Packers XLV

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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From Elation to Heartache in Seven Days

Posted October 16th, 2017 @ 12:10am

What a difference a week makes. Was it just a week ago that Aaron Rodgers was doing Aaron Rodgers things, carrying the Pack to a comeback win over the Cowboys?

A Sunday later, we face a 2017 season with Rodgers in street clothes, Super Bowl dreams are likely dashed, but the playoffs are still a realistic goal. The way things are going, nine wins might be enough to win the North.

Let's start with the hit by Barr: it wasn't dirty. In my mind, it was a clean, hard, hit. They're playing football and defensive players are allowed to tackle hard. I've watched it over and over; I don't think a flag should have been thrown.

As I write this, there's been no declaration that Rodgers' season is definitely over, but I'm going to work under that assumption for now.

I actually have a lot of faith in Brett Hundley. This is his third year in the system and he is ready for his close-up. His performance on Sunday is pretty much irrelevant. The way offensive linemen were dropping, the Pack's main goal on this day was to make sure he came out of the game healthy. Give McCarthy a few days to get over the shock of losing Rodgers and he'll tweak the offense, trim back the playbook a little and devise an offensive gameplan that plays to Hundley's strengths.

The organization has to be considering bringing in another QB. After the game, McCarthy stated quite emphatically that Hundley and Joe Callahan are his quarterbacks. I would endorse bringing in Colin Kaepernick for a look. This team is good enough to win six of its last ten games, if they can get healthy up front and in the secondary. But having Joe Callahan as the backup is a bit frightening. We'll see if they change their tune over the next few days.

The Vikings trolls were out in force on Sunday, mocking the Pack's roster once Rodgers went down. When Lane Taylor left with ankle and knee injuries and the starting tackles aggravated injuries that have lingered most of the season, there was no way this offense was going to compete against a defense like the Vikings in their house. Add the fact that three starters in the secondary missed the game, and two others (Rollins and Brice) got hurt during the game and the Packers were down about ten key guys in this game.

With one game left before the bye, the team will likely be very cautious with the injured players. If all three starting linemen are out against the Saints, the Pack will be hard-pressed to cut Hundley loose. If they can get past the Saints, they'll be 5-2 at the bye. A 5-4 record the rest of the way could win the division. The next three games are Lions and Ravens at home, with a road game at Chicago in between. If they can win two of those, they're 7-3.

Then they hit the road for three of the next four. Let's say they lose in Pittsburgh and Carolina and win in Cleveland. The home game in that stretch is Tampa Bay. They can win that one. Now they're 9-5. They close with the Vikings at home and at Detroit. If they split those two, they're 10-6. Of course this assumes they remain relatively healthy, which has not been the case all season.

With Hundley under center, the margin for error is much thinner. The defense will need to step up and the running game will need to be productive. Life without Aaron is an entirely different reality. But in an NFC that appears to lack a dominant team, there's no reason to believe it's time to turn our attention to 2018 just yet.

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Rodgers vs.Vikings D Is Worth the Price of Admission

Posted October 13th, 2017 @ 01:10pm

OK, here we go. The Packers are in town for the first of two visits to US Bank Stadium this season, facing a Vikings team that's talented, but not quite ready for prime time (as we witnessed on Monday night, despite the narrow victory).

Injuries are always the great equalizer in the NFL and for the Vikes, the loss of Cook and Bradford knocks them out of the category "borderline playoff team." So far, Case Keenum has handled the quarterback job fairly well, doing nothing spectacular but avoiding killer mistakes. The combo of Murray and McKinnon is average and for the Pack's defense, a welcome respite from the recent task of stopping Zeke.

The offensive line has been better than expected, so it will be interesting to see how the Packers do in getting heat on Keenum. With the injuries to the secondary, a strong pass rush will be vital on Sunday. I would expect Dom Capers to show Keenum plenty of exotic blitz looks, to mask the problems on the back end. As I write this, neither Morgan Burnett nor Kevin King have practiced this week, so their availability is definitely in question. I give King a better chance; he's in the concussion protocol, but was on the sidelines watching on Thursday. Let's see if he's in uniform on Friday. If Burnett can't go, we'll get our first good look at Josh Jones, who has shown glimpses of greatness in his limited snaps.

Of course the real question marks are at cornerback and dealing with Diggs and Thielen. Diggs has a sore groin and hasn't practiced this week, but it sounds like he'll be in uniform on Sunday. If King's out, House and Randall will likely be called on to handle that emerging duo. The coaches seem to be regaining some trust in Rollins, so we'll see if he gets the nickel snaps, or whether Hawkins is out there. The pass defense was subpar against the Cowboys, but part of that was due to Dak's ability to extend plays. Keenum won't hold on to the ball nearly as long, which should benefit the Pack's corners.

The strength vs. strength matchup clashes when the Packers have the ball. For me, the key this weekend is David Bakhtiari's availability. If he returns (after missing the last four games) and the five OL starters are on the field together for the first time this season, Rodgers and company should be able to win this matchup. This is the third tough road test this season, so the offense is already battle-tested. The emergence of Aaron Jones last week will force the Vikes' defense to respect the running game and that should allow Rodgers to operate as efficiently and effectively as he has all season.

Unlike the offense, the Vikings' defense comes in healthy and those pass rushers are itching for their opportunity to slow the national Rodgers love-fest. Even if Bakhtiari and Bulaga are both out there, they'll have their hands full with Griffin, Hunter and Robison. Lookfor Rodgers and Cobb to be the go-to matchup--the Vikings are vulnerable in the middle of the field. The tight ends figure to be productive as well.

I went in to last week's game looking at the two tough road tests and hoping for no worse than a split. Now, of course, I want the sweep. The Pack catch the Vikes on a short week and with a backup QB--that's why they're three point favorites on the road. The place will be rocking and the Vikings come in as the more desperate team: a second division loss at home would derail their chances at competing in the North.

The Packers are hot, confident and ready to make it 6-2 over the last eight visits to Minneapolis. See ya again in February.

Packers 24  Vikings 17

 

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