Sunday, September 14, 2014

2014 NFL Week 2: Packers vs. Jets Preview

First, let's toss out the records from Week 1 of the 2014 NFL Season as we consider today's game at Lambeau Field between the Green Bay Packers and New York Jets. The Packers lost at Seattle to the defending Super Bowl Champions and the Jets won at home against a bad Oakland team. We can also throw out the fact that in head-to head competition, the Jets lead the series 8 to 3. Yes, really.

The Packers need a balanced offensive attack today, something that really wasn't clicking in the opener against the Seahawks. That means the offensive line needs to protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers so that he can work his magic. Rodgers needs to get time to get to all of his receivers, over the middle and downfield.

It also means, hopefully, that Bryan Bulaga is able to start and play the entire game at right tackle. If he's unable to go with his reportedly torn MCL knee in a brace, that means third-stringer Derrick Sherrod will be tasked with performing far better than he did last game. His lack of foot speed, inability to get low and sustain blocks was a continual problem against Seattle's defense, leading in one glaring instance to a strip of the ball on Rodgers resulting in a safety. Given the very good three-man line the Jets will be bringing today, along with their linebackers, having to rely on Sherrod would not be a good thing. Let's hope Bulaga can play and play at a high level. The alternatives on an already-thin offensive line for the Packers are not many or great.

The offensive line will also need to create some openings for running backs Eddie Lacy, James Starks and DuJuan Harris. Lacy was held to less than 40 yards in the Seattle game on 12 carries before leaving with a concussion. Starks was actually the leading rusher for the Packers.

Balance. Balance.

As to the defense, as any Packer fan who watched the Seattle game is aware, it was a major disappointment considering all the preparation and changes that supposedly went into preparing for this season and that game. It looked like the same defense we've seen the last few seasons: missed tackles, lack of pressure, etc. It's time for this defense to show up and actually be a more physical unit just as they said they would be. Head Coach Mike McCarthy indicated that there was a real emphasis this week on fundamentals, especially tackling. What a concept!

There will also have to be better performance by the middle linebackers this week. Granted, going against Russell Wilson and his weapons is not the same as having to face Geno Smith and his crew. But if the Packers defense doesn't step up its performance, anything can happen.

One thing that won't happen this game is an appearance by middle linebacker Brad Jones. He was ruled out by injury. In his place, Jamari Lattimore will get the start. Lattimore has shown promise, but was hindered by a mystery illness last season. Now he gets the chance to show what he can bring as a healthy starter, and to hear McCarthy talk this week it sounds as if he and others on the coaching staff are hoping Lattimore seizes the opportunity. They need better performance over the middle and Lattimore has the potential to up the ante. Let's see what happens.

The Prediction
We could go on and on about this and that. But isn't that what pre-game TV is for?

Depending upon who you are looking at, the Packers are either 7-1/2 or 8-point favorites for this game. I think the Packers offense, at home, should get things rolling, at least eventually, against a very good Jets defense. I also think the Packers defense is a work in progress...still. That means an upgraded Jets offense will score points. But Rodgers and the offense will win the day...and the game.

We're calling this 34-24 in favor of the Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

Friday, September 05, 2014

Packers serve as Seahawks chum in season-opening loss

This is not the way we wanted to start the season, Packer fans. We knew it was going to be a tough game. The Seattle Seahawks were 6-point favorites over the Green Bay Packers. Turns out, that was just mildly understated. The 'hawks routed the Pack by 20 points, 36-16.

The Packers kept the game close for a half, but then the wheels fell off entirely in the second half. The Packers were dominated on both sides of the ball by the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks, who looked every bit the part of a defending champion at home. Former Wisconsin Badgers QB Russell Wilson looked as sharp as he did in the Super Bowl against Denver. RB Marshawn Lynch was in "beast mode" all night long. The 'hawks defense swarmed the Packers offense constantly, runners at the line and receivers downfield.

As head coach, Mike McCarthy, stated after the game, the Packers fundamentals just were not there. On defense, there were missed tackles, open areas for receivers over the middle, lack of any significant pass rush, runners getting around the edges and running right up the middle of the line for more than 200 yards, and untimely penalties (which begs the question: are there ever any timely penalties?).

Fans have not been happy with the defensive schemes proffered by defensive coordinator Dom Capers for several years. The defense was supposed to be revamped this season. If so, it looked pretty much the same as last season. Losing NT B.J. Raji is a bigger hit than perhaps many thought; the Pack was gashed repeatedly up the middle, especially in the second half. Newly-added veteran Julius Peppers seemed to be a non-factor most of the night. Linebacker Brad Jones was more a liability than an asset; he was out of position often, missed tackles, dropped an interception, and had costly penalties. Rookie DB Ha Ha Clinton-Dix showed mixed results, although perhaps what will be remembered most were his missed tackles, particularly one which led directly to a touchdown.

On offense, RB Eddie Lacy was shut down prior to leaving with a concussion in the third quarter, QB Aaron Rodgers was held to less than 200 yards paasing, RT Bryan Bulaga suffered a knee injury (which preliminarily is being called a sprain) and was replaced by Derek Sherrod who got beat repeatedly off the edge. One bright spot, despite one very public tongue-lashing from his quarterback, was the play of rookie center, Corey Linsley. Getting his first start and first game-of-any-kind snaps with the first unit, and in the loudest stadium in the NFL, Linsley performed well and held his own. Yes, losing J.C. Tretter for several weeks hurts the depth of the line. But, as was the case with David Bakhtiari coming on to have a strong year as a rookie in relief of Bryan Bulaga last season, the Packers perhaps have found a real gem with Linsley.

RT Bryan Bulaga and TE Richard Rodgers were injured after colliding.
(Photo by Rick Wood, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Yes, the Seahawks were the better team. Are the better team. All roads to the Super Bowl might go through Seattle this season. But it's one game in a long season. The Packers now have 10 days to clean things up and prepare for their home opener at Lambeau Field against the New York Jets. That should be a game to get them back on track. If they lose that game, they have two tough division road games following, at Detroit and at Chicago. Our season prediction had the Pack going 2-2 in these first four games of the season. Right now, we'd be happy with that result given the performance last evening.

Long-term Prognosis?
One overlooked but possibly disconcerting fact is that the Packers now are 9-11-1 in their last 21 games. Granted, about a third of those were without Rodgers at quarterback and also without some of the Pack's other key players. But, does this indicate a longer-term issue? Were the Packers exposed as pretenders rather than contenders? Does the lack of depth on the offensive and defensive lines present issues for the season? Are the middle linebackers -- particularly Brad Jones -- as mediocre as what was on display last evening?

We'll have to wait until we get a bit further into the season to know for sure. But after this first game, there are more questions than answers as to what kind of team this 2014 squad is.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Packers Season Prediction

Folks usually do a game-by-game set of predictions. Not here. Instead, we break the season down to four quarters, much like a football (football!!!) game itself. We think that gives a better look at reality...or what will hopefully be reality when it's all said and done. It also follows an approach which many coaches, including Packers head coach, Mike McCarthy, use in looking at a season's schedule.

1st Quarter Overview: The Packers play only one home game during this first quarter of the season, certainly not what one would hope for, especially given back-to-back away games versus two division opponents. But it is what it is and it will be balanced off later in the season. In addition to the Seahawks, the Packers play the Jets at home, and then away at Detroit and at Chicago.

Prediction: We're calling this stretch at 2-2.

2nd Quarter Overview: The Packers alternate two away games and two home games in this stretch leading up to their bye in Week 9: Minnesota at home, Miami away, Carolina at home, Saints away.

Prediction: This stretch will see the Packers go 3-1.

Week 9: Bye

3rd Quarter Overview: The Packers play three out of four at home in this portion of the season: Chicago and Philadelphia at home, followed by a trip to Minnesota, and then New England back at Lambeau Field.

Prediction: The Packers will again go 3-1 in this stretch.

4th Quarter Overview: The Packers begin and end these final four games of the regular season at home, with back-to-back away games in-between at Buffalo and Tampa Bay.

Prediction: The Pack will finish strong here, going 4-0 and well positioned to make a run in the playoffs.

Overall Season Prediction: Given the above, we see the Packers going 12-4 and winning the NFC North.

It all starts tonight in Seattle. Go Pack Go!!!

A different take on who's got the edge
By the way, new research from STATS and Wahl just might indicate which team will come out on top, beginning with tonight's game. The study, believe it or not, indicates players with facial hair perform better than their clean-shaven counterparts. So who’s got the edge tonight? The Packers… by a whisker (pun intended). Check out the infographic below for the “hairy details.”

Packers vs. Seahawks in 2014 NFL Season Opener: Tonight's the Night!

In a totally gratuitous paraphrase of Robert Frost, there are now just hours to go before we cheer. And hours to go before we cheer.

Yes, Packer fans (and those who wish they were), tonight is the 2014 NFL season kickoff. And it can't get any better than this: the Green Bay Packers visit Seattle to take on the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks. Let us be quick to remind everyone, however, that while Seattle won it all last season, it's a new season now and there are more than a few pundits who are picking the Pack to win it all. They'd get things off to a great start by beating the 'hawks. And there will be no doofus replacement referee to help Seattle steal a victory, either.

It goes without saying (then why am I saying it?) that this will be no easy task tonight. The Packers are 6-point underdogs at the time of this writing. Seattle is the loudest stadium in the league. The Packers are starting a rookie at center across from a dominant veteran nose tackle, have a new defensive scheme which we really haven't yet seen on display at all in the preseason, and have some unproven talent at tight end. But, the Packers also have a few things going for them. Do the names Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Clay Matthews, Tramon Williams and Julius Peppers ring a bell?

Packers RB Eddie Lacy
(Photo by Mike De Sisti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Now, Seattle also has weapons. Lots of them. On both offense and defense. QB Russell Wilson, RB Marshawn Lynch, and CB Richard Sherman to name just a few. Unless the Packers' defense plays with an intensity not seen much last season, the Packers will probably lose by a nose. Now, don't get me wrong, Packer fans: I'm not saying the Pack will lose, only that it certainly isn't beyond the realm of comprehension given the place and the opponent.

Will the Packers offense put up points on this tough defense? Yes, despite not being able to hear signals and relying primarily on hand motions and body language from Aaron Rodgers to make play calls. The biggest challenge for the offense will be to help rookie center Corey Linsley handle the pressure of the moment and that across the line from him. Packers coaches and Rodgers are confident Linsley is ready. The Packers will also have their hurry-up, no-huddle offense to keep the Seattle defense on their heels and prevent them from making situational substitutions. The Packers goal is to have 70 plays on offense. If they do that, they will likely win. They need to keep Russell Wilson et al off the field and control the time of possession.

Our game prediction?
Not to cut preview analysis (is that even possible?) short, but I will. It's going to be tight, but the first game of the season is probably the best time to take on Seattle, even in Seattle.

We're calling this one 27-24 in favor of the Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Packers set practice squad with 2014 personnel

That headline has a dual meaning: (1) the Packers have set their 2014 practice squad and (2) all 10 practice squad signees were with the Packers during the just completed 2014 preseason.

Key among those signees was S Chris Banjo, who many -- including this writer -- felt was a surprise cut when the final 53-man roster was made.

(Photo by Associated Press)

Signed to the practice squad, along with Banjo, are WR Kevin Dorsey, C Garth Gerhart, WR Alex Gillett, RB Michael Hill, LB Adrian Hubbard, TE Justin Perillo, DE Luther Robinson, T Jeremy Vujnovich and WR Myles White.

The transactions were announced Sunday by Packers Executive Vice President, General Manager and Director of Football Operations, Ted Thompson.

Packers roster set...almost

With the NFL requisite to cut down to the 53-man roster by 3 p.m. CT yesterday, the Green Bay Packers chose the players they think will get them to the promised land: the Super Bowl.

One of the lessons learned from last season, when QB Aaron Rodgers was injured, was that you better have at least one reliable quarterback on the roster to tide you over. Well, the Packers now have two: Scott Tolzein and Matt Flynn.

Photo by Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Many fans were hoping the Pack would keep both. Flynn obviously brings experience and has proven he can win a game or two off the bench. Tolzein has a much stronger arm and bigger upside in terms of potential. Trading Flynn was not an option, apparently, as his flame out in several locations prior to and during last season devalued his worth to all but the Packers considerably. Tolzein could have been placed on the practice squad as he did have eligibility left, but the feeling was that he likely wouldn't have cleared the cut list and another team would have snapped him up; the Pack couldn't take that chance. It's not yet clear, however, which of the two will be the primary backup to Rodgers. Based upon NFL experience, the guess is Flynn; based upon arm strength and upside, the guess is Tolzein (yours truly is rooting for Tolzein).

Keeping three quarterbacks, however, meant a cut somewhere else. It's a numbers game, after all. One of the players that many thought would make the team based upon his excellent special teams play was safety Chris Banjo. He was among those getting cut, unfortunately. Others getting the ax were: WR Kevin Dorsey, LB Jake Doughty, OL John Fullington, OL Garth Gerhart, WR Alex Gillett, DT Carlos Gray, RB Michael Hill, LB Adrian Hubbard, OL Jordan McCray, S Tanner Miller, TE Justin Perillo, RB LaDarius Perkins, DE Luther Robinson, CB Jumal Rolle, OL Jeremy Vujnovich, WR Myles White, and CB Ryan White.

The Roster (as of the moment)
According to the Packer's website, the roster looks like this at present (note that teams have until noon today to pick up players cut by other teams; practice squad designations can then be made):
  • QB: Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn, Scott Tolzien
  • RB: Eddie Lacy, James Starks, DuJuan Harris
  • FB: John Kuhn
  • WR: Jordy Nelson, Jarrett Boykin, Jeff Janis, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams
  • TE: Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick, Ryan Taylor, Richard Rodgers
  • LT: David Bakhtiari, Derek Sherrod
  • RT: Bryan Bulaga
  • LG: Josh Sitton
  • RG: T.J. Lang, Lane Taylor
  • C: JC Tretter, Corey Linsley
  • DE: Datone Jones, Mike Daniels, Josh Boyd
  • NT: Letroy Guion, Mike Pennel
  • OLB: Clay Matthews, Mike Neal, Jayrone Elliott, Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, Andy Mulumba, Carl Bradford
  • ILB: A.J. Hawk, Sam Barrington, Brad Jones, Jamari Lattimore
  • CB: Tramon Williams, Davon House, Jarrett Bush, Sam Shields, Casey Hayward, Demetri Goodson
  • FS: Morgan Burnett, Sean Richardson
  • SS: Micah Hyde, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
  • P: Tim Masthay
  • K: Mason Crosby
  • LS: Brett Goode
The Packers injured reserve list looks like this: WR Jared Abbrederis, T Aaron Adams, T/G Don Barclay, LB Nate Palmer, DT B.J. Raji, TE Jake Stoneburner, DT Khyri Thornton.

As noted, practice squad additions will be forthcoming, along with some possible moves related to other teams' cuts. So this roster is subject to change, but likely nothing major.

As for how we feel about the roster...the loss of OL Don Barclay for the season was a big blow to the depth of the offensive line; he could play any of the positions. Losing NT B.J. Raji for the season also struck at the depth of the defensive line. Still, going into the upcoming season kickoff at Seattle on Thursday evening, I think we should feel very optimistic, Packer fans. As long as the injury bug to key players stays away. Let us pray...

We'll provide any needed updates to the roster and practice squad as they become known. We'll also make our season prediction in the upcoming days prior to the game against the Seahawks. You don't want to miss that! So please keep checking back. And, as always for all the latest from across the web, keep checking our Amazing 2nd Page which updates frequently.

Oh, yeah...GO PACK GO!!!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Packers on cut-down day

The Green Bay Packers wrapped up their 2014 preseason campaign with a win at Lambeau Field versus the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night. Score? Does it matter?

No starters played, with the exception of rookie and new starting center, Corey Linsley, who needs the work after the loss of J.C. Tretter in the prior game against the Raiders. Several backup players got hurt who might have contributed this season; now, not so much...or at all. There was a distinct quarterback competition for the number 2 spot behind Aaron Rodgers. While both Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzein performed well, the edge (in this writer's opinion) went to Tolzein who just has a stronger arm and bigger upside than Flynn. We'd like to see the Pack keep all 3 QBs, but whether the roster numbers will allows for that is another matter altogether.

But we won't have to wait long for the answer to this and the other question of the day: who's making the final 53-man roster and who's getting cut? Each team must submit their cuts to the league office by 3 p.m. CT.

If you're looking to get the early inside information, you can do no better than Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Tom Silverstein's Packers Blog which has the running updates of cuts. Check it out and then check back here over the weekend for our take on all the moves today and tomorrow.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Packers meet Chiefs in 2014 preseason finale

In the final game of the 2014 preseason, the Green Bay Packers take on the Kansas City Chiefs this evening at Lambeau Field. This is essentially the "make-it-or-break-it" game for those players looking to grab a coveted spot on the final 53-man roster come this Saturday. We won't see much if anything of the starters. Although rookie and newly-slotted starting center, Corey Linsley, will likely get lots of work since being thrust into the starting spot following the revelation of J.C. Tretter's injury in last week's game against the Raiders.

Other than that, it will be the bubble game: players on the bubble of making the squad or not will have perhaps just a few plays in which to make an impression. It's a nervous time for those players, as well as the coaches and general manager who will have to make the difficult decisions over the next couple days as to who stays and who goes. To this last point, be sure to check out Tyler Dunne's synopsis of Ted Thompson's new conference from yesterday in which he talks a bit about some of these issues.

As for the game tonight, it doesn't matter whether the Packers win or lose, really, does it? What matters is that all players escape without injury and that Thompson, McCarthy et al get the information they need to put the Packers on the road to the Super Bowl.

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Packers beat Raiders in preseason home opener, lose Raji for the season

So the good news coming out of Friday night's win was that the Green Bay Packers offensive and defensive units were better, much better, than that of their Oakland counterparts. The Raiders picked up a couple of late touchdowns in garbage time to make the final score of 31-21 seem much more competitive than it really was. The Packers dominated on both sides of the ball all night long. Yours truly was in attendance and saw that firsthand.

QB Aaron Rodgers and the offense clicked on their first series in the no-huddle offense. And while the line seemed to sputter in the next few series, and some of the timing was off between Rodgers and his receivers, the first half showed what the offense will be able to do. Even a little of RB Eddie Lacy is a lot for defenses; he played only on the first series, and rushed six times for 36 yards and a touchdown.

Back up RB DuJuan Harris also got lots of touches and performed exceptionally well, finishing with 56 yards on 12 carries. He also had two receptions for 42 yards, with a long reception/run of 31 yards. He showed quickness and power. The Packers will need to find a way beyond just kickoff returns to get Harris on the field.

Rookie TE Richard Rodgers also had a good game. Back up QB Matt Flynn didn't have a particularly good or bad jwas ust kind of...meh. It appeared to this writer that he focused on each receiver he was going to throw to right from the start. QB Scott Tolzein came in just before the end of the third quarter and played very well. He was making quick reads and had zip on the ball. It's always been the opinion of this writer that Tolzein has the better arm between he and Flynn and if he could just get some more playing time he would be the primary back up to Rodgers. I've said it before here and will do so again: the Packers will keep three QBs on their roster. There is a much bigger upside to Tolzein than Flynn and the Packers need to hang on to that.

As for the defense, they acquitted themselves quite well, too, holding the Raiders -- who played many of their starters into the second half -- to just 7 points until garbage time. A couple players stood out, including Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews. No surprises there. The secondary seemed to do well, particularly Davon House. When back ups entered the game, it seemed as if Oakland was targeting rookie CB Demetri Goodson. He struggled. Given the competition in the secondary, I'd be surprised if he isn't released in the first round of roster cuts.
B.J. Raji leaves the field -- and the season -- after Friday night's game against the Raiders.
Photo copyright Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The major negative to come out of the game, we learned yesterday, was the loss for the season of NT B.J. Raji who tore his right biceps apparently during the first quarter. The implications for the Packers and Raji are big, as this story from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel indicates. The Packers younger players will have to fill the void. They certainly have good options there. As the article indicates, it would be surprising if the Pack were to re-sign either Ryan Pickett or Johnny Jolly at this point, relying instead on second-year players Josh Boyd, free-agent acquisition Letroy Guion (who has yet to even practice because of hamstring injury) and undrafted rookie Mike Pennel.

While not a nose tackle, another young player of note over the last several weeks has been rookie LB Jayrone Elliott, who had three sacks in four plays against St. Louis and followed that performance up with another game in which he made his presence known. I expect Elliott to be on the final roster given these performances.

What goes on at a Packers preseason game?
The Packers answered that question themselves, putting together this video.

I can also share that while fans were out in full force (more than 73,000 were in attendance!), along with all the tailgating, etc. that goes along with it, the crowd still felt a bit subdued. Attribute that to the fact that it was a game that didn't count, in which the starters didn't play very long, and the weather was a sultry 83 degrees around kickoff time with humidity in the vicinity of 80 percent or so, as well.

However, for the first time, yours truly was able to grab tickets inside the (relatively) new indoor club level. I have to tell you, it spoils you. For face value of $222 per ticket, it should. (Fortunately, what I paid through one of the online ticket exchanges was far less than that.) But for a night, my wife and I were able to share in a bit of the bounty of these seats. You enter through the Bellin Health gate on the north side of the stadium and take elevators up. Once there, there is an abundance of upscale food and drink choices, with prices to match, of course. You sit inside an air-conditioned seating area, in very comfortable and cushy seats, with order-takers and servers to make the food and beverage runs for you if you wish. There were a few glitches on that end, it seemed. After all, this was the working staff's first home game, as well, and there were some bugs in the system here and there. (One of the servers even told us this would be his first and last game doing this gig.) But the intentions are good, that's for sure.

One of the other pleasures of the indoor seating was flat-panel TVs which showed the live play as well as the replays, of course. Given that we were in the north endzone, it was nice to have that TV view. But instead of having to listen to the usual folks on TV coverage, we instead heard -- thankfully -- the play-by-play of 620WTMJ radio announcers Wayne Larrivee and Larry McCarren. That's as good as it gets.

One of the downsides of this seating level, however, is to get access to the Packers Pro Shop, you have to basically go half way back around the stadium, down and below the Atrium level. Not convenient. At all. For the money the team spent re-designing the Pro Shop and this stadium, this is terrible traffic flow and customer access. When I mentioned this to several red-vested Lambeau Field staff members, they each agreed. It was almost as if the architects were designing only with outside entry in mind; to heck with those trying to enter from within the stadium. Really poor planning in this regard.

I've posted a photo below of our view during the game. It really doesn't do it justice. If you haven't been to Lambeau Field since all the additions, you owe it to yourself to go. If you've never been there, definitely go. If the best you can do is to take a tour of the stadium, spring for the $20 version; a young couple we met from Toronto had done that a few days earlier and raved about it.

It's getting close, Packer fans. That first game against Seattle will be here in about 10 days or so. It looks as if the Pack is in good form going into that opener. But we know the Seahawks will be, too. They are the champs...for now.

Go Pack Go!!!