Anyone Else Feel Like 'Kissing Cousins'?

Posted September 16th, 2019 @ 01:09pm

I've never really understood the expression 'kissing cousins,' but I certainly felt like doing it after the Vikes' vastly overpaid quarterback cemented the Pack's home opening win on Sunday.

It was a wild finish to a game that had a polar opposite start to the opener in Chicago. Here was the Pack's offense as we imagine it: in rhythm and on target, keeping the Vikes off balance with different looks and a quick tempo. The Pack led 21-0 before you could say Carl Gerbschmidt and most of us were rubbing our eyes to make sure what we were seeing was actually happening.

But alas, all good things must come to an end and the Packers were done scoring for the afternoon. We know that the offense is a work in progress and the fumble by Geronimo Allison was a lost chance to add to the scoring column, as was Rodgers' incorrect assumption that the Pack had gotten a first down late in the first half. He rushed to the line to make sure the officials didn't stop the game to check, and the fourth down loss turned the ball over.

So there were more points to be had, but the Vikings' talented defense and talented defensive-minded coach made the adjustments necessary to shut down the Pack's fledgling offense in the second half, when things got much tighter than we would have liked.

What I liked about the Pack's offense in their second performance, beyond the other worldly first quarter, was the commitment to running the football. Aaron Jones' 23 carries were a career high and he averaged better than five yards per carry against one of the league's top run defenses. Rodgers got Davante Adams involved early and often, en route to a 100 yard day against Xavier Rhodes. What I didn't like were a couple of drops by the young receivers, including MVS's big one at midfield at the beginning of the fourth quarter. I didn't like that the tight ends weren't involved at all and obviously, I didn't like the two fumbles.

Defensively, it was kind of a mixed bag. Overall, the unit played very well, but they gave up four explosive plays: the 75 yard TD run by the electric Dalvin Cook, the long pass to Chad Beebe (Cousins gets credit here for avoiding the sack and getting the pass off), the long TD pass to Stefon Diggs (that Jaire Alexander says he lost in the sun) and a long pass to Adam Thielen.

Those four plays accounted for more than half of the Vikings yards and for the other 56 plays they handled their business, only allowing them to convert 3-13 on third down, and containing the two big play wide receivers--their combined six catches for 124 yards was far below their usual production and basically added up to Adams' day.

With Alexander and King on the field, this Packers defense is nothing like recent incarnations. The speed, instincts and athleticism jump off the screen. When you combine that with a much improved pass rush, this is a defense that is going to a problem for most teams this season. Kenny Clark was a problem all afternoon--that dude is going to get paid in a big way, before this season ends. They get a bit of a respite in week 3 when Joe Flacco comes to town, but the next two tests, against Carson Wentz and Dan Prescott, will tell us a lot about how far his unit has come and how much it needs to learn.

And now, a brief word on the Diggs touchdown that got called back on the OPI call on Cook. I hate that they review this when no flag was thrown on the field. I think it's a slippery slope and takes away from the game. The fact is, they review all scoring plays and Cook did interfere with two Packers--the first two yards past the line of scrimmage and then Darnell Savage in the end zone. I've watched the play 15 times--he was not blocked into Savage, he put his hands on him and moved him so he couldn't cover Diggs. The top officiating goochies have all weighed in that this was a proper call, but count me among those who say if they don't throw a flag, it shouldn't be called.

I give the Purple a ton of credit for the resolve they showed in slowly fighting their way back from that 21-0 hole. When they methodically moved down the field late in the fourth quarter, mostly on the ground and got into the red zone, my fingernails were pretty much toast. Za'Darius Smith limped off the field and it looked like the Pack would need Rodgers to try to rescue things to avoid one of the biggest collapses in team history.

Ah, but that's where Captain Kirk steps in. Like Christian Ponder before him, he reverted to the player he tends to be when the game is on the line. One critical decision cost his team a chance at an unlikely victory. Kevin King read the pass headed Diggs' way, and though #14 had a step on him, King closed and made the game-saving pick. Why the Vikes didn't continue to pound away on the ground, or use play action, is a head scratcher. They are quickly learning that Cousins is not the guy to lean on in winning time. And that will always be a problem in close games and in the games that matter most, come January.

So the Packers are off to a 2-0 start, with both wins coming within the division. Matt LaFleur is the first Packer coach since Vince Lombardi to win his first two games and there is reason to believe this team is just scratching the surface. We'll monitor the injuries to safeties Raven Greene and Savage, both of whom left the locker room in walking boots, but otherwise the team seems to have come out of this bruising game intact.

With four out of the next five coming up at home, this team should have a chance to jump out to a lead in the division. And by the time they meet up with Cousins and the Vikings again on a Monday night in Week 16, we can hope that the Pack plays well enough to put the game in Cousins' hands at the end once again.

 

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Is Pack's Defense Ready For an Encore?

Posted September 13th, 2019 @ 01:09pm

Here comes Border Battle #118 with the Packers and Vikings feeling pretty good about themselves after opening week wins. But we don't really know what to believe. Is the Pack's defense going to be that dominant? Is the offense going to take a while to figure things out? Are the Vikings going to be that strong in all three areas?

Week two won't provide any solid answers, but the additional data will start to give us an idea what these two teams are all about. The Pack gets the advantage of an additional three days to rest up and prepare, but they won't be bringing in the healthier team. Thursday's injury report brought the unwelcome news that David Bakhtiari missed practice with a back injury and Jaire Alexander was suddenly limited with a knee.

Needless to say, if those two guys are limited or absent, the Packers will be in tough shape against a Vikings team that has had their number the last two seasons. Vikings fans love to throw out that it's been 900+ days since the Pack has beaten them. Of course we all remember the game at Lambeau last season when Clay Matthews crushed Kirk Cousins, causing an interception that should have been the dagger, until the errant flag was thrown nullifying the play. Over the past nine meetings the teams are 4-4-1 and the last time I checked, Matt LaFleur is undefeated against the Purple.

All kidding aside, I expect both defenses to flex their muscles in this matchup. The prevailing question outside of Wisconsin this week (and maybe inside) is whether the defense has really turned a corner and is as good as it appeared in Chicago.

Most will point to Mitch Trubisky and say that the dude his hot garbage, so what did they really prove. The fact is, no one was saying the Bears would be contenders this season if only they had a QB. Yes, he appears to have limitations, and his development will go a long way in determining how far the Bears go, but he led the ninth ranked offense in just his first year in the system in 2018 and most expect this offense to be very good.

For the first time in forever, the Packers appear to have dominant players at all three levels, with Kenny Clark up front, Za'Darius Smith (and maybe Preston Smith and Blake Martinez) at linebacker and Jaire Alexander, Adrian Amos (and maybe Darnell Savage) on the back end. They're faster, tougher and more athletic than recent Packer defenses and appear to have a firm grasp pf Mike Pettine's system.

Task number one will be to contain the electric Dalvin Cook, who picked up on Sunday where he left off in the preseason. The Packers will need to be disciplined in their gaps and they'll need to tackle as well as they did against the Bears. It's safe to say Kevin Stefanski won't have his QB drop back to pass on 80% of the offensive plays, as Nagy did last week. This Packers team is equipped to slow Cook down, which would keep Cousins from burning the defense with play action, where he is at his most dangerous.

The Vike's dynamic receiver duo has been very productive against the Pack the past couple of seasons, but Green Bay has invested heavily in the secondary and I'm very interested to see how they do on Sunday. I'd expect the Vikes' tight ends to be a bigger part of the game plan than they were in game one.

The interior of the Vikings offensive line was shaky against the Falcons, with Grady Jarrett abusing rookie center Garrett Bradbury and left guard Pat Elflein struggling as well. Kenny Clark is going to be a problem and I expect the Vikings to do their damage with Cooks bouncing plays outside.

The big question mark for me about this Packer team right now is the offense, which was kept in mothballs in the preseason and was extremely slow to get going in Chicago. Part of that was the defense, the stadium, the big stage. But Aaron Rodgers has talked a lot this week about being quicker to the line, quicker to get plays off. Yes, everyone is learning the new offense, but it's time to kick off the rust and move the football. Aaron Jones has to be productive in this game, the guards have to play a whole lot better than they did in game one, and the other receivers have to step up, if the Vikes put a blanket on Davante Adams.

I expect LaFleur to move Adams all over the field, to keep Xavier Rhodes from shadowing him all afternoon. Adams has been productive against Rhodes in the past, but look for the offense to show a lot of wrinkles that they did not show in the opener. We'll continue to see a lot of double tight end formations and I expect Danny Vitale to be a bigger part of the game plan.

After keeping Khalil Mack in check last week, Bryan Bulaga now gets tasked with trying to handle Danielle Hunter. That's as tough a first two weeks as any tackle will have to deal with. Bakhtiari, assuming he plays, will have to deal with Everson Griffen who looked more like the 2017 version in the Falcons game. If Rodgers has time, and the running game is productive, he should find matchups he likes. With CB Mackenzie Alexander injured and Holton Hill suspended, the Vikes are thin and may need to call on Mike Hughes a week or two earlier than they had hoped, as he recovers from last year's ACL.

I don't expect the Pack's offense to really hum for a few weeks and I think the defense will be asked to carry this team until it's up to speed. Count me among those who believes Pettine's crew is up to the challenge. Turnovers once again will make the difference and the Vikings' modest win streak against the Pack ends--provided Bakhtiari plays.

Packers 17

Vikings 13

If Bakhtiari is out, I've got to give it to the Purple, 13-10. I'll have much more on this one on "Packer Preview," Sunday morning at 7am on KFAN, or via podcast at iHeart Radio or iTunes, whenever you wake up.

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Yawn, Just Another Win at Lambeau South.

Posted September 6th, 2019 @ 01:09pm

A work of art it was not. For most of the football world, the Packers-Bears game that kicked off the NFL's 100th season felt like a game featuring Sid Luckman and Curly Lambeau, with 17 punts booted over the 60 minutes.

But for Packer fans, it was a masterpiece. Taking down the Bears in their house to kick off the season, the Pack's ninth win at Soldier Field in their last ten games, is a monumental way to start the season. The fact that the defense led the way gives hope that this team can be a factor into January.

Yes, it was ugly. Neither team could run the ball. Both quarterbacks spent much of the night on their backs. Each team was flagged ten times. Defenses have the advantage in the first few weeks these days, with offenses spending the month of August in bubble wrap. That would give the Bears the advantage--usually--but Mike Pettine's unit was more than up to the challenge and was the story of the game.

It's just one game and it is the Bears, but they were a top ten offense a year ago and most expect them to take another step this season, with all of the talent surrounding their third year quarterback. But it is Trubisky who holds the keys to their championship hopes and he looked a lot like virtually every other QB the Bears have trotted out since the Favre-Rodgers era.

Matt Nagy's play calling provided an assist. Having Trubisky drop back 45 times is ridiculous. They abandoned the running game, despite having electric rookie David Montgomery, the dangerous Tarik Cohen and Mike Davis at his disposal--and that played right into Pettine's hand.

The defense had a lot to do with that. Three three defensive free agents all made their mark with Za'Darius and Preston Smith wreaking havoc all night and Adrian Amos delivering the dagger with the pick in the end zone, that assured the Packers would leave with yet another win on the Chicago lakefront.

Rookie Darnell Savage had a strong debut and there was even a Kevin King sighting. Yes, he dropped a sure interception early, but he played and he was not carted off at any point in the game, so that's progress. My only concern on that side of the ball was the three penalties amassed by Tramon Williams. Overall, the defense looks like an entirely new animal and with Kirk Cousins and Joe Flacco up next, they have a chance to flex in front of the home crowd the next two weeks.

Now for the ugliness. The offense was a disaster and gives reason for concern. It wasn't a huge surprise that they got out of the gate slowly, but -12 yards in the first quarter is unacceptable. You don't want to read too much into a week one performance, and the Bears defense is obviously as tough as it gets, but Rodgers' play raised some red flags. His arm strength doesn't seem to be there. The big play to MVS that led to the game's only touchdown was a pass that was under thrown a bit. His Hail Mary to end the half didn't reach the end zone. He didn't have the same mustard we're accustomed to seeing. Is that rust or age? We'll find out as the season moves along.

I can't decide if I'd give the game ball to Pettine, Amos or JK Scott. The punter was absolutely massive in this game, consistently pinning the Bears deep, assuring that Tarik Cohen couldn't tilt the field with a big return. He carried over a strong training camp with a performance that went a long way in helping the Pack win this game.

Another observation: the Pack's run blocking was abysmal and it's only a matter of time before Elgton Jenkins replaces Lane Taylor at left guard. I understand why Taylor got the nod, with three tough defenses to start the season (Bears, Vikes, Broncos). But Taylor got dominated and the whole unit needs be a whole lot better. Yes, the Bears front seven is tops in the league, but this offense is predicated on running the football effectively and they were inept on Thursday night.

We had no idea what to expect from Matt Lafleur on opening night, having been dealt a brutally tough assignment for the opener. He stubbed his toe a bit, like having to call timeout before the first play to open the second quarter, like wasting a challenge on a Bears completion that wasn't even close to offensive pass interference. Like running the ball on third and five on the Pack's last offensive play, when a completion for a first down would have ended the game.

But there were more hits than misses and he clearly has much more in his offensive arsenal than he showed. With ten days to prepare for the Vikings, look for him to install lots of new stuff that the Purple didn't see in the opener. It was nice to see production from the tight ends and MVS, but I was surprised that Geronimo Allison wasn't targeted once and that Danny Vitale didn't get a little run in the offense.

But the story on this night was Pettine's squad. If they have indeed turned a corner and become a top ten defense in 2019, the Pack will be back. This team one just once on the road last season (in OT over the Jets). For now, we'll take a divisional road win over the hated Bears and get ready to play five of the next six games at home.

 

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Power Rankings

The Baker's Dozen Why 13 and not 10? To celebrate the Pack’s 13 NFL titles, of course. 9/16/19

  1. New England (1)
  2. Kansas City (2)
  3. LA Rams (4)
  4. Baltimore (5)
  5. Philadelphia (3)
  6. Dallas (8)
  7. Packers (7)
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  12. Indianapolis (-)
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