Sunday, October 19, 2014

Week 7: Packers vs. Panthers Preview and Prediction

After a nailbiter last weekend in Miami, with the Green Bay Packers pulling out a 27-24 win over the Dolphins in the final seconds of the game to squish the Fish, the Packers today play host to the Carolina Panthers and one of the most dangerous players in the league, Cam Newton.

What do we look for today? Packers QB Aaron Rodgers should have a big day against a porous and aging Panthers secondary. The front seven for Carolina can and likely will present challenges to the Pack, but as fast as Rodgers gets the ball out of his hands, he and the Pack's talented receiving corps should rack up yardage and points.

It would help, of course, if the Packers could once again get their running game going. Eddie Lacy had 14 carries for just 40 yards in the game against the Fins. James Starks provided a much-needed spark late in the game and particularly in the game-winning drive. We may see a similar rotation today unless the offensive line can create enough push for Lacy to get up a head of steam. Starks provides a different running style for the defense to worry about and head coach Mike McCarthy has apparently figured out if Lacy isn't making it happen there's another very good back available who just might do so.

On the opposite side of the ball, the Packers defense has two things to worry about: Cam Newton and Cam the runner, one the passer.

With limited offensive weapons, Carolina has resorted to running a read-option type offense. Newton, at 6'5" and 245 pounds, has a strong arm and strong legs. If he has someone to throw to, he can rack up the passing yards. Today, however, especially given the Packers well-known troubles stopping an option-style offense, I'd expect to see Newton run often. Until the Packers defense shows they can contain a running quarterback -- whether it be Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, or, today, Cam Newton -- they will always be tested early and often.

The Packers defense has swarmed to get key stops when needed this season.
Photo by Rick Wood, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The Packers defense has come up with big stops when they've needed them this season. They've generated turnovers. And, thankfully, they have depth in the defensive backfield because they will be without Sam Shields and most likely Tramon Williams, as well. Fortunately, Casey Hayward and Davon House are there to step in. With LB Brad Jones returning to the lineup after the injury to Jamari Lattimore last week, the Packers linebackers can and will be challenged to contain Newton. If they can do that, it's the Packers game.

This is a game the Pack should win, especially at home. If they let one player -- Newton -- take over the game, they don't deserve to win. But they will. Green Bay is slotted as 6-1/2 point favorites today. I think the Packers blow this game open...but I think the final score may be closer than the actual game play would indicate.

We're calling it 31-27 in favor of the Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Week 6: Packers vs. Dolphins Preview & Prediction

The Green Bay Packers travel to balmy Miami to take on the Dolphins about an hour from now. The weather forecast is hot and muggy, just the kind of weather that can wear down defensive players in particular if they are on the field too long. Throw in the possibility of thunderstorms and this could be a game where the conditions perhaps more than the talent determines the outcome of the game.

Favored by anywhere from 2-1/2 to 3 points depending upon who you are looking at for your spread, the 3-2 Packers will find themselves challenged by the 2-2 Fins. Perhaps to the surprise of many Packer fans, Miami actually leads the head-to-head series, 10-3.

Coached by former Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, the Dolphins run a spread offense with Ryan Tannehill as the quarterback. He's fast and can scramble, which is exactly the type of quarterback that seems to give the Packers defense all sorts of problems (e.g., Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick). If the Packers defense can keep Tannehill in the pocket and force him to pass, however, they have opportunities to generate turnovers; he's not so great with his decision-making or downfield accuracy. The Packers defensive line will be tested with a pretty solid running attack; Lamar Miller is expected to split carries with Knowshon Moreno throughout the game.

But the defensive line is perhaps the best asset the Fins have going for them. If the Packers offensive line doesn't maintain the aggressive attitude they put on display early and often against the ViQueens, it could be another tough rushing day for Eddie Lacy, who will split carries more often today, it is expected, with James Starks.

QB Aaron Rodgers
Photo by Mike Dinovo, USA TODAY Sports

It could also be a day where QB Aaron Rodgers -- who plays in his 100th career regular-season game -- sees pressure like he did earlier this season. But we expect that Rodgers, his linemen, tight ends and wide receivers will present enough challenges to the Fins defense that his 100th career regular-season game will also get the Pack their fourth win of the 2014 NFL season.

The Prediction
Assuming the Packers can weather the weather (see what I did there?), the better quarterback should lead his team to victory. In the match up between Rodgers and Tannehill, "Who ya got?". I'll take Rodgers.

I'm calling this one Packers 27 - Dolphins 20.

Go Pack Go!!!

Friday, October 03, 2014

Packers stomp Vikings 42-10 in Thursday night blowout

This was the Green Bay Packers team we've been expecting to see: prolific on offense, both rushing and passing, and dominant on defense. This was the Pack's first real complete game of the 2014 NFL season. It came at the expense of the Minnesota Vikings who were without their All-Pro MVP running back, Adrian Peterson, and their potentially outstanding rookie QB, Teddy Bridgewater.

But on this night, on the hallowed turf of Lambeau Field, it probably wouldn't have mattered much who the ViQueens had available. The Packers had the pedal to the metal from the get-go, jumping out to a large lead seemingly at will. It wasn't perfect; there were still a few more three-and-outs than you might like to see. But the positives were there, especially run blocking that enabled Eddie Lacy to have his first 100-yard-plus rushing game of the season and two touchdowns. Lacy had had 132 total yards, including 105 on the ground in just 13 carries. He and his offensive line were apparently tired of hearing all the fan and media questions about the running game. They provided a solid answer on this night. This early run from Lacy set the tone for the evening...
Eddie Lacy with the big gain!

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers threw his 200th career touchdown pass, this one to rookie WR Davante Adams. Coincidentally, this was Adams' first career NFL TD reception; he, not Rodgers, got to keep the ball. There was also an earlier 66-yard TD pass on play-action to Jordy Nelson who does nothing but continue to be the league's leading receiver in yardage and receptions.

But perhaps the biggest and nicest surprise of the evening for Packer fans was the dominant play of the defense. Going back to the Chicago game on Sunday, the Packers defense actually played five quarters of shut-out football. In the end, they held Minnesota to just 10 points, all put up basically in garbage time in the fourth quarter. For a defense rated dead last in the league against the rush, it stopped two very good running backs who the prior game had combined for more than 200 yards rushing. The defense also generated three turnovers on the night, ultimately turning them into 14 points. Seven of those points were direct, courtesy of a roughly 50-yard interception return for a touchdown by veteran LB Julius Peppers.

The Packers have now completed half of their division schedule for the season, finishing with a 2-1 record in this stretch, the only blemish being the loss at Detroit. Next up are the Dolphins in Miami a week from Sunday. The schedule until the bye week seems favorable overall in terms of opposing teams' records.

These are the Packers we hope to see week in and week out. If that turns out to be the case, the division championship is once again in sight, as is a deep run into the playoffs and...well, let's not jinx it. :-)

Go Pack Go!!!

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Week 5: Packers vs. Vikings on Thursday Night

A few weeks out since their first and only home game of the 2014 NFL season and just a few days removed from their beat-down of the Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers return home tonight to take on the Minnesota Vikings.

Do we know what to expect from this ViQueens team? For that matter, do we know what to expect yet from this Packers team? I think we saw glimpses of what the Packers offense can be when almost all cylinders are firing: great performances from the offensive line in terms of pass protection and great performances from QB Aaron Rodgers and the receiving corps, especially Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. But we still are waiting to see what happens once the Packers can get their running game going. That still seems stuck in low gear.
Packers RB Eddie Lacy is still getting used to running out of the shotgun formation. Photo by Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Of course, we also saw a schizophrenic Packers defense, giving up more than 500 yards in total offense to Chicago, including more than 200 rushing yards, generally gained right up the middle. Still, the Packers defense intercepted "Smokin'" Jay Cutler twice and shut down a dangerous Bears offense entirely in the second half.

While the Packers are 7-1-1 against the 'Queens since 2010, their new head coach Mike Zimmer was 2-0 against the Packers when he was defensive coordinator with the Bengals and new offensive coordinator Norv Turner has certainly been around the block. He helped engineer three straight wins against the Pack when he was OC with the Cowboys...but that was almost a generation ago: 1991-93.

This is not a cakewalk game for the Pack by any means. The 'Queens have several solid performers on defense and two running backs, Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon, who combined for 213 yards rushing on Sunday against the Falcons. Even without Adrian Peterson, the Packers will be challenged to once again figure out a way to stop the run. So far, the results have not been good in that regard.

Rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater had a bit of a breakout performance against the Falcons, throwing for more than 300 yards and leading Minnesota to a win at home against Atlanta. But he sprained an ankle and the expectation is that he will not play tonight. Instead, the Packers will likely face Christian Ponder, who had a good performance in Green Bay last season.

Prediction Time!
The weather conditions at Lambeau Field this evening might be wet. Thunderstorms are in the forecast. Who gets the advantage in those conditions? Theoretically, it goes to the members of the offense who all supposedly know where they are going on each play while the defense has to react. If this is the case tonight, which offense has the upper hand? C'mon. The Packers, of course.

The Packers are anywhere from 8 to 8-1/2-point favorites at the time of this writing.

We're calling this one 38-24 in favor of the Packers.

If conditions are very bad, that score could be held down. But the outcome will not change. The Packers pick up their third win of the season tonight.

Go Pack Go!!!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Packers Beat Bears, Vikings Up Next

Final score: Green Bay Packers 38, Chicago Bears 17. How sweet it is!

As any good Packer fan knows, even in the team's down years, if there were only two games to win it was the two against Da Bearz. Regardless of record, that's one thing that hasn't changed: beat Chicago. Just. Because. They're. Da. Bearz.

In the first of the two meetings of these teams for this 2014 season, the Packers got the job done in style. While the first half of the game was a bit of a back-and-forth affair, the second half was dominated on both sides of the ball by the Packers.

A key series at the end of the first half seemed to help turn the tide in the Pack's favor. With the ball, timeouts, and seemingly an offense that was moving at will, Da Bearz exhibited horrible time management in the last minute of the half. Moving down the field without much resistance, Chicago amazingly opted not to take any timeouts. On what turned out to be the last play of the half -- which would have put Chicago ahead -- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Micah Hyde were able to stop Chicago's receiver from stretching the ball across the endzone. Replays -- apparently with only one angle that had Hyde in effect obscuring a clear view of the ball's position -- confirmed the officials' call that the receiver had not broken the plane of the endzone. Oh, and time ran out. Dumb. And, yes, thank you, Chicago.

The second half saw the Packers take charge, with the defense -- despite giving up more than 200 yards on the ground -- pitching a shutout. Part of that effort included intercepting QB Jay Cutler twice, one by Clay Matthews on a deflection by Tramon Williams and the second by Sam Shields. Cutler, by the way, is now 1-10 in his starts against the Packers. He is the gift that keeps on giving.

Chicago dominated both the time of possession and the number of plays; they had something akin to 30+ more plays from scrimmage than did the Packers. The Pack's longest scoring drive of the day was still under 4-minutes in length. QB Aaron Rodgers spread the ball around, throwing for four touchdowns on the day and more than 300 yards. In doing so, he also became the fastest quarterback in NFL history to reach the 25,000 yards passing mark (i.e., with the fewest passing attempts).

Causes for concern in the game? Sure. Any time your defense gets shredded on the ground right up the middle, something is wrong. On the flip side, when the offense can't get its top running back uncorked, that also is cause for concern. Still, with Rodgers playing as he did on Sunday, everyone knows that the Packers are in the game. It doesn't take long for the team to score points...a lot of them.

So, Packer fans, we savor the moment as we always do against Chicago, especially. As I noted in my preseason prediction, I expected the Packers to go 2-2 in this first quarter of the season. The team is right where I expected them to be. Quoting Rodgers from the prior week, R-E-L-A-X.

But now it's time to move on.

ViQueens up next
With a quick turnaround, the Packers face the Minnesota ViQueens Thursday night at Lambeau Field. As far as we know, RB Adrian Peterson is still suspended and won't play. Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will be leading the offense. He led them to a win against Atlanta at home on Sunday, throwing for more than 300 yards. The Packers defense will need to up its game. (I have a feeling that's something we might be saying all season, Packer fans.)

We'll give a more exacting preview and game prediction on Thursday, so be sure to check back here for that then. In the meantime, you can follow all the latest Packer news via our Amazing 2nd Page. Just click that link at the top of this page for darn-near realtime updates from more sources than you can shake a "Packers #1" finger at.

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Week 4 Preview & Prediction: Packers vs. Bears...Time to Get the Pack Back on Track

Less than two hours from now, the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears meet south of the border (that would be the Wisconsin-Illinois border, for those who don't know the geography) to renew the most-storied rivalry in the NFL. Da Bearz come in at 2-1 with two road victories under their belt, while the Pack has stumbled to a 1-2 start and leaving many questions in the minds of fans.

Allow me to quote Packers beat writer extraordinaire, Bob McGinn from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "The defense has been taken to task by coaches for showing no pride late against Detroit. The O-line has been browbeaten by coaches for not finishing in the run game. Offensive kingpins Aaron Rodgers and Eddie Lacy have taken their shots, too. If ever a Green Bay team should be motivated, this should be the Sunday." (See here for more.)

Rodgers typically does not have two off games back-to-back. He was not sharp in the loss at Detroit. Heck, the entire team was not sharp. Does that automatically mean a rebound today? Nope. Would we think there is, as McGinn points out in the statement above, plenty of incentive today to redeem themselves and get their season back on track? You bet.

Havings said that, of course, as with any Packers-Bears game, this will be a battle. Whether more of the offensive or defensive kind remains to be seen. Bears QB Jay Cutler has been rather un-Cutleresque so far this season; in other words, not bad. He's had eight passing TDs in the first three games. He's got three tall and dangerous receivers. He's got one of the best running backs in the league in Matt Forte. The Packers defense will have their hands full. If they are able to get to Cutler early and often, they will give him happy feet and he will make bad throws leading to interceptions. Let's hope that's the way that side of things plays out for the Pack.

Cutler is just 1-8 against the Packers and that's usually because they've been able to force him into making mistakes. Most of the losses came under the coaching regime of Lovie Smith. Cutler's new head coach supposedly has provided more discipline for him. To an extent, that may be true. But what's also true is that, under pressure, we all revert to our instincts. Cutler's instinct under pressure is to force things. If the Packers' defense doesn't get a pass rush on him today, Cutler could have another good performance. He's certainly got the weapons. But get him under pressure, bad things can happen for Da Bearz and good things can happen for the Packers.

If the Packers offense can somehow get out of its own way and find itself, they can certainly exploit Da Bearz' defense. After all, it's not as if the Pack doesn't have plenty of offensive weapons themselves, right? The offensive line, it goes without saying (although I'm saying it), needs to protect Rodgers and create some holes for Eddie Lacy to run through. Rodgers also needs to spread the ball around a bit. If Chicago's secondary loads up to try to shut down Jordy Nelson, the rest of the receivers need to get separation and eliminate the dropped balls that have plagued them so far this season. It's time for some of these players to step up and play like the pros they are being paid to be.

Oh...and not having a turnover right off the bat to put the team down before the game even gets started. That would be good, too.

This game means more to the Packers than to Da Bearz at this stage of things. We have to believe that this is a game where things finally start to come together. If not this game, when? That's not to say it will be a perfect or maybe even a good game throughout. But it should be enough.

In our preseason prediction, we said the Packers would be 2-2 at the first quarter stretch of the season. If the Packers do in fact win today, that's right where we thought they'd be. Not great, not horrible. But getting things together. This is the game to do that. The current line has the Packers favored from anywhere from 1-1/2 to 2 points.

We're calling it 27-24 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Packers lose to Lions...anything more than that?

What's to be said in a day-after post-loss review of the Green Bay Packers loss in Detroit, 19-7? In a game in which the Packers defense came up with three turnovers, in which its offense was going against a defensive secondary that was playing its number four cornerback because of injuries and a starting linebacker lost in-game due to a self-inflicted sack dance injury, the Pack's moribund (look it up!) offense could only muster 7 points.

There was no rhythm, no pace, no congruity, nothing. The defense played well enough to win this game. The Packers offense itself gave up 9 points on a fumble recovery on the second play of the game which was returned for a touchdown and a safety. A defense that doesn't give up more than 10 points in a game deserves to win, especially against an opposing offense with the weapons the Lions have.

So, what are the problems?
Where do you begin? Aaron Rodgers -- apart from the second half of last week's game against the Jets -- just doesn't seem to be his usual outstanding self so far this season. When he's average, the Packers are average and that means they have a real chance of losing games they should win. Like this one. Rodgers says he's comfortable with the hurry-up no-huddle offense, and perhaps he is. But that offensive style only works when plays are executed. When receivers drop passes they should catch, or aren't where they are supposed to be to receive the ball, or runners aren't able to gain significant positive yards, the supposed advantage of the hurry-up no-huddle offense is nullified.

As noted above, part of the offensive woes also relate to the problems with receivers right now: dropping passses, running incorrect routes, not getting separation from coverage. Jordy Nelson can't catch every pass.

Packers WR Randall Cobb can't hold onto this 3rd down pass
from QB Aaron Rodgers.

(Photo by Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Mike McCarthy also essentially called out last season's rookie sensation, RB Eddie Lacy, in his press conference yesterday, saying quite clearly he's got to play better.

There's great analysis, as there usually is, from Bob McGinn in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. As McGinn notes, despite desires to start fast each season that really hasn't happened except once: "Since McCarthy and Rodgers got rolling in 2009, the Packers have started 2-2, 3-3, 2-3, 1-2 and now 1-2 for the second year in a row in five of the six seasons. The only fast start was in 2011 when the Packers went 15-1." Another more troubling stat that you may be familiar with is that going back over the last 20+ games, the Packers are really only about a .500 club. Now, a good number of those games were without Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Bryan Bulaga, Jermichael Finley and other key players. But still, are we beginning to see a replay of what happened with the Packers and Brett Favre? Where one of the best quarterbacks in the league is not getting the tools around him to win another Super Bowl? Some are beginning to ask that question. In public.

Now, we're only three games into the season so it's not time to jump ship. While I predicted incorrectly -- as most did -- that the Packers would beat the Lions yesterday, my preseason prediction had the Pack going 2-2 in this first quarter of the season. The way it sets up now, the Pack will need to beat Da Bearz in Chicago on Sunday in order to stay at .500. We'd take that, given the performance so far.

So, is yesterday's loss just early-season hiccup? Or is it an early warning indicator of something more? Something that bodes ill not just for this season but beyond? Time will tell, Packer fans. Time will tell. We'll get another take on all this Sunday at Soldier Field. Not exactly where you want to have a bounce-back game, but after poor performances Rodgers usually does just that. We'd feel pretty good after a win against Da Bearz, wouldn't we? You bet.

Check back closer to game day for our preview of Packers vs. Da Bearz.

Go Pack Go!!!