Sunday, November 30, 2008

Final: Packers 31 - Panthers 35

The Packers not only dominated the 3rd quarter but also the 4th. After going up 28-21 at the start of the final quarter, the Packers special teams once again gave up a big return, this one a 51-yarder to set up Carolina in great field position. On their possession, Carolina converted a 3rd and 11 from their own 37-yard line down to the 1 on a pass from Jake Delhomme to Steve Smith. The score was soon tied at 28-28.

The Pack then had nearly a 10-minute drive, but could not get it in from about the 1-yard line with two plays to spare and had to settle for a field goal to go up 31-28.

Once more, the Packers special teams gave Carolina a short field, giving up another 40+ yard kickoff return with under 2 minutes to go. On the first play, Delhomme converted on about a 40 yard pass play to Smith down to the 1-yard line with a minute-and-half left in the game.

The Pack had one possession to try to get a TD to win, starting at about their own 17. Too much to ask. An interception sealed the deal.

The Packers should have won this game. They had more than 400 yards of total offense. But the kickoff return coverage repeatedly gave Carolina a short field to play on most of the day. And the team's inability to rush the ball in for a TD on 2 plays from the 1-yard line with less than 2 minutes to go proved fatal. Despite the Packers overwhelming time of possession advantage, when your opponent only has to play on half the field that doesn't count for much. It's the final score that matters. And once again for the Pack, it was close but no cigar as the saying goes. How many times have we said that this year? What separates the good teams from the mediocre is the ability to win close games. The Packers have been on the short side of that more often than not this season. This was the Packers fourth loss this season by 4 points or less.

A great second half effort wasted. A season basically wasted. The Packers are 5-7, and will go 2 games down with 4 remaining to either Chicago or Minnesota after their game tonight. Face reality, Packer fans: barring a miracle of Biblical proportions, there will be no playoff berth for the Pack this year.

Pass the Pepto, please. It's enough to make ya sick. Really.

P.S. Did I mention that special teams coach Mike Stock should be fired at the end of this season? No? Well, I'm mentioning it now.

End of 3rd quarter: Packers 21 - Panthers 21

It was gut check time for the Packers at halftime. And the team responded by dominating the quarter. They picked up a field goal by Mason Crosby early in the quarter to make the score Packers 13 - Panthers 21. Then they put together a 95-yard drive, keyed by a 46-yard rainbow pass play from Aaron Rodgers to Donald Driver. The Pack got their TD on a pass from Rodgers to TE Donald Lee. The Packers also converted a 2-point play on a pass from Rodgers to WR Greg Jennings to even up the score at 21-21.

As the quarter was winding down, the Pack was driving again.

Go Pack Go!!!

Halftime: Packers 10 - Panthers 21

The Pack had to settle for a field goal early in the quarter, to make the score Packers 3 - Panthers 7.

After giving up a big kickoff return -- something the Packers special teams have been doing more and more as the season has worn on -- and setting Carolina up at almost midfield, Carolina was soon to score. The key play was a 43-yard run by rookie RB Jonathon Stewart. He was bottled up at the line of scrimmage and somehow broke through. There was no one there to stop him once that happened. Tramon Williams eventually caught up with him before he hit the endzone and actually helped cause a fumble, which unfortunately was recovered at the 2 by the Panthers. Jake Delhomme scampered in for a TD two plays later to put Carolina up 14-3.

The Packers then got a drive of their own going, combining some good running by Ryan Grant and some key receptions by Donald Driver. The key run, though, turned out to be a rush by Brandon Jackson, who took the ball down to about the 5. He replaced Grant who appeared to limp off the field a play earlier. On third and goal, Aaron Rodgers drilled a pass to Donald Driver for a TD. Packers 10 - Panthers 14.

After then holding Carolina to three and out and apparently gaining some momentum, the Packers took over inside their own 30. On the first snap, however, that momentum came to a screeching halt: center Scott Wells (who has been playing with a bad shoulder) snapped the ball well over Rodgers' head. You guessed it: recovered by Carolina at around the Packers 20-yard line. From there, it only took four plays for the Panthers to find the endzone, with DeAngelo Williams walking in untouched around the left side of the line. Packers 10 - Panthers 21. A costly turnover for the Pack that gave Carolina an easy 7 just before half.

Jason Spitz took over at center for Wells on the Pack's final series of the half, with Josh Sitton coming in to take Spitz' spot on the line.

The Packers had the ball for roughly seven minutes longer than Carolina in the half. Unfortunately, they didn't do much with it. It's going to be a tough second half.

End of 1st quarter: Packers 0 - Panthers 7

The Packers averted an opening play disaster by causing and recovering a fumble on a flea flicker pass reception that would have put Carolina on about the Packers 20-yard line. Unfortunately, the Pack didn't do anything with it.

And remember what I said in my game preview about trying to keep our punter Derrick Frost from punting? Well, he's punted three times in the first quarter...yikes.

The Pack did get a sack along the way. But also gave up a 15-yard run by DeAngelo Williams on a short field -- which Carolina had most of the quarter -- to set up the Panthers touchdown.

The Pack finally got something going at the end of the quarter, which will hopefully get them a score early in the second quarter.

But there doesn't seem to be much of a sense of urgency or energy by the Pack, yet again. And, other than the sack by Aaron Kampman, the D-line is once again exerting no pressure whatsoever.

Packers - Panthers preview

It's just a few hours until kickoff at Lambeau. And this time of year, in addition to the teams and individual players we also start to pay a bit more attention to the weather. The weather forecast for Green Bay today calls for temps in the upper 30's, winds at 15-25 mph, and a chance of steady snow at some point in the afternoon. Oh, and did I mention that there is actually a winter storm warning in effect until 6 a.m. Monday? The forecast seems to indicate most of that possibility coming this evening, however, and with most of the accumulation to the south of Green Bay. So those folks traveling back to the Milwaukee area after the game, for example, may have to be wary of road conditions. As we all know, when it comes to these first of the season major snow warnings, it's a bit of an iffy proposition.

Anyway...enough of Mr. Meteorologist. What about the game?

These days, that prognostication seems as iffy as the weather forecast. Which Packers team will show up? The team that dominated Da Bearz? Or the team that got blown out by the Saints? It has been an up and down season, as reflected by our team's 5-6 record. Yes, the Packers get the home field advantage spread of 3 points going into the game. But Carolina is 8-3. Statistically? Well, going into Monday night most of that advantage went to the Pack over the Saints...so guess we shouldn't make too much of that comparison this week. Except, perhaps, for the fact that Panthers' running back DeAngelo Williams has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the last four games. The Pack hasn't exactly been too consistent in stopping the run. So, he could present problems. As could WR Steve Smith, of course, especially if the Packers defensive backfield falls asleep two games in a row. QB Jake Delhomme is a smart veteran not prone to make mistakes. His arm hasn't fully returned to his pre-surgery strength, but smarts can help him compensate. As to the defense, RE Julius Peppers is a pass rush threat.

On the Packers side of things, the injury report is as long as it's been all season. Lots of guys dinged up. But it's also time for whoever is in there to step it up. Play has been pretty flat of late. If they show up today with the same lack of energy they had in New Orleans you can forget the playoffs. With just four games remaining after today, if the Packers were to lose they'd fall either 2 games behind Da Bearz or the ViQueens (who play each other today...and because of potential tie-breakers, we have to root for the 'Queens today!). In short, that makes today's game a must-win for the Pack. Even with a win, they'd still be a game behind. But 2 games behind? Something we can't even think about it.

The Pack needs to get Ryan Grant cranked up and run, run, run the ball today. The Packers offense needs to minimize the number of times it has to call upon so-called punter Derrick Frost who is more of an asset to the opponent with his kicking game than he is to the Packers. The Pack also needs to somehow, some way stop the Panthers' running game and also get a pass rush once in a while. Delhomme, while no Drew Brees, could certainly do some damage through the air if he's allowed to stand back in the pocket and not worry about getting smacked once in a while.

This is a tough game to call. The Pack needs this game badly. But which team will show up? If Coach Mike McCarthy isn't able to get his team jazzed for this one...

I'll drink that green 'n' gold kool-aide one more time: Packers 24 - Panthers 20.

Go Pack Go!!!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

LeRoy's view

There's a concise and insightful analysis of the Packers' loss at New Orleans and more courtesy of retired Packers safety LeRoy Butler here. Bottom line: he called the loss a "collective effort" with players not prepared, but coaches, etc. needing to share responsibility. Having said that, Butler also said "there was nothing wrong with the game plan," that it was the same plan which shut down Peyton Manning and the Colts. Anyway, some interesting comments for you to check out.

Injuries hit again
After having a spate of injuries early in the season, and then seemingly getting a bit healthier as of late, the Pack took a hit coming out of the Saints game. The safeties, especially, came out banged up. Aaron Rouse, Atari Bigby, Charlie Peprah and Nick Collins all are dealing with ailments. Also on the defensive side of things, Johnny Jolly came out dinged up.

On the offensive side of the ball, the most concerning injury is that of RT Mark Tauscher, who left the game after the second play Monday night. He was undergoing tests yesterday to determine just how bad the hamstring injury is but the fact they were doing an MRI indicates it is likely to keep him out of at least this week's game against Carolina. Tony Moll filled in for Tauscher and for the most part did an adequate job. Also nicked up are TE Tory Humphrey and RB Brandon Jackson.

You can read more about the injuries here.

As Butler says, the Packers are the most talented team in the Division, which might not be saying much this year. And the Packers certainly aren't demonstrating that fact either. But injuries going down the stretch run, combined with inconsistent play, may seal the Packers fate...unless they turn it around starting this Sunday.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Day-after game analysis: What the (fill in the blank)?

My pregame score prediction for last night's Packers-Saints game was 30-24 Packers. Well, I was close on the Pack, who wound up with 29. But the Saints? I was just a smidgen off on that one. But after reviewing my notes, I found that I had actually factored those 24 points as the first half score only for the Saints and forgot that I needed to double it for the final outcome.

OK...that's not true. Just trying to have a little fun. You know, gallows humor kind of thing.

But there was nothing funny about the way the Pack got sliced and diced last night in the Big Easy.

The Pack's season-long flaws were on display for all to see: no pass rush, average linebacking, horrible punter and sieve-like special teams coverage, vanilla defensive schemes. A new starting QB and defensive backfield -- the former actually in the top 5 in the league and the latter heretofore the best in the league -- were also not at their finest. The running game? Looked OK to start, but as the third quarter spiraled out of control, that had to be shelved entirely.

A couple observations, for what they're worth.

First, special teams coach Mike Stock should be sent packing, along with his chosen punter, Derrick Frost, after the season. His dumping of Jon Ryan for Frost has been a major personnel blunder. When a punter is shanking and short-kicking the ball in a dome, you know there's problems. Combine that side of things with horrible punt and kick coverage...think about it: seemingly every time the Packers have a score and get some momentum the kick coverage team gives up a big return and fritters that momentum away in a matter of seconds.

Second, defensive coordinator Bob Sanders should also be shown the door. Now, granted, injuries and GM Ted Thompson combined not to do him any favors in terms of the personnel on the defensive line. Other than Aaron Kampman, the Packers have no pass rush whatsoever. Combine this with the fact that the Packers rarely if ever blitz, and a quarterback like Drew Brees has easy pickin's, just like last night. Example: somewhere along the way the Saints had a 3rd and 15, if I recall. The Packers dropped 8 into coverage and "rushed" 3 -- I put rushed in quotes because it is really more a euphemism than an actual description of what happened. Brees had all the time in the world to find an open receiver and get the first down. Hey, coach Sanders...here's a new scheme for you: why don't you just drop everyone into coverage and not rush anyone at all...if would work just as well as what you're calling now.

Yes, injuries along the D-line are playing a role. But so is the fact that Thompson, with a boatload of salary cap money to spend in the offseason to bolster that line, essentially did nothing.

So, what next? Nothing to do but get ready on a short week for the 8-3 Carolina Panthers. At least it's home at Lambeau. But unless the Pack regains the attitude they had in demolishing Da Bearz -- and gets it back this weekend -- we might as well start thinking about draft picks for next season. We aren't there yet. But with what's broken on the Packers, there are no quick fixes. Chicago and Minnesota play each other this weekend in the HumpDome. The Pack needs to win to stay just one game behind in the Division, even with the win. If they drop the game to Carolina, they'll be 2 back with just 4 games left. Not impossible, especially with games against Da Bearz and the Lions among them. Winning out is what's needed. But is it likely? You need to make that call for yourself.

Which team is the real Packers? The one that smacked Da Bearz? Or the team that got whipped by the Saints? The Packers have been inconsistent all season long. That pattern, regrettably, seems to be the only thing that's been consistent about this team.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Stick a fork in it: Packers 29 - Saints 51 final

The Saints wound up tying their own team record for points scored in a game at 51. They actually could have set a new team record if they had kicked a PAT after their final TD rather than bizarrely going for a two-point conversion.

The Packers did score a TD and a went for their own two-point conversion, which they made. But Aaron Rodgers also threw his third interception of the evening on a 4th and 16 play to the endzone with about 6 minutes to go.

The Packers had their butts kicked. The offense, especially Rodgers, was not sharp. But worse, the defense was missing in action and generated no pressure on Drew Brees, and allowed two 70-yard TD passes, with most of those yards coming after the catch.

It was not the game the Packers needed. With five games remaining, this loss deals a serious blow to their playoff possibilities as they are now a full game behind both Chicago and Minnesota.

For as well as they played last weekend against Da Bearz, they played just as badly tonight. Embarrassing. Simply embarrassing.

End of 3rd quarter: Packers 21 - Saints 45

The Packers scored...nothing in the 3rd quarter. Turned the ball over twice.

The Saints? Scored 21 in the quarter. Including another 70-yard TD pass.

The #1 pass defense was shredded by the #1 pass offense.

Embarrassing. No pressure on Saints QB Drew Brees, who is using the Packers defense for target practice. Aaron Rodgers was victimized on his two interceptions by a slip by Greg Jennings and what appeared to be an incomplete route to the inside by rookie WR Jordy Nelson. But he also has been a bit off all night and that hasn't helped.

All the energy is with the Saints. The Packers defense has been non-existent.

Again...embarrassing.

Game over, regardless of what happens in the 4th quarter. The Pack will drop a game behind Da Bearz and the ViQueens.

Give credit to the Saints. But the Packers defense never showed up.

Halftime: Packers 21 - Saints 24

It's a high-scoring 1st half in N'awlins!

The Pack got 2 TDs in the second quarter, one coming early on a pass from Aaron Rodgers to Greg Jennings, and the second coming with less than 2 minutes left in the half on a 10-yard scramble by Rodgers. In between, there was another Saints TD, with again no pressure on Drew Brees at all.

Unfortunately, after the Pack tied the score at 21-21, they gave up a huge kickoff return setting up the Saints deep in the Packers' territory. Combined with the total lack of pressure on Brees except for the last few plays, another score in the form of a field goal, was a piece of cake for the Saints.

The Packers have to figure out a way in the second half to get pressure on Brees. Heck, give you or me the time he has to pass and we could even complete some passes...OK, that's an exaggeration, but you know what I mean. The Pack doesn't like to blitz. But unless they start mixing it up in the second half and making Brees worry a little bit it's going to be a long night.

The other correction the Pack needs to make is special teams, which has directly contributed to 10 points for the Saints tonight: 7 set up through a bad punt by Derrick Frost -- those are almost synonymous terms, aren't they? -- and the field goal set up through horrible kickoff coverage that gave the Saints -- who really don't need it -- a short field.

The Pack can score on the Saints. The problem is that the Saints can also score on the Pack. If it keeps up like this in the second half it might go down to which team has the ball last.

End of 1st quarter: Packers 7 - Saints 14

No Reggie Bush for the Saints tonight. And for the Pack, RT Mark Tauscher goes to the locker room early with a reported hamstring injury.

The Packers struck first, with a TD drive set up by a good punt return by Will Blackmon and finished off with a 1-yard TD plunge by FB John Kuhn. Then the Saints came back on a 70 yard pass in the flat and a blown coverage by Atari Bigby, who never laid a hand on the receiver. Then the Pack, courtesy of yet another lousy punt by Derrick Bush, set up the Saints at the Packers own 41. A few plays later, the score is 14-7 Saints.

The Packers are getting no pressure whatsoever on Saints QB Drew Brees, which is going to make for a long night unless they figure out a way to do so. Conversely, Aaron Rodgers has been off on a few throws and seems not yet to be in sync. He missed a wide open Greg Jennings on what would have been a sure TD had he not underthrown the ball; Rodgers' reaction, caught by the Monday Night Football cameras, showed he was well aware of that.

Packers vs Saints preview

Hope you all enjoyed your day off from Packers football yesterday. If you're like me, though, somehow it seems to all get out of sync with no Sunday game. Sure, there are other games to watch. Like many folks, I checked occasionally on the Jets game to see how ol' #4 was doing. He done good, as he himself might say. The Jets halted the Titans' unbeaten streak. Some folks are actually starting now to suggest the possibility of a Giants-Jets Super Bowl. As boring as that might be for many beyond the East Coast, there are quite a few Packers fans who would love to see it. Firstly, for seeing Brett in the Big Game again. And, secondly, because if the Jets get to the Super Bowl the Packers wind up getting a first round draft pick in compensation for Favre. Go Brett Go!!!

Oh sure, we were also able to watch or at least catch the scores of other games that matter. Da Bearz and ViQueens, sadly, both won, and are again tied atop the Division. The Packers need to win tonight in order to stay even.

So, what do we know? Firstly, that the spread has gone from about 2-1/2 points in favor of the Saints this weekend down to 1 point now. We also know that the Saints ain't the 'aints any more. With Drew Brees at the helm, they have the #1 rated offense in the NFL, rolling up over 400 yards per game. Still, at 5-5, the Saints are sitting at the bottom of their division, 3 games behind leaders Tampa Bay and Carolina and 2 behind Atlanta. Kind of ironic, isn't it, that going into this weekend that same record would tie them for the lead in the NFC North? So it goes.

With such a high-powered offense how is that they are bottom-feeding? Only winning one of five road games will do that to you. As will only having a +17 point total scoring differential versus your opponents after 10 games. In that stat category, the Pack have a +65 point differential versus opponents; only six other teams in the entire NFL have a better point differential than the Pack. In fact, the Packers have actually outscored the Saints 274 to 266. So who's got the high-flying offense? Hmmm. Just as importantly, the Pack have held opponents to 209 points over their 10 games. The Saints, by contrast, have given up 40 more points than the Packers, 249 overall.

So, looking at those stats, offensively and defensively, the Packers should come out on top. But you have to play the game, right? And if the Packers play the way they did last weekend against Da Bearz, the result should be equally as good. Don't expect as much of a blow out, though. After all, the Saints do have an offense. The best defense -- other than the Pack's top-notch defensive backfield, that is -- would be to keep the Saints offense, including RB Reggie Bush who is expected to play this evening, on the bench. That also means keeping the Pack's newly-revitalized ground game churning as much as possible to eat up the clock. Also, protecting Aaron Rodgers as well as they did last week.

There may be more to discuss here prior to kickoff. But just in case, let's make our call right now: Packers 30 - Saints 24.

Go Pack Go!!!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Grant and McCarthy win weekly awards

Thanks, no doubt, to the surge of votes from readers of PackerFansUnited.com (yes, a shameless plug, but what the heck), RB Ryan Grant was selected as the FedEx Ground Player of the Week and Head Coach Mike McCarthy was named as the Motorola NFL Coach of the Week. Arizona QB Kurt Warner -- a former Packer, remember??? -- was named the FedEx Air Player of the Week.

As we well remember, Grant racked up 145 yards rushing and a TD in helping demolish Da Bearz last Sunday. And, of course, Coach McCarthy was the whiz who crafted the game plan that led the Pack to that great victory. What was the score again? Oh, yeah: 37-3!

You can read more about Grant's award here and McCarthy's here.

Congrats to Mr. Grant and Coach McCarthy. Oh...and you have 6 more of these awards to win yet this year if you care to. Good luck!

Glory Years CB Bob Jeter Dies

Cornerback Bob Jeter, #21, who played with the Packers from 1962-1971 and was part of three World Championships with the team, passed away unexpectedly at his Chicago home yesterday. According to reports, death was apparently due to cardiac arrest. Jeter was 71.

Jeter was arguably one of the best cornerbacks of his time. He made the Pro Bowl in 1967 and 1969. He played in 107 regular season games with the Packers, plus an additional three years with Da Bearz after being traded to them in 1971. Jeter finished his career with 26 interceptions for 333 yards and two touchdowns. He is a member of the Packers Hall of Fame.

With this kind of record, one might think this was the position Jeter played from college onward. Nope. He was a running back at Iowa. He actually set a Rose Bowl record in 1959 with 194 yards rushing in just nine carries as the Hawkeyes beat California 38-12. Wow.

Instead of playing in the NFL, however, Jeter signed a contract before the NFL draft with the Canadian Football League, where he played two years. This contract signing, though, didn't prevent Vince Lombardi from spending a second round draft pick on him anyway just to have his rights. After sitting out a year after leaving Canada, as required by NFL rules at the time, Jeter joined the Pack. Lombardi apparently wanted to play him at receiver, and envisioned him as a backup to Boyd Dowler. But after dislocating a finger on one hand, and then on the other, on two consecutive days, the story goes that Lombardi told him he had "soft bones" and to start practicing with the defense. Thank goodness those soft bones still let him haul in those 26 interceptions and, along with Herb Adderly, be part of one of the best cornerback duos of that era.

Jeter's son, Rob, is currently head coach of the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee's men's basketball team.

If you want to read more about Jeter, check out this story.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Photojournal from Packer win

If you want to relive some of the finer moments of the Packers demolishing of Da Bearz, check out this "Along the Lines" slideshow by Green Bay Press-Gazette photojournalist, Evan Siegle. You also get his commentary about some of the shots, the game, and insights into what it must be like to be a sports photographer on the football field. Very cool, and some great pix.

Check it out here.

Vote early, vote often
Yes, that tried and true strategy (another gift from Chicago) is nowhere more true than in the Pro Bowl balloting. If you haven't yet cast your votes for your favorite Packers -- which would be all of them, right? -- just click here to go to the official site.

And since Ryan Grant ran all over Da Bearz to the tune of 145 yards, he's one of the nominees for this week's FedEx NFL Ground Player of the Week. Cast your vote for him here.

Head Coach Mike McCarthy is also a nominee for this week's Motorola Coach of the Week honor. Who's he up against? Eric Mangini and Mike Singletary. C'mon...no contest. Vote here.

And last but not least, be sure to vote for this year's inductee into the Packers Fan Hall of Fame. Go here for more.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The afterglow: Packers wallop Da Bearz 37-3

Finally. Finally the Packers put it all together. Why it has taken 10 games for it to happen - actually 14 counting preseason -- is still a mystery. But the Pack finally played a complete game on both sides of the ball and, perhaps even better, did so against the loathsome division rival from Chicago.

C'mon, Packer fans...say it with me: the Bears still suck!

And, judging from the call-in radio shows going on south of the border (that would be the Wisconsin state line, of course) there's no group of folks who think that way more so than Da Bearz' own fans. If you had a chance to listen in to Chicago station WSCR 670AM after the game you would have heard fans and radio personalities alike ripping Da Bearz a new one, as the saying goes. The only thing better than beating Da Bearz is then listening to their own fans turn on them. (If you want to see an example, just check out this article from Chicago Tribune sports writer, Steve Rosenbloom.)

But, to the game. Those of you who were able to see the game on TV saw a Packers team that dominated on both sides of the ball. The offensive and defensive lines for the Packers controlled the game. Time of possession for the Packers was about 15 minutes more than for Da Bearz. Third down efficiency, which was 1 of 11 recently, improved to 7 of 14 yesterday. Total offensive output for the Pack was 427 yards -- with 200 yards of that rushing, 145 coming from Ryan Grant alone -- versus 234 for Chicago. The Packers were 3 of 4 in the red zone. And let's not forget that 54-yard fumble recovery for a TD by DE Jason Hunter with a little over 7 minutes left in the game -- this was the Pack's seventh defensive score on a turnover, surpassing the record of six previously held by the 1966 World Championship team.

Everything the Packers did worked, and worked well. It was a complete team effort and it showed in how dominating a team they can be when they play up to their skill level. When you beat another NFL team by 34 points, you know you've got it going on all cylinders. According to an article in today's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "Only four times in the 175 regular-season games between the two organizations has the margin been wider than it was Sunday. The Packers had won two, 49-0 in 1962 and 40-3 in 1994, just as the Bears had won two, 45-7 in 1948 and 61-7 in 1980."

What's ahead?
Another great result from Sunday, of course, was that the ViQueens lost to Tampa Bay. So, we once again find ourselves in a three-way tie for the division lead, with the Pack, Da Bearz and ViQueens all bunched up at a seemingly mediocre 5-5, with 6 games remaining. Because of the way the rest of the NFC stacks up -- four teams in the NFC East and three in the NFC South have better records -- it's likely the only way a team from the NFC North makes the playoffs is by winning the division. The Packers finally sent a signal yesterday to remind folks that they still are the defending NFC North champs and will be until some other team takes it away from them. The Pack has already left at least two games they should have won on the table. They can't afford to do so any longer.

With six games remaining, they need to probably come away with five wins to take the division. Won't be easy. The Packers travel to New Orleans for a game next Monday night, followed by Carolina and Houston at GB, then on the road against Jacksonville and the rematch against Da Bearz, and a final regular season game at Lambeau against the hapless and hopeless Lions. Da Bearz play their next two games on the road against the Rams and the ViQueens, then have three at home against the Jaguars, Saints and the Pack, and then close out their season on the road against Houston. The ViQueens are at Jacksonville this coming Sunday, then are at the HumpDome against Da Bearz, then play two away at Detroit and Arizona, and close with two at home against Atlanta and the Giants.

Schedule plays a factor, as does available talent this time of season. Given the comparison of the schedules, which team has it easier? Certainly Da Bearz seemingly have an advantage of sorts with three straight home games. But on the talent side of things? Not so much. The ViQueens, despite being at home for their last two games, don't have a cakewalk. So let's just for the sake of conversation say that the schedules -- at this point -- are a push. Then it comes down to talent. Clearly, the Packers have the best talent on both sides of the ball in the division. They underachieved most of the season. But if they can feed off the performance yesterday, the division is theirs for the taking.

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Packers - Bears Preview Part 2

Contrary to my post of Wednesday, folks, I'm back. At least long enough to update my preview of the 175th meeting -- the longest rivalry in pro football -- between our beloved Packers and, a-hem, Da Bearz. I still won't be able to do my usual in-game postings but, hey, ya get what you pay for, right?

Mid-week, as noted in my Wednesday post, the Pack was favored by 4 points. As also noted, it was expected that that spread would close up by game time. It has, but not by much: the Pack is now favored by 3-1/2.

The only Packer definitely out, as we know, is Nick Barnett...and he's done for the season. Will Blackmon, who had a punt return for a TD last week, had a quadriceps injury that limited his practice until Friday. He's listed as probable, which means he'll play. He's given a spark to the return team, despite his ill-advised (a nice way of saying it) punt return out of his own endzone also last week. Judging from the brief conversation on the sideline between he and Coach McCarthy, caught by TV cameras, there probably is not much chance that will happen again. Hopefully, he can contribute a good return or two today.

DT Justin Harrell is questionable. Shocking, isn't it? Rookie DE Jeremy Thompson is doubtful. So the defensive line that has been unable for most of the season to get pressures on opposing QBs and stop running attacks may still find itself a bit short-handed.

For Da Bearz, QB Kyle Orton is listed as probable. Not sure whether he or Rex Grossman will get the start but most of the talk during the course of the week seemed to be that Grossman would once again start. If he struggles, Orton could see action.

What do the Packers have to do? For one thing, slow down Da Bearz' rookie RB, Matt Forte, who is averaging 21 attempts and 79.2 yards rushing per game. He is a strong and fast back...and given the Pack's struggles against the run this season, they really need to shut him down to put the pressure on Grossman. Chicago has a decent wide receiver in Rashied David and a good young tight end in Greg Olsen. But the Packers defensive backs are as good as they come and should be able to handle anything in the way of the air game. One other perpetual concern, of course, is return man Devin Hester.

But, bottom line, is the Packers desperately need a victory in order to not fall farther behind in the NFC North. They also need redemption from last week's heartbreaker in the Humpdome. The offensive line needs a real gut check...the kind that isn't measuring their girth but rather their heart. That goes for the D-line, too.

A complete game is called for. The Pack has been underachieving all season long. There's no better place to get things turned around than at home against Da Bearz.

Packers 27 - Da Bearz 17.

Go Pack Go!!!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Packers - Bears Preview

The preview is coming a bit early this week as circumstances are such that I may or may not be able to post closer to game time. And the usual quarter-by-quarter review that I try to offer during the game also probably won't happen this week. I know, I know...you're disappointed. It's understandable. I'll try to make it up to you somewhere along the way.

Anyway, the Packers are currently listed as 4 points favorites over Da Bearz. One would expect that spread to close as game day nears. Basically, it's the old home field advantage differential. We know that the Pack will be without middle linebacker Nick Barnett for this game and the remainder of the season due to his torn ACL. Reports out of GB indicate that A. J. Hawk was getting some reps at the position. Usually, the weak-side LB, moving Hawk over -- rather than give Desmond Bishop the start -- would also allow the Packers to put Brandon Chillar into Hawk's position. Chillar has had some good moments, especially in terms of coverage. It would seem to be a preferred option to second-year man Bishop. But nothing is official yet. The problem hasn't necessarily been the linebacking play, although it hasn't been spectacular either; the problem on the defensive side of the ball has been the lack of pass rush and the ability to finish a game and get stops down the stretch. How Coach McCarthy and his staff correct those problems remains to be seen. Until they do, games will likely go down to the wire with the Pack coming up just short, as has been the case the last two weeks.

We also know the Packers' offensive line was like a sieve this last week at Minnesota. They will need to give a much better effort this week if they want to give Rodgers time to get the passing game going again. There is an interesting article in today's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel about exactly how much time Rodgers has had in the last two games to get his passes off, or get sacked. Not surprisingly to those who have been watching these games, he hasn't had much time. That's gotta change. Da Bearz defense is what wins games for that team. The Pack's offensive line needs to step up. And if left tackle Chad Clifton keeps getting beat, Coach McCarthy here's a tip: yank him like you're startin' a lawn mower. Granted, GM Ted Thompson -- despite a boat load of salary cap room to work with -- hasn't provided much help along that line, choosing to go with basically the same players this year as last...some of whom were benched last year for underperforming. Looking at the results this year, maybe they're not underperforming at all; maybe, it's the best they have to give...in which case...oh-oh.

There are seven games left. That includes two games against Da Bearz, one against the Lions, and match ups against the Saints, Panthers, Texans and Jaguars, not necessarily in that order. The NFC North is there for the taking. But the Packers have to get out of their own way and win the games they are supposed to win. It's the only way there's a shot at the playoffs this year. It can still be done. But this Sunday's game now comes down to a must-win situation. Da Bearz undoubtedly feel the same way, and they are already a game up on the Packers.

But as Green Bay Press-Gazette columnist Mike Vandermause points out in his column yesterday, there are at least "five reasons to be optimistic." Check 'em out for yourself here.

So, let me say it early in case I don't have a chance to say it later: Go Pack Go!!!

A few minutes with Aaron Rodgers
The flagship radio station for the Packers, WTMJ 620-AM in Milwaukee, had a 5+ minute live on-air interview with Packers QB Aaron Rodgers this morning. He talked about his shoulder, the Minnesota game, the upcoming game against Da Bearz, and a bit about how he's finding life in Green Bay these days as the starting QB. It was early morning, and even though Rodgers said he normally gets up early, it sounded as if he needed a bit of espresso.

It's an interview worth listening to. And you can do so here.

SI's power rankings see Pack slide
For those who care to follow such things, Sports Illustrated's power ranking by "Dr. Z" show the Pack sliding from 12th last week to 18th this week. Here's the comments: "What has happened to this team? Has the bubble finally burst? One out of 11 third down conversions against the Vikes, 10 penalties, 184 yards of offense, two-straight games in which the defense was beaten by final drives. Coming up are Chicago, New Orleans on the road Monday night, then Carolina. It could get worse." Good thing Mike Vandermause didn't see this before writing his column. See the entire rankings here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Nick Barnett done for season

The test results came back on starting LB Nick Barnett's knee injury: torn ligament. Bottom line? He's done for the rest of the season, according to head coach Mike McCarthy who made the announcement during his Monday press conference. McCarthy did not indicate whether it was an ACL or MCL.

McCarthy said Barnett will have surgery to repair the injury but that has not yet been scheduled.

There was no immediate indication as to whom would take Barnett's place. McCarthy indicated that Desmond Bishop and Brandon Chillar would be in the mix.

McCarthy's press conference
Some interesting comments from the coach on various subjects. You can read the full transcript here. If you'd prefer to listen to the audio or view the video, can you do both from links there, as well.

Second-guessing aplenty over Packers' loss

The call-in phone lines to radio sports shows in Wisconsin were buzzing in the aftermath of the Pack's gut-wrenching 28-27 loss to the ViQueens yesterday. Comments that were common to most if not all discussions (I'm making some assumptions as obviously I couldn't listen to all such shows...a-duh!) included: the dreadful offensive line play, the questionable play calling, the abundance of penalties, terrible punting, questions about Coach McCarthy's TD challenge near the end of the game, the missed field goal, the inability to convert third downs, the stellar play of the Packers defensive backs, Nick Barnett's injury, the continuing inability to stop the run...does that about cover it?

Veteran left tackle Chad Clifton was the target of some discussion. A common theme is that he is perhaps starting to show his age, and his bad knees. Jared Allen beat him like a rented mule all day long. Of course, the rest of the offensive line play was equally bad. About the only player that seemed to hold up well was right tackle Mark Tauscher. But one guy doing his job isn't going to make much difference when the rest of the line is getting beat play after play. And the guy at QB that the team just gave a boatload of long-term money to won't be around very long if he doesn't get better protection than he's getting now. Aaron Rodgers took a beating yesterday. Some of it was his fault for holding the ball too long. But in general, he was getting smacked like a piƱata throughout the game.

Coach McCarthy's challenge of Adrian Peterson's TD with a little over 2 minutes remaining in the game mystified not only the on-air game commentators at the time but also the majority of fans afterward. If successful, all it would have allowed Minnesota to do would be to have the ball at the 1 and run more time off the clock. Instead, it just cost the Pack what was a valuable timeout going to the final 2 minutes of the game. It made no sense.

And with the ball in great field position -- the Packers own 41 -- with 2:15, one timeout and the 2 minute warning left, Coach McCarthy got conservative in his play calling. Worse, his formations gave the defense every clue as to what they were going to try to do, run. This against a stout run defense. No surprises, and not much to show for it. If not for the lucky bounce of a deflected pass into Donald Driver's hands the Pack may not even have had that shot at the final field goal attempt.

While K Mason Crosby had hit 60-yarders in warmups, not being able to set him up closer -- again, given the starting position and time remaining -- was a failure of play calling and execution. It was a makeable 52-yarder, yes. But it shouldn't have come down to that play or that distance.

One of the other negative factors that has become almost so commonplace as to be ignored despite its continual mediocrity is the punting game. Special teams coach Mike Stock talked GM Ted Thompson and Coach McCarthy into dumping Jon Ryan the week before the start of the regular season for supposed directional punter Derrick Frost. Frost has been a disaster, getting off short punts which -- as yesterday -- keep giving the opposing team great field position. Oh, yeah, Frost currently ranks 24th in the league in punting average. The guy we dumped, Jon Ryan, currently ranks 10th. So much for that great idea.

The seriousness of Nick Barnett's knee injury is still an unknown. He was on crutches and the cart after the game, according to reports. He's having tests today to determine if it's an ACL injury or something less serious. In either case, the linebacking corps will take a hit at least in the short run.

We could go on and on...and might, later on. But if you want to get a really excellent overview of the how and why of this latest loss, and its implications for the rest of the season, check out the article in today's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel by Bob McGinn who, as always, has some great insights.

There are only seven games left. As McGinn states, "The Packers find themselves trailing 10 teams, including Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Dallas that all hold the tie-breaking advantage over them, and tied with still another club in the NFC. Six teams will make the playoffs." Unless the Packers somehow flick a switch and get their you-know-what together starting with Da Bearz game this coming Sunday and running through the rest of the season it is going to be an uphill battle. Fortunately, they play in the NFC North. That at least provides a ray of hope. But it is one which, if significant improvements don't happen quickly, won't matter much in the end.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Packers lose to ViQueens, 28-27

A 52-yard field goal attempt by Mason Crosby that sailed just right with 26 seconds left in the game sealed the Packers fate today. Actually, that's unfair to Crosby. He was 2 of 3 on the day and certainly should have made the kick. But the Packers took a TD off the board in the 4th quarter with a false start penalty on Chad Clifton. That 7 points would have come in handy and turned a loss into a win. Penalties, penalties, penalties was a theme throughout the day, with the Packers flagged 10 times for 80 yards. Aaron Rodgers got battered all day. The offense lagged in time of possession 2-to-1.

Failure to stop the run also was a problem once again. The ViQueens went up 28-27 on a 30-yard TD run by Adrian Peterson. He had 192 rushing yards.

Even with good starting field position on the last drive the Pack couldn't get one final first down to get the ball closer for the kick. The Pack only converted one of 11 third downs today.

The 'Queens and Da Bearz are now tied for first in the NFC North at 5-4, while the Pack drops a game behind to 4-5. The Pack meets Chicago at Lambeau next week in what now is a must-win game...as if it wasn't already. Minnesota travels to Florida to play the 6-3 Buccaneers.

It's doesn't get any easier, folks. Today was a game that was there for the taking. But once again, Packer mistakes -- especially in the form of penalties and inability to stop the run -- led to a Packers' loss.

Pain and misery fill the air.

Post-mortem after the dust settles.

End of 3rd quarter: Packers 24 - ViQueens 21

A tale of two touchdowns for the Packers was the story of the 3rd quarter. And neither of them were by the offense. The first came on a roughly 60-yard interception return by Nick Collins, and the second was a 67-yard punt return by Will Blackmon, who made up for his earlier bonehead play. Oh, yeah, the ViQueens got a TD, as well, earlier in the quarter after LB Nick Barnett went out with a sprained knee. His replacement, Desmond Bishop, was immediately put to the test trying to cover a swing pass to RB Chester Taylor; he got juked and Taylor took it 40-some yards to the end zone. Ryan Longwell also missed a field goal for the 'Queens.

Late in the quarter, after the Packers went up 24-21 on the Blackmon punt return, the Minnesota running game started to gain additional traction. But the Packers "D" hasn't broken yet.

The Packer defense needs a rest, though. Despite being ahead at the end of the 3rd quarter, the Packers have only had the ball for about 16 minutes of the entire game, while Minnesota has had it for about 29 minutes.

Barring turnovers or stupid penalties by the Packers, and assuming the Packers offense can give the defense a bit of a breather somewhere in the final quarter, the Pack is in a position to win...but they have to finish...a trait which has been inconsistent throughout this season. It's time to bring it on home, guys!

Go Pack Go!!!

Halftime: Packers 10 - ViQueens 14

The Minnesota drive which was allowed to continue near the end of the 1st quarter courtesy of a bogus penalty on Al Harris eventually resulted in a 50+ yard field goal by former Packer kicker, Ryan Longwell. That made the score 10-7.

The Packers had their league-leading ability to attract penalty flags at inopportune times continue in this quarter. Thanks to a holding penalty on fullback Korey Hall, the Packers were backed up inside their 10-yard line. Aaron Rodgers dropped back to pass and had the ball knocked out of his hands into the end zone. Rather than pick it up and attempt to run, which he may or may not have been able to do successfully, he threw it underhand as he was falling to the ground. While it was in the vicinity of a receiver, the refs called it an illegal throw. And since it was made from the end zone, it was a safety for Minnesota. ViQueens 12 - Packers 7.

The Packers gave up a second safety with about 49 seconds left in the half. After stopping Minnesota and securing a punt inside their own 10-yard line, Rodgers threw an incomplete pass on 1st down and then took a sack inside the end zone instead of throwing the ball away. To be fair, Rodgers was under pressure by DE Jared Allen almost immediately...but you have to get rid of that ball!

On Minnesota's possession following the obligatory post-safety punt, though, Tramon Williams intercepted a Gus Frerotte pass and gave the Packers a chance to get a final score before half. Yet another penalty, an illegal man downfield, took both time off the clock and yardage off the field. But the Packers were able to get the ball down to the 'Queens 30-yard line with 3 seconds left on the clock. Mason Crosby was able to convert a 47-yard field goal to make the score 14-10 at half in favor of Minnesota.

Penalties negated first downs and halted drives for the Packers. Towards the end of the half, Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson was able to break tackles and rip off some yardage, although he was unable to break one all the way.

The Packers had horrible field position most of the half, while the 'Queens enjoyed very good field position. Considering that, the penalties, and lack of ability to sustain drives largely as a result of both factors, the Packers are lucky to only be down by 4...and especially when you gave them those 4 points on safeties. If the Packers can get out of their own way, get better field position and stop the stupid penalties, they should still be able to win this game. But they need a completely different half of play for the next 30 minutes than the previous 30.

One side story about the bad field position. Punt returner Will Blackmon caught a punt in the end zone and took it out; he had no clue where he was on the field. Coach McCarthy had a few choice words for him when he came to the sidelines.

Chances are, Coach McCarthy will have some more choice words for the entire team during halftime.

End of 1st quarter: Packers 7 - ViQueens 7

The Packers started off the game with two three-and-outs, and allowing the ViQueens to convert their first possession into 7 points. Minnesota's second possession perhaps also would have led to points as the 'Queens again started in good field position. Fortunately, Charles Woodson picked off a pass. A couple strong runs by Ryan Grant, a couple catches by Greg Jennings and Donald Driver (including a recovered fumble after the catch), and TD run by Grant got the Pack back to even at 7-7.

The Packers, as predicted don't seem to be able to stop the run very well, but haven't given up the the big run to Adrian Peterson...yet.

Near the end of the quarter, Al Harris was flagged for illegal contact which made a third down stop into a first down and allowed Minnesota to continue their drive. The penalty should have been called on the receiver who clearly initiated the contact with Harris.

The Packers have to get some semblance of a pass rush on Gus Frerotte. So far, he's had plenty of time, while Aaron Rodgers has already been sacked twice.

Packers - ViQueens Preview

It's about three hours to kickoff at the HumpDome in Minneapolis, and what do we know? The ViQueens are still favored over the Pack by 2-1/2 points. Both teams are sitting in second place in the NFC North at 4-4. The Packers beat the the 'Queens in the home opener at Lambeau. This game would be one of the tie-breakers if the Packers go on to win it and find themselves in a tie for the division championship at the end of the season. It is QB Aaron Rodgers' first game as starter in the circus that is HumpDome football. As fans will recall, Ol' #4 didn't fare to well there early in his career. So an unknown is how Rodgers will handle his first trip to the former House of Horrors.

We also know that the 'Queens have a great run defense, giving up an average of only 69.6 yards rushing per game. The defensive front is one of the best there is, although it's possible DE Jared Allen may not play. Going against what has heretofore been a mediocre Packers' running game, we probably shouldn't expect much from the Packers in this area today. While the Packers keep claiming they are close to getting the running game going, this isn't the defense against which that stands much chance.

On the other hand, the 'Queens pass defense is very suspect. As a result, while the Pack may use the run to keep the defense honest, it's quite possible that Aaron Rodgers could be in passing mode most of the day. The key for the Packers on offense will be whether they can come away with 7 points rather than 3 when they get into the redzone. Their inability to do that last week led in no small part to the loss against the Titans; it has been an unsettling trend most of the season.

What about the Packers defense vs. the ViQueens offense? Think Adrian Peterson. He's run for more than 100 yards three out of the four games he's played against the Packers. Given the fact that the Packers have not shown any ability to stop the run over the course of an entire game, don't be surprised to see Peterson rack up another 100 yards plus. The key for the Packers will be whether they can keep him out of the endzone. If so, the Packers pass defense will be able to handle Minnesota's receivers. QB Gus Frerotte is another Kerry Collins type: not very mobile. But he does have a stronger arm than Collins. The Packers defense needs to get to Frefotte in ways they were unable to against Collins.

So, what to make of this ramble? The Packers have underperformed to this point in the season, as represented by their 4-4 record. Conversely, it can be argued that Minnesota has overperformed. The Packers have typically been a better second half of the season team. That begins today. By beating the 'Queens the Pack owns the tiebreaker against them and goes to 5-4 on the season. If the Titans are able to pick up a win in Chicago today against Da Bearz, that sets up a meeting at Lambeau next week with Da Bearz and a game being played for the division lead.

Yes, I know, we can't look ahead. The Pack has to take care of today's business. And it is a formidable challenge, no doubt.

But I'm going to put on my green'n'gold-colored glasses once more, drink that Packers Kool-Aid, and predict the Packers will win 31-27.

Go Pack Go!!!

Late Update
ESPN is reporting that Minnesota DE Jared Allen -- he of the $50,000 fine for low hits -- will in fact start today. He is wearing a harness to enable his separated shoulder to be held in place. The Packers offensive line needs to make sure Allen isn't in a position to deliver a cheap shot to Aaron Rodgers.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Fans have turned the page

Judging by a poll in today's online Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, it would seem that the majority of Packer fans have turned the page on the Brett Favre era...at least to the extent that they are now more likely to be glad that Aaron Rodgers is the starting QB than Brett. Roughly two-thirds of those responding to the poll say that they'd rather have Rodgers at QB now than Favre.

While that might come as a surprise to some, it really shouldn't be. Because a real fan knows the stats. And while appreciating the past, it's all about the future.

For example, through 8 games, Aaron Rodgers has a QB rating of 95.3, which places him fifth overall in that rating. Ol' #4, by contrast, has a rating of 87.8, which places him 16th overall. Rodgers has 13 TDs and 5 INTs, while Brett has 15 TDs and 12 INTs. (You can see the complete list of stats here.)

Yes, the NY Bretts, er, Jets, are 5-3 and our beloved Packers are sitting at 4-4. Still, it seems as if most fans have finally moved on and hope that Rodgers is able to bring a new chapter of success to the Pack just as Brett did in his day. We, of course, also wish Brett much success with the Jets. Remember, according to the trade deal, the better Brett and the Jets do this season the higher the draft pick the Pack gets in 2009.

Here's the actual poll question and results at the time of this writing:
Now that the dust has settled somewhat, who would you rather have as quarterback of the Green Bay Packers right now?

Aaron Rodgers (66%)
Brett Favre (33%)
Total Responses: 5190

Friday, November 07, 2008

Rodgers doesn't practice today

After limited practice Wednesday, and extensive practice Thursday, QB Aaron Rodgers was held out of practice today, according to reports. He was experiencing some soreness in his throwing shoulder, the one that was injured several weeks ago. He's listed as probable for Sunday's game against the ViQueens, but Coach McCarthy indicated to reporters that there was no doubt that Rodgers would be in the line up Sunday.

There has also been a great deal of talk on the local sports call-in shows this week as to whether this game is a must-win game for the Packers or not. Given that it seems likely that the only way the Packers could get into the playoffs this season is as a division winner rather than wildcard, sweeping the 'Queens would certainly help...as would beating Da Bearz next weekend.

But more on Sunday's game later. For now, it's enough to know the Packers are listed as 2-1/2 point underdogs.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Maybe Olivia Newton-John had it right: let's get physical!!!

The rap on the Packers, going back to the NFC Championship game loss, is that when push comes to shove -- which is really what football is all about, right? -- the team doesn't hold up well. And, in fact, that seems to be proving itself out this season. The Pack played the Titans tough for about 3-3/4 quarters (is that redundant? quarter-quarters???). But down the stretch and in overtime, the defense -- which had played so well -- folded up like a bad card table.

They allowed the Titans to rush for 178 yards, with 54 of that coming in the last two possessions. Dallas rushed for 217 yards, Tampa Bay for 178, and Atlanta rushed for 176. The Packers can't consistently stop the run, especially with the game on the line.

That's one of the reasons we're sitting at 4-4.

Another reason is the offense's inability to score touchdowns once it gets into the red zone. The Packers converted only one of four such opportunities yesterday into a touchdown. That's setting yourself up for failure, particularly against teams that are beatable...as Tennessee was.

With two turnovers by Aaron Rodgers (an interception on an ill-advised long pass and fumble on a sack) and an inability to finish drives, the Pack could only come up with one touchdown and three field goals despite crossing into Titans' territory eight times. That's not going to get it done in a tight game. The Pack needed to get up by 10-14 points early and then have the Titans' one-dimensional offense try to to get back in the game. Instead, the Packers squandered opportunities both on offense and defense and Tennessee was never behind in the game.

This next Sunday the Pack has to travel to the HumpDome and play the ViQueens, with whom we now share second place in the division. It's always a tough place to play, and you can be sure that the 'Queens will be playing as smash-mouth football as possible. Teams now know that that's the way to beat the Pack: keep the game close, be as physical as possible on both sides of the ball, and sooner or later the Pack will let up.

That's a tendency the Packers need to change. The coaches can preach it. But it's up to the players to get an attitude on every play, right down to the last click on the clock.

C'mon guys! Let's get physical!!!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Final: Packers 16 - Titans 19

The Packers failed to stop the Titans after they won the overtime coin toss. As so often happens in the NFL's version of sudden death, the team that wins the coin toss wins the game. The Packers' "D", which had played so well for the game, failed to make the crucial stops with the game on the line. The Titans won on a 41-yard field goal.

It was a great game, but one the Packers could have and should have won. But they didn't. They just weren't as sharp overall as one would expect coming off a bye with plenty of time to prepare. But give credit where credit is due. The Titans are a physical team. And while not flashy, they are now 8-0. 'Nuff said.

The Pack now goes to 4-4 on the season, and find themselves a game behind Da Bearz in the Division after Chicago beat the hapless Lions, and are now tied with the ViQueens for second place after Minnesota beat the Texans.

Analysis will follow in the days ahead.

It's disappointing to have a loss...particularly where a win was definitely possible. But if there is such a thing as a moral victory, and while the Packers will have regrets about letting it slip away at the end, they can also learn a lot about themselves from a game such as this. They should be able to take a real bad attitude -- and, of course, I mean bad as in good -- into the Humpdome next week against the ViQueens.

Into overtime: Packers 16 - Titans 16

The Packers' defense did everything it needed to do today, especially in the second half, except stop the Titans on their last drive...which started at their own 8-yard line, with under 2 minutes to go. Thankfully, with 4 seconds left on the clock, the Titans' kicker missed a 47-yard field goal to win the game, as it dinged off the right goal post.

The Titans won the toss and will get the kickoff. Dang.

End of 3rd quarter: Packers 13 - Titans 16

As the Packers go to the 4th quarter, they still trail by 3 points. The Pack turned the ball over on two consecutive possessions in the 3rd quarter. First, on a drive that was showing some momentum, Aaron Rodgers had a long pass to Greg Jennings intercepted in double coverage in the end zone. On their next possession, Rodgers was sacked and fumbled at his own 17-yard line. To the defense's credit, they were then able to hold Tennessee to another field goal, putting them up 16-10. The Packers were then able to once again move the ball on the Titans at the end of the quarter, with the key play being a more than 40-yard catch and run by Donald Driver. An 8-yard sack on second down at the Titans 12, however, thwarted the drive and the Pack had to settle for another Mason Crosby field goal.

The Pack have to find a way in the final quarter to not give up a TD. If the Pack can hold the Titans to no more than a field goal in this last quarter, the Pack will be able to generate a winning touchdown late in the quarter. It could be set up by a turnover. The Packers have been close on a couple occasions to picking off Titans' QB Kerry Collins. This would be a good time to make it happen.

Halftime: Packers 10 - Titans 13

The good news is that the Packers scored 10 points in the 1st half. The bad news is that the Titans also scored 10, giving them a 13-10 lead at half. In fact, they had a chance to add another 3 points at the end of the half if they had converted a 63-yard field goal attempt, which wound up just being a take-the-knee fake to wind down the last 3 seconds of the clock.

The 2nd quarter began with the Titans in scoring position. The Pack held them to a field goal, 6-0 Titans. The Packers then came back to get a 23-yard field goal of their own, set up by a great 52-yard catch and run by Greg Jennings.

The Pack then went up 10-6 on a series that included another great 24-yard catch and run, this one by rookie WR Jordy Nelson, who took what was intended as a short slant route and turned it around to the outside, leaving the defender to wonder where he went. The TD came on a 5-yard pass to Donald Driver for his third TD catch of the season. With this catch, Driver tied the all-time Packers consecutive game catch streak held by Sterling Sharpe at 103 games.

It then took the Titans only four plays to retake the lead, at 13-10. The key play was a 54-yard run right through the line by LenDale White.

In general, it appears that the time off during the bye week -- instead of aiding the Packers -- has thrown off timing a bit. Ryan Grant seems to be running fairly well, with 42 yards on 9 carries. But it appeared on several occasions as if Greg Jennings and Aaron Rodgers were not in sync. The defense, with the exception of the breakdown on the 54-yard run by White, has been keeping the Titans in check.

The Packers will have to start firing on all cylinders this second half in order to pull out the victory. They can certainly do so, but are right now providing the opportunities for the Titans to stay on top.

End of 1st quarter: Packers 0 - Titans 3

The Pack won the toss, took the ball, and then went 3 and out in a very disjointed looking series. The Titans then took the ball down into the Packers' red zone before settling for a field goal. The Packers then responded by putting together a drive down to about the Titans' 40. On 4th and 1, coach Mike McCarthy decided to go for it. Instead of punting and putting the Titans deep in their own territory, an incomplete pass gave the Titans good field position. The Packers' defense, though, came up big, stopping the Titans on 3rd down. The only problem was, after the play was completed, LB Brady Poppinga was called for a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct; one of the Titans lineman pushed him, Poppinga slapped him in the head and -- as always happens -- the refs saw the retaliation and not the original incident. This allowed the Titans to continue their drive deep into Packers' territory, looking to get at least another field goal if not more.

Packers - Titans Preview

So, we have a 4-3 team going against the sole unbeaten team in the NFL on that team's home turf. The latter is favored by 4-1/2 points, down from 5-1/2 earlier in the week. Easy pick, right?

Nope.

Yes, I know that I tend to look at things through green'n'gold-colored glasses. But, in this case, I really do believe the Packers will pull the upset versus the Titans.

Granted, the Titans have a two-headed monster running attack. It's not the first time this season that the Packers have faced such a combo; remember Dallas? If the Packers don't somehow figure out a way to stop rookie phenom Chris Johnson and LenDale White, it could be a long day in Nashville. And if they don't find a way to get consistent pressure on QB Kerry Collins he could just get his first win in four tries against the Pack. Throw in having to stop defensive pressure from DT Albert Haynesworth and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch (who is listed as questionable with a groin injury) and the Packers are definitely in for a physical game. It shouldn't come entirely as a surprise, though, as the Packers and Titans met in the final preseason game. Titans coach Jeff Fisher played his starters much longer in that game than did coach McCarthy, so the Packers should have a good feel what to expect. Toss in seven weeks' worth of game film and there should be no surprises.

The Packers will need to somehow continue to improve their running game. It showed signs of life in the last game and it needs to be at least as good today as it was in the win over Indy. The passing game should have all hands on deck, although there were indications that rookie WR Jordy Nelson might not be available today, having injured his ankle in practice late in the week. QB Aaron Rodgers just has to do what he's been doing all season: play smart. But the O-line also has to give him the time he needs, and that means keeping Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch (if he plays) at bay, as well as opening some holes for Ryan Grant and the other backs now and then.

If the Pack can come out blazing and score early it might be hard for the Titans to get back into the game, barring any big or untimely turnovers by the Packers.

The Titans had an emotional, tough game against the Colts on Monday. I'd like to believe they left some of that spark behind and won't be quite as up for today's game.

I'm taking the Packers 24 - 20 over the Titans.

Go Pack Go!!!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A shocker: Packers release KGB

It was apparent that KGB -- Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila -- was not the same player as in years past, especially after his right knee surgery in May. He was primarily relegated to being a third-down specialist. But this season, he was pretty much a non-factor even then. That apparently made the Packers decision to release him easier. The move appears more than coincidental with making roster room for second-year player and last year's first round draft pick, Justin Harrell, to come off the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. It will also allow younger players, such as Jeremy Thompson and Mike Montgomery, more opportunity. It's a business, folks. And when your skills are clearly on the decline and some young kids are looking to make their marks, your days are numbered. KGB is no longer a Green Bay Packer.

During his nine years with the Pack, KGB appeared in 124 games, with 74 starts. He is the the Packers' all-time sacks leader with 74½, passing Reggie White (68½) last season.

KGB issued the following statement through the Packers: “My nine years as a Green Bay Packer have been a blessing that is beyond words. I thank God for bringing me to this first-class organization and first-class community. During my time here, I’ve built relationships with a number of people in the Packer family. The front office executives, G.M.s, coaches, past and present players, the enormous support and administrative staff plus the greatest fans in football, all have helped make my time here truly special and I am thankful for that. It has been a very positive experience. I was able to build a family here and grow with a community that I call home. Again, I’ve been truly blessed. I don’t know what my football future holds, but one thing I’ve realized is that football is more than a game - it’s about building relationships and changing lives. One of the commitments I’ve had throughout my career has been to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and that is something that I intend on doing whether on the field or not. God bless the Green Bay Packers!”

Always a class guy, and one of those players you were glad represented the Packers on and off the field. He will be missed. But you can be sure we'll be seeing KGB back in a few years when he joins the Packers Hall of Fame.

Let's congratulate Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila for his career with the Pack. Good luck on whatever comes next, KGB!

Packers activate Harrell
As has been speculated recently, Justin Harrell is finally coming off the PUP list and will be active for tomorrow's game against the Titans. Apparently, he's looked good in practice this week and that confirmed the decision to activate him. How much action he'll see remains to be seen. The Packers now, for about the first time this season, have more than a handful of defensive linemen available to rotate. That should allow the coaches to find the best combination of players at any given time to pressure the Titans' offense. It's been a luxury they haven't had much this season and it is one of the reasons I think the Pack will pull off the upset against Tennessee.

But more on that tomorrow.