Packers XLV

What Do You Write When You Have No Words?

Posted January 19th, 2015 @ 03:01am

4th and 26th sounds pretty good right about now.

It takes quite a bit to render me speechless. It took me three hours to even look at my laptop and then another 3o minutes before I could bring myself to start tapping the keys. What we witnessed over the last 5:04 of the NFC title game will stay with us always. We finally have our own Gary Anderson game, our own Favre pick against the Saints.

And ours is miles worse. This collapse, the biggest in NFL playoff history, had several 'shake your head in disbelief' moments. Brandon Bostick wears the goat horns for swinging and missing on the onside kickoff, but there was plenty of blame to go around.

We can blame Morgan Burnett for not returning Russell Wilson's pick--heading to the ground and passing up plenty of free yards in front of him (though I had no problem with that decision--the last thing we needed was the ball getting punched out and Seattle getting it back).

We can blame Mike McCarthy for ultra conservative play calling down the stretch. The running game had no chance against a suddenly feisty Seahawks run defense that knew what was coming.

We can blame Ha Ha Clinton Dix, who played an otherwise fantastic game, for his incomprehensible miss on Wilson on the two point conversion play. This is the play I keep playing over in my head. If he finishes the play, the lead is one and Rodgers is ready to lead the team down the field for a game winning field goal. That's how this one was supposed to end. With a boot by the perfect Mason Crosby to send the Pack to its sixth Super Bowl.

Instead, we will think about what cost the team on this day; the same problems we've been dealing with all season. It starts with special teams. As dependable as Crosby was on this day, the special teams gave up seven blocked kicks or punts in the regular season and gave up two of the biggest plays in this game: the fake field goal that put the 'Hawks first points on the board and the botched recovery of the onside kick.

The team was troubled in the red zone all season. When you settle for field goals at Lambeau (like they did against the Patriots), you can escape. When you settle for field goals against a team like Seattle at their place, you're playing with fire. When two first half drives stalled at the one, and McCarthy didn't trust the offense to convert, you had to be worried. I certainly was.

I could go on. But I don't want to. In time we'll remember we have the game's best QB, a young, improving defense and a team that will be in the mix again next season. But until the Pack returns to the Super Bowl, this game will sit in our gut, churning around, and we'll think about what might have been. The Packers choked away their ticket to Super Bowl 49 in epic fashion.

Vikings fans, finally, finally I think we all understand what it's been like for you.  For the first time we feel your pain. And it hurts.

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Sherman Gets the Headlines, but Wilson Will be the Difference on Sunday

Posted January 16th, 2015 @ 03:01pm

Let's face it, the Packers will need to be pitch perfect to advance to their second Super Bowl in the McCarthy-Rodgers era. A hobbled Aaron Rodgers is the only reason I don't think the Pack will be able to spring the upset at Century Link Field.

We may spend a long time replaying that Buffalo game and the close calls that almost went  Green Bay's way, that might have meant a victory and home field advantage. But the NFC Title game is in Seattle and for that reason the Pack is a 7 1/2 point underdog.

So let's start with a few statistics to give you a little hope: the Packers are 2-0 in the playoffs against the Seahawks (including the infamous 'We want the ball and we're gonna score' wildcard game in '03). They're 3-2 in NFC title games, including 2-0 on the road (winning in Chicago en route to SB XLV). Then there's this little nugget: the last four times when both conference championship favorites were favored by 7 or more, one team lost the game outright.

OK, feel a little better? Here's the flip side: the Packers have lost seven straight games to winning teams on the road and they've lost the last seven times they were an underdog.

So, back to reality. We've never seen a more dominant home team than the Seahawks. They're 25-2 at home since '12, winning by an average of 15 points per game. And their defense is on an historic pace, giving up just 6.5 points per game over their last six regular season games.

So here come the Packers, looking a lot different than they did in the opener, when they were unprepared for the noise, the atmosphere and the speed of the 'Hawks' defense, not to mention stopping the run--giving up 207 on the ground. That game featured three rookies on offense for the Pack, most notably Corey Linsley, who was snapping the ball to Rodgers for the first time ever in a game of any kind. Richard Rodgers and Davante Adams were also brand new to this NFL thing--all three have become key, dependable parts of the offense.

Defensively, the Pack has come a long way since the opener as well. The run defense has tightened up significantly and is expected to do a much better job corralling Marshawn Lynch. Keeping tabs on Russell Wilson is an entirely different story. The league's best running QB this season will likely give the Packers fits. He has an uncanny ability to make the proper read, knows when to run, when to slide and when to take his losses and move on to the next play. He has the fewest weapons around him in the league but it doesn't matter because he is so, so good.

Of course he doesn't have Percy Harvin this time around. Harvin put up more than 100 yards on the Pack in the opener. He is also without emerging rookie receiver Paul Richardson, the team's kickoff returner, who injured his knee last week. Wilson's top three receivers are underrated guys and his tight end Luke Willson was a late draft pick. He was Wilson's top target in the win over the Panthers.

The Pack will try to ruffle Wilson by forcing him into rare mistakes and their best chance is with Sunday's birthday boy, Julius Peppers. He was the Pack's defensive star of the game last week and he has a favorable matchup on Sunday against rookie right tackle Justin Britt, who appears in over his head and is dealing with a knee injury.

Like the Packers, the Seahawks rarely give the ball away so the Packers will likely have to rely on the offense to complete long drives and execute in the red zone--which has been a dicey proposition of late. A gimpy Rodgers and a sore-kneed Eddie Lacy makes things a lot tougher, but there are ways to move the ball on the Seahawks.

It starts with running the ball between the tackles. In Seattle's four losses this season, they gave up 132 yards per game on the ground. Green Bay was held to 80 in the opener, but Lacy is a better player and the offensive line is firing much more effectively than they were in the opener. I expect McCarthy to come out throwing and challenge that secondary. Let them know there's no fear and no intimidation this time around.

Much has been made about the Pack's strategy to ignore Richard Sherman's side of the field in the opener. Expect things to change this time around. I wouldn't be surprised to see Davante Adams lined up against Sherman for most of the game (instead of Boykin in week one) and for Rodgers to take some shots. That should also create some favorable opportunities for Nelson and Cobb against corners Byron Maxwell and the shaky Harald Simon (who Cam Newton picked on last week).

If the Pack can mov the ball through the air early, it should open things up for Lacy, who needs to put up at least 125 total yards if the Packers hope to spring the upset. With Rodgers' limited mobility, they need to use Lacy in the screen game and continue to use Cobb as a Harvin-type threat all over the field.

I think this game will be closer than many believe and the Pack will have a chance to spring the upset late. But ultimately, Wilson is the difference. He was perfect on third downs last week (8-8 for 199 with three TDs and no picks) and is just so smart, poised and dangerous that I think he will make a play or two that a limited Rodgers can't match.

Seahawks 27  Packers 24

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Packers Complete the Process of Earning Trip to NFC Title Game

Posted January 12th, 2015 @ 02:01am

It was a strange, frustrating day from the start. The zebras were calling it close; the Pack was committing dumb penalties and Aaron Rodgers was moving around like he was 41, not 31. But he looked like a different player in the second half, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb made one big play after another, and then the Dez play happened.

I think we can all agree that the correct call was made. What we can debate is whether the rule is stupid and should be revisited. I went back and looked at the play this most resembled: the Calvin Johnson non-catch in the season opener in 2011. That one looks more egregious--but ultimately the same thing happened, the receiver lost control of the ball before finishing the play--or completing the process of the catch. I think the rule should be changed. Calvin's play looks like a catch and Dez's play looked like a catch.

When Mike McCarthy threw the challenge flag, I screamed at the TV screen. 'You'll be out of timeouts,' I yelled. Another example of  McCarthy reaching for the flag when he should have kept it in his pocket. Whether it was desperation or whether someone on the sidelines or in the booth saw the move ball enough to warrant a second look, it was a great decision and the game turned on that call.

But back to the rest of the game. As gimpy, cautious and flat out injured Rodgers looked in the first half, he looked like a different guy in the second half. He slid around the pocket a bit, had more zip on the ball and looked much more confident in that calf. He finished with a 125.4 passer rating, after completing 75% of his passes in the second half. With the Cowboys rolling coverage to Jordy Nelson, he turned to rookie Davante Adams, whose career day was much needed. And then he turned to Randall Cobb who's tiptoe 31 yard catch near the end of the half set up the field goal that closed the gap to four at halftime.

Both Adams and Cobb went over 100 yards and Lacy did too--the first time in Packer playoff history that three players accomplished that feat. Lacy averaged over five yards per carry, despite missing some time with an asthma attack early.

The defense was led by Julius Peppers, who forced two fumbles (the one by Murray saved a potential TD run--there was nothing but green grass ahead of him) and had a sack, one of four on Tony Romo. The back to back sacks at the end of the third quarter ended a drive quickly and put the ball back in Rodgers' hands, and he took the team down for the go ahead score, punctuated by a ridiculous scoring toss to Richard Rodgers.

There were some uncharacteristic penalties, some missed tackles and some things that need to be cleaned up if they're going to earn a trip to Phoenix in a few weeks. Most importantly, the Packers will need a Rodgers who resembles the second half Rodgers if they're to have a chance against the Seahawks. But we'll enjoy this one for a couple of days.

The Pack is back in the NFC title game for the first time in four years and it feels awfully good. We'll find out soon enough if they are up to their next challenge.

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