Packers XLV

Awesome To Be Back at Lambeau

Posted September 22nd, 2021 @ 02:09pm

Sorry, I'm a little late getting back to business. After a late night at Lambeau and a long day heading back home, I'm finally catching up. First off, I can't even describe how awesome it was to be a part of a jam packed stadium, to see the energy all around the Titletown District and smell the bratwursts grilling at tailgate parties in every direction.

My only gripe, and maybe it's a function of the fact that fans have been away for a year, was the constant scoreboard videos of Packer players reminding fans to be quiet when the team's on offense. I mean it was literally shown every time the Pack faced a third down. Don't we all know that we should save our craziness for when the team is on defense? I guess when you see a few bozos trying to start the wave while the Pack has the ball, we're reminded that some people just don't get it.

OK, on to the game. Like you, I'm still very concerned about Joe Barry's defense. Sure, it's only week 2 and everyone is still getting adjusted to the new scheme, but a few things are clear: with Za'Darius Smith sidelined, the pass rush is severely weakened. Jared Goff had entirely too much time in the first half--I mean, he didn't have an incompletion. If Gary and Preston Smith can't get pressure, Barry is going to need to dial up some blitzes and get more creative.

After Kevin King got torched early, it was great to see Eric Stokes take his spot on the outside and play a great game against the Lions' below average pass catchers. King's move inside to the slot may ultimately pay off for this secondary. Looked like he started to get the hang of it in the second half.

It's pretty concerning that Matt LaFleur had to tell Barry to shake things up in the second half...move his athletic corners up to the line to play to their strengths--press coverage, rather than hanging back and allowing Goff to dink and dunk his way down the field. Still no sacks through two games and a total of two turnovers, though one was Goff mishandling a snap (that play was actually scored as a team sack). This unit needs to figure things out quickly, with the 49ers and Steelers up next.

The Pack moved Kenny Clark off the nose early and the results were disastrous. He looked like himself when he moved back to his usual spot in the second half. The Pack needs so much more from Keke, Lowry and Lancaster. None of them look like they belong on the field right now--it's the roster's biggest weakness. Keke looked like an ascending player in 2020. He looks lost right now. I'm ready to see rookies TJ Slaton and Jack Heflin get a shot. They can't be any worse.

On offense, we saw what we figured we'd see, a group that looked a lot like the one that led the league in scoring last season. The Pack committed to the run, with 31 plays vs. 27 passes, and while the production wasn't dynamic (just 3.1 YPC), it was enough to complement the passing game. Considering the entire interior of the offensive line has virtually no experience, I think the run blocking was solid. Josh Myers is the league's highest graded rookie lineman so far and earned Rodgers' praise after the game. Jon Runyan may end up replacing Lucas Patrick at left guard after a solid performance. Both tackles had very good games--but let's be honest, we'll learn a lot about how this is group is performing Sunday night at San Francisco.

What a night from Aaron Jones, who killed the Lions as a receiver, when Detroit played its safeties deep and dared the Pack to beat them underneath. He's so dynamic with the ball in his hands and should continue to be lethal as a receiver against the tough pass rushers the Pack will face the next couple of weeks.

I'd still like to see Randall Cobb get more snaps; I'd like to see Rodgers and MVS get on the same page and for Allen Lazard to get some targets, but the offense will get better as the season goes along, as the young linemen get more comfortable. And Davante Adams still looks like the best receiver in the game--his 50 yard catch down the right sideline turned the game around.

The offense will be just fine. Once again, as always, the postseason fate of the Pack will rest with the defense. It's as predictable as seeing the chumbalone trying to start the wave while the Pack is trying to convert a third down. And just as infuriating.

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Packers Party Like it's 2018.

Posted September 13th, 2021 @ 01:09pm

OK, what the hell was that?

I was one of the fortunate few who didn't watch the first half, as I was driving home from my daughter's softball tournament in St. Joseph. I had the pleasure of listening to Wayne and Larry try to describe an offense that was stuck in neutral and a defense that had no answer for Alvin Kamara and Jameis Winston.

They opened the second half with a little pep in their step, marching down the field and then Aaron Rodgers throws a pick in the red zone, something that happens as often as he's asked to guest host on Jeopardy. He looked nothing like the guy we've watched the past two seasons. Do we blame the summer of his discontent, the notion that he and the offense came in cocky and arrogant, or their lack of reps in the preseason? Or maybe all three?

Then there's the defense. A unit that is virtually the same as last year and one that looked like it had no idea what new coordinator Joe Barry wanted them to do. No sacks, virtually no pressure on Winston, no turnovers and no ability to prevent them from converting on third or fourth downs. Winston and his band of no-name receivers didn't put giant fantasy numbers on the board, but they did enough to confuse the Pack and make big plays whenever they needed to.

As confused and error-prone as the defense was, it takes a back seat to the play of the offense, which in no way resembled the group that led the league in scoring last year. Yes, there are a lot new faces in new places on the offensive line, but overall I think the youngsters up front did an okay job. Matt LaFleur abandoned the running game early and didn't show any of the pre-snap motion and jet sweep stuff that makes this scheme so tough to defend. Randall Cobb didn't get one target from Rodgers in this game. How does that make any sense? The next third down that Rodgers converts will be his first of the season.

He looked like the 2018 version of himself, holding onto the ball too long and missing on open guys because he was a beat too late. His red zone interception was jaw dropping because this is something he just does not do. That was the play that really sealed the Pack's fate; it looked like they were about to cut the Saints lead to 17-10, and instead New Orleans took over and went down and scored again.

Trailing 24-3, the game was all but over, but the Pack's fate was sealed on the egregious roughing the passer call on Za'Darius Smith. It negated a sweet Darnell Savage interception in the end zone that might have provided Green Bay with a faint pulse. Instead, Winston got a fresh set of downs and scored a play or two later and Jordan Love began warming up. Those kinds of calls are the ones that infuriate players, coaches and fans more than any other, because they erase terrific effort by defensive players, who are already up against it, playing a game that is designed and officiated to cater to the offense.

The players and coaches said all the usual things after the game. LaFleur said everyone needs to look in the mirror, including himself. Rodgers said maybe they thought they could just go out there and run up and down the field on the Saints.

None of it makes any sense. This team has been knocking on the door of the Super Bowl the last two years, and this roster was brought back to finish the job. We all know it's likely the last season that this group will be together. The organization has stretched the salary cap to a point where there will be a major reckoning next season. A lot of familiar names will be gone, likely including Rodgers, maybe Davante Adams, Mason Crosby, Preston Smith, Kevin King, the list goes on.

It's true that you can't overreact to the first game. Last year's champs, the Bucs, lost to the Saints on opening weekend and then got drilled by the same score 38-3 later in the season. But this performance was so wretched, so eye-opening, so unexpected that it makes you wonder how they can flip a switch and perform anything like the team we saw last year.

They took the field in Jacksonville looking like they were anything but ready for prime time. Well, the next two games are in prime time and they'll get a chance to show the world whether that performance was an aberration or the early signs of a team whose MVP and leader has mentally checked out and is just playing out the string in 2021.

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No Gumbo, No Beignets, But 'Hungry' Packers Should Roll Sunday.

Posted September 10th, 2021 @ 09:09pm

Davante Adams said this week that this is the hungriest Packer team he's been a part of. It also might be the last Packer team he'll be a part of, but we'll save that for, and worry about that another time. They're hungry because they came so close in 2020 and appear to be locked and loaded to contend once again in the NFC, knowing that for a good chunk of the roster may be playing elsewhere in 2022.

It all starts in Jacksonville, a site hand-picked by Sean Payton, who figured Packer fans would have a tougher time traveling there, would struggle in the hot, humid conditions and, oh by the way, Aaron Rodgers is 3-4 in the state of Florida. Let's unpack that last point for a minute: three of Rodgers four losses in the Sunshine State came in 2008 and 2009. He's 3-1 since; the one loss coming last season in Tampa. I don't think he's shaking in his boots. But the muggy weather won't do either team any favors, that's for sure.

The biggest question mark for the Pack revolves around the offensive line, which will see four new players in new places to start the season. Elgton Jenkins will be tasked with holding down the left tackle spot, probably until the Chiefs game in early October. Nothing we've seen from Jenkins should give us cause for concern that he's not up to the challenge. The question marks come on the inside, where last year's right guard Lucas Patrick moves to the left side and is joint on the interior with a pair of rookies, Josh Myers at center and Royce Newman at right guard. Billy Turner is the lone holdover on the line in his usual spot, right tackle.

The strength of the Saints defense is the front seven, and the Pack's line will have its hands full with pass rushers Cam Jordan and Marcus Davenport. You can bet Matt LaFleur will protect the line with a lot of pre-snap movement, mis-direction and a heavy dose of play action, if Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon find running room early. Aaron Rodgers will see matchups he likes on the back end. Starting corner Ken Crawley will miss the game and top corner Marshon Lattimore will play, but missed practice time this week. The Saints recently traded for former Texans starter Bradley Roby, but he won't play this week. Their depth at corner is not strong right now.

With a grand total of preseason snaps, the Pack's offense will get unwrapped for the first time and we'll finally get to see what wrinkles LaFleur has added with the return of Randall Cobb and Josiah Deguara and the addition of Amari Rodgers. It might take a series or two, but the offense should find its stride early. Yes, the humid weather will be a factor, but playing outdoors on a neutral field (likely with more Packer fans than Saints fans) and not in the noisy Superdome is a huge break--especially for Myers, who won't have to deal with a silent count and will be tasked with snapping the ball precisely when Rodgers wants it snapped. There will be a learning curve to snap for #12; let's hope it's a short one.

This new look Saints team has ten new starters, none more important than at QB, as Jameis Winston replaces the legendary Drew Brees. The Pack's new defense, led by Joe Barry, tries to take away explosive plays and force offenses to be patient and dink and dunk. That said, Winston loves to throw the deep ball and is bound to take a few chances--his penchant for turnovers spelled his exit from Tampa.

Winston's receivers are another story. Their top two, Michael Thomas and Tre'Quan Smith are out. That leaves Marquez Callaway (who impresses in the preseason) and Deonte Harris as the starters. Look for Jaire Alexander to shadow Callaway and see if anyone else can make plays. Winston's top target figures to be running back Alvin Kamara, who gashed the Pack for nearly 200 yards last season, the vast majority coming through the air. That's priority #1 for the defense. Let anyone else beat you. The biggest concern is the health of Za'Darius Smith, who's been called a game time decision. My guess is they hold him out of this one, with an extra day of rest coming next week.

Special teams is a wild card, but the Saints top kicker, Will Lutz, will miss the start of the season. This will be our first look at new punter Corey Bojorquez, who'll also serve as Mason Crosby's new holder. Add in the fact that Hunter Bradley is on a short least as the long snapper and new ST coach Maurice Drayton is making his debut, and special teams could be interesting on Sunday.

The Packers catch a break getting the Saints early and on a neutral field. It adds up to an opening week win.

Packers 31   Saints 24

 

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