Bay) look less challenging than the home games (New England, Atlanta and Detroit). And with the way the Pack is dominating at Lambeau, a home playoff game or two looks like it could turn into a trip to the title game or Super Bowl (it would be helpful if they could avoid facing their kryptonite, San Francisco, though).

The offense is humming at a level never before seen and Rodgers is playing the position at a level we've never before seen. The defense appears re-energized with Clay Matthews' new  semi-home in the middle and Julius Peppers setting the tone from the edge.

But we're Packer fans so we need to find something to worry about. Two straight 50 burgers? Are we peaking too early? No, we're healthy, humming and riding the arm of an all-timer just entering his prime.

All is as it should be as we enter the stretch run. So to quote that strong-armed QB: R-E-L-A-X.

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The Baker's Dozen Why 13 and not 10? To celebrate the Pack’s 13 NFL titles, of course. 11/24/14

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