What will the headline be on Monday?
Posted October 2nd, 2015 @ 02:10pm
When the 2015 schedule came out, we saw that the Pack had a chance, in the first quarter of the season, to pay off some debts, old and new.
It started with our oldest and most hated rival at their place. Check. On to our newest rival: those birds that vanquished our Super Bowl dreams and tossed the Fail Mary. Check. Bring on the Chiefs, the team that had never lost at Lambeau and snuffed our undefeated dream in 2011. Check. That brings us to the first quarter's final exam, the Niners. The team that has owned the Pack in recent years, regular and post season.
As you know, these are not your older brother's 49ers. They look nothing like the Harbaugh teams of recent years--but they still have a QB that Dom Capers has not been able to figure out. Against the Pack, Colin Kaepernick has looked like a cross between Steve Young and Michael Vick. Against the other 31 teams he looks more like Spergon Wynn.
He's coming off his worst career start, throwing two pick sixes in the opening minutes and finishing with four interceptions and a grand total of 67 yards passing. His passer rating: 16.7. But he'll come in to Sunday's confident, because he's facing a team he's never lost to and one he set an NFL record against in the playoffs a couple of years ago.
I expect we'll see the 49ers try to rely on the ground game in this matchup--to take the load off of Kaepernick. In their only home game, the opener against the Vikings, Carlos Hyde ran for 168 yards. They also get Reggie Bush back from injury this week. With Morgan Burnett likely to miss his third game of the season, the defense will once again be tested by a run-heavy offense.
Of course if the Packers jump out to the lead, they'll need to start airing it out, and San Francisco does have a good pair of veteran receivers in free agent acquisition Torrey Smith and the ancient Anquan Boldin. Packer-killer Vernon Davis is iffy with a knee injury. One reason they're averaging a league-low 15 points per game: their offensive line is a shell of its former self. They still have solid left tackle Joe Staley, but after that it gets ugly, with three new starters from the center on over to the right and none of them are playing well.
Defensively, it's an entirely different unit. Gone is coordinator Vic Fangio, whose scheme and studs gave Aaron Rodger and Mike McCarthy fits over the years. Gone are Aldon and Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, Chris Borland and most of the secondary. Only four starters remain from the team that beat the Pack at Lambeau in the playoffs in 2014. Eric Mangini is the new coordinator and his unit looks lost. The Niners have been outscored 90-25 the last two weeks, against Big Ben and Carson Palmer and now they get a QB who's playing the position better than anyone in recent years. And he's facing the favorite team of his youth--the one that passed him up at the top of the draft. And the one that he hasn't beaten in five years.
It's a short week for Rodgers and the Pack and they will likely be without Davante Adams, whose high ankle sprain has him sidelined (I say, rest it until after the bye. The Pack will be favorites in these next three games--they can get by without him for now). Eddie Lacy seems to be over his ankle injury and Randall Cobb is finally practicing fully and seems recovered from his preseason shoulder injury. The Niners have been blitzing a lot to mask their shortcomings in their soft zone coverage. Rodgers eat blitzes for lunch. Look for the Pack to move the ball easily all afternoon.
The defense has gotten better each game. The first half performance on Monday night was tremendous. Mike Daniels and BJ Raji are leading the way up front, and this week they welcome back Letroy Guion, who will be welcomed back as the unit looks to contain Hyde and force Kaepernick to try to beat them.
This is the first of hopefully two visits to Levi's Stadium. The Pack hopes to return for Super Bowl L in early February against what will be much stiffer competition. They're nearly ten point favorites in this one and while I expect San Fran to look a lot better than they have the past two weeks, they're overmatched and the Packers owe them one (or three).
Packers 31 49ers 16
Posted September 29th, 2015 @ 03:09pm
What, me worry?
OK, if you read my preview blog or listened to me on the radio in the days leading up to the game, you know I was a little nervous about this one. No, I didn't expect the home winning streak to end, but I thought a few intangibles were pointed the Chiefs' way.
Like the 11 day break after a heartbreaking loss for KC, while the Pack may have been ripe for a letdown after the big win over Seattle. Like the fact that Morgan Burnett was out, testing the run defense against a motivated Jamaal Charles.
None of that mattered because Rodgers is playing quarterback as well as anyone ever has right now. And Dom Capers' defense was up to the challenge, led by the big guys up front, Daniels and Raji (the return of Letroy Guion this week should make the line even stouter).
Let's start with Rodgers, who had 208 yards passing and three touchdowns in the first half. His counterpart, the guy who was drafted first in Rodgers' draft had 39 yards at intermission. Rodgers' complete mastery of the position is a wonder to watch. He once again got a team (twice) for failing to get a guy off the field fast enough; his hard count once again paid big dividends.
Then there's his mastery once the ball is snapped to him. John Gruden couldn't stop talking about his feet and when you watch him dance, tiptoe, sprint and slide you see opposing defenses really have no chance. The Chiefs' secondary certainly didn't, especially after losing CB Gaines early. Rodgers just stayed way from precocious rookie Marcus Peters and feasted on everybody else.
It was alarming early, as Davante Adams re-injured his ankle and Eddie Lacy was a little gimpy. But the offense didn't miss a beat, with Cobb, Jones and Montgomery finding the holes and Rodgers finding them early and often.
The defense was spectacular in the first half, forcing three and outs on the first three series and not allowing a third down conversion in the first half. With the linemen doing their job up front, the linebackers were free to attack Smith, which they did all night. Seven sacks, and he was under duress all night.
For the second straight week, the run defense dominated a top five running back. No Burnett? No problem on this night. They held Charles to 49 yards on 11 carries--26 of those coming in the final minute of the first half when Smith refused to take shots downfield and handed off to Charles for garbage yards that the defense was happy to yield. Nate Palmer looks the part next to Clay Matthews and even newly signed Joe Thomas, forced into action when rookie Jake Ryan left with a hamstring injury, made his presence felt with a sack and a few other big plays.
The negative takeaway from the night was the injury to four players: Ryan, Adams (ankle), Quarless (knee) and Datone Jones (head). If we have to live with all of them missing the next three games, but being back (along with Bulaga) after the bye, I'd take that right now. I think the Pack should be able to win the next three without them (at SF, St. Louis and San Diego at home). They come out of the bye with three tough road games in four weeks and could use a predominantly healthy roster, if at all possible.
Back to Rodgers for a moment: last 580 passes at Lambeau, 48 touchdowns and no interceptions. Think about that for a moment. Then tell me who will go down as the better quarterback: Rodgers or Favre? Ten years from now, I don't even think it will be an argument (unless you're Bill from St. Paul or someone of his ilk). Watching a healthy Aaron Rodgers week after week is a treat that we'll be telling our grandchildren about someday.
It's on to San Francisco for the first of possibly two visits this season. Rodgers returns to his boyhood neighborhood with a score to settle against the team that chose not to draft him and the one that has dominated the series in recent years. Yep, that should be enough to guarantee another vintage Rodgers performance. Is it Sunday yet?
Posted September 24th, 2015 @ 04:09pm
Monday night's game is the scariest test left on the home schedule. Yes, I know the Cowboys (presumable healthy) will come to Lambeau in December and we still have all three divisional opponents, plus Philip Rivers and the stout Rams defense to fend off. But there's something about the Chiefs.
It's easy to remember the 13-0 Packers having their perfect season washed away at Arrowhead a few years back. It's also true that the Chiefs haven't lost a game at Lambeau in four appearances. Then there's the 11 days of rest they've had since their last game, one which they unbelievably fumbled away in the final 36 seconds against the Broncos. They've been steaming about that one all week.
They will come in to Monday night's game, a rematch of the first Super Bowl, as seven point underdogs. I say: be careful. The Pack has been near perfect at home the past couple of years, and their success rate rises even higher when you're talking about prime time games. But...the Chiefs have a roster that is talented enough to hang with the Pack on Monday night.
Much will be made leading up to the game about the two QBs, who famously came out in the same draft, with Alex Smith selected first and Rodgers dropping in Green Bay's lap at #24. It took Smith a while to find scheme stability in KC and he is flourishing. He rarely takes chances downfield and is a check down specialist. He can also beat you with his legs when he needs to. He's smart, athletic, though a bit too careful about making mistakes. It helps when you have a top-three running back in Jamaal Charles and a top-three tight end in Travis Kelce.
This is where Dom Capers and his staff are focusing this week. One of the most cliched stats these days is the fact that Smith hasn't thrown a touchdown pass to a wide receiver since the 2013 season. That really is remarkable; though the addition of Jeremy Maclin should end that soon. But Charles and Kelce are game-changing players and the Pack will be hard-pressed to contain them.
Unlike Marshawn Lynch, Charles is at his best in space and he'll challenge the Pack's linebackers all night. He's also wearing the goat horns for the Denver loss and will likely be anxious to make someone pay. Kelce may be the best tight end in the league not named Gronk and there are those in KC who feel the Chiefs aren't using him enough. They will look for him early and often Monday night. It will be interesting to see how the Pack covers him.
Defensively, the Chiefs are better because they've gotten a double shot in the arm in the secondary. First the return of safety Eric Berry (from Hodgkin lymphoma) has been the brightest storyline in the league this year. Their first round pick, cornerback Marcus Peters (taken seven picks after the Vikes selected Trae Waynes), has looked like the steal of the draft in the first two weeks. Then there's Justin Houston, he of the 22 sacks last season and the guy Peyton Manning was seeing in his dreams last Sunday night. The dude is a stud and he will line up across from Don Barclay Monday night. Uh oh.
I'm not foreshadowing a Packers loss. But I do see this one as a close one that may not be decided until late. As I write this, Eddie Lacy and Davante Adams are not practicing. As we saw last week, guys like James Starks, Ty Montgomery and Richard Rodgers are up to the challenge of stepping up, but the offense is naturally not as dynamic without those two guys.
The Chiefs turned the ball over five times against Denver and will no doubt make ball security their number one priority on Monday night. If they're successful, I think they'll stick around and make us sweat a little bit. But in the end, the Pack pulls it out to go 3-0.
Packers 24 Chiefs 20