Da Beat Down.

Posted November 30th, 2020 @ 03:11pm

Well that was just what the doctor ordered.

There's nothing like a visit from the Bears to cure what ails you and provide a glimpse at what might be possible in December and beyond.

Here's what we know: the Packers' offense is elite and it begins with #12 and the offensive line. Yes, the Bears were missing Akiem Hicks, the heartbeat of their defense. But there were plenty of talented defensive players on the field Sunday night and they were completely invisible. Rodgers wasn't hurried, hit or sacked all night and the offensive line set the tone by opening up massive holes up the middle for Aaron Jones to scamper through.

Yes, the Packers' defense is flawed and we'll get into that in a bit, but when the offense is clicking like it was against the Bears, they can beat anybody in the NFC on any given day. It was so nice to see a virtuoso performance at Lambeau, after the previous two stinkers. Would've been nice to be one of the 400 lucky souls who got to watch from the stands (and not wait in line at the concession stands).

The money quote after the game came from head coach Matt LaFleur: "This is as good as I've ever seen anybody play." Where are all of those jokers who were saying Rodgers was washed before the season? Clearly the combination of comfort and understanding in year two of LaFleur's system, along with the kick in the pants that came on draft night has recharged Rodgers' battery and has him playing at a level we haven't seen in years.

But any appreciation of Rodgers' play must go hand in hand with the play of the offensive line, which has been a revelation this season. Remember how concerned we were about the right side? Lucas Patrick and Billy Turner have been stellar. Bakhtiari and Linsley are playing at All Pro levels and Elgton Jenkins has proven that he's the glue and maybe one of the five most valuable players on the team with his versatility and stellar play.

For the second straight week, he slid over to center when Linsley went down and the line didn't miss a beat. How about rookie Jon Runyan stepping in again at left guard and showing he's ready to handle the position full time, if needed. It sounds like Linsley abided a major knee injury, but the MCL sprain will probably cost him some time. It may also provide a glimpse at next year's group, if the Pack decides to part with Linsley as they make tough free agency decisions.

The running game finally got untracked and it was startling to see them gash the Bears front seven (even without Hicks). This is what we've been waiting to see for weeks. As great as Rodgers is, this team needs to punish teams on the ground. Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams got 17 carries apiece and averaged nearly five yards per carry. That's the kind of balance that will keep the Pack in any game it plays.

Defensively, it was kind of a mixed bag as usual. As expected, Mitch Trubisky threw a few in their direction and it was great to see Darnell Savage make some big plays, including his two picks and a couple of big hits. Rashan Gary got the start over Preston Smith and it clearly awakened something in #91, who played by far his best game of the season, with a sack and a touchdown, courtesy of Za'Darius Smith's fumble-causing hit on Trubisky.

But there were still too many breakdowns, beginning with the 57 yard run by David Montgomery on the game's first series. There were some missed tackled and soft coverage that an average quarterback would have taken advantage of. The two fourth quarter touchdowns the Bears scored after falling behind 41-10 are excusable because the Pack was clearly playing in soft zone coverage and allowing them to move the ball 5-10 yards at a time to prevent allowing a big score. But it's still leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

If you listened to me over the weekend, you know I was concerned about special teams--all four units--but it turned out to be a non-factor. The Packers were able to corral Cordarelle Patterson and the absence of Tyler Ervin didn't cause any major problems.

Now we wait to hear about the injuries to Linsley, Savage, Kamal Martin and Allen Lazard. Hopefully none of them will miss extended time. And we can watch the Eagles on Monday night to get a glimpse at what the Pack will be dealing with on Sunday afternoon--they're having a lousy season, but seem to have the Pack's number of late. Rookie QB Jalen Hurts apparently will be worked into the equation, so that will be interesting to watch.

With five games to go, the Pack has a comfy three game lead in the division, and sits one game out of the top seed in the NFC. We would have taken that when the season started and as we head into December football, it's nice to know that this team, warts and all, is led by a guy who is playing better than anyone in the world who is not named Patrick Mahomes.

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The Mitch Is Back.

Posted November 27th, 2020 @ 05:11pm

2020 has turned into a year unlike any we have ever experienced, but there are a few welcome constants, including a Packers-Bears prime time game. The NFL's oldest rivals meet on Sunday night at Lambeau--the 15th straight season these bitter rivals have played under the lights.

Here's an opportunity for the Pack to put the NFC North to bed and re-establish a little Lambeau Field swagger, with four of the next five games at home. The last two home games have been, how should I say this, less than inspiring. As you know, the Bears have been gracious visitors over the years, losing 10 of their last 12 in Green Bay, though I was there for one of those wins, five years ago on Thanksgiving night--the night the Pack retired Brett Favre's #4.

Once again, Green Bay faces another team coming off its bye, though the Bears haven't won off their bye since 2013 (a rare victory over the Pack). The biggest change will be familiar face, Mitch Trubisky at quarterback. With Nick Foles still nursing a hip injury suffered against the Vikes, Trubisky has taken all of the practice snaps and appears ready to try to reclaim his job--at least as an audition for another team, since you would assume Chicago will bring in yet another guy under center next season.

So Green Bay will face a motivated Trubisky, who will have his hands full on an offense that looks putrid, even by Bears standards. They'll be helped by the return of David Montgomery at lead running back, but are still dealing with massive injuries on the offensive line. Mitch will likely use his legs a lot to try to frustrate the Pack's aggressive pass rush. The Pack needs to shut down Montgomery and Cordarelle Patterson on the ground and force Mitch to make his customary questionable decisions.

I can see him converting a handful of third downs by running for his life. He'll likely look early and often for WR Allen Robinson, who should draw Jaire Alexander's attention all night long, which means he can look all he wants. That will leave opportunities for rookie speedster Darnell Mooney and Packer castoff Jimmy Graham. But make no mistake, the Packers defense should dominate against this team.

One thing that would be nice would be to see the special teams group elevate to that of a competent unit. The Bears always seem to have good return guys and if Green Bay doesn't contain Patterson on kick returns and Anthony Miller on punt returns, they will be giving the Bears offense the only thing that gives it life: short fields. Make them go 70 yards and they're sure to break down at some point. But give them good field position and you keep them in the game. On the positive side, it appears Tyler Ervin will be back, so we can all breathe a little easier after watching Darrius Shepherd and Josh Jackson the last couple of weeks.

Like last week, the heavyweight matchup is the Pack's offense against the Bears D. The biggest question is the availability of D-lineman Akiem Hicks, who is the heartbeat of that defense. He left the Vikings game with a hamstring injury and has not practiced this week (Friday's practice has not yet happened as I write this). Dalvin Cook found no footing while Hicks was in there and ran loose once he exited. Aaron Jones needs to be a major factor in this game and if Hicks is out, he has a good chance to do just that.

Billy Turner will likely have to deal with Khalil Mack for most of the night, but should get help from the tight ends.  Their entire linebacking corps is elite and all the others need to be dealt with: Roquan Smith, Danny Trevaithan and Robert Quinn. The Pack expect center Corey Linsley to play through his back injury. As good as Elgton Jenkins looked last week, they're at their best with their preferred starting five on the field, obviously.

On the back end, the Bears get their leader back: safety Eddie Jackson was activated Friday from the COVID list (he did not test positive). If CB Kyle Fuller is tracking Davante Adams all night, Allen Lazard will face impressive rookie Jaylon Johnson. That's a matchup Rodgers figures to test frequently. We'll have to watch MVS's availability; he pulled up in practice Thursday with an Achilles injury and missed practice on Friday (other than riding a bike).

Watching Aaron Rodgers duel against this defense is always worth the price of admission and he'll likely be the ultimate difference in this game. He's 18-5 against the Bears with 47 TDs and 10 picks and a passer rating of 104, against defenses that are usually among the league's best.

That said, I don't expect it to be easy. The Bears come in with their season hanging by a thread. They've lost four straight and are in desperation mode. I think they keep it close in a relatively low scoring game (caveat: if Hicks is out, the Pack could put 30 on the board), ultimately they'll take a commanding three game lead in the division.

Pack 23  Bears 16

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There's Plenty of Blame to Go Around.

Posted November 23rd, 2020 @ 02:11pm

It's so easy to blame MVS for the Pack's overtime loss in Indy. In fact, a few sorry excuses for human beings went so far as to issue death threats to the Pack's wide receiver on social media following the game.

We love this game and we love our team, but those despicable people should be rooted out and publicly shamed for their act of cowardice and social terrorizing. Besides, there were so many other reasons the Packers turned a 28-14 halftime lead into an overtime loss.

We should start with the coaching, on all three levels. Matt LaFleur failed to counter the second half adjustments made by the Colts. His play call on the late fourth and one play was a complete head scratcher, as was time management at the end of regulation. Mike Pettine's stubborn refusal to get out of his dime package in the third quarter allowed the Colts to run the ball down his unit's throats and caused the defense to be on the field for basically the entire third quarter. Shawn Menninga's special team's units were a disaster for a second straight week. Turns out Tyler Ervin appears to be one of the most valuable players on the team and JK Scott may as well start perusing the classified ads (Darrius Shepherd may want to join him).

MVS's fumble was simply the final big mistake made by the Packers on day they went toe to toe with a playoff contender and its big boy defense. By halftime, the Pack had put up 28 points and 200 yards and its two turnovers had resulted in zero points by the Colts. Then came the painful third quarter, where the defense softened and the offense curled into a fetal position.

Despite how the game script got flipped in the second half, the game was there for the taking, as the Pack was moving downfield late with a chance to tie or take the lead. It's gotten to the point that when the Packers face short yardage situations, like third or fourth and one, we hold our breaths and wait for disaster to happen. For as sharp a play caller as MLF is, he is awful on short yardage calls, and his decision on fourth and one was just the latest example.

Then came the weirdest series I've seen in a long time, after the Pack turned the ball over on downs. Penalty after penalty on the Colts. With an eye on preserving time, the Pack declined a penalty that would have put Indy a first and 30 situation, instead deciding that the defense would hold and not allow a first down conversion. Whoops. Philip Rivers and his offense did convert the first down, but thanks to an endless stream of holding penalties, they were forced to punt and give Rodgers one last chance.

Third and ten from the six yard line and it looked like the Pack was cooked, but there was MVS flying down the middle of the field and hauling in a 47 yard reception that breathed life into the offense. The following sequence was not what we're accustomed to seeing in the final minute of a game. Rodgers spiked the ball twice and the Pack seemed to be content to settle for a field goal and go to overtime, rather than go for the kill and end the game. The had the Colts on their heels and their own defense was gassed, yet they never took a shot in the end zone.

It was a maddening second half and a quick, deflating overtime, eliminating the chance to basically wrap up the NFC North before Thanksgiving and stay positioned atop the NFC. All is not lost: over the last six games, the Pack will face just one team with a winning record (the Titans) and they can get the bad taste out of their mouths by kicking around the Bears next Sunday night at Lambeau.

But this game showed us once again, that the Pack is missing that little something that championship teams have: the ability to put mistakes behind them and make the big plays against good teams when it's needed most. Yes, their QB is great and will always give his team a chance. It's time for his coaches to rise to his level, or we'll be in for another big disappointment come January.

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