Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Packers sneak by Vikings, get ready for Lambeau showdown with Patriots

Last Sunday's game between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings probably didn't play out as many Packer fans would have hoped, other than getting the win, of course. Coupled with Detroit getting spanked by New England, the Pack is once again all alone atop the NFC North. Order in the universe is once again restored.

But back to the game against the ViQueens...

The Pack seemed sluggish on offense, ditto on defense, and the perpetrator of a few ill-timed penalties (which begs the question: are there any well-timed penalties? Actually, yes, as it turns out, but that's a conversation for another day). As 8 to 9-point favorites, the Packers escaped Minnesota with a 3-point victory, 24-21. Despite the relative disparity in overall talent level, the game turned out to be -- to the 'Queens' credit -- one of the old smash-mouth divisional varieties. It was a game that was hard-fought on both sides of the ball and, unlike the prior two weeks where QB Aaron Rodgers has sat out most of the second half, the game wasn't secured until RB Eddie Lacy ground down the clock in the closing minutes.

Packers RB Eddie Lacy converts a 10-yard shovel pass into a TD against Minnesota
Photo by Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Lacy rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries during the game and had a few key pass receptions, as well, including a nice little 10-yard shovel pass from Rodgers that he turned into another touchdown. On a day when Packers receivers had a difficult time getting separation from the defenders because of coverage schemes, a big day from Lacy was needed. He delivered. Even as he was, we found out later, battling gastrointestinal problems.

Rookie TE Richard Rodgers accounted for the third of the Packers' touchdowns on the day, garnering his first NFL TD reception. He was the recipient of what is officially a 1-yard TD pass, but one that in reality travelled about 34 yards in the air. QB Rodgers scrambled nearly to the far right sideline before throwing back across his body all the way to nearly the back corner of the left side endzone to a wide-open TE Rodgers. The latter Rodgers also is credited on the day with making some key blocks in the running and passing game. He's coming on and, eventually, may be the replacement for Jermichael Finley the team has been hoping for. But we also have to give kudos to TE Andrew Quarless who also had a good day on the receiving front sans a touchdown.

Defensively, the Packers had 'Queens' rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater a bit rattled in the first half; he was very much off on his throws. He did start to put together some momentum in the second half, however, as his line generally gave him good protection. Whereas Packers receivers seemed to be well-covered most of the game, Minnesota receivers often seemed to be wide open, particularly on crossing routes over the middle. LB A.J. Hawk, as this writer noted during the game on Twitter (@packfansunited), seemed as if he was often running in quicksand; he looked very slow...slower than usual.

Still, ultimately, the defense did what it needed to and handed the ball back to the offense to secure the win. The Packers are now 8-3.

Whew!

Next up: the Patriots come to town
We'll have much more to say in our pre-game preview before this Sunday's game. It is the game of the weekend, Packer fans. The 9-2 Pats vs. the 8-3 Pack, with arguably the two best quarterbacks in the game right now and the two best teams going head to head (but don't just take my word for it: even Michael Wilbon proffered as much on yesterday's edition of ESPN's PTI). Over the past two decades, the series is as even as it gets: 5-5. Of course, there was that Packers' 35-21 win over the Pats in Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans (remember that?).

We'll see two powerful offenses matched against defenses that will try to keep up and make a stop when it most matters. It could well be one of those games where whichever team has the ball last wins. The oddsmakers are basically seeing the game as a toss-up right now, giving the Packers the 3-point edge that comes with home field advantage. They're expecting a shoot-out, too, with the over-under currently set as the weekend's largest point total: 58-1/2. Yowza.

Anyway, more to come on this upcoming game, Packer fans. So please check back. In the meantime, you can keep up on nearly real-time updates about the Packers by checking out our Amazing 2nd Page.

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Week 12: Packers vs. Vikings Preview and Prediction

It's about 90 minutes until kickoff between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis. Gone are the days of playing in the Humpty Dump and its piped-in crowd noise, replaced this season with the outdoor home field of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers.

But regardless of the venue these days, the Vikings are still the ViQueens. A team with a rookie quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, who will be good -- perhaps very good -- given a few more years in the NFL. But for now, he's still a rookie and one without many offensive weapons. RB Adrian Peterson is still on indefinite suspension by the league and depth for his replacement is an issue for Minnesota, although rookie third-round draft pick Jerick McKinnon has performed nicely, rushing for 489 yards overall and a 4.9-yards-per-carry average. You have to respect that, and the Packers had better. For receivers, you have to believe Greg Jennings wishes he had stayed in Green Bay. Do you ever hear of him any more? The 'Queens' offensive line is average at best and could be in for a long day if the Packers defensive scheme continues to perform at the same level as the last few weeks.

The 'Queens' defense, at least along the front seven, is probably it's strong suit. RE Everson Griffen may cause Packers LT David Bakhtiari problems. He leads his team in both sacks and quarterback hits. He will have to be accounted for and Bakhtiari will have to be up to the challenge or it could cause problems for Aaron Rodgers and the passing game. WLB Chad Greenway has played every snap and recorded 47 tackles in the last four games since returning from a broken rib that kept him out of the first game against the Pack. He likewise will have to be accounted for and handled. Greenway is a gamer and a good one. At age 31 and after 9 years in the league, he's perhaps not as fast as he once was. But he's still a smart ballplayer and can be a disruptive factor.

The weak spot in the Minnesota defense is the secondary. Some capable, but young, players there. Just the kind that Rodgers and his receiving corps can exploit if Rodgers is given protection.

Randall Cobb grabs a TD pass against Minnesota at Lambeau Field
Photo by Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The other part of that equation, of course, especially in a game where rain is possible, is a sound running game led by Eddie Lacy. We should expect head coach Mike McCarthy to call plays which not only allow Lacy to run from scrimmage, but to get him on the outside for screens and set up opportunities for yardage after the catch, which we have seen in recent games is something Lacy is getting better and better at.

Predicton
The 'Queens didn't play well against Chicago last week, particularly on defense. Expect them to come out fired up, especially in the first half where things could be tight. But over the course of the game, barring injuries or turnovers, the Packers' talent should take over at some point. In some recent games, that has happened very early and other teams have then be forced to try to play catch up. Ideally, that same scenario would apply today. We should get an indication of a fast start or a first-half dogfight early on. If Minnesota has to play from behind...well, good luck with that, Minnesota.

The Packers are favored by either 8 or 9 points going into this game, depending upon who you are looking at. We think this game should be a wider spread than that if things stay true to form. The over-under is 49.5 points. So scoring is anticipated...you have to assume it's skewed in the Pack's favor.

We're calling this 38-17 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Packers' superlative performances at home continue as Eagles play latest victim

The final score of the Green Bay Packers vs. Philadelphia Eagles game at Lambeau Field yesterday was...a bajillion to who-the-heck cares. When a team dominates another -- especially a division leader (7-2 coming into the game) -- like the Packers did, well, scores are pretty irrelevant. Just as was the case a week earlier when the Pack disemboweled an even more pathetic Chicago Bears team. (But just in case you are obsessive-compulsive about this stuff, the final scores were 53-20 and 55-14 respectively.)

The biggest challenge for the Packers over the past two weeks could be said to be having sports pundits and bloggers run out of ways to describe an almost super-human performance on both sides of the ball. We're in the rarified atmosphere of record-setting performances for consecutive weeks. And it doesn't seem to matter whether the Packers are playing a good team, as the Eagles supposedly are, or a division bottom-feeder, such as Da Bearz. We Packer fans better savor these times, because they are rare indeed. Don't ever take them for granted, Packer fans. This stuff is not normal. Really. It is extraordinary.

We won't recount all the stats as your eyes would glaze over. One of note, however, is that for the first time in the looooong history of the Packers the team scored 50 or more points in two consecutive games. In fact, in the history of the NFL, this has only been accomplished four other times. Speaking of four, the Packers are 4-0 when they wear the 1929 Championship team uniforms.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers in full-on assault mode.
Photo by Rick Wood, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

As fans are also well aware, QB Aaron Rodgers is playing like a man possessed. He has thrown 29 touchdowns at home without an interception (18 this season), the longest such streak in NFL history. He's actually thrown 322 consecutive passes at home without an interception, blowing well past Tom Brady's old mark of 288 and -- wait for it! -- the longest such streak in NFL history. Again, the numbers just become mind-numbing at some point. In the last seven games, Rodgers' passer rating is 132.3. Incredible. He and the Packers offense, with much credit due and given to his offensive line, have been so prolific in the first half of their home games they are outscoring opponents 128-9 over the last four games. This is a good reason why we haven't seen Rodgers play a fourth quarter in the last two games (he did have one series yesterday in the fourth, but still...).

Wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb have also been stellar. RB Eddie Lacy is not only a legitimate running threat but has also developed into a trusty receiver this season, actually ranking as the third best on the team in terms of yardage, most of which has come after the catch. Case in point, Lacy's epic screen pass catch-and-run for a touchdown where he would not be stopped.

As good as the offense has been, which we pretty much expected, one of the things we didn't expect was the resurgence of what was a sieve-like defense at the start of the season. They are now dominating other teams, with turnovers a key; the defense has generated 22 takeaways so far this season, including plus-4 in turnover differential yesterday and plus-14 overall (22 takeaways minus 8 giveaways). Also, is it merely coincidence that these last two extraordinary wins have coincided with the move of LB Clay Matthews from the outside to inside where he can freelance a bit more?

If the Packers make a deep run into the playoffs this season, the improved performance of the defense will be key. We know the offense is loaded with talent. They can and will score...big. But 14 points yesterday came directly as a result of a pick-6 and a fumble recovery by the defense. That's huge.

As for special teams...it was a mixed bag yesterday for the Packers: a 75-yard punt return by Micah Hyde, but a muffed extra point hold, a blocked extra point, a missed field goal (long, granted), and a blocked punt. So with all the good bits out of yesterday's game, special teams just shows there is still much to work on. If the Packers ever get back into a tight game -- and reality says they will -- they can't afford those errors; the game and the season could turn on such things.

But for now, Packer fans...let us rejoice and be glad. The Packers are tied for first in the NFC North after Arizona defeated Detroit yesterday. The ViQueens are next up, on the road. Then back home for one of the tougher remaining games on the schedule against New England. There's six games to go. A lot can happen. But what's happening now is the stuff of legend. Yes, it is. And the stats prove it.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Week 11: Packers vs. Eagles Preview and Prediction

The high-flying, 7-2 Philadelphia Eagles pay a mid-afternoon visit today to Lambeau Field for their showdown with the 6-3 Green Bay Packers. Along with New England at Indianapolis and Detroit at Arizona (I still can't believe that last one), this is the game of the day. Obviously, the NFL and TV programmers thought so, too, as the game was "flexed" out of its originally-scheduled noon start to the 3:25 CT start. Make no mistake about it, this game is critical for both teams as the playoff hunt enters high gear. Each team wants this game...needs this game.

The Eagles seem to be rejuvenated in the last week or two (if you can even say that about a 7-2 team) under the similarly-rejuvenated quarterback, Mark Sanchez, he of butt-fumble fame. Getting out from under the dysfunction that is the New York Jets and landing on the roster of Eagles' head coach Chip Kelly may be just what the doctor ordered for Sanchez and his career.

But it's not just Sanchez the Packers defense needs to concern itself with. The Eagles have very good receivers in veteran Jeremy Maclin and rookie Jordan Matthews. RB LeSean McCoy is always a threat, but is averaging more than a yard per rush less this season than in his first five years in the league. And he's not happy about that. For a variety of reasons, the Eagles' running game has gone from first in the NFL last year to 20th in yards-per-carry this season. In a win against the woeful Panthers last week, McCoy rushed for just 19 yards on 12 carries. The Packers defense can't assume that will carry over to this week; with most quality running backs, a game like that will make them angry and anxious to prove a point. The Packers defense will need to make sure they keep McCoy under wraps.

We have to believe the Packers defense will build off last weekend's performance against Da Bearz. Moving Clay Matthews around creates havoc for an offensive line, creating opportunities not only for himself but his teammates to make plays. The Packers secondary will take care of business.

Where the Packers can and probably will be exposed is on special teams where they will have to try to figure out a way to keep Darren Sproles from single-handedly changing the course of the game; he's returned two punts for touchdowns this season.

Packers Guard, Josh Sitton
Photo by Rick Wood, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

On the flip side of things, the Packers offense is rolling. How do you keep that going? Protect QB Aaron Rodgers, have the Pack's great receivers get separation as they usually do, and use Eddie Lacy as both the rushing and receiving threat that he is. The Packers injured guards -- Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang -- are both probable again this week ... read: they will play. The Eagles defensive line is good, and the Pack will need another good performance from its line.

The Prediction
This is a fairly short preview and an even briefer prediction. That's because the Pack can't allow a Mark Shanchez-led Eagles team to beat them on their home field. Weather conditions -- cold, in particular -- will play a role today, although the Packers should be the team better equipped to deal with conditions. Also of note: the Eagles' two losses have been on the road.

The Packers are favored by 5-1/2 to 6 points depending upon what source you are looking at, and the game has the second-highest over-under total points of the weekend at 55.

We're calling it 34-24 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!



Monday, November 10, 2014

Packers help Bears hit rock bottom

We were both right and wrong in our preview and prediction of Sunday night's game at Lambeau Field between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. We were right in projecting the Packers to win. We were right in suggesting the Bears QB Jay Cutler is a veritable head case when it comes to playing the Packers. We were right in predicting a point total of at least 55 points. We were wrong in not projecting that the Pack alone would score 55 points. We were also wrong in thinking that Da Bearz would care about playing a football game. We were wrong about Da Bearz, giving them far too much credit.

While we certainly rejoiced in this thorough 55-14 beat-down of Chicago, a victory of epic proportions in the long history of the oldest rivalry in the NFL, you almost had to feel a bit sad for how far this once proud Chicago franchise seems to have fallen, especially this season. Almost.

But back to the Packers.

QB Aaron Rodgers tied Daryl Lamonica's NFL-record six first-half touchdowns. Combine great play by Rodgers, his offensive line and his receivers (including RB Eddie Lacy) with a flat-out give-up performance by Chicago's defense, and the rout was on early. Randall Cobb was quoted after the game as saying that the feeling going into the game was that if the Pack could get up early the Bears would essentially lay down. The Packers did their part to make that happen and, as a result, so did Da Bearz.

The Packers defense also seemed to be playing at a higher level than usual. Whether that was the brilliant and successful move -- at least on this night -- of linebacker Clay Matthews from the outside to the inside or the apparently stirring pre-game locker room speech to the team by veteran and former Bear, Julius Peppers, we may never know. Let's also not forget the return of Morgan Burnett to the secondary.

But the question for the moment is: are the Packers really this good or Da Bearz this bad?
Given how bad Chicago was last evening, with no passion in their play or performance and a typical horror show by QB Jay Cutler (now 1-11 against the Pack, and O-4 at Lambeau Field), we really don't know if the Packers have finally put it together on both offense and defense. We'll get a glimpse this coming Sunday afternoon when the Eagles come to Green Bay. Lest we forget, the Eagles played at Lambeau last season and went home with a victory. We'll take a closer look at this upcoming game later this week, so please check back for updates.

Until then, Packer fans, just revel in the win last evening. Take pity on your poor Bear fan friends and family members. They're embarrassed for their team. All we can hope for on our end, despite that, is that the organizational ineptitude which has gripped Da Bearz for the last two decades continues. Let's hope they keep trotting out the gift that keeps on giving: Jay Cutler. As long as he's at the helm -- and after having just given him a boatload of money to be their main man, he will be for a long time -- the Packers will be in great shape.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Week 10: Packers vs. Bears Preview and Prediction

As the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears look to renew the oldest rivalry in the NFL at Lambeau Field this evening -- this will be game number 190 in the series for those keeping track -- questions arise for both teams as they each come off their bye week.

For the Packers, can the team's 32nd-ranked run defense contain Bears RB Matt Forte? Can its linebackers and secondary cover TE Martellus Bennett? Can the Pack's hobbled offensive line -- possibly minus one if not two starting guards -- protect QB Aaron Rodgers and open holes for RB Eddie Lacy? For Da Bearz, can QB Jay Cutler not throw interceptions? Can a so-so secondary cover the Packers' outstanding receivers? For both teams, will weather conditions play a deciding role?

The preview here is a short one, Packer fans. The Pack has won 11 of the last 13 against Da Bearz. That in itself means little. The fact that the Packers are the better team overall, also means little in this historic rivalry.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers
Photo by Rick Wood, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Within the NFC North, the Packers, at 5-3, are in an unfamiliar position looking up at the Detroit Lions holding first place; they can’t afford to fall behind especially having lost to Detroit in their first meeting of this season. Chicago is looking up at everyone in the division, at 3-5. They also can’t afford to fall further behind. Lose tonight and it’s a long road to even have dreams of a wild card spot. Aaron Rodgers noted in a locker room interview this week that Chicago would be coming in playing as a desperate team and the Packers had better be ready for that.

Both teams want and need this game. But in a series such as this, on what promises to be a cold and blustery night in Green Bay, anything can happen. The best way for the Packers to prevent that is to get up early and big on Chicago, and to eat clock with their own ground game. To this point in the season, the Packers have been averaging about 59 offensive snaps, 10 fewer on average than their opponents. Time of possession has also favored the Pack's opponents to the tune of about 3 more minutes per game. The Pack needs to close the gap on both of those stats and tonight would be a great night to begin to do so.

Rodgers' hamstring will apparently be a non-issue, as long as it doesn't get tweaked by the cold or game action itself. If that rears its ugly head during the game, it could very much change the complexion of things. How long guards Josh Sitton and/or T.J. Lang might be able to go -- if they go at all -- will also have a major impact upon tonight's play and game plan. Let's hope none of these situations apply tonight.

Prediction
The Packers are favored by 7 points at the time of this writing. The over-under is 55 points. Clearly oddsmakers are thinking lots of offense and not so much defense. We tend to agree.

We're calling it 31-24 in favor of the Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Bye-Bye Bye Week, Hello Bears Week!

The Green Bay Packers went into their mid-season bye week on a down note last week. After reeling off four consecutive wins, the road trip to New Orleans saw the Pack face a rather desperate Saints team on its home turf where they usually come away with a win. And they did.

Still, at 5-3 at the mid-point of the 2014 NFL season, the Packers are right where we thought they’d be (see our season preview and prediction here).

Monday News
Yesterday, the Packers made several moves, only one roster related. The team extended head coach Mike McCarthy’s contract another five years. Effectively, McCarthy, GM Ted Thompson, and QB Aaron Rodgers are pretty much hitched to the same wagon for the next half-decade. We’ll assume most Packer fans are pretty happy with that arrangement. The one main knock on McCarthy, despite a string of consecutive NFC North Championships, playoffs in six of his eight years, and winning one Super Bowl, is that his defenses under defensive coordinator Dom Capers have been inconsistent to put it mildly and downright dreadful to be blunt. How McCarthy will up the ante in the second half of this season and beyond as regards his defenses may well tell the tale of whether he adds another Lombardi Trophy to his list of accomplishments. Offensively, they have things covered. Defensively…not so much.

The other move of the day on Monday was the release of 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod to make room for the return from the Injured Reserve – Designated for Return list of center/offensive lineman, J.C. Tretter. Tretter’s return will add some much needed depth to a sparse Packers offensive line. While slated to be the starter at center this season, an early injury opened the way for rookie Corey Linsley to take over the job. He has performed so well that replacing him with Tretter at this point is not even being considered. Instead, look for the Packers to use Tretter as back-up at either of the two guard positions, and at center, of course, should Linsley suffer an injury.


Derek Sherrod was released by the Packers Monday
Photo by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

As for Sherrod, three-and-a-half years into his pro career, with roughly two years spent sidelined due to a horrible leg injury, the Packers finally decided to cut bait. There was, according to reports, no shortage of effort on the part of the young man to get back onto the field and be productive. Everyone raved about his character. But as the season opener clearly showed for the world to see, when Sherrod was placed in the role of having to play tackle and protect Aaron Rodgers, he couldn’t do it physically. It was time to let him go and they finally did. We wish nothing but the best for Mr. Sherrod going forward.

Here come Da Bearz!
With the bye week behind them, the Packers find themselves in second place in the NFC North behind the surprising Detroit Lions. First up on the schedule is the foe from south of the border, the Chicago Bears, who now find themselves in last place in the division at 3-5. Desperation will accompany them to Lambeau Field for the Sunday night contest, as a loss will likely doom any outside chance Da Bearz have of making the playoffs barring a miraculous turnaround. Considering the chaos that has been widely reported in recent weeks surrounding the team, a miracle of that nature seems unlikely. This is somewhat of a do-or-die game for Chicago if they hope to stay within spitting distance of the Packers and Detroit.

The Packers can do their part this weekend by keeping Da Bearz down. With only one win in his career against the Packers, don’t expect Jay Cutler to author one on this occasion. Yes, the odds at some point should turn in his favor. Even a blind squirrel finds a few nuts once in a while, as the saying goes. And, granted, Chicago has many weapons on offense. Running back Matt Forte could chew up what has been a miserable run defense on the part of the Packers. If Chicago has any chance for a win at Green Bay Sunday, they should hand the ball to Forte at least 30 times during the game.

On the other hand, if the Packers can figure out a way to minimize Forte’s impact and put the game in the hands of Cutler, the Packers should come away with interceptions and seal a win, particularly if the Pack can get up early and force Chicago to play from behind, a scenario which is clearly not in their favor despite their acknowledged receiving talent.

As we get closer to game time, be sure to visit us again for updates. The Pack is currently listed as 7-1/2 point favorites, with a high-scoring game expected by the oddsmakers. Keep up to date on all the latest by visiting our Amazing 2nd Page! and by following us on Twitter.