Packers XLV

Thanksgiving Night: Incompletions, Incomprehension and Indigestion

Posted November 27th, 2015 @ 08:11pm

Sorry for the late post, everyone. It was a long, rainy drive back to Milwaukee after the game and I had family obligations on Friday morning. Finally have a chance now to sit down and reflect on what went down at Lambeau on Thanksgiving night.

Contrary to what many may believe, losing to the Vikings doesn't give me a stomach ache. Losing to the Bears does. Fortunately, it hasn't happened often since Jay Cutler joined the team. But they broke through at a most inopportune time and it may cost the Pack when the playoffs begin.

Of course, the way things are going, it seems like the last place they want to play right now is at Lambeau, following incomprehensible back to back losses to the Lions and Bears. The Packers don't look anything like NFC contenders right now, with a passing attack that is feeble, off-kilter and out of sync. Never before have we seen an Aaron Rodgers-led offense look like a Vince Young-led offense.

Just four days after a resounding victory in Minneapolis signified a giant step forward, the team has taken two big steps back. This one can't be placed at the feet of the defense, or the special teams, or the running game. This loss is courtesy of an anemic air attack that relied solely on screens and dump offs.

As ugly as it was all night, the game was right there for the taking. First and goal at the eight. Four chances to punch it in with a Hall of Fame QB (granted, one who couldn't feel a few of his fingers, thanks to an injury to his left elbow), who had led the team 80 yards in the final two minutes to the doorstep of the end zone. But they couldn't seal the deal.

As time goes by, I will remember this game for the fun my kids had being there with their Milwaukee cousins, for the history of seeing Brett Favre hug Bart Starr and many of his old teammates as #4 was unveiled in its rightful place next to #92. The bitterness of the loss will fade over time.

The reality of the Pack's situation is this: they have a QB who is as good as there is in the game, a solid running attack and a defense that isn't elite, but is good enough to keep them in most games. What they lack are playmakers in the passing game. Davante Adams looks like the moment is too big for him. James Jones can flash, but can't be counted on week in and week out. Randall Cobb needs adequate playmakers on the outside to take away tight coverage inside. And the team needs a productive, athletic tight end that can take advantage of the offense Mike McCarthy wants to run.

The offensive weapons on hand right now may be good enough to beat average teams on any given week, but don't appear capable of stringing together good enough performances week after week. The way things are shaping up, week 17 may be for all the NFC North marbles. You think the Vikes are going to fear the rematch, after watching what the Lions and Bears just did at Lambeau?

Me either.

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Thanksgiving Night at Lambeau: A Feast for the Eyes, Ears and Emotions

Posted November 25th, 2015 @ 03:11pm

It's that time of year when we reflect on all that we are thankful for. Hopefully we will be spending Thanksgiving Day with our loved ones and friends to renew annual traditions, eat, and watch football (not necessarily in that order).

For some of us especially lucky ones, we will conclude the day at Lambeau Field, where the Pack will host its first Turkey Day game since 1923, hosting the hated Bears in the series' 192nd game. It's the tenth straight year the teams will meet in prime time.

And then there's the halftime ceremony, where goosebumps will be in play. Brett Favre's triumphant return to see his name and number retired on the Lambeau Field wall, besides greats like Bart Starr, who will make his final appearance at the place he helped immortalize, to honor the career of the old gunslinger.

As much as I hated the way things ended with Favre, the time has come to move on and celebrate the unparalleled career he had. For 16 years, he dazzled us, perplexed us and wowed us and of course, he was always out there--an ironman streak that will never be challenged by an NFL quarterback.

Sandwiched around the memorable halftime ceremony, the Pack will need to take care of business and dispatch with the Bears, a team they beat in the opener. The Bears looked lost in the first month of the season and appeared headed to a top three pick, allowing them to choose Jay Cutler's successor.

But a funny thing happened since then, the Bears awoke and started to win, most notably by three touchdowns in St. Louis a couple weeks back. Amazing what good coaching will do for you. The Bears have seven new starters since that first meeting, including three on the offensive line, which has helped jump start the offense. Cutler is playing more confidently and they are moving the ball on the ground with both Matt Forte and rookie Jeremy Langford. It appears Forte will return from injury for this one.

Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is also back after sitting out on Sunday, but the Bears will be without defensive leader, safety Antrel Rolle, who injured his knee last Saturday and missed the Broncos game.

Defensively, the Bears are figuring things out after switching to a 3-4 with new DC Vic Fangio. They're giving up just 20 points per game over the past month and are getting solid play from some youngsters who have taken over for slipping veterans.

Both teams are dealing with a short week after a physical game on Sunday. It usually translates into a sub-par Thursday night game as players' bodies for the most part aren't ready for another game so quickly. As banged up as the Packers are, it will be interesting to see how they respond, especially on the offensive line.

Sunday's statement in Minneapolis feels like a turning point. With a chance to continue that momentum with divisional games these next two Thursdays, the Pack has a chance to reach most of their season goals when they start the final quarter of the season. But after the last home game, they can take nothing for granted.

The Bears will come in loose, unafraid and ready to try to spoil our Thanksgiving feast. But it's hard to believe the Packers won't be ready for them. On an emotional night when the greatest Bear killer of them all (not including that Bloomington dentist) is in the house, I expect to see a strong performance from the Pack.

A win on Thanksgiving night will tie the all time series at 93-93 (with six ties), something Green Bay hasn't accomplished since the '30s. With Bart and countless other luminaries in the house from Packers teams past, I can't see that not happening.

Packers 23  Bears 14


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Pack D Throws a Sack Party at the Bank

Posted November 23rd, 2015 @ 03:11am

After watching that one, I can't get the "Welcome Back Kotter" theme song out of my head.  It was a day of welcome backs. From Eddie Lacy and James Jones on the offense, to the overall pass rush and dominance up front from the defense. And big picture: a welcome back to the Packers we thought we knew.

They took a little three game hiatus, which may cost them a home game come January, but this incarnation of the Pack will compete against anyone, anywhere. Let's hope they're here to stay.

The defense set the tone in the first half, containing Adrian Peterson and making life miserable for Teddy Bridgewater, whom many Vikings fans will blame, but who got very little help from his linemen and was running for his life all afternoon. Mike Daniels and Datone Jones were dominant--three sacks between them--they set the tone for the unit. Teddy was sacked six times and was hurried and pressured too many times to count. Where in the world has that been all month? Clinton-Dix was all over the field and the Pack contained the Vikings receivers (if not the tight ends), holding Wallace without a catch and keeping Diggs in check.

But what really set the tone was the job they did on Peterson, holding him to less than 3.5 yards per carry and then punching the ball out for a crucial fumble which served as the dagger in this one.

As I preached all week, the Pack needed to run the ball to turn their offensive fortunes around. They ran it 34 times, led by the resurgent Lacy who looked like the Lacy of old, running hard, breaking tackles and breaking the 100 yard mark, finally. Kudos to the banged up offensive line for stepping up in a big spot and winning the battle against the Vike's vaunted front seven. JC Tretter stepped in for the injured Corey Linsley and handled his business, not bothered by Linval Joseph and company.

The passing is getting closer. There were still too many drops, by everybody by most notably Randall Cobb. But James Jones' Top 10 worthy catch in the first half that set up a touchdown was a thing of beauty, as was his toe tapping TD in the second half. He needs to be an every week playmaker from here on out as the Pack deals with injuries at WR. Jeff Janis finally got a little run, targeted twice by Rodgers deep. His 70 yard kickoff return showed just how dangerous he can be. You have to think he will continue to get more and more chances.

Rodgers didn't crack the 100 mark in passer rating, in part thanks to a lot of drops and in part because of some bad passes. But he made all the plays he needed to make at just the right time and orchestrated a solid performance with two TDs and no picks--he was sacked twice.

This was precisely the kind of performance we dared hope for, but couldn't possibly predict. The Packers played like the team that had more to prove, that needed to demonstrate that rumors of its demise were a tad premature. They did that on this night in Minneapolis, winning for the fifth time in the last six years. Never again will they get to play them here outdoors, which is a shame, but as I recall they've had pretty good success indoors as well.

What the Packers did on this day was remind the Purple that the NFC North continues to run through Green Bay, as it has the last four years and counting. They'll get another shot in week 17. We'll see where both teams sit in six weeks. The Vikings have a tougher road ahead and will need to go down to Atlanta and take care of business in Week 12.

With two more divisional games left in this all NFC North quarter of the season, the Pack has a chance to enter the fourth quarter of the season with most of its goals still reachable. If they continue to play with this kind of energy and emotion, they will be tough to beat on most Sundays...and Thursdays.

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