Packers XLV

Not Quite the Same Debut For This Brett.

Posted October 23rd, 2017 @ 02:10am

It was one of those strange Packer Sundays, where fatherhood made my schedule a little goofy. At halftime, I had to take Jackson to Bloomington for a couple of basketball games. So after watching a spirited first half that featured Aaron Jones running wild, Brett Hundley doing his first Lambeau leap and the defense bending but not breaking, allowing just seven points and picking off Drew Brees twice.

Sound like I saved myself a lot of aggravation by missing most of the second half. I managed to catch a chunk of the fourth quarter on my phone from the bleachers. I set my DVR but haven't had a chance to watch it yet. I wanna make sure I have an empty stomach when I do. As expected, the gulf between Brees and Hundley was too great, and ultimately the future Hall of Fame took charge against an overmatched Packers defense.

This was a game where the defense had to stand tall and they weren't able to answer the bell. The two interceptions in the first half masked the issues they had covering the running backs in the screen game early and the running backs on the ground in the second half. The good news is the Packers won't see another QB of Brees' vintage the rest of the year (with apologies to Big Ben).

As far as the offense goes, Jones continues to be a revelation and has cemented his status as the Pack's lead back. 17 carries for 131 yards: that's almost eight yards a pop, highlighted by a 46 yard touchdown run on the game's fist drive. Jones' emergence gives the team hope that the team can lean on the running game, while Hundley gets more comfortable with more playing time.

Hundley was pretty wretched in the passing game; in part because it appeared McCarthy was hesitant to cut him loose. No matter how explosive Jones is, the Packers have to get more production out of their talented trio of receivers--five catches between them won't cut it. I expect Hundley to look a lot more comfortable the next time he takes the field. He has 15 days to study what went wrong, where he can improve and what he needs to do to beat the Lions defense.

This was an opportunity to steal a win at home, riding the emotion of a QB's first career start to take out a team that's traditionally much better at home. But this Saints team has now notched wins in Green Bay and Carolina, along with a neutral field shutout over the 4-2 Dolphins. They appear right now to be the best team in the NFC South.

The Packers couldn't hang with then for 60 minutes and now they have two weeks to figure things out and improve on both sides of the ball. Getting Morgan Burnett back and a healthy offensive line would help as well. We know the margin for error has gotten much thinner for the next six games. They have to play better and need to win two of their next three to keep pace in the North. With home games against the Lions and Ravens and a game in Chicago, two out of three seems possible. It's probably mandatory.

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Expect Saints to Bring the Heat on Hundley

Posted October 20th, 2017 @ 04:10pm

And so begins the Packers' new reality. Brett Hundley takes the reins for what could be the rest of the season and his first test is the suddenly competent Saints.

There's no question he will be more comfortable with a week of practice under his belt, a chance to prepare mentally and playing in front of the home fans. But he will have a much better chance to win, if the starting tackles are able to start and finish this game. With Bryan Bulaga clearing the concussion protocol on Friday morning, it looks like he'll be able to play--a must, since he'll be matched up against pass rusher Cam Jordan. David Bakhtiari is equally important, since Lane Taylor is out and the left side of the line needs some stability.

The Saints team looks completely different from the one that got taken apart by the Vikings in the season opener. They've won three straight, including a blowout win in Carolina and a five takeaway, three defensive TD shootout over the Lions last week. With Drew Brees slowing down a bit at 38, they are more balanced than they've been in the past, even after jettisoning Adrian Peterson. Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara (who was on my Packers draft wish list) are going to be a handful for the Packers' D. And Brees still can burn you, playing an offense he knows as well as Rodgers knows the Pack's.

The Pack's defense must rise up, beginning this week. With Morgan Burnett likely out, the unit will be without its leader. It sounds like the banged up cornerback group will get Kevin King back and he'll likely get to cover Michael Thomas most of the day. With Davon House a question mark, Quentin Rollins on IR and Lenzy Pipkins in the concussion protocol, the Pack will have to lean on Damarious Randall and Josh Hawkins to play most of the game, dealing with the speedy Ted Ginn and Willie Snead.

They will be helped if the Packers can get a pass rush on Brees. The pass rush was missing in action against the Vikings and needs to be a major factor if the Packers are to win this game. With Ahmad Brooks likely out again, Nick Perry limited in practice and Vince Biegel not yet ready to return, the OLB group is nowhere near full strength. Don't be surprised to see Dom Capers blitz more than he usually does, especially if it's a rainy day, as is predicted.

On the other side of the ball, if the tackles are able to start, Hundley should have the ability to move the ball on the Saints. Expect Dennis Allen to stack his defensive unit to stop the run and force Hundley to beat him. If the Pack is unable to get production on first down, Allen will bring the blitz early and often against a banged up offensive line and an unproven signal caller. McCarthy and Hundley must devise a way to get the ball out of his hands quickly to the RBs, tight ends and Cobb over the middle.

Needless to say,  the Pack has to find a way to run the football. I'd like to see Aaron Jones get the bulk of the carries, with Ty Montgomery coming in on third downs and maybe every third or fourth series. That said, don't be surprised to see McCarthy come out of the gate passing--showing he has complete confidence in his young signal caller.

With Rodgers out, the margin for error narrows significantly. The team needs to get as healthy as possible everywhere else, needs to be near perfect on special teams and can't afford to get into a big hole early. Hundley will be better as the weeks go by and the team has to be a bit healthier too, right?

This Saints team has shown that it's not just a team that plays well in its comfy dome and wilts on the road. A neutral field win in London and a blowout in Carolina has shown they can excel away from home. If the Pack can spring the upset, it will be because the defense rises up and creates a couple of turnovers that tilts the game. I'm guessing the Pack keeps it close, but can't close the deal.

Saints 24  Packers 20

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Why Sunday's Game Is the Most Important Game of the Year

Posted October 17th, 2017 @ 05:10pm

I realize that there's a large portion of the Packers' fan base that has given up on the season. But if you're reading this, you're either a fan who is interested to watch this team compete in the face of adversity, or you're a Vikings troll.

Until the Packers announce that Rodgers is lost for the season, we can hold on to the hope that if the Pack can remain competitive with Hundley behind the wheel, we can dream that Rodgers could make a triumphant December return and take command of his team down the stretch.

If Rodgers is out till 2018, count me among those who realizes the Super Bowl dream is dead, but I'm interested to see how Hundley performs, three years into his tutelage under McCarthy and Rodgers. I'm also curious to see how the players around him handle their new 2017 reality.

Make no mistake, this week's game will be this season's pivot point as the team heads into its bye week. I understand that the team will play two key divisional games after the break, but with a couple of weeks to catch their breath, get healthier and have enough time to process and tweak the game plan both offensively and defensively, I think the team will be prepared to deal with the season's second half.

But first there's this Saints game against a team that's found its footing after an ugly 0-2 start, winners of three straight and sporting a defense that found the end zone multiple times against the Lions. Sean Payton has feasted on the Pack in recent years, averaging 38 points a game (with more success at home, however) and the Saints will come to Lambeau smelling blood.

Brett Hundley will make his first start and at this point there's no reason to believe that the three starters on the offensive line who dropped out against the Vikings will be ready to play in this game. If that's the case, the Pack will be down six of the nine linemen they started the season with. It will completely alter what McCarthy wants to do offensively and force him to make sure that Cam Jordan isn't in the Pack's backfield all day.

On the other side of the ball, this is a time the defense needs to rise up, something this unit has done in key spots in recent years. But they will need to get healthier at cornerback to deal with Drew Brees. If House and King return, the defense would be close to healthy and have no excuses. If they miss another game, along with Rollins on IR, the trio of Randall, Hawkins and Pipkins will be in over their head. The pass rush must improve against an immobile Brees. The inability to get to Case Keenum was the second most disappointing aspect development last Sunday (granted, it was a distant second).

If the Pack can find a way to beat the Saints on Sunday, they go into their bye at 5-2, still unbeaten at home, filled with confidence and still firmly in the NFC North picture. A loss drops them to 4-3 and there will be a lot of question marks as the team looks to pick up the pieces and prepare for the Lions and Bears the next two weeks.

If the line can get healthy, I believe Hundley can lead this offense effectively, especially at home. But I doubt the tackles will be ready this Sunday, which will make his job infinitely tougher. A win this Sunday will give us some hope that this team, still unbeaten at home,  is ready to fight to hang on to their title. A loss will sap their confidence and reduce their margin for error over the last nine games.

This Sunday's Saints game is the most important game of the year.

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