This Doughnut Leaves a Glazed Look in our Eyes

Posted November 20th, 2017 @ 01:11pm

Le's start with the good stuff. As hoped, Brett Hundley picked up where he left off in the fourth quarter in Chicago, leading the Pack down the field on the opening drive to the Ravens 10 yard line.

OK, let's move on to the rest of the game now.

Maybe Hundley was confused by the throwback uniforms. Or maybe he's just not good. After that performance on Sunday, it looks likely that the Pack's eight-year streak of playoff appearances is history and Aaron Rodgers can heal up, rest up and prepare for 2018.

Despite countless plays where the offensive line gave him a clean pocket, Hundley constantly held on to the ball, neglecting open receivers, and fled toward the sidelines looking  for something, anything. It seems clear after four starts that he's not ready to lead a team with playoff aspirations. I'm not sure he's ready to lead a Boy Scout troop.

As putrid as his play was, the defense bailed him out. After turnovers on the first three series, the Ravens were only able to come away with six points, teasing us that the Pack was still in the game. Eventually, the defense wilted, thanks in part to injuries to Clay Matthews and Kenny Clark (adding to a medical chart that already had starters Kevin King and Morgan Burnett on the sidelines).

With Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery sidelined, the running game was unable to bail Hundley out this time around and an aggressive, rested, hungry Ravens defense was more than ready for him. Next up comes the Pittsburgh Steelers defense, in their house, in prime time. The Packers are two touchdown underdogs. I'm sure NBC execs are thrilled that this matchup wasn't flexed out of Sunday night. At least we'll have three days to digest our Thanksgiving meal before watching this beat down.

A week from now, the Pack will likely be 5-6 with the Buccaneers and Browns waiting in the wings. Obviously, after what we saw on Sunday, it's hard to picture the Pack beating anyone. But if they find a way to win those two and get to 7-6 with a trip to Carolina looming, it's not out of the question that Rodgers will be back in uniform. But with defenders dropping like flies, and with Hundley's confidence likely shaken to its core by Pittsburgh, wins over Tampa and Cleveland are hardly assured.

Like many, I bought into the notion that Hundley was ready for this moment, after nearly three years in McCarthy's system. Today, I find myself feeling like a rube who just spent five bucks to try to win a stuffed bear at the State Fair.

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Lose a Third Straight at Lambeau? Nevermore.

Posted November 17th, 2017 @ 04:11pm

For the second straight week, the Packers find themselves in must-win territory, facing a team rested and ready coming off a bye. At 4-5, the Baltimore Ravens have been an enigma this season, but they are usually ready after extra rest, 7-2 under John Harbaugh.

This is a team that opened the season with a 20-0 shutout at Cincinnati. Since then, they've gotten smoked 44-7 to the Jaguars, shut out the Dolphins and lost at home to the Bears. They've been even more inept on offense than Chicago, but have a tough, physical, bend but don't break defense and a top tier special teams unit.

The Packers return home from their much needed win over the Bears as two point underdogs to Baltimore, hoping to ride that momentum to a second straight win. With a prime time game in Pittsburgh on the horizon, the Pack can't afford to lose a third straight home game if they want to stay in the NFC race long enough for Aaron Rodgers to heal. Realistically, the Pack needs to win three of the next four and this one looks like the second toughest game during that stretch.

Complicating matters is the Packers' health at running back. They're without the top two guys on the depth chart in this matchup: Aaron Jones will miss at least a month with a sprained MCL and Ty Montgomery will sit this one out after re-aggravating his rib injury. So Jamal Williams will need to follow up on his impressive showing last week, complemented by fellow rookie Devante Mays, because make no mistake: the way to beat these Ravens is with the ground game.

Baltimore's run defense ranks 28th in the league, having surrendered 231 to the Bears and more than 160 to the Steelers, Vikes and Jags. With temperatures likely hovering around 30 on Sunday, it will be a good day to run the football. Baltimore will load the box to stop the run, so Brett Hundley will need to loosen them up early and complete some passes to keep that unit honest.

He will have to deal with ageless pass rusher Terrell Suggs, who will probably match up against Justin McCray. At 35, Suggs still has juice, with 5.5 sacks this season. His fellow pass rushers will get help with multiple blitzes, as the aggressive Ravens D will look to force Hundley into mistakes. The Ravens' strength is on the back end with three solid corners: Jimmy Smith (who's dealing with an Achilles injury, but will likely play), Brandon Carr and rookie Marlon Humphrey. Former Charger FS Eric Weddle remains the quarterback of the unit.

The Ravens' defense is #2 against the pass this season and have a league leading 13 interceptions. Hundley has been good at protecting the football the last two games, but faces a much stiffer test on Sunday. We'll need to see last week's fourth quarter version of Hundley on Sunday if the Pack is to spring the mild upset.

Meanwhile, the Pack's defense will meet up with a pedestrian offense that might get a huge shot in the arm with the potential return of running back Danny Woodhead. He's played exactly one series in the last 23 games; he missed last season, then caught three balls on the Ravens' first series in the opener this season and then left with a hamstring injury. He's still on IR as I write this, but is eligible to play Sunday if he comes off before 3pm Saturday. When healthy, Woodhead is one of the most dangerous pass catchers out of the backfield--something the Packers have had trouble dealing with for years.

Otherwise, the offense has not been able to get going most of the year. This week, Flacco went public about the team's conservative play calling, saying 'We need to get after it.' So don't be surprised if coordinator Marty Morninhweg accommodates him with some deep shots and gadget plays. The Ravens are dead last in passing (165 yards/game) and in yards per play. Their reaching duo of Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace would sound better if this was 2012.

The Packers must be as successful with the pass rush as they were last weekend. Clay Matthews draws a favorable matchup against right tackle Austin Howard. After Nick Perry's breakout performance last week, let's hope Clay decides it's his turn. Flacco is immobile and will look to check down quickly. Making him uncomfortable is paramount on Sunday.

Special teams were a concern last week, with a terrible punt return decision by Trevor Davis and a bad hold by Justin Vogel. The Pack gets some relief with the return of long snapper Brett Goode, but they need to be better on Sunday. The Ravens are always great on special teams, with the best placekicker-punter duo in the league and a good return guy in Michael Campanaro. The Pack needs to match them this weekend.

I don't like the idea that the Ravens are coming off a bye and that Woodhead might be back. I'd also feel a lot better if Aaron Jones, Ty Montgomery and Morgan Burnett were playing. This feels like a coin toss game to me. I'm going to go a bit with my heart this time and say somehow the Pack finds a way to squeak out a win.

Packers 20  Ravens 19

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Home Sweet Home Away From Home

Posted November 13th, 2017 @ 01:11pm

It turns out, as long as the Packers start a QB named Brett or Aaron, they can handle the Bears. Hundley was the first QB not named Favre or Rodgers to start against Chicago since 1991 and happily, the results were the same as usual. Make it eight straight wins at Soldier Field and suddenly the Packers have a pulse.

This was a major step forward for Hundley who played much of the game with a tight hamstring, causing him to rely more on his arm than his legs. Despite playing in chilly, rainy conditions, Hundley looked more comfortable than he had in his previous three games, particularly in the fourth quarter. His touchdown pass to Davante Adams was a thing of beauty and his 42 yard strike down the sidelines to Adams late on third and ten was perfection.

With Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery both knocked out with injuries by halftime, the Pack's offense was down to just Jamal Williams at halfback, limiting McCarthy's play calling ability a bit (Devante Mays was inactive). Williams delivered in a workmanlike performance and his role in this victory was huge, even if his yards per carry was average. He fought hard through tackles and earned some key extra yards when they were needed most. Looks like he'll be the primary ballcarrier for the next few weeks. Overall, the Pack ran for 160 yards--something they have to continue to do for as long as Rodgers is out.

On the other side of the ball, we finally saw the pass rush come to life, thanks to a monster game by Nick Perry. Facing a rookie quarterback helped, but whoever was back there, it was nice to see him on the ground five times--with Perry notching three sacks and Mike Daniels getting his first since the season opener. The run defense was solid as well, limiting the Bears to just 55 yards on the ground on 17 carries.

The pass defense is still a concern as Trubisky threw for nearly 3oo yards. Let's face it: this will be a problem all season. Davon House got torched for a long touchdown and Kevin King got knocked out with a shoulder injury. Fortunately for the Pack, of the next four opponents, only Big Ben and his passing attack scare you. The other three QBs they'll likely face over the next month are Joe Flacco, Ryan Fitzpatrick and DeShone Kizer.

The Pack didn't turn the ball over--a positive sign for sure, but special teams did them no favors. From Trevor Davis taking a punt out of the end zone, to multiple penalties on punt returns, to the bungled hold by Justin Vogel on a late field goal attempt that would put the game away. The Packers have to clean things up on special teams: the margin for error is razor thin when Rodgers in on the sidelines.

We know there's no guarantee that #12 will be back this season. But we also know there's no chance he'll return if the Pack is out of the playoff hunt. The team has a legitimate chance to win three of its next four, with home games against the Ravens and Bucs and road games in Pittsburgh in Cleveland. If Hundley can continue to show the growth he displayed at Soldier Field (and if that hamstring settles down), the Pack has a good chance of still being in the thick of things when they head to Carolina in Week 15. That, of course, is the week Rodgers is eligible to return.

For now, we turn our attention to the Ravens, another team coming off its bye. What we watched on Sunday should give us hope that Hundley, Williams, Perry and the rest of the team will get a little swagger back. A win at Lambeau next Sunday would keep our dreams of a ninth straight post-season alive.


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The Baker's Dozen Why 13 and not 10? To celebrate the Pack’s 13 NFL titles, of course. 11/14/17

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