Sunday, December 04, 2016

2016 NFL Week 13: Packers vs. Texans Preview and Prediction

The 6-5 Houston Texans make their way to what will likely be a snowy Lambeau Field today to take on the 5-6 Green Bay Packers. What to expect...other than the questionable weather, that is? Let's keep this short and sweet, shall we? Or, at least, short. Maybe.

For the first time perhaps in a season-and-a-half, the Packers put together a complete game in all three phases of the game -- offense, defense and special teams -- in their win this past week at Philadelphia. That was the good news. The bad news, or concerning news anyway, is that QB Aaron Rodgers aggravated a hamstring which will likely limit his mobility and LB Clay Matthews sustained a shoulder injury on a wicked blindside block by former Packer Allen Barbre. Both have been listed as questionable for today...but do we really believe they aren't going to play? Not a chance.

With their season on the line now in literally every game, the Packers can't afford to regress to the style of play that they exhibited during their four-game losing streak. Instead, each game must be a viewed as a one-game season. Win. And win. And win. Etc. That's the Pack's only chance of making it into the playoffs: to win the NFC North, probably in a play-for-it-all game on New Year's Day at Detroit, the current division leader.

Packers undrafted rookie cornerback Makinton Dorleant
was activated off injured reserve Saturday and may see action today.

Photo by Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

While the weather conditions today, along with Rodgers' limited mobility, may affect the passing game, it's possible we might see a bit more of recently-signed running back Christine Michael. Head coach Mike McCarthy has been saying that they've been exposing him to more and more of the packages and the weather might just present an opportunity for this "explosive" back (Jordy Nelson's words, when asked to describe what Michael looks like during practice) to help the Packers grind out a victory.

One plus note for the Pack's offense comes courtesy of Houston today: DE Jadeveon Clowney was ruled out by the team because of elbow/wrist injuries. That will make David Bakhtiari's and Brian Buluga's lives so much better; Clowney, when he is not injured and is motivated, can cause havoc for an offense. But...not today. And, of course, Wisconsin's own J.J. Watt is nowhere to be found because of his early season injury. The presence of those two would have really helped the Texans in this game today.

That's not to say Houston's defense can't hold it's own. As Pete Dougherty notes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's preview of the game, "Houston has the NFL's fifth-rated defense...". They have a good pass rush, although not as great without Clowney. The have good linebackers. But given time, Rodgers should be able to exploit enough gaps in the defense to keep moving the ball and put points on the board.

The Pack's own defense, after disastrous outings during the losing streak, will need to stop Lamar Miller, the NFL’s fifth-leading rusher. They will also need to put pressure on the struggling QB Brock Osweiler. If they do so, the possibility for multiple turnovers is there.

The Prediction
The Packers are currently favored by 6-1/2 points at the time of this writing. That seems like a lot given that the Texans currently have a slightly better record than the Pack. While the weather factor should skew to the Packers favor, it will be the first time this team has had to face wintery weather conditions, too. If it impacts the Packers' passing game, the game could become a bit of a toss-up as Houston's running game is better than the Packers.

Still, we have to believe that an Aaron Rodgers-led team is better than a Brock Osweiler-led team.

We're calling it 27-20 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Packers find lost mojo in 27-13 win over Eagles

With a day or two to reflect upon the Green Bay Packers' 27-13 win Monday night over the Philadelphia Eagles, what are your thoughts, Packer fans? Here are a few from yours truly, in no particular order of importance.

According to prognosticators, pundits and oddsmakers, the win was an upset as Philly was as much as a four-point favorite ahead of the game. Yes, that's how low expectations were for the Pack going into this game. And why not? They hadn't won in a month, were on a four-game losing streak that showed no signs of letting up, and had many opining that this was the season in which Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy crashed the team and, as a result, changes needed to be made after the season's close. The latter may still hold true, although I for one wouldn't bet the farm -- or even a farmette -- on that happening. As Hub Arkush of Pro Football Weekly told 620WTMJ radio in Milwaukee the day of the game, the reputation of both Thompson and McCarthy around the league is that they are one of the best GM-head coach combinations there is. He reminded us that getting to the playoffs even a few years in a row in the NFL is no small feat, and the Packers have been there seven years in a row. Let that sink in, folks. Oh yeah, a couple NFC championship games in there, as well (where arguably the Packers should have won at least one or two more than they did), plus a Super Bowl win. Not bad. But, still, it might be a good time to make some changes; that's this writer's opinion, by the way, not that of Arkush.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers was dialed in during
the Pack's win vs. the Eagles.

Photo by Jim Matthews, USA Today Network-Wisconsin

Secondly, and more to the point of the game itself, QB Aaron Rodgers looked like the Rodgers of old. We haven't really seen him this sharp from the get-go to the end of the game for about the last year-and-a-half. He made two remarkable throws to Davante Adams, who made equally remarkable catches on those passes. His other throws, just as good overall. He finished with more than 300 yards passing and a 116.7 passer rating. He also ran effectively to extend drives, at least until a hamstring issue seemed to halt that aspect of his game. But for anyone who had begun to think that Number 12 had lost "it"...he didn't. And by showing that he also reminded folks that as long as he's good to go, so are the Packers. For more on Rodgers' performance, check out this article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Let's also give credit to Rodgers' receivers who seemed to be making up for all of their drops during this season. There was also just enough of a rushing game, coming out of multiple personnel formations, to keep the Eagles from concentrating entirely on the Pack's passing attack. Give coach McCarthy credit for designing and executing a great game plan that kept the Eagles off balance all night long.

Credit must also be given to the Packers defense who finally came to play. After being shredded to the tune of historically bad proportions in recent weeks (not hyperbole, fact), they held the previously unbeaten-at-home Eagles to just 13 points. A pass rush was present and apparently the return of Damarious Randall to the defensive backfield gave the Pack enough confidence to take care of business versus Philly's receivers.

The Packers had their backs against the wall going into this game and came out with an energy on both sides of the ball that we hadn't seen in quite a while. It was the closest to a complete-game performance we've seen going back probably to early last season. This despite still having to deal with injuries to key players: JC Tretter, T.J. Lang, Jake Ryan, Blake Martinez, Sam Shields, Eddie Lacy and more. Give the coaching staff credit for creatively using their personnel and getting the team ready to play.

Still, we must also recall that the Packers -- even with this inspiring win -- are still one game below .500 and are two games behind NFC North Division leader Detroit. At 5-6 and with five games remaining, including the final three against division rivals Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit, the Pack can't allow any more games to slip through their grasp. Next up is the Texans at home followed by Seattle also at Lambeau Field. Then it's off to Chicago to beat Da Bearz, back to Lambeau for a Christmas Eve tilt against the ViQueens and then a regular season New Year's Day finale in Detroit. If the Pack can "run the table" as Rodgers predicted prior to the Eagles game, or even come out of these five games at 4-1, it's possible that January 1 game against the Lions could be for the division championship.

That's a long way away. Perhaps overly optimistic. And the Pack's problems aren't necessarily solved by the win in Philadelphia. But there's a glimmer of hope. Each week from here on out requires the same level of performance we witnessed Monday night. Clearly, the Packers are capable of that level of performance, even with all the injuries. It's up to the players to bring it each week. We'll see if they are up to the challenge -- and the reward -- beginning this Sunday against the Texans.

Go Pack Go!!!

Monday, November 28, 2016

2016 NFL Week 12: Packers vs. Eagles Preview and Prediction

The Green Bay Packers find themselves in Philadelphia tonight for the last of the team's three consecutive games on the road. It hasn't been pretty so far. Actually, it hasn't been pretty for much of the season, whether at home or on the road.

Will things change tonight? We'd like to think so, although the Packers are 1-4 on the road this season which doesn't exactly give one confidence in a positive outcome. Still, the Eagles are sitting at 5-5 with a rookie quarterback who has settled down since his lights-out performance earlier in the season. This is another team that the Packers, on a number of levels, should be able to beat. But that's arguably been true the last two games and we know how those games turned out.

Packers hope to have DB Damarious Randall back after missing 6 games.
Photo by Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

The problems for the Packers are well-documented by now: a decimated secondary that is easy to exploit with no pass rush (which has become a puzzling development in its own right), slow starts by the offense that puts the sieve-like defense on the field more often than we'd like, missed opportunities by skill players, injuries all over the place, no running game, etc., etc. Toss in that some speculate that head coach Mike McCarthy has lost his team while others suggest its time for Ted Thompson to go because of his lack of success in recent drafts and lack of participation in free agency. Yowza! Problems galore.

Counter this existential angst with QB Aaron Rodgers' proclamation that he thinks the team can "run the table" by winning out and still making the playoffs. Whatever is going on behind closed locker room doors, players and coaches publicly believe the Pack is just a play or so away from turning around this disaster of a season.

And, truth be told, if they don't do it tonight we can start looking to next season because this one will be effectively done.

Can the addition of RB Christine Michael along with James Starks provide enough of a running threat to keep Philly from playing only the pass? We don't know. He played well during his stint in Seattle, scoring 6 TDs while there...which, if anyone is keeping track, is 6 more TDs than all the Packers running backs combined have scored this season. Yes, seriously.

With the season on the line for the Pack, what can we expect? Hard to say. And yet, that's we have to do in terms of making a prediction.

The Prediction

The Eagles, despite being arguably no better than the Packers, are undefeated at home this season, which is not something we can say about the Packers. This is a tough one to call as the Pack has shown us nothing in recent memory to believe they can pick themselves up off the turf and actually turn in a winning performance. And yet...something gives me the feeling that they will be able to do just enough to pull off the win. Of course, that feeling could just still be the indigestion from all the Thanksgiving leftovers. A Packers' win will, by the way, also be an upset because Philly is favored by 4 points as of the time of this posting.

We're calling it...27-24 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Packers lose at Washington and other Thanksgiving musings

So, Packer fans...we've had to let the debacle in D.C. pass for a few days before writing about it. You know, the Sunday night fiasco in which the Pack was exposed in ways we didn't imagine were possible. But possible it was...and is going forward, too, with no relief immediately in sight.

Let's look at the reality of it, shall? The Packers' injuries -- which all teams admittedly experience throughout the course of a long season -- have particularly impacted the defense. Hence our witnessing something on the order of a billion points or so being given up during this current losing streak. Well, OK, perhaps not a billion points, but certainly of sieve-like proportions. The result is a secondary lacking coverage speed and teams going deep for huge gains time after time. The linebacking corps has now also been hit, with the real possibility that Clay Matthews may have to slide back inside because of the lack of depth at that position now with injuries to Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez. The lack of pass rush from the defensive line, however, is hard to figure out. It's somewhat inexplicable, although explanations are offered in the form of coaching catch-phrases on the order of "We'll get it fixed." With no pass rush, and the other issues on defense, getting it fixed isn't something we're likely to see any time soon.

As for the offense, it is finally putting up some points. But the slow starts and the playing from behind mode in which the offense has been operating for most of this season also doesn't bode well. The woes on the offensive side of the ball are well documented, chief among them no running game and receivers who fail to get open. Plus there's the Aaron Rodgers question: what is up with Number 12? He's put up some good numbers the last few weeks in losing efforts but something still doesn't seem right as evidenced by the 9-12 record going back through 21 games into last season.

A team that was a pre-season pick to go to and possibly win the Super Bowl, a team that was favored to win every game it would play, this team is now two games behind in the NFC North with six games to go. Making the playoffs seems like an impossibility at the moment; only two teams in the NFC are behind the Packers at this point: Chicago and San Francisco. How's that for a reality check? Ewwww!!! Lot of teams are ahead of the Pack. Winning the division will be the only sure bet to get into the playoffs and anyone who would put his/her money on that happening this season...well, I have some marshland in central Wisconsin I'd like to sell you.

Still things to be thankful for today
Still, it's Thanksgiving. And despite all the woes which the Packers are dealing with this season, this writer, for one, is still able to give thanks that I am a fan of the most-storied franchise in football: the Green Bay Packers. I'm thankful that I am an owner of this team...yup, a shareholder in the only community-owned team in American professional sports. I'm thankful for all the wins, all the great players, all the magical moment. Yes, not too happy at present with the state of things. But we need to take the long view. When we do, we can all say proudly...Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

NFL 2016 Week 11: Packers vs. Washington Preview and Prediction

The Green Bay Packers take on Washington in a little more than an hour from this writing. Will the Pack get back to .500 (5-5) with a win? Or will another wheel fall off and see the Packers go to 4-6 on the season. The oddsmakers are projecting the latter, with the Pack being a 3-point underdog.

Among Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel sports writers making projections, three out of four picked Washington.

How are you feeling, Packer fans?

Packers announcer (and Packers Hall of Fame member) Larry McCarren says in his scouting report that he likes the Washington team he sees. He notes they are a better team than the one the Pack defeated last year during their playoff run. They have a decent quarterback in Kirk Cousins, some very good receivers and tight ends who can stretch the field (oh-oh) and a servicable pass rush on defense. McCarren's scouting report also noted that Washington does leave some openings over the middle and in the defensive backfield. So if Aaron Rodgers is able to find open receivers -- a problem for the Packers in recent games, true -- the Packers should be able to hold up in the scoring department. Getting TE Jared Cook back for some plays, as well as newly-acquired running back Christine Michael in the mix in a limited way, may provide a few tools for Rodgers that he hasn't had available in a while.

The big question mark, though, as it has been the last three games, is the Packers defense. Giving up the huge point totals, and with slow starts to boot, has killed this team in each of those games. If that doesn't change tonight, there is not much chance the Pack will come out on top given what we've been witnessing. The defense should get a boost from the suspected return of Clay Matthews. The Packers also signed LB Carl Bradford off the practice squad, releasing TE Justin Perillo to make room on the roster, but if Bradford has to see extended duty tonight you know things are not going well.
OLB Clay Matthews is expected to return
to action tonight against Washington.

Photo by Rick Wood, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The Prediction
The Packers need this game to stay one game back of both Detroit and Minnesota who each won today and are now 6-4 on the season. They also need this game to restore some of their confidence, individually and collectively. Can they? We hope so. Will they? We don't think so.

Regrettably, we're calling this game 31-24 in favor of Washington.

That doesn't stop us, though, from saying...Go Pack Go!!!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Packers' pathetic performance leads to 47-25 loss to Titans

The 2016 Green Bay Packers hit a new low in a season beginning to resemble that proverbial train wreck we always hear so much about but never really see. Well, we saw it yesterday, Packer fans. Not. Pretty. At. All.

Where do we even begin to dissect this disastrous game that portends a downward spiral for this Packers team unless something dramatically different happens to change the path on which it seems headed? Yes, there were game-ending injuries Sunday to linebacker Jake Ryan (ankle) on the first defensive series of the game, and to tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) and guard T.J. Lang (ankle) later on. Lang may be the worst, as he was seen in the locker room after the game on crutches and wearing an air-boot. Oy. And penalties. Oh, the penalties.

Even the venerable "Voice of the Packers," Wayne Larrivee, when asked what's ailing the Pack had no clear answer this morning on 620WTMJ Radio in Milwaukee. He doesn't think it has to do with the scheme, play-calling or coaching necessarily; as he reminded listeners, it may have more to do with personnel as these same three factors seemed to be doing just fine when the Packers had Donald Driver and Jermichael Finley, for example. So, personnel, albeit with many young and untested players who are now forced to play starting roles because of injuries, is part of the issue right now. All he could say is that in his roughly 38 years covering football he thinks that what really plays a key factor in championship-caliber teams is spirit and emotion. Right now, he's not so sure the Packers have much of that going for them.
Has Packers head coach Mike McCarthy lost his team?
Photo by Danny Damiani/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wis

We have to agree with Larrivee on both points. Personnel, and particularly GM Ted Thompson's time-worn (and perhaps worn-out?) approach to building a team through the draft seems as if it works as long as the starters stay healthy. But when you get past the second or third team players -- and we have, in some cases now -- the lack of quality depth shows on the field and on the scoreboard. To Larrivee's second point -- spirit and emotion -- we haven't seen much of that all season, have we? As we have pointed out here on several occasions, the Pack has played two good halves of football all season...and they were in two different games. Everybody seems flat from the get-go, as evidenced by last week's opening kickoff return by the Colts and yesterday's opening offensive play for a 75-yard touchdown run by the Titans. Hello!??? Anybody awake on that field? Doesn't seem so.

How do you get that missing mojo back? Winning would help. But now on a three-game losing streak, and with two more tough road games coming up in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia before returning to Lambeau Field to take on the Texans, is immediate winning even in the cards? As much as it pains us to say it, we don't think so.

Case in point: the green 'n' gold glasses which most Packer fans wear (including yours truly) causes a bit of blindness when it comes to our team. It might be hard to realize but in the last 21 games, the Packers are now 9-12 going back to last season. Nine wins, 12 losses. The problem didn't just start this season. It's got a history. Something deeply rooted in the locker room if not the players' psyches. Perhaps the head coach has lost his team, outworn his stay; legendary coach Bill Walsh is reported to have said a coach shouldn't stay in one place for more than 10 years because things get stale for an organization after a while. Perhaps that's the case with McCarthy. Thompson, too, perhaps.

Of course, no dramatic coaching or front office changes will be made during this season; it's just not the Packers way of doing things. So this so-far dreadful season will play out how it will. Those of a "glass half-full" mentality will point out that at 4-5 the Packers are only one game out of the NFC North lead. Others might respond that that's only because this division pretty much stinks at this point overall. The once invincible 5-0 ViQueens have now dropped 4 in a row. Detroit didn't win or lose because they were on their bye week. Will Da Bearz do anything? C'mon.

So, if by some stretch of the imagination the Packers can turn things around, they do have a chance. But really, where will they go with the current state of injuries, journeymen and otherwise inexperienced players thrust into starting or other key roles, and the palpable lack of spirit exhibited week after week? The Packers will write the final answer to that question. Each one of us can in the meantime have our own conclusion. For Packers beat writer extraordinaire, Bob McGinn, he puts it like this: Packers' season on the brink. How's that for rich brevity?

Having said all that: Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

2016 NFL Week 10: Packers vs. Titans Preview and Prediction

The 4-4 Green Bay Packers travel to Tennessee this weekend to take on the 4-5 Titans in what -- from a record standpoint -- we might call the "Meh Bowl."

In what is the first of the Packers three consecutive road games, the Packers must get a win today despite QB Aaron Rodgers saying he didn't think it was a must-win game. Technically, true. Spirit-wise...no. To lose two games in a row to AFC South teams would be...not good. At all.

Packers head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers need to figure out a way to beat the Titans today.
Photo by Jim Matthews/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

To say the Packers have underperformed to the halfway point in the season is an understatement. Yes, injuries have played their part. But every team has injuries. At some point, you can't blame it all on that. This blog and other media pundits and countless fans on call-in shows have all theorized about what's to blame: lack of player leadership, quarterback mechanics, quarterback girlfriend, lack of a running game (hard to run without any actual running backs available), lack of ability of receivers to get open, lack of coaching, bad play-calling, bad front office personnel decisions...well...you get the idea. There's something for everyone to not like about the performance of this Packers team so far this season.

As to what this means for today's game, does anyone really know what to expect? We've seen the Pack arguably play only two good halves of football this season...and that was across two different games weeks apart.

Today, the Packers will have to take on an underrated and, to some, a similarly underperforming team. The Titans have a young, mobile quarterback -- the kind that has given the Packers fits in the past -- in Marcus Mariota. They have a solid running game; third-ranked in the league overall. Not much in the way of receivers, really. A defense that is also middling in performance, and one which -- on a good day -- the Packers offense should be able to take advantage of.

The problem is, we don't know when Rodgers and company are actually going to have one of those good days. If the Packers have RB James Starks and TE Jared Cook back (both were listed as questionable at the time of this post), that may help some, although given both players just coming off weeks of inactivity because of injury (and surgery in Starks' case), we can't really expect much from them. Until the offense shakes itself out of its doldrums, it's hard to project outcomes, isn't it, Packer fans?

Of course, part of this is the Packers defense getting itself back together, too. With the inability to stop opposing offenses late in the game recently, again, we don't quite know what to expect. Although being without OLB Clay Matthews for the third straight week because of his ongoing hamstring problem doesn't help, does it?

The Prediction
As a result of the above unknowns today, this game can be viewed -- unfortunately -- as a toss-up despite the Packers being favored by 2-1/2 points.

As it is, we're calling it...27-23 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!