Sunday, September 25, 2011
For all who saw this game -- which was most of the national TV audience -- the game was like a visit to the dentist: it's something that gets done, might hurt in the process, but has a positive outcome. That's how this was. The Packers had moments of real brilliance, particularly early on offense. QB Aaron Rodgers focused most of his early passes on WR Greg Jennings who had a career high 9 receptions for 113 yards. RB Ryan Grant also looked very good today and had some strong runs, finishing with 92 yards on 17 carries. A good day. On defense, the Pack generated some turnovers -- had one INT overturned because of a roughing the QB penalty -- and held RB Matt Forte to either 4 yards or 2 yards rushing depending upon whose numbers you accept. If memory serves, it's the lowest rushing total for a Bears team -- QB Jay Cutler had 11 yards, by the way -- since 1952 (someone can fact check that if they wish). The defense did what it needed to do.
The play calling by head coach Mike McCarthy seemed to be more conservative as the game went on, resulting in the Packers keeping Da Bearz in the game. Ill-timed penalties also cut drives short.
Against a better team, the Packers might have come out of a game like this with a loss. But against this Chicago team, even a so-so outing by the Pack is good enough. The Packers still haven't clicked on all cylinders. When they do, they are going to be something to see. They may not be perfect, but they are a perfect 3-0. And in the big scheme of things, that's the kind of perfection that matters.
Saturday, September 24, 2011
And so, here we are. It's the first meeting of the 2011 season with the guys from south of the border, and in their home stadium. In fact, it's the first time in the history of the series that the teams will meet in Chicago in the month of September in consecutive seasons. How's that for some trivia for you?
I had the misfortune of being at last year's penalty and turnover-laden game giveaway (from the Packers' standpoint, that is) at Soldier Field. The Pack will not do that again. But is there a chance that the defense will add to their ugly 500-yards-plus per game average so far this season? Doubtful, although everyone expects Da Bearz to go after Nick Collins' replacement, Charlie Peprah. Be assured, the Pack will make whatever adjustments they need to to handle Da Bearz. Jay Cutler is no Drew Brees, nor Cam Newton. At least, he isn't if the Packers get some pressure on him. Cutler's offensive line can be beat, and the Packers better figure out a way to take advantage of that situation. It is a key to the game, just as it was last week when the Saints had their way with that line.
Cutler's M.O. is that if he gets rattled he starts flinging the ball around. Interceptions are the rule of the day. Combine that with Da Bearz offensive coordinator Mike Martz's 5 and 7-step drop calls for his QB, and Cutler should be under pressure all day long. The loss of rookie tackle Gabe Carimi doesn't help an already weak offensive line situation.
But what about the other side of the ball for Da Bearz? As always, that's where they usually win their games. The defense always plays tough and they can and do generate turnovers. Those turnovers -- and special teams plays -- are usually what keeps Da Bearz in the game. Against lesser opponents, it's often what helps them win games.
But the Packers are not a lesser opponent. The Packers are the better team. And it's not just this writer who says so. The oddsmakers, at the time of this writing, have established the Pack as 4-point favorites, with 45.5 points set as the over/under for the betting fan.
As long-time fans of either of these two teams know very well, these games are always slugfests. It often comes down to which team makes fewer mistakes. The Packers should win this game. If they don't beat themselves, they will.
I'm calling this one 24-20 Packers. Go Pack Go!!!
And now for something completely different...
Just in case regular readers are curious, I will try to do a follow up of the game. But over the course of the next two weeks, I will likely be posting little if at all. I may Tweet on occasion (so be sure to follow me by clicking the link in the righthand column if you wish to do so). But I'll basically be incommunicado (look it up) because of other commitments. Hope to get back in the saddle for the Oct. 9 Sunday night game at Atlanta.
Until then, say it with me: it's great to be a Packer fan!
Monday, September 19, 2011
Head coach Mike McCarthy told the media this afternoon that "it's too early" to say whether Collins will need surgery or, for that matter, if the injury could jeopardize Collins' career. Obviously, the injury was far more serious than first thought. Although Collins had full movement of his limbs -- even giving a thumbs up to the crowd while leaving the field -- doctors must have seen something that gave them enough pause to shut Collins down for this season.
Collins is a Pro Bowl player and his presence will be missed. Charlie Peprah, who wound up starting last season in the place of Morgan Burnett when he went down for the year, will take Collins' place.
Our prayers are with you, Nick, and here's to the hope that you make a full recovery and we see you back on the field for the Pack next season.
It was almost universally agreed that Panthers' QB Cam Newton, after his high-flying NFL debut, would be brought back to earth by Dom Capers' Packers defense. Well, not quite. In fact, Newton wound up surpassing his first week passing yardage by throwing for something like a bazillion yards. Fortunately for the Pack, he also made a few rookie mistakes along the way, tossing a few interceptions Charles Woodson's way and missing a few redzone passes that could have turned the Panthers' loss into a win.
But the Packers escaped with a win to make them 2-0 on the season. Given the Packers have not generally started well under Mike McCarthy, at least we now are on the plus side of things.
But the game was one of the most schizophrenic in recent memory (reflected in this post). The Packers won the coin toss but elected to defer. Coach McCarthy was obviously confident that his defense could set the tone for the game by shutting down Newton and the Panthers, and then getting the Packers offense rolling. Well, not quite. Newton sliced and diced the Packers porous defense and seemingly before we knew it the Packers were down 13-0 and the offense had been on the field for something like 3 plays in the first quarter. If that's not the actual play count it's close enough.
In the second half, the Packers adjusted as best they could and eventually took the lead, which they did not relinquish despite some nervous moments at the end. For the second straight game, the Packers wound up having to seal the game with Donald Driver recovering an onside kick. (Kudos to Driver, by the way, for setting the franchise record for receiving yards, surpassing James Lofton.) It was also the second game in which the Packers' defense resembled more of a sieve than an NFL squad. Granted, the Packers wound up playing a good portion of the second half without Nick Collins, who was carted off the field after sustaining a neck injury. After staying overnight in a Charlotte hospital for evaluation, the early prognosis is good, but whether Collins will be ready to play against Da Bearz this Sunday remains to be seen.
The tone of the game seemed to change for the Packers once they were able to get their running game in gear. Ryan Grant had 6 carries for 25 yards while James Starks ran 9 time for 85, including a 40-yard scamper. With that kind of running threat, it helped open the play fakes for Aaron Rodgers and actually set up two of the longer touchdown throws of the day, one to Greg Jennings for nearly 50 yards and the last TD of the day, that 84-yard pitch, catch and run to Jordy Nelson. Credit should also be given to Jennings for making a great, crushing downfield block to help make sure Nelson got to the endzone. The biggest concern on offense yesterday seemed to be their inability to convert Carolina's four turnovers into touchdowns; the Pack only scored 9 points off turnovers. That's a lot of points left on the field, and it kept the Panthers in the game.
Beyond that, there really aren't too many concerns with the offense at this point, although the offensive line seemed to be allowing more pressure on Rodgers than the Carolina O-line was allowing on their quarterback.
Which leads to a brief discussion of the problem for the Packers at the moment: the defense. In two games, the Packers have given up 1,003 yards of total offense, most of it through the air. Read that again: 1,003 yards. In two games. Yowza. Giving up big yards to Drew Brees is one thing; giving up big yards to a rookie -- even one who looks like the real deal in Cam Newton -- is another. For most of the day, there seemed to be virtually no pass rush of any kind. Likewise, receivers seemed to be wide open most of the time, allowing for Newton's big completions. Whether it was a communications problem, a bad defensive call, whatever, the Packers have to get this cleaned up.
Going into Chicago this coming Sunday allows the Packers to either get its defense together and toss QB Jay Cutler around like a rag doll, as he has been in the first two games, or to allow Da Bearz to stay in the game and win with a defensive or special teams play as is their usual M.O. As for me, I'd prefer the former scenario to the latter.
The Packers offense must maximize its opportunities, score TDs instead of FGs, and get first downs late in the game to control the ball and run out the clock. The defense needs to start stepping up its efforts long before the other team gets into the redzone, and long before it comes down to a last minute goal-line stand.
The Packers are winning but winning ugly. They must become more consistent on both sides of the ball if they are to once again make it to the Big Game.
Sunday, September 18, 2011
The Packers have had the opportunity to see what he did and game plan for it. Given that Cam Newton was looking for WR Steve Smith most of the day, figure the Packers to focus on shutting Smith down and letting the other receivers -- which are whom, by the way? -- do whatever damage they might be able to do against the Packers' outstanding secondary. Now, that secondary may very likely be without Tramon Williams, who is still nursing a sore shoulder; he'll be a gametime decision, according to reports. Still, I'll take the Pack's d-backs against the Panthers' receivers any day of the week.
Granted, Newton has a bit of that Michael Vick aspect to him, where he can not only throw but can also run. He's athletic and a big body. That type of quarterback has been known in the past to offer problems for the Packers defense. But that was then, this is now. Occasionally, Newton may hit a long pass or even break containment and run for more yards than you'd like to see. But you have to figure that Dom Capers' defense will blitz Newton from every direction and contain him more often than not with the linebacking corps. If the defense can rattle him the Pack should be able to generate a turnover or two. Oh, T Jeff Otah is doubtful for the Panthers and if he can't go he will be replaced by rookie free agent Byron Bell. Packers LB Clay Matthews could and should have a field day.
When we look to the Panthers defense, it took a big blow last weekend when middle linebacker Jon Beason blew out an Achilles' tendon against the Cardinals. Beason was the leader of the defense and his loss is a big blow. Combine that loss with an average defense at best across all units and the Packers offense should have a big day. If Carolina blitzes, QB Aaron Rodgers will light them up. If they don't, perhaps we'll see the Packers' running game get going just to open things up downfield.
It should be a fun game to watch. Newton might put up some yardage but nowhere near like he did last week. Look for him to come down to earth a bit. The Packers offense should be ready to roll. If they did so against the Saints they can surely do so against the Panthers. The only way the Packers lose this game is if they beat themselves with turnovers or, more likely in this unlikely defeatist scenario, special teams breakdowns.
The Packers are 10-point favorites and the over/under is 45.5 points. My call is for the Packers to win 38-17.
Say it with me: it's great to be a Packers fan! Go Pack Go!!!
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Neal has been nursing a knee injury since training camp and both he and the team were hoping it would respond to non-surgical treatments. Apparently, that wasn't working. So the decision was made for Neal to have surgery, although the nature of the surgery -- as with the knee injury itself -- has also not yet been specified.
If there is any silver lining to this for the Packers it is that they have not placed Neal on injured reserve, which would have ended his season before it even started. But how fast Neal will return is anyone's guess.
Jarius Wynn played well as Neal's replacement in the win over the Saints. As we saw last year, this team is adept at making whatever adjustments may be necessary when a key player goes down. That will again be the case at defensive end.
You can read more about this situation here.
Saturday, September 10, 2011
A quick summary: the Packers wowed many of the pundits who are ready to make them the odds-on favorites to be in the Super Bowl and likely win it. OK. I can go with that.
The Packers offense, to no one's surprise, is loaded with weapons for QB Aaron Rodgers to work with. If the opposing defense blitzes, he can generally find his hot receiver and beat it. If they play man-to-man, good luck. You might cover a couple of the receivers, but the Pack's number 3 and 4 receivers are better than the opponents third and fourth d-backs. Also, who's going to cover TE Jermichael Finley in man coverage? A linebacker? C'mon. If the defense goes into a zone scheme, Rodgers will go underneath all day long. Or start running Ryan Grant and James Starks to open up the downfield game. Bottom line regarding the Packers offense is this: if the Packers don't turn the ball over and stop themselves, opposing defensive coordinators will be having nightmares trying to figure out how to scheme against this explosive offense.
Now, there was a bit of an Achilles Heel in the offense which we saw last season at times and which reemerged against the Saints: the inability at the end of the game to pick up a needed first down to enable the team to run out the clock for the victory. Giving the Saints the ball back was...oh...not good. The Packers kept the Saints in the game when the Saints couldn't do it. The inability to convert that short third down play kept the Saints alive until that final goal line stop with no time left on the clock (an extra play due to what this observer thought was a horrible pass interference call on A.J. Hawk). The Packers have to be able to close out these games without giving the opponent one last shot to tie or win the game.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Packers gave up a bundle of yards. But, the Saints got inside the 20-yard line 5 times and came away with just 10 points. That was huge. The Packers, if memory serves, got inside the 20 four times and came away with touchdowns each time; that was the difference in the game. The defense came up big when it needed to. DE Jarius Wynn, replacing the injured Mike Neal, had a huge game, as did stalwarts Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji and Howard Green. LB Erik Walden, getting his first start opposite Clay Matthews, also acquitted himself well. Linebackers did get beat in coverage on occasion. That's going to happen in a match-ups type game. The Packers secondary was also on its game for the most part, despite giving up some big yards. There really weren't many yards-after-catch type receptions against the secondary, despite some lengthy passes to the endzone against coverage.
One of the advantages of waiting a day or so to do a game review is that we have a better feel for injuries incurred during the game. The one which looked most concerning at the time was the injury to Tramon Williams. Williams actually got hit on the shoulder by Nick Collins as he was about to make a tackle in the second half. He left holding his arm, which is usually a sign of a dislocation or worse. According to the latest reports out of Green Bay, Williams emerged with a bruised shoulder, nothing worse. Whew. They are not sure whether he'll be available yet for the game versus the Panthers, but clearly the Packers dodged a bullet which could have had season-long implications for the defense.
As to special teams...as long as rookie Randall Cobb is returning kicks, it's a good thing. As long as the coverage units are as porous as a sieve, it's not a good thing. I have not been a fan of special teams coach Bob Slocum. Thought he should have been long gone a long time ago. Granted, he didn't know exactly who he was going to have to work with on an ongoing basis until about a week before the game. So we'll give him the benefit of the doubt. But if there is not significant improvement on this squad, Mason Crosby and Tim Masthay should be kicking and punting the ball out of bounds; the sideline will do a better job covering than will the Packers special teams unit. Let us pray...
My main area of concern is still the depth of the backups on the offensive line. The starters generally did a good job Thursday night, although Rodgers got hit much more than he should have been. But if anyone on the line goes down, there's not much experience to draw upon among the three backups. First-rounder Derek Sherrod was among the inactives for the game, which gives you a clue about just how far he needs to go to be the replacement for Chad Clifton at left tackle.
But, the Packers got their first win in an important conference match. A game which could be a precursor to the NFC Championship. Which, at least in head-to-head now, means the Saints would have to come to Green Bay in January. Oh wait...there are 15 more games to go. And a LOT of things can happen along the way.
The Packers go to Carolina to play the Panthers this next weekend. They'll be well-rested and well-prepared. Let's just make an early prediction that the Pack will be 2-0 coming out of that game.
It's great to be a Packers fan! Go Pack Go!!!
Friday, September 09, 2011
There were many twists and turns, including an outstanding performance from QB Aaron Rodgers, his corps of receivers, some key running yards when needed...and certainly some great defensive stops, including the final goal line stand. Yes, there were special teams breakdowns on coverage units; we've become rather used to that, sadly, over the years. But there was also that big kickoff return for a TD from rookie Randall Cobb. That type of thing we haven't seen much of around here since seemingly the dawn of time. (Note: exaggeration added for emphasis.)
There is a lot to chew on. And, frankly, I'm still digesting this game. So, even though I Tweeted last evening after the game that I'd have a game review here today...well, kids, not gonna happen. Need a bit more time to get it together. Hope you understand. And hope you check back tomorrow when I hope to have a review up for you here. I know, that's a lot of hoping go around, but it's something to hang onto, ya know?
You can also get alerted to that post -- as well as all sorts of other ongoing witty 140-character based banter -- by following me on Twitter. Just click the "Follow" link in the righthand column below the Twitter feed. Yes, it's that easy. And if it's that easy, why don't you just do it? Go ahead. Live on the edge.
Thursday, September 08, 2011
It's obviously not going to be easy. Only a handful of teams have accomplished such a feat. But this Packers team is loaded with talent. Most of the names were on last season's championship roster. The difference this year is that quite a few of those names were also on injured reserve for much or all of last season and were not able to contribute; they are hungry. They want to have their moments in the Super Bowl limelight. Well and good. A bit of incentive is a always a motivator.
So is playing the champs from the prior season.
Hence, a meeting between two of the top teams in the NFL, let alone the NFC to kick things off. As many in the local media are pointing out, this is about as close as the city of Green Bay will get to hosting a Super Bowl. Festivities galore to entertain the masses both on site and on TV. Even Matt Lauer and Al Roker from The Today Show were broadcasting live from Lambeau. Big bands and big jets flying overhead. As David Letterman would say, it's an extravaganza. Indeed.
But back to the game.
The teams are very similar in style, with wide open offenses. But I give the edge to the Packers defense, especially since defensive coordinator Dom Capers has kept his "D" totally under wraps in the preseason. Expect lots of twists and turns tonight. Reading between the lines of some player comments, they may bring pressure from the outside in the form of blitzes and try to collapse the pocket up the middle. After all, as one player noted, QB Drew Brees is only 6 feet tall. Now, that little genetic issue hasn't prevented him from having quite a career. But if anyone can scheme to disrupt a particular quarterback, it's Capers. Brees and the Saints will make their plays and score some points. But the Packers have more to draw upon on both sides of the ball. And they have the home crowd who will be at frenzied pitch throughout the game.
The only area of concern for this game, and for the season at this point, is the lack of depth on the offensive line. The Packers kept only eight O-lineman. Once you get past the starters, it gets a bit iffy. Hopefully, no one goes down.
By the way, the Packers are 4-point favorites at the time of this writing. The over/under is 47.5 points, the highest of any of the first week games. Oddsmakers are figuring on these teams scoring, obviously. So, given everything, our first prediction of the season is this: Packers 31 - Saints 24.
Go Pack Go!!!
It's that time of year when any Packers fan worth their salt (what the heck does that saying mean, anyway???) comes up with their predictions for the Packers win-loss record this season. I don't know how much salt I'm worth, but I'm still willing to toss out my prediction.
First, however, I have to offer the usual proviso that there will be a couple games that the Packers should win that they may lose, and vice versa.
Secondly, I tend to break out the schedule into blocks before the bye week and after the bye week. So, in looking at the Packers schedule, I think the Pack will be 6-1 going into their bye. After the bye, I think the Packers will go 7-2 for an overall record of 13-3.
The team is loaded and if they stay healthy they will not only win the NFC North but advance through the playoffs to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl for the second year in a row. I have hunches as to who the AFC opponent might be but it really serves no purpose at this point to toss out a name. Let's wait till we get there.
But in the meantime, say it with me: It's great to be a Packers fan!
Sunday, September 04, 2011
In case you haven't already seen the roster elsewhere, here is the 53-man roster that GM Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy are going to war with this season. It has a familiar look in many respects to the team that brought the Lombardi Trophy back to Lambeau Field following last season's campaign.
- QBs: Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn
- RBs: Ryan Grant, James Starks, John Kuhn and Alex Green
- TEs: Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, Tom Crabtree, Ryan Taylor and D.J. Williams
- WRs: Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb
- OL: Chad Clifton, T.J. Lang, Scott Wells, Josh Sitton, Bryan Bulaga, Marshall Newhouse, Derek Sherrod and Evan Dietrich Smith.
- DL: B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Mike Neal, Howard Green, Jarius Wynn and C.J. Wilson
- LBs: Clay Matthews, Desmond Bishop, A.J. Hawk, Erik Walden, Frank Zombo, Vic So'oto, Jamari Lattimore, Brad Jones, Robert Francois and D.J. Smith.
- DBs: Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, Nick Collins, Morgan Burnett, Sam Shields, Jarrett Bush, Pat Lee, Charlie Peprah, M.D. Jennings and Davon House.
- K: Mason Crosby
- P: Tim Masthay
- Long Snapper: Brett Goode
Quick takes on this roster: long on linebackers, defensive backs and tight ends, a bit light on offensive linemen and running backs.
Going into the season with only eight offensive linemen doesn't allows too much room for error...or injury. Perhaps that's why the Packers re-signed a couple of the offensive linemen they cut to the practice squad. And speaking of same, here are the practice squad signings of today:
- QB: Graham Harrell
- WRs: Chastin West, Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel
- RB: Brandon Saine
- OGs: Ray Dominguez and Sampson Genus
- CB: Brandian Ross
I and many others are likely of the view that having Harrell, West, Gurley and Saine on the practice squad gives the coaches a bit of security and flexibility they were hoping to have available as the season commences. Both Harrell and West have been on the practice squad, and West certainly demonstrated this preseason the ability to be a good number five receiver should one of the other receivers go down. The Packers were also intrigued by Gurley's potential and probably gave a sigh of relief that he wasn't claimed on waivers. To a certain degree, they may have felt the same about rookie OG Ray Dominguez who, while raw, has the attitude and talent potential to play on the O-line, given a little seasoning, of course.
Turning coal into diamonds
Another observation I'd like to pass along, and which is attributable to Bill Huber's fine article at Packer Report, is that more than half of the Packers current roster is comprised of players found in the sixth round, seventh round or who weren't drafted at all. That's right: 27 of the 53 players on this season's roster were found by GM Ted Thompson and his scouts near the bottom of the draft, or even as undrafted free agents. Can you say "Value!"?
Huber has a few other choice tidbits for you, so I encourage you to hop over there and check out his article.
For now, let's just close by saying that the Packers escaped the preseason without any significant injuries. They have key players returning to the practice field today who were on injured reserve last season. A talented team with an explosive offense and disruptive defense is set to go after another Lombardi Trophy.
As coach McCarthy says: the Packers aren't defending anything; they are hunting for another Super Bowl win. You bet. It's great to be a Packer fan!
Go Pack Go!!!