Pack's Bills Come Due in Buffalo

Posted December 15th, 2014 @ 02:12am

Wow, where do we start? Should we lead with the punt return the Pack allowed to give the Bills their first lead? Or would you rather talk about all the drops, most importantly that drop? We could start with the penalties, the blocked field goal or the interceptions...plural.

But maybe the most astounding takeaway was the Pack's anemic passing attack. 30 yards in the first half; a paltry 185 for the game and 25, count them 25 incomplete passes in 42 attempts by Rodgers. He was out of sync from the start and then his receivers did him no favors with drop after drop after drop. He could easily have thrown more than two picks, too. The Bills dropped a couple sure things.

You'd like to think that when your defense keeps the opposing offense out of the end zone on the road, you have a pretty good chance of winning. Not so on this day for the Green and Gold, a day which got off to an ominous start with the sad news that former Packer all-time great Fuzzy Thurston had passed away earlier in the day.

It was strange, because the Packers' running attack was clicking at the start, with Eddie Lacy finding big holes on his way to a 70 yard first half. But the Pack shot itself in the foot time and time again on third downs, converting just 4 of 14 for the game--much credit goes to the Bills' secondary, which was up to the challenge from the opening kickoff.

As expected, the Bills were sharp and played like the more desperate team. While their playoff hopes are still flickering, the Packers saw themselves fall from the #1 seed to #6. They will win their fourth straight North title if they win their final two games. But thanks to the flat effort in Buffalo, it looks like we're going to need the Cardinals to upset the Seahawks next week, if we want to avoid a potential return trip to Qwest Field in January.

I'm going to go ahead and chalk this one up to 'just one of those days' where nothing went right and a team with a strong defense got enough assistance from its special teams units to come out on top. Rodgers was not sharp; Jordy Nelson was not sharp. The defense committed a number of inexcusable penalties. Yet if Nelson doesn't drop a pass he would catch 99 times out of 100, we might have had a different outcome.

The Packers remain winless in Buffalo and will head to another historically dangerous locale next week, Tampa, with no more margin for error. Win these last two, finish at 12-4 and the Pack will likely be a top two seed. Lose even one more and they face the prospect of missing the post-season. That's how quickly you can go from favorites to also rans in today's NFL.

 

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Pack at Bills: Let the Nail Biting Begin

Posted December 12th, 2014 @ 04:12pm

Gang, I'm worried about this one. To me, the game that stands between the Pack and home field advantage throughout the playoffs is Sunday's game against the Bills.

OK, so the Packers have never won in western NY, they're 0-5. Granted, the last visit was in '06 and virtually no one remains on either team from that one. But Buffalo is always a tough place to play; they're the AFC's version of the Packers: a small, blue collar community that lives and dies with its team. Of course their Super Bowl record is much more Viking-like than Packer-like.

Consider: they're 7-6 and clinging to life in the wide open AFC playoff race, despite benching their supposed franchise QB early in favor of journeyman Kyle Orton (more on the Packer killer in a moment). They lost last year's defensive rookie of the year Kiko Alonzo for the season during training camp, yet their defense hasn't missed a beat, ranked fourth in points and fifth overall.

They opened our eyes early, by winning their season opener in Chicago, which seemed a lot more impressive a couple of months ago. They also won in Detroit, something the Packers weren't able to accomplish. Their loss in Denver last week has them on the outside looking in at the postseason. They'll likely look at this one like a playoff game.

They get the Pack on a short week, coming off a sobering win, if you can call it that. The 31-7 halftime lead got lost in the second half defensive collapse; a half that looks like it cost them corner Davon House for the long haul and possibly Eddie Lacy in the short term.

Lacy's hip injury is concerning, because it sounds like a muscle strain which takes time to heal. Look for hometown hero James Starks to get the lion's share of the duties in the running game. The former University of Buffalo star grew up in nearby Niagra Falls, NY. Coming home with a chance to start could be looked at both ways: he's ultra motivated to play in front of family and friends or he tries to hard and fails miserably.

The running game is essential in this matchup, to keep the NFL's leading sackers away from Aaron Rodgers. Look for Mike McCarthy to move Rodgers out of the pocket quite a bit and for a lot of quick throws. The Bills' defense is strongest up front and gets weaker as you move to the back end. They have two guys picked in the top three on the line: Mario Williams on the outside and Marcell Dareus on the inside--both are playing at Pro Bowl levels. Throw in the  extremely loud environment and the offensive line will be tested like it was in Seattle and Detroit.

So I don't expect the Pack to sniff 30 points, unless the defense and special teams helps out. Where the Pack should have an edge is when the Bills have the ball. Rookie Sammy Watkins is special and will be a perennial Pro Bowler, but has slowed down since the first six weeks of the season and is the only real threat in the passing game. Robert Woods is a solid #2 and dangerous on third downs and in the red zone; tight end Scott Chandler has become a favorite target for Orton and the Pack will need to keep an eye on him.

Back to Orton: he knows how to beat the Packers. He's 5-2 overall, including a 4-1 record as the Bears QB. We all can remember him making unlikely plays in the past that had you skating your head saying, 'I can't believe Kyle Orton just beat us.' He was signed on August 30th and within a month he was the starter as the team realized they had a playoff caliber team, but a young QB who wasn't ready for the job at that level.

So Orton has steered them to a winning record but if you look at their results at home something stands out. They beat the Dolphins, Vikings, Jets and Browns and have lost to the Chargers, Patriots and Chiefs. Do you see it? They've handled the lousy teams at home (save Miami) and got beat by playoff caliber teams. And here come the Packers.

This one is going to be a struggle. You hope the defense got a kick in the pants after the way Monday's game ended and will bring a focused effort like we had seen in the weeks before that fateful second half. The Bills, with a pedestrian running game and a lackluster passing game (to go along with an average offensive line) shouldn't be able to move the ball with ease. In their three home losses they scored 10, 22 and 13. Green Bay should be able to keep them in the teens.

I expect a slugfest, with points at a premium. If Lacy doesn't play, it gets even tougher. Starks gave us hope on Monday that he's ready, if needed. The weather should be very familiar, with temperatures in the mid-30s and no snow in the forecast (they've had enough to last them till the end of the decade).

We may not see the typical fast start in this one, but hopefully Rodgers and company will do enough by the time it's finished.

Pack 20  Bills 17

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Pack's Narrow Win Leaves Us Jonesin' For More

Posted December 9th, 2014 @ 05:12am

We should feel good after a Packer win. The Pack remained perfect at Lambeau this season and maintained their one game division lead and their #2 spot in the NFC.

But I can't shake the defensive debacle in the second half. A half where the Falcons scored a point a minute and were an onside kick away from springing a comeback for the ages. OK, you're ahead 31-7 at the half and there's bound to be a bit of a defensive letdown. It's got to be hard to maintain your intensity when you're rolling like the Pack was.

But how do you not take Julio Jones away and make a gimpy Roddy White try to beat you? Dom Capers refused to roll coverage Jones' way and thought Shields or House could cover him. This just in: they couldn't. If Jones doesn't exit with a hip injury, who knows how much quicker they might have scored?

It leaves a sour taste in your mouth, despite another dynamic offensive performance, equally successful on the ground and through the air. The Pack rushed for 179 yards at six yards a pop. And Rodgers threw for 327 with three TDs and a 123 passer rating. The bomb to Jordy should have been the dagger, but Ryan and his offense refused to lay down and it wasn't until James Starks broke loose for 42 yards late that the dagger could be uttered.

It was another clean game for the Pack: no turnovers, just five penalties for 40 yards and pretty good special teams play. The second blocked extra point in the last month is a concern. But Crosby nailed a key 53 harder and the Pack didn't let Devin Hester bust one.

The defense will have a chance to catch their breath the next two weeks against Kyle Orton and Josh McCown. They're not as bas as they looked in the second half and they obviously can't afford to repeat it. Three defensive timeouts called in the fourth quarter and Ryan and Jones playing catch. It turned a 31-7 laugher into a 43-37 nail biter. Super Bowl contenders can't allow that to happen.

Glass half full outlook: the second half defensive collapse removes a bit of the invincibility the team may have been feeling with their success of late. Maybe it brings them back to earth a bit and provides a chance to refocus as they hit the road.

Next Sunday's game may be the toughest one left on the schedule. They won't score 43 in Buffalo. The Bills have an elite defense and, unlike the Falcons, get after the quarterback. Fortunately for the Pack's sake, they also have nothing that resembles Ryan and Jones.

But on a short week against a team that will treat the game like a playoff contest, the Pack will need to be at their sharpest, to stay ahead of the Lions and Seahawks in the NFC pecking order.

 

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