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.

Prediction
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 that...an 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!!!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Week 3: Packers vs. Lions Preview & Prediction

Today, the Green Bay Packers begin a stretch of games in which they will play half of their division schedule in about 11 days: Detroit Lions today, Chicago Bears next Sunday, and the Minnesota ViQueens the following Thursday evening. Only the last is a home game. It's a tough and critical stretch. (Thank you, Captain Obvious!)

At 1-1, and with the first of these three divisional games on the schedule today, the Packers need to return home with a victory in Detroit. Despite the Lions being 2 to 2-1/2-point favorites -- home field advantage factor -- the Packers should win this game. Not that it probably won't be a shoot out (don't you hate double negatives in a sentence?). There are two good quarterbacks -- one better than the other, certainly -- who can put up points quickly and often if allowed to do so. One is also more prone to making bonehead throws. We'll let you figure out which is which between Lions QB Matthew Stafford and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. (Calling Captain Obvious, calling Captain Obvious...)

The Lions have a very fine defensive front which will likely make it difficult for the Packers to get a running game going today. That's something they haven't yet been able to do well this season, and it's unlikely RB Eddie Lacey, James Starks or DuJuan Harris will see much running room today. But Rodgers should have a big day passing as the Lions' secondary has injuries and was questionable to begin with.

On offense, the Lions have Calvin Johnson. He'll be working on the much smaller Sam Shields probably for most of the day. It will be a challenge for the Packers, as it is for every team, trying to defend Johnson. He'll score, certainly. The trick is not to let him score a lot. If the Pack can get a pass rush on Stafford, he will make bad throws into coverage. That will be the key on that side of the ball.

For the Packers, just taking a look at this infographic (courtesy of State Farm) should give you, dear reader, a clue as to how things should go...
With a win today, the Packers will have attained 700 wins in franchise history, joining Da Bearz as the only teams in the NFL to have ever reached this milestone. (Da Bearz?! How'd they get in there...?)

Rodgers is also 9-1 in games against the Lions. As the stats in the graphic indicate, he always seems to do well. We should expect another similar performance from Rodgers today. WR Jordy Nelson and the other receivers should have a big day going against the Lions secondary.

At the time of this writing, however, it's not yet clear whether RT Bryan Bulaga will start or we'll be relying on Derek Sherrod once again. That could be a big factor in the game. Last week, the Packers had to keep a tight end in to help Sherrod block, which effectively took away that threat in the passing game. Whether Bulaga plays or not is viewed here as more of a factor than rookie center Corey Linsley going against Ndamukong Suh. That won't be a cake-walk either, but Sherrod is certainly not a tackle you want to rely on for very long, especially without help.

Prediction
Without further ado (or needless blathering on about this or that...you can find enough of that as it is), today's prediction is: Packers 27 - Lions 24.

We hope it's not that close. The score for the Packers could well be more than 30 points. But if the Pack's defense is able to keep the Lions to 24 points or less -- as we expect -- the Packers will come away with a "W."

Go Pack Go!!!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Packers have slow start but Jets crash in second half

The good news of late afternoon Sunday was that the Green Bay Packers beat the New York Jets 31-24 (our prediction: 34-24 Packers) at Lambeau Field. The bad news was that for the first half of the game, it was about as ugly as it could get for the Pack. The additional good news was that adjustments were made and there was a role reversal before halftime and continuing into and throughout the second half which allowed the Packers to outscore the Jets 28-3.

Oh, and there was that very ill-timed time out by the Jets which reversed a TD catch that would have made it a very different game going down the stretch. As Seinfeld would say, that's a shame.

Bottom line: it was one of the biggest comebacks in recent Packers memory.

Let this picture below sum up how great it was to snag this victory. Down, but not out.

Jordy Nelson scores on 80-yard catch and run.
(Photo: Wm. Glasheen/Post-Crescent Media)

Next up: Detroit
After being crowned by some pundits after Week 1 as the winner of the NFC North, the Detroit Lions stumbled yesterday. Badly. Are they the Deja Vu Lions all over again that we see year after year, with glimpses of great play followed by inconsistency? Or, was it just a bad game? For that matter, which team is the real Packers of 2014? The team who got spanked by Seattle (who in turn lost to San Diego yesterday), who floundered badly on both sides of the ball in the first half of Sunday's game, or the team that rallied on both offense and defense in the second half to have a character-building comeback?

The Lions game commences a 12-day stretch in which the Packers play half of their division schedule: at Detroit, at Chicago, and then a Thursday night game at home against the ViQueens. It's a tough schedule. And the Pack will need to be up to the challenge, obviously. Yesterday's game could be a defining moment in this young season. Or not.

We'll all have to chew on this a while. More later this week. Keep checking back here for further thoughts. And be sure to always check out our Amazing 2nd Page (link at the top) for up-to-the-minute Packers news. Or follow us on Twitter: @packfansunited.

Go Pack Go!!!

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!!!