What do you expect to happen in Motown?
Posted September 19th, 2014 @ 04:09pm
As the Packers get set to embark on a key stretch of three division games in 11 days, let's take stock of what we know about this team through two games.
The 2014 version of this team that we all had in our heads before the season started has yet to show itself. Are they the undisciplined, not ready for prime time bunch we saw in Seattle on opening night? Are they the sleep-in-their-eyes late risers who woke up just in time to beat a team they were expected to handle easily? Are they Super Bowl contenders or just a good team that will win enough games behind Aaron Rodgers to keep them in the playoff hunt come holiday time?
These next three games should give us a clue as to how high this team could climb. When we last saw the Pack at Ford Field, last Thanksgiving Day, they were blown out. Now we know Rodgers didn't play that day and we also know that Rodgers has never lost to the Lions in games he's started and finished. That should provide a level of optimism for this Sunday, but obviously it's a new season and the Lions have a brand new coaching staff.
The Lions looked great at home on opening night when they dismantled the Giants, a team that will be lucky to win five games this season. Their offense was grounded in Carolina last weekend, despite the fact that the Panthers de-activated (finally) their best player just hours before kickoff.
Matthew Stafford is a confounding player for Lions fans to watch. At times he looks like Brett Favre. Other times he looks like Randy Wright. He still has Calvin Johnson, the best receiver in the game, who always seems to make big plays against the Pack (and everyone else). They added Packer nemesis Golden Tate to take some of the pressure off Megatron. Through two games he's been productive: 11 catches for 150 yards. The Pack can't roll all the coverage over to #81; Tate needs to be accounted for, especially if they try a Hail Mary (sorry).
The Lions' two-headed running attack has been slow out of the gates. Reggie Bush and Joique Bell have found little room so far--much due to an offensive line that has not looked very good. They're thin to begin with and with right tackle LaAdrian Waddle unlikely to play with a calf injury, they're even thinner. If the defense handles the run like they did last week, they could force Joe Lombardi and the Lions to become pass-happy. Clay and company should be able to rattle Stafford into some mistakes.
That said, the Lions are always more productive at home and should be able to put up 24 points in their sleep. The question is, can the Pack score more than that?
It begins this week with Eddie Lacy and the running game. After facing two staunch run defenses in Seattle and the Jets, the Lions rank 28th so far and they've faced two mediocre running teams. It feels like Lacy is ready to explode and with Bryan Bulaga expected back at right tackle, the line should be ready to help make that happen.
Since 2008, Rodgers has thrown for more yards and touchdowns against the Lions than any QB in the NFL. Granted, he gets to play them twice a year, but his numbers are impressive: in 10 games, he's had a 100-plus passer rating 8 times and has thrown 19 TDs and only 5 picks.
The Lions will no doubt try to take Jordy Nelson out of the picture, after the career game he had against the Jets. That should open up lots of opportunities for Randall Cobb and the emerging Davante Adams. The Lions continue to be thin at corner--they've lost two guys for the season and have very little talent behind starters Rashean Mathis and Darius Slay. Hard not to see Rodgers lighting up the Lions, per usual.
The point spread has the Lions favored by one and it feels like a field goal kind of game. That's where the Packers have the biggest mismatch. While Mason Crosby has been picture perfect through two games, the Lions kicking game is a mess. They're still looking for a replacement for Jason Hanson, who retired two years ago. Rookie Nate Freese has the job, but wouldn't if he wasn't a seventh round draft pick. He's two for five on field goal tries so far--making two under 30 yards and missing three in the 40s.
He's probably down to his last miss, which has to be weighing on his mind. Look for McCarthy to ice Freeze (sorry again), if the situation calls for it. If it comes down to a game of field goals, it would appear the Packers have a big edge.
Nothing we've seen from the Packers so far suggests that they're ready to go on the road and beat an explosive offensive team. But this is the Lions and it's not Thanksgiving Day and Rodgers is playing.
Packers 34 Lions 31
Reminder: I'll be watching the game at the Park Tavern on Sunday. Hope to see you at the 11th Frame, the bar behind the bowling alley. Great prizes along with food and drink specials, as always.
And, Monday is the 7th annual Border Battle golf tournament at the beautiful Stoneridge Gold Club in Stillwater. There's still time to register and it's going to be a beautiful day: www.stoneridgegc.com
Posted September 15th, 2014 @ 01:09am
If they're all going to be like this, I'm going to need to stock up on Prilosic. Yes, the Packers dug themselves out of a 21-3 hole, but if not for a very fortuitous time out call, who knows how this crazy game might have ended.
Thank goodness for Marty Mornhinweg. After helping Brett Favre and the Pack capture Super Bowl XXXI, he continued to help the Pack during his disastrous two year stint as Lions coach. But never has he been more helpful than he was on this Sunday. When he frantically asked Rex Ryan to call timeout before the big fourth down play, the side judge blew his whistle, nullifying what would have been the game-tying play and giving the Packers defense a much needed, if undeserved mulligan.
So where do we start? On the Pack's first play, which Rodgers fumbled after not cleanly receiving the snap? On the defense's first quarter ineptitude where they couldn't get off the field on third down? On the Pack's inability to match the Jets with touchdowns early, settling for three field goals to answer the Jets three touchdowns?
Or should we pick things up on the last drive of the first half, when Rodgers and company executed a pitch perfect 97 yard drive that cut the lead to 21-16 at the half, providing momentum as they headed into the locker room?
At that point we started to believe the team was settling down from its disastrous start, which included an inexplicable challenge by McCarthy on a sideline catch by Eric Decker, which was completely, obviously a catch (and a great one, at that).
The Packers should ultimately be credited for getting their act together and keeping the team in the game. The run defense was vastly improved, holding the two headed team of Chris Johnson and Chris Ivory to 64 yards on 25 carries. And after allowing the Jets to convert five of its first six first downs, they stiffened in the second half, holding Geno Smith and company to just 2-8 on third downs the rest of the way.
Meanwhile, Jordy Nelson was brilliant and the team needed nearly every one of his career high 209 yards to secure the win. Randall Cobb's numbers were more ordinary, but he found paydirt twice. It was also nice to see rookie Davante Adams contribute with five catches--including a couple of key third down receptions. Rodgers is developing some trust with his young receiver. He has yet to develop that with his tight ends--Andrew Quarless caught one pass for eight yards. Let's hope Brandon Bostick is ready to go as the Pack heads into a key stretch with three straight division games.
It was too close for comfort and there was a lot not to like, but the Packers didn't panic, settled down on both sides of the ball and got a little lucky at the end. On a weekend when the rest of the division came up short, we'll take it. Safe to say, the Packers don't have to be concerned with peaking too early, at this point.
But they'll need to be a lot sharper as they head to Motown. Splitting the next two division road games would be acceptable. But they'll need to be a lot sharper from the start if they expect to make an early NFC North statement over the next couple of weeks.
Posted September 12th, 2014 @ 03:09pm
The only thing worse than witnessing countless missed tackles, some problematic injuries and a pathological fear of Richard Sherman is having to wait ten days to see what they do for an encore.
When the Packers finally take the field at 3:25 on Sunday for their only home game in the month of September, they'll have some serious 'splainin' to do. You look at the 2014 schedule and this is arguably the easiest game on the slate. The Jets are a non-playoff team looking in, a young team that has an 8-8 feel to it, with a young quarterback who has more weapons than he had a year ago and a defense that continues to be defined by a physical front seven.
The two teams couldn't have had more different opening week opponents. While the Packers were bashed by the champs, the Jets escaped at home against perhaps the league's worst team. That said, they pounded the rock, gashing Oakland for more than 200 yards on the ground. And after watching the Pack swinging and missing 18 times at Marshawn Lynch and company, if they don't wrap up Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson on Sunday, Rex Ryan will have that silly grin on his face as he watches Aaron Rodgers stewing on the sidelines.
Dom Capers' defense looked lost and confused last Thursday. They stayed in the nickel, even though they were playing a team that was killing them on the ground. The next two opponents, Detroit and Chicago, will force the Pack to live in the nickel, but against this opponent, the Pack should stay in base and continue to show us 4-3 looks, to force Geno Smith into second and third and long situations, which will allow Matthews, Peppers and company to do what they do best.
The Jets passing game remains pedestrian and a work in progress. Though Smith's numbers last week are impressive, 23-28 for 221 yards with a TD and a pick, the Raiders are a mess defensively. The Packers' secondary should be able to handle Eric Decker and company, even with the safeties cheating up to handle the run much of the time.
Offensively, the Packers should be able to move the ball through the air with little resistance. Rodgers excels in bounce back situations and he gets a Jets secondary that is in transition. They may be as weak at cornerback than any team in the league and with their best guy, Dee Milliner doubtful to play with a high ankle strain, expect a 300+ yard day from Rodgers, with multiple touchdowns. Needless to say, if the Packers can jump out to a two-score lead, the Jets' dreams of running the ball all day will be dashed.
Looks like Eddie Lacy will return; expect the Pack to rotate all three guys against the Jets. All three can be three down guys and handle the up tempo, no huddle attack the Packers will undoubtedly roll with most of the first half, if not most of the game.
With three straight division games looming, this one is an absolute must. Not to mention, it's the home opener, where Rodgers is undefeated in home openers against teams not called the 49ers. Let's see if Mike Pennel gets a shot at anchoring the nose and providing some beef against the run. Let's see if Jamari Lattimore steps in for the ailing Brad Jones and never gives the job back. Let's see if the Packers get to business, improve to 1-1 and prepare for the Lions and Bears and Vikings, oh my.
Packers 34 Jets 20
Much more to come on this matchup this Sunday, 7am-8am CST on "Packer Preview" on KFAN, kfan.com and iHeart radio. Or podcast it when you wake up at "Fan on Demand" at kfan.com or at iTunes. Tweet me your questions, comments @TCHeadCheese and I'll read them on the air.