Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Packers beat Bears for 4th time in 2011

Fans of the top-seeded Green Bay Packers got their Christmas wish Sunday night with a Green-n-Gold-wrapped victory over the Chicago Bears. It was actually the fourth time in the 2011 calendar year that the Pack beat Da Bearz. But who's counting? OK, we are, of course.

The Pack's 35-21 win was more or less similar to the team's 13 earlier wins this season: a fast start, followed by nada, followed by another offensive surge, particularly in the second half. Oh, and the Packers' defense continued to give up huge yardage and was unable to stop the run. Against better teams, going into the playoffs, the weaknesses on defense might just be enough to trip up the Pack on their way to the Super Bowl, particularly if the offense loses its magic as it did in Kansas City.

But let's take a look briefly at something that did get fixed, at least for a game and relative to the loss against the Chiefs: the offensive line. The line didn't give up a sack (at least until scrub time late in the game) and also didn't commit a penalty. Head coach Mike McCarthy said in his press conference Monday that he'd be giving a game ball to the entire O-line for their effort Sunday night. It was a patchwork line, and they held up against what is unarguably the best part of the Bears' defense. Kudos have to especially go to LT Marshall Newhouse. After a subpar performance against KC, one for which I and others called him out (although this blogger was far more genteel than many commentators, particularly those in the Twitterverse), Newhouse performed well, and we have to acknowledge that. Great job, Mr. Newhouse. Also, T.J. Lang, who had to move from left guard to right tackle, also did an outstanding job, as did RG Josh Sitton, who had been struggling of late. Scott Wells was his usual reliable self at center and Evan Dietrich-Smith played well moving into Lang's usual spot at left guard.

That offensive line enabled QB Aaron Rodgers time to throw for 5 TDs on the evening. They still didn't open up much ground for the running backs, but that's something that is more on the coach and the playing calling than the players; they just don't get called on to make that part of the game work very often. But looking ahead to January at Lambeau Field, they need to make sure they can strike a better balance between the run and pass. Make no mistake, with Rodgers at the trigger, the receiving weapons available, and McCarthy calling the plays, this will still be a pass-first offensive attack. But getting yards on the ground is going to be key to sustaining drives and running the clock.

Defensively, the Packers are what they are after 15 games, as many others have noted. This is pretty much what we have: no pass rush, linebackers susceptible to being burned over the middle, and D-backs who sometimes bite and give up the big plays. But, this is also the defense that generates turnovers. After getting none against KC, they again generated two against Da Bearz. When they get turnovers, it is certainly a key to a team win and when they don't...well, it doesn't help, does it?

We'll have a bit about the Lions coming to Lambeau in a future post.

For now, just savor yet another win over the hapless and hopeless Bears. It's great to get two in a season...but four? Oh baby...it doesn't get much better than that.

Say it with me: it's great to be a Packer fan!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Packers vs. Bears: A Christmas Gift

As fans of the Green Bay Packers, all we want for Christmas today is a Packers' win. Well, that and a total beat down of the Chicago Bears...oh, and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Is that too much to ask? Naaaaaahhhhh.

One of the other things readers of this blog may want today is a brief preview. Frankly, that's what this writer wants, as well. Let's make both our wishes come true, shall we?

The weather at Lambeau Field for tonight's game will be balmy for this time of year, in the low 30's. Field conditions will be good, relatively speaking. It is winter, after all. The spread on the game is anywhere from 11-1/2 to 12-1/2 points depending upon who are you looking at, and the over/under is set at 42 points.

The challenge for the Packers tonight will be keeping a very good Bears defensive line from wreaking havoc on a patchwork offensive line for the Packers. If Da Bearz have any chance tonight it is getting penetration on the line, disrupting the running game and pressuring the quarterback. They may very well do that now and then throughout the game. But can Da Bearz decimated offense score any points? Not many.

I always give Da Bearz 10 points for a defensive turnover leading to a touchdown, plus a special teams play leading to a field goal. Will they score any more with new old QB Josh McCown under center this week for the first time? Not likely. He's got nobody to throw to and nobody to hand off to.

Will the Packers score more than 10 points. You bet. The Pack was embarrassed in Kansas City last weekened when they sleep-walked through the game. I had said in that preview the only way the Packers would lose against the Chiefs was if they didn't show up; they didn't. Think that will happen two weeks in a row? Not a chance. No doubt head coach Mike McCarthy ripped his team a new one all week long after they let the possibility of a perfect season slip through their fingers. But now they can focus on the main goal: securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win tonight. A return to the Super Bowl is in sight. Last season, the Packers started to peak at the right time, following a loss at New England. Perhaps this loss at KC will be the same kick-start the team needs to begin its repeat run to the Lombardi Trophy.

So, what's my score prediction? I'm calling it 27-10 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

And in the spirit of Christmas...Ho Ho Ho!!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Chiefs wanted it more: Packers winning streak ends

I said in my preview/prediction that all the Green Bay Packers needed to do today to beat the Kansas City Chiefs was show up. Well, they didn't. And the 13 game in-season winning streak, the 19-game winning streak going back to last season, has come to an end as a result. The Chiefs beat the Packers 19-14 today in Kansas City.

To be fair, it was apparent the Chiefs wanted this game more than the Packers did. They played with more intensity on both sides of the ball all day long. Yes, Kansas City had multiple trips inside the red zone into the 4th quarter and only came away with field goals. But the defense had no pass rush at all and Chiefs' receivers had no defenders within 10 yards of them most of the day.

Of course, the Packers offense was out of whack, as well. Receivers were dropping passes left and right. QB Aaron Rodgers was under assault in the pocket every time he dropped back to pass. Even head coach Mike McCarthy's play calling seemed off. The only drive that even remotely resembled the typical Packers' offense didn't occur until the last few minutes of the game. And, I don't know about you, but one of the early warning indicators for me about a pending Packers' loss is when Mason Crosby misses field goal attempts early. Yes, they were 50-yards plus, but still, we know Crosby can make those, too.

Anyway, perhaps ending the perfect season talk now will get the team refocused. In this case, it's focusing on the Christmas night game at Lambeau vs. Da Bearz, who got beat badly by Seattle today.

One of the concerns going into that game, though, will be the health of the offensive line. LT Marshall Newhouse, again replacing the injuried Chad Clifton, was beaten like a rented mule most of the day by the Kansas City pass rush. Starting RT Bryan Bulaga came up with a knee injury and didn't return to the game. His replacement, rookie Derek Sherrod, was also injured and wound up being taken off the field strapped to a cart with an air cast on his right leg. Not good.

In his post-game comments, coach McCarthy said rightly that "the opponent outperformed us." Every which way, that's for sure. It was a sad way for the winning streak to come to an end. But, if this is the type of team we all think it is, it's an opportunity for another streak to begin. Better to lose today than against Da Bearz or Lions. Perhaps it will re-light the fire under the team.

The Packers didn't secure the playoff homefield advantage they sought today. But they can do so against Da Bearz next Sunday night. Now, wouldn't that be a great Christmas present? You bet. Bring 'em on.

Go Pack Go!!!

Packers vs. Chiefs: victory #14 on the horizon

The undefeated Green Bay Packers roll into Kansas City today for the last of this season's road games. If the Packers win, they will have gone undefeated in all their road games, which is something that has only been done a handful of times in the history of the NFL. (Or is it 2 handfuls? Look it up!) More importantly, it will give the Pack 14 wins on the season and secure homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. It will also set the stage for the final two home games of the regular season against Da Bearz and Lions. 16-0 is just a hop-skip-jump away.

But first, the Packers must dispose of the Chiefs. The oddsmakers have installed the Packers as 13-1/2-point favorites and with the over/under at 45.5 points.

What's to stop the Pack from getting a "W" today? There are always the lists that are put out about "10 things the Packers need to do to win, etc." Ya know, all they have to do is one thing: show up. Now, I don't say that to slight the Chiefs. They can play -- especially on the defensive side of things -- and if the Packers let them hang around long enough anything can happen. Kyle Orton is getting the nod at QB today. But in terms of offensive weapons, they just don't have much. Defensively, the KC defensive backs will have their hands full all day long even without having to cover WR Greg Jennings. The Packers are loaded at receiver and tight end and, obviously, present huge matchup problems for any team. Plus, the Chiefs have really been hit by injuries as well.

Of course, the Packers also have injury issues. Inactives for today just announced are: Graham Harrell, Brandon Saine, James Starks, Desmond Bishop, Chad Clifton, Ryan Pickett, and Greg Jennings. LB Vic So'oto and RG Josh Sitton are active.

Pickett's presence will be missed. The Packers have had problems stopping the run all year and that has been with Pickett having a good season. With Saine and Starks both inactive, that means the only two running backs active for this game are Ryan Grant and John Kuhn. Grant had his best game all season last week against the Raiders and Kuhn was his typical Kuhn-esque self late in the game. Let's hope they both hold up again today. The emphasis, of course, will once again be the passing game. Shocking, yes.

So, what's it all boil down to? That the Packers will come away with their fourtheenth victory of this season, 20 in a row going back to last year. An amazing run, and something not before seen in the history of the Packers. The players want to go 16-0 in the regular season, so I can't imagine them tripping up in a supposed "trap game" against the likes of KC.

I'm calling it Packers 41 - Chiefs 17.


P.S. A big congratulations to the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater football team, who Friday evening won their third consecutive Division III football championship, defeating (again) Mount Union, 13-10. It's a great college program and another winner in the fine Wisconsin tradition. Congrats, Warhawks!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Packers route Raiders, 46-16; witnessing "greatness"?

Are there really any more superlatives one can use to describe the 2011 Green Bay Packers? Apparently so. Yesterday, before the Packers took the Oakland Raiders to the Lambeau Field woodshed for a whupping, former Steelers coach Bill Cowher declared that, "In my opinion, no team has been greater." That certainly sets up a conversation filled with opinions. But for now, at least, the Packers are certainly the greatest team this season...and unarguably the second greatest over a two-season span, winning 19 consecutive games going back to last year. This Packers team trails only the New England Patriots of several years back who reeled off 21 games in a row over two seasons.

The Pack are enjoying a historic season from a team perspective, setting records for scoring, consecutive wins, etc. QB Aaron Rodgers finally had his NFL record consecutive streak of games with a passer rating over 100 snapped yesterday, falling just short of that mark. Even an MVP has an off day now and then.

Anyway, back to the Raiders game. Oh, why bother? They didn't show up to play, why should I show up to write about them? Exactly!

The Pack had their most complete game of the season yesterday. Scoring almost at will in the first half, and generating five turnovers on defense. Three players that hadn't scored yet this season got added to the total, now making 19 in all. Ryan Grant, Erik Walden and rookie Ryan Taylor all notched a TD. The only blemish on a perfect day was a blocked PAT...but that just kept the score at 43 points at that time instead of 44. Ah well. Even backup QB Matt Flynn saw more than a quarter's worth of playing time.

Oh...and with the win, the Packers secured a first round bye in the playoffs. If they beat Kanssas City on the road this coming Sunday, they will secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Anyone think that's not going to happen? KC? Puh-leze. All roads will lead to Lambeau this season, Packer fans!

The downside to the game was the injury to WR Greg Jennings, a sprained knee (originally reported as a torn MCL) which will sideline him probably through the end of the regular season. While, no one thinks losing Jennings is a plus, is anyone really worried that things won't keep churning along? The depth that GM Ted Thompson has built is remarkable. One guy goes down, another comes in without any apparent drop off.

Still, injuries are starting to pile up. RB Brandon Saine -- himself a replacement -- had his playing time shortened yesterday after sustaining a concussion. Ditto for Ryan Pickett. Offensive linemen Chad Clifton and Josh Sitton are still out. LBs A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop are ailing. It's nowhere near as bad as last year. But still. Injuries to key personnel, most notably Rodgers, would be about the only thing that would derail this juggernaut. Keep your fingers crossed, folks. Things are looking good. But players need to stay healthy for the final push through the post-season to the Super Bowl.

The Packers are on their way again. And we can all enjoy the ride.

Say it with me: it's great to be a Packers fan!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Packers vs. Raiders preview

The Oakland Raiders -- or Raidahs, if you prefer an ESPN announcer-ish pronunciation -- visit the not-yet-fully-frozen tundra of Lambeau Field this afternoon to become the Green Bay Packers latest victims. The Raiders are in a dead heat with the Tebow-roncos for the lead in the AFC West at 7-5, although technically in second place because of tie-breakers, etc. They are 3-2 in their last five games. After beating Da Bearz 25-20 at home (thank you very much!), the Raiders had an embarrassing loss last Sunday in Miami, losing to the last-place AFC East Division Fish, 34-14. Today, Oakland is a 12-point underdog to the Pack. The over-under on this game is the highest of all games this week, at 51.5. The Packers are averaging 35 points per game and the Raiders just under 23. Some points are going to be scored today. As usual for the last 12 games of this regular season, and 18 games straight back to last season, the Packers will put up more points than their opponent and come away with their 13th win of the 2011 schedule.

That's not to say this will be a gimme game. Oakland is fighting for its playoff life against streaking Denver and they were embarrassed by the Dolphins. So they will come to Lambeau with a chip on their shoulder, no doubt. But it's not as if this will be the first time the Packers have seen that situation this season. It's pretty much a weekly occurrence now: teams with something to prove to either themselves or others.

Raiders quick take
So what are the Raiders strengths coming into this game? A good quarterback in Carson Palmer, although as an in-season pick up he is still learning about his receivers and vice versa. Third-year WR Darrius Heyward-Bey leads the team in receptions and yards, with rookie Denarius Moore not far behind; regrettably for Oakland, Moore is out for this game.

The Raiders have had a solid running game, which is fourth in the NFL, averaging just over 140 yards per game. For the most part, it consists of Michael Bush and Darren McFadden, but the latter is out for this game. Fellow running back Taiwan Jones is also out for this game, leaving Bush, Rock Cartwright (with all of two rushing attempts this season) and FB Marcel Reece to shoulder the carries. Packer fans know all-too-well that the defense sometimes has trouble tackling ball carriers. We can be thankful that McFadden is out today, as that would be a definite challenge.

The Raiders have a lot of injuries, at key positions. They are capable of putting up some points, but it won't be enough against the Packers today.

Packers notes
For the Packers, the team will once again be without RB James Starks. Look for Ryan Grant and rookie Brandon Saine to get the carries today, along with an occasional bone thrown to John Kuhn, of course. We might get to see a little more action from TEs Tom Crabtree and rookie D.J. Williams today, after Andrew Quarless was placed on IR for the season. With the loss of second-year player Quarless, the Packers lose arguably their best-blocking tight end. One of these other players will have to pick up the slack. It's also possible Williams could create some match up problems as well if he's factored into the passing game at all. But, as we all know, with the wide receiving corps the Packers have, along with TE Jermichael Finley, there are targets aplenty for QB Aaron Rodgers and match up problems galore for the Pack's opponents week in and week out.

The trick will be for the Packers O-line to protect Rodgers without, once again, starters Chad Clifton and Josh sitton. LT Marshall Newhouse had a great game against Detroit but struggled last week's against the Giants. Look for him to re-establish himself with a solid game.

Defensively, the Packers will also be without starting LB Desmond Bishop once again. A.J. Hawk is listed as questionable. D.J. Smith and Robert Francois will no doubt both see plenty of action again today. They have held up well so far. Charles Woodson is listed as probable coming off his slight concussion sustained in last week's game; in fact, he's one of the captains for today's game...not surprising since he spent the first part of his illustrious career playing for the Raiders, of course. Gotta figure he's looking for a big game against his old team.

Bottom line...
Temperatures for today's game will start in the mid-30's -- balmy for mid-December in Green Bay -- and will dip a bit as the sun goes down for the second half of the game. Conditions will be clear with low winds. In other words, it is great weather for a late afternoon/early evening winter game in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

After throwing all the variables into the Packervac 5000 Computer (Copyright/Trademark!), our prediction has the Pack beating the Raiders by a score of 41-27.

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Packers hang on, beat Giants 38-35


That about sums up this twelfth win of the season for the undefeated Green Bay Packers.

On a last second 30-yard field goal by Mason Crosby, the Packers pulled out a win after the Giants themselves drove the length of the field and converted on a two-point conversion attempt to tie the Pack with about 58 seconds remaining in the game.


Will likely have more comment and reflections on this game, especially how bad the Packers' defense can be and still win. Will also see what the injury status is tomorrow of a few of the players who went out during the game: James Starks, Charles Woodson, and Andrew Quarless in particular.

Keep checking back for more in the days ahead.

Oh, by the way, Da Bearz and ViQueens both lost. Chicago lost to Kansas City at home 10-3, and Minnesota also lost at home late to the Tebow-roncos. The Pack, on the other hand, clinched a playoff berth today with four games still remaining.

Say it with me: it's great to be a Packer fan!

Packers vs. Giants preview: who's it gonna be?

After a franchise record 17 wins in a row going back to last season, and 11 in a row this season, the Green Bay Packers will face the Giants on the road. The Packers are listed as 6.5-point favorites over the 6-5 Giants. The over-under is set at 54 points.

The odds are one way to look at the game, of course. The other is to note who's in and who's out, especially for the Packers. The Pack will be without their two starting inside linebackers, A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop. In their places will be the relatively untested Robert Francois -- who had a big interception against Detroit on Turkey Day when called up during the game -- and undersized rookie, D.J. Smith, who also was impressive during his play against the Lions. Smith will actually be calling the defensive sets, the job that typically is Hawk's. On offense, the Packers will still be without LT Chad Clifton and today will also be without RG Josh Sitton.

So there are potential areas of concern on both sides of the ball for the Packers. But the Giants have their own concerns. A wide open offense in the form of the New Orleans Saints lit up the Giants for 49 points on Monday night. Any other team remind you of the Saints. Hmmmmm...oh, yeah, the Pack! So, there's that.

Yes, the Giants running game -- big back -- could pose a problem, as it seems most big backs do for the Packers. And Eli Manning can air it out if given the chance. But can they outscore the Pack? Not unless the Packers turn it over or otherwise beat themselves. Sure, the Giants' defensive coordinator was talking smack this week promising that if QB Aaron Rodgers scrambles they were going to hit him and hit him again. Well, Rodgers will do what he needs to do. And that will result in a win. Number 12 on the season and in a row, to be exact.

I'm calling it 34-24 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

P.S. A big shout out to the Wisconsin Badgers who defeated Michigan State 42-39 last night in the first ever Big 10 Championship Game for a trip to the Rose Bowl. But if you thought that game was chicken salad, you ain't seen nothin' yet! (I have no idea what that means either. One of the announcers during the game last evening used that expression, "chicken salad" and other non sequiturs to describe various part of the action. Yes, entertaining in a bizarro world kind of way.)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Packers beat Lions to go to 11-0

In what many thought would be a high-scoring toss-up shoot out in Detroit, the Green Bay Packers handled the upstart Lions 27-15 today. It didn't rise anywhere near the level of the infamous 1962 game. Except it did show just how good the Packers are at making adjustments in the second half of games and how not-quite-ready the Lions are to seriously challenge the Packers for the NFC North title.

While the first half saw the Packers unable to generate any offense -- just 86 yards -- they held a 7-0 lead, and that basically courtesy of being set up by a Clay Matthews interception, the team scored 17 points in the third quarter. By the end of the game, another two interceptions allowed the Pack to pull away from the Lions.

There's much more to be told. But today is Thanksgiving and we should be spending time with family and friends, not writing or reading all this stuff. So check back Friday, or Saturday or whenever. We'll post more commentary then.

In the meantime, just know that the Packers are 11-0 for the first time in franchise history. They are 17-0 going back to last season. Not bad. Not bad at all. If this keeps up, we're going to get spoiled.

It's great to be a Packers fan!

Packers vs. Lions: A future Thanksgiving classic

Happy Thanksgiving, Packer fans! It's that time of year again when we give thanks for all our blessings. Much to be grateful for, indeed. Not least of which is our beloved Green Bay Packers, of course. The Super Bowl Champion, 10-0 (16-0 going back to last season) Packers.

Today's game between the Packers and the up-and-coming Lions is the main course in today's triumvirate of NFL games. The Packers are playing to keep their win streak alive and get one step closer to homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. The Lions are playing to prove to themselves and the rest of the world that they are indeed the new kid on the block in the NFC North. The game shapes up to be one of those epic Turkey Day classics that have come down to us through the football ages. Heck, the players on both teams from the 1962 game (in which the Lions beat the then-undefeated Pack) are still talking trash to one another.

The Packers are averaging more than 35 points per game, the Lions more than 30. It goes without saying that points will be scored. The Lions' defense is often spoken of in glowing terms, and rightly so at least in terms of their front four. They caused problems for the Pack in last year's game in Detroit, knocking out QB Aaron Rodgers with a concussion and securing a 7-3 win. Oy. The Packers' offensive line must play at a higher level than it has over the last few weeks in particular in order to keep Rodgers not only upright but in the game. The Lions are quickly getting a reputation for being on the dirty side of things. Rodgers and all the players, especially on offense, are going to need to have their heads on a swivel all day long. Cheap shots will be coming. You just hope and pray they don't result in a player being lost for the game or longer.

This is one game where you'd really like a consistent running game to take the pressure off Rodgers and the passing game. It's unclear whether RB James Starks will see playing time today or not after spraining his knee in Sunday's game against the Buccaneers. Late word was that he'd be a gametime decision. If Starks can't go, Ryan Grant is prepared to get most of the carries, although we may see our first glimpse of recently-elevated practice squad player Brandon Saine. If the Packers can't run and can't protect Rodgers it will be a long day, kids.

The Packers' passing attack may take a bit of a hit if Greg Jennings can't go today because of his bruised knee. But as we all know, there are still plenty of receiving weapons for Rodgers to choose from. On a fast track inside, the passing game should be top-notch and Rodgers should be able to exploit a suspect secondary...if he gets time, of course.

On the other side of things, the Packers' defense must tighten things up against a very good QB in Matthew Stafford. He'll be looking for his main receiving threat, Calvin Johnson, all day long. WR Titus Young and TE Tony Scheffler are his other key receiving targets. That means the secondary must communicate better to avoid the blown coverages we have seen far too often in some games this season. The linebacking corps also must do a better job covering the tight ends. And somehow, someway, defensive coordinator Dom Capers must get consistent pressure on Stafford. If that happens, the Packers will have multiple chances to generate turnovers. The Lions' running game took a hit with Jahvid Best reportedly being out for the game today. Kevin Smith can do damage, however, if the Packers don't tackle better than they did against the Buccaneers. The embarrassment which the defense should have felt at having Bucs RB LeGarrette Blount run through the entire lineup just might serve as a wakeup call on that issue.

Let's not forget special teams, especially since the Packers now have a legitimate return threat in Randall Cobb. He is a game changer. Whether he gets a return for a touchdown today or merely sets up a short field for the Packers' offense a few times, his impact could be the difference in today's game.

The Packers are favored by 6-1/2 points, with the over-under being set at 55-1/2 points, the latter being the largest total of Week 12's games. Holy shootout, Batman!

I'd have to go with the over, and I'd probably take the Lions against the spread if push came to shove on both. This is a game which the Pack could lose if they don't play the way they are capable of on both sides of the ball. This Detroit team is capable of putting up points. It might be a game where whoever has the ball last wins. As we've seen on more than one occasion this season -- far too many times, in fact -- the Packers "D" has a way of letting teams back in the game, particularly late. If they do that today they just might not be able to pull things out.

I have to drink the Green 'n' Gold elixir yet again, though, today. I think the Pack will prevail in a hard-fought, high-scoring game. I'm calling it Packers 38 - Lions 34.

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Packers win ugly over Buccaneers, 35-26

Oh, the woes of a 10-0 team. The only 10-0 team, by the way, in the NFL this season. And only the third 10-0 team in the proud history of the Green Bay Packers. Yes, the Packers won today even playing at a mediocre level...at least by the standards they have set this season. They beat a Buccaneers team that wasn't phased by playing the top team in the league, 35-26.

On a day when the Packers defense reverted to their play of the first eight games of the season -- in others words, porous and sloppy -- and on day in which QB Aaron Rodgers was a bit off, at least by his standards (he threw 11 incompletions, had an interception, and achieved a QB rating of 112-ish), not to mention a day in which the heretofore perfect Mason Crosby misses a chip shot 29-yard (?) field goal attempt, the Packers somehow overcame themselves and beat the Bucs.

The Packers defense once again couldn't tackle, once again couldn't seem to cover receivers and, yet, Tramon Williams got two interceptions, including the one that helped seal the Packers' victory. During a post-game interview with Larry McCarren on 620WTMJ radio, Williams was asked about the performance of the defense which once again gave up more than 400 yards on the day. Williams admitted the problems, but said that as long as they get the takeaways and make the critical stops "who cares" how many yards they give up. Hmmm...that's an interesting insight. Now, on one hand, you have to agree with him. As long as the team gets the "W" it doesn't really matter how many yards the other team racks up. Still, I can't imagine that same statement being made by the likes of a Ray Nitschke, for example. Or Willie Davis or Herb Adderly...or any of Lombardi's players. For that matter, can you imagine what Lombardi would have done had he heard that statement by Williams? At best, the two would have a genteel conversation about Mr. Williams' attitude. At worst, Mr. Williams may have found himself playing elsewhere very soon.

I don't mean to get off on a tangent about this. But perhaps it does reveal something about what we're seeing on the field. And it's been noted nationally. Some of the halftime TV punditry today about the game said there was no sense of urgency on the part of the Packers' defense because they know the offense can always score. That kind of attitude shouldn't be condoned by any defensive player or coach. There should be pride on the part of every player in stopping the opposing team from gaining a single yard. Remember that game back in...whenever it was...when the Packers held Barry Sanders to minus yardage for the entire game? Minus yardage. Barry Sanders. Not Colonel Sanders, Barry Sanders. Clearly, there was a different attitude present on the part of that defense that manifested itself big time.

The players on this Packers defense -- including Tramon Williams -- are quality players, some even Pro Bowlers. But really: get a better attitude, please, so there is better performance on the field.

As to the offense, the offensive line play continues to be a concern. QB Aaron Rodgers was under pressure a good part of the day from a defense that is near the bottom of the rankings in just about every category. They are not known as pass rushing demons. And yet...Rodgers seemed to be scrambling for his life most of the afternoon. Guard Josh Sitton had another bad game, including several penalties. He's had a couple uncharacteristically sloppy games in a row. Whatever is going on with him better get figured out. The Packers need him -- and the entire O-line -- to perform at a higher level than they are now. It seemed that the running backs -- who gained 91 yards total on the day -- had to create their own holes most of the time. Their line didn't do them many favors.

And speaking of running backs, the emerging star that is James Starks had to be helped off the field late in the game after reportedly spraining his right knee. Head coach Mike McCarthy called it a sprain, but said he'd know more Monday. Let us pray.

So, yes, the Packers are 10-0. The only other two times they were 10-0 to start the season they won Championships: in 1929 and 1962. This team has now set a new franchise record of 12 straight regular season wins dating back to last season and 16 consecutive wins overall including the playoffs. Hard to complain. But even in the midst of seeming perfection there is imperfection. And nowhere is that more evident than on the playing field.

The Packers have only a few days to prepare for their Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit. If they don't play like they are capable of playing, Detroit could serve a loss to the Pack on Turkey Day. Detroit beat Carolina today, 49-35.

Let's hope today was a bit of a wake up call for this team. Hard to say they need it at 10-0. But they do.

Packers vs. Buccaneers preview

After the near week-long bliss fest following the Packers' trouncing of the ViQueens -- it certainly was nowhere near as close as I and some others thought it would be (who knew the 'Queens would go into full fetal position in this game?) -- we now have the former division rivals from Tampa Bay as the next victim, er, team coming to Lambeau Field. The Packers are favored by 14 points over the 4-5 Buccaneers. The over-under is set at 48.5 points, the largest of this weekend's games.

Just a hunch, but my guess is the oddsmakers are figuring the Packers to put up the majority of those points. That's because Tampa is giving up 401.2 yards (31st in the NFL), 263.0 passing yards (28th) and 138.2 rushing yards (29th) through their first nine games. But, well, you know...until last week's game against the 'Queens, the Pack's defense wasn't exactly much to brag about either.

And that should really be the thing to watch in this game: the Packers' "D". Will it be the sieve-like bend-don't-break defense of the first eight games, or will we see a reprise of Monday night's game against Minnesota? If the latter, this Packers team is a juggernaut that is on its way to a second consecutive Super Bowl barring some freakish happening of which we must not speak. If the former, this Packers team...oh, heck...it's still a juggernaut, let's be honest.

But back to the game at hand: let's not forget that the Bucs had a couple impressive wins this season against Atlanta and New Orleans. But they also had some equally unimpressive showings against San Francisco and Houston, losing to the Niners 48-3 and the Texans 37-9. So who knows which team will show up? QB Josh Freeman, who had his coming out party a few years back in Tampa with an upset win over the Pack, is not having such a great season. The Packers defense, particularly if they play at the same level they did last week, should be able to keep that trend of mediocrity going for Mr. Freeman.

With QB Aaron Rodgers having a season of historic proportions, the Pack will once again exploit a bad defense despite Rodgers' prior difficulties against Tampa Bay teams. That was then, this is now. The Bucs don't generate much of a pass rush, either, but unless the offensive line plays better than it did Monday night the Packers might make that rush seem world class. Let's hope the offensive line has worked out its issues. The guard play Monday evening was especially poor. We can expect that will not happen two games in a row.

One of the other things to look for in this game is to see whether coach Mike McCarthy tries to get the running game going a bit more heading into the harsh winter months. Although game conditions in Green Bay today will be relatively balmy by late Novemeber standards, winter is on its way and the running game will need to be solidified. Look for James Starks to get most of the carries of what few there will likely be, with Ryan Grant also getting a handful. But the Packers' might also try to get recently elevated practice squad rookie RB Brandon Saine into the mix just to see what he can do. In interviews this past week, it was clear coaches see something in this young man and would like to see what he can do in game situations.

So, we could go on and on about this and that. But do we need to, really? Nah. Let's just make the call, shall we?

I'm calling it Packers 41, Buccaneers 16.

Go Pack Go!!!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Packers vs Vikings - The Sequel

Between the road games and the bye, tonight's game at Lambeau Field will be the first home game for the Pack in almost a month. It will also be the team's only appearance on Monday Night Football this season, believe it or not, although it's the third of their four scheduled prime-time games overall. The Packers are favored over the ViQueens by 12.5 to 13.5 points depending upon whose odds you look at for this sort of thing. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Packers beat writer extraordinare, Bob McGinn, notes, "The line tonight is the largest the Vikings have faced in Green Bay in 50 years." The over-under: 49.5 points.

So, what do we know about this game? Well, the Packers are 8-0, and 14-0 going back to last season. It's interesting, though: if the Packers were an East Coast team -- and we can thank all that is holy and right and green 'n' gold in the universe that they are not -- don't you think that ESPN et all would be going totally ape-hockey over the team and this game? Be thankful for the way things are. The players and coaches, by virtue of being in the soon-to-be frozen tundra of Green Bay, are a bit out of the way for the networks and reporters to cover regularly. That means they can concentrate on what they are getting paid to do: play football. Period. If a player wants to be a winner -- a Super Bowl Champion -- come to Green Bay. If you want to hang out at the trendiest clubs with your posse, good luck with that. See ya in Loserville, Bunky.

OK, sorry for the rant...where were we? Oh, yes, the game and what we know about it...

The Packers, barring an injury to uber-QB Aaron Rodgers, will put up points. Lots of points. The best the 'Queens can muster on defense, and he's good, let's be honest, is DE Jared Allen. The rest of their D-line is average, which still means the Packers offensive line has to show up to give Rodgers time to exploit a weak secondary. CB Antoine Winfield is probable for tonight. On offense, the 'Queens have the troublesome Adrian Peterson who will cause problems for the Packers as he usually does. Rookie QB Christian Ponder fared far too well in his first start -- against the Packers in the Humpty Dump, lest we forget -- and will probably cause a few problems on scrambles tonight. If WR Percy Harvin is in gear, he and TE Jim Kleinsasser are the main receiving threats for the 'Queens.

The fact is, the Packers have the 30th-ranked overall defense and the 31st-ranked pass defense. Unless some changes have been made, that defense will give up points. But it's bend-don't-break time once again. As with most games between these two teams it will be tight. I'd like to think the defense can stop a team before the last minute of a game in order to put things away early. But I doubt that will happen tonight.

So, I'm calling it Packers 34, ViQueens 27.

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Packers 45 - Chargers 38: Wild, Wild West Indeed

Oh man. The Green Bay Packers hung on to win their eighth consecutive game this season and fourteenth in a row going back to last season -- the latter a franchise record. In a San Diego stadium that had to feel a lot like Lambeau West, the Pack beat the Chargers 45-38 in a wild one that, like a few other games this season, should have been put away earlier but went down to the wire. Honestly, this is the type of game that takes years off your life as a Packers fan.

There will be enough post-mortems for you to chew on elsewhere if you care to. Suffice it to say here that the Packers offense is a remarkable machine, as is QB Aaron Rodgers. He needs better pass protection than he received today. But the defense needs MAJOR work. They have gotten stops when they need to. But they continue to exert little if any pass rush and give up huge yards in pass coverage, particularly when the linebackers wind up covering receivers and tight ends, as happened a lot today. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers and head coach Mike McCarthy have got to get this unit in gear. A couple blown coverages today gave the Chargers two very easy touchdowns. We've seen that in other games this season; half way through the schedule this type of breakdown should not be happening.

But the Pack is 8-0, the only undefeated team in the league. They have an extra day to get ready for the ViQueens on Monday Night Football at Lambeau Field, followed by the Buccaneers at home and then a short week before heading to Detroit to take on the Lions on Thanksgiving Day. It's a dangerous stretch of games. But the Pack is in the driver's seat and are getting well-positioned for another post-season run.

Say it with me: it's great to be a Packers fan!

Packers vs. Chargers Preview: Wild, Wild West

The Green Bay Packers are today making their first trip to San Diego since 2003; this is only the sixth time in the long history of the Packers that the team has played in "American's Finest City," as the city of San Diego so humbly refers to itself (it may not be LA or Hollywood, Packer fans, but it's close enough...it's still all about the hype). The Packers have won the last five straight matches between the two teams and are 5-0 all time in San Diego. Today, the Pack enters the game as 5.5-point favorites.

As all Packer fans are aware, the team is the only remaining undefeated team in the league at 7-0 and coming off their bye week. They should be well rested. The only players who were listed earlier in the week as definitely out were LT Chad Clifton and DE Mike Neal. Everyone else is available (although recall that rookie RB Alex Green was placed on the injured reserve list earlier in the week following his leg injury early in the game against the ViQueens; practice squad RB Brandon Saine took his spot on the 53-man roster). The Chargers, on the other hand, are coming off a short week after their Monday night loss at Kansas City. They are also injured.

Make no mistake, however, this could very well be a trap game for the Packers. The Bolts have looked bad in their last two consecutive game losses, especially last week against division rivals, the Kansas City Chiefs; they had penalties, turnovers, and you-name-it when they got near or into the red zone, particularly late in the game with a chance to win. The Chargers are 4-3, with the largest point loss being to the Patriots in week 2, 35-21; they are in every game. With QB Phil Rivers at the helm, huge receivers and one of the better tight ends in the game, the Chargers can present problems for a defense. Given the nature of the Packers "D" through the first 7 games of the schedule, unless things got tightened up over the bye and this last week of practice, it could be yet another tight but high-scoring game for both teams. In fact, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said this week that, “This is one of the best offenses we’ll face all year.”

This is a must-win type of game for the Chargers. If there is any game in which they will likely be at their best, this is it. As such, the Packers will also need to start fast, stay consistent, and finish strong in order to win this game. The Packers are the league's top scoring offense, at 32.9 points per game, and scoring at least 24 points in each game game so far, the only team in the league to accomplish that, as well. Driving this offense, as anyone who is even a mild observer of football knows, is QB Aaron Rodgers. He is the top quarterback in the league, at the moment. In fact, he's registered a quarterback rating of 110 or more in each of his 7 appearances so far this season -- the only quarterback in NFL history to do so! Oh, and did I mention that Rodgers just won another Offensive Player of the Month Award? But wait...there's more! Since last November -- LAST November -- nobody in the NFC other than Rodgers has won this award. A-wha...??? A-duh!!! Anytime, anywhere, Mr. Rodgers wants to do his "belt" routine, he's earned it.

The edge on offense has to go to the Packers, of course. Lots of weapons for the league's best passer -- and best player (there, I said it!) -- to choose from. Although when breaking things down, the edge in the running game goes to the double-headed San Diego rushing attack of Ryan Matthews and Mike Tolbert; the Packers will have to slow that threat down in order to keep the ball in Rivers hands and hopefully have him continue to make the kind of mistakes he has in recent weeks.

But what about the defense, in particular the Chargers' defense? Through 6 games, the Bolts have had just 10 sacks, ranking them 29th in the league. The biggest pass rush threat is Shaun Phillips but, like the Packers' Clay Matthews, he hasn't had much help from the rest of his crew. The Chargers minus-5 turnover differential is a reflection not only of how often their offense has shot itself in the foot, but that the defense only has recorded 7 turnovers in their first 6 games.

The Packers' brain trust has had two weeks to plan for this game. While there may be moments in this game that make you wonder what the heck's going on out there (paraphrasing a former Green Bay head coach whom you may have heard of), the only way the Packers lose is if they beat themselves. Look for the Pack to dial it up early and often on both sides of the ball.

We're calling this one 37-20 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Packers bye week meanderings

So here we are, heading into the eighth week of the NFL season...but there is no Green Bay Packers game. (Sigh)

Still, we Packer fans can cruise through this week and next with the blissful feelings that arise from rooting for the only 7-0 team in the league. And that we have the hottest quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, and arguably the best receiving corps in the league. Let's also not forget that we have a kicker who hasn't missed a field goal attempt yet this season, including a franchise record 58-yarder last Sunday in the Humpty Dump.

But, we also have some concerns as we roll into the bye. The defense has been yielding yards and big plays like Wisconsin trees are giving up their leaves right now: in bunches. Part of that seems to stem from a limited pass rush which allows even mediocre QBs to look like Pro Bowlers. Another part of this situation stems from injuries in the seconday; losing Nick Collins for the season was a definite blow. But having Tramon Williams and Sam Shields missing a game or two, as well as an always banged-up Charles Woodson, means a unit not at 100 percent. It's been giving up big yards but also making key stops when it needs to to secure a victory. But you have to believe that head coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers will be figuring out ways to goose the "D" for the post-bye games. If things don't get tightened up the Pack will wind up dropping games it should win.

Prediction Review
My pre-season prediction for the first seven weeks of the season had the Pack coming in at 6-1. I figured they'd win a game they shouldn't and likewise loose a game they shouldn't. As it turned out, they pulled out all the games, even those that seemed to be much closer than they needed to be. Looking ahead, I also suggested the Packers would go 7-2 after the bye. I'll stick with that. These next five games in particular will go a long way to telling us how far this team can go: at San Diego, home vs. the ViQueens (Monday night game), home against Tampa Bay, at Detroit (Thanksgiving Day) and at the NY Giants. Will be a very interesting stretch of games, with three out of five away. Nothing's easy in the NFL, and this is one of those stretches where that adage is really proven.

Jerry Kramer's PickPredict Contest!
The legendary Packers guard, Jerry Kramer, has been running a contest each week during the season. You can now enter it via the dedicated Jerry Kramer Contest link in the righthand column of this blog, immediately preceding the general Links section.

Here are the details:
  • The challenge: Pick the winner of this week's Packers game and predict the final score.
  • The reward: Autographed copies of Kramer's book "Instant Replay" and the Maple Street Press 2011 Packers Annual.
  • Bonus: If your winning entry includes the correct current "Contest Code" (find it @JerryKramer64GB on Twitter) you'll receive a copy of the "Inside the Locker Room" CD, too.
So...good luck! I thank you...and Jerry thanks you!

As always, it's great to be a Packers fan!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Packers beat Vikes to go to 7-0

The Green Bay Packers used a few spurts of dominating football over the hapless Minnesota Vikings Sunday to win their seventh straight game. Going back to last season, the Pack has now won 13 in a row. For those counting, this was the Packers 700th win as a franchise; only Da Bearz have more (725). And for those wondering when the last time was that the Pack started 7-0, it was 1962...also coming off a championship run.

Yesterday again showed how dominating the Packers can be when they have their offensive weapons firing on all cylinders. QB Aaron Rodgers was lights-out good, particularly early when he had 12 (?) consecutive completed passes. The first three incompletes registered were two drops and a spike. He threw for three TDs. Rodgers became the first player in NFL history to have seven straight games with a passer rating of 110 or more. Yowza!

Let's also not forget the two -- and nearly three -- interceptions by Charles Woodson, the late game running (6 carries for 55 yards) heroics of Jame Starks to help run out the clock on the Pack's last possession, and Mason Crosby's four-for-four on field goals, including his franchise record 58-yarder.

The defense gave up 175 yards on 24 carries to RB Adrian Peterson, who everyone knew coming in was going to get the ball a lot. He did and he ran with authority, giving Packer defenders fits most of the day. And while the rookie QB, Christian Ponder, acquitted himself fairly well in his first start, he also made rookie mistakes that helped aid the Packers in their win. We'll take it.

There are certainly areas for improvement on the Packers. Going into the break, the Packers need to be more consistent in the running game and in pass protection on offense, and in pass rush and pass coverage on defense. Given the Packers have a bye week now, you can be assured that defensive coordinator Dom Capers and head coach Mike McCarthy will be tweaking the schemes for the second half of the season.

Despite showing areas of vulnerability week after week, and taking years off the average Packer fan's lifespan, they are the only undefeated team in the league. They have yet to play a four-quarter game where everything is clicking. When that happens, imagine the fun! You almost will have to feel sorry for the other team. Almost.

So, enjoy your bye week. It's great to be a Packer fan!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Packers vs. Vikings Preview

With less than an hour to kickoff, we're finally getting our preview of the Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings game posted. Better late than never.

The Pack is favored by 9-1/2 in the re-inflated Humpty Dump in Minneapolis. Remember the days when that dome was the proverbial House of Horrors for the Packers? Not today, folks. Today, there will likely be as many Packer fans in attendance as home team fans. When the 'Queens are 1-5 and playing the 6-0 Packers, Minnesota fans bail. Can't blame them, really. After all, if the team doesn't get a new stadium deal approved it could be moving to Los Angeles just as did that old basketball team of the North Star state...you've heard of a team called the Lakers, right? But that's a whole other conversation. Back to the game at hand...

Now, don't expect the 'Queens to roll over. They have talented players, let's not forget, including RB Adrian Peterson and DE Jared Allen. But beyond that...? The decision was made this last week to bench starting veteran QB Donovan McNabb -- who seems to have nothing left -- in favor of first round draft pick Christian Ponder. The Pack's defense could have a big day should the 'Queens decide or need to pass a lot. On the other hand, one would expect the Minnesota coaching staff to be smart enough to have Ponder hand off about 30 times today to Peterson if they want to have any shot at upsetting the Packers. If the Packers contain Peterson, it's game, set, match Packers.

On the flip side, the ViQueens secondary is terrible. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and the receivers should have a huge day, assuming tackles Marshall Newhouse and Bryan Bulaga can keep Allen from harassing Rodgers. It would also be helpful in this regard if running backs Ryan Grant and James Starks can keep the 'Queens defense honest.

Inactive players today for the Packers are: Sam Shields, Robert Francois, Frank Zombo, Jamari Lattimore, Mike Neal, Chad Clifton and Ray Dominguez. Rookie DB Davon House is active today and should see playing time, although Jarrett Bush will be the nickel back.

While Minnesota has raced out to big leads in many of their games this season, they have collapsed in the second half. The Packers, with the exception of last week's game against the Rams, have generally gotten stronger as the game has gone on. Let's not forget, too, that the Packers' defense hasn't given up a touchdown in the last six quarters of play. What does this mean for today's game? I think the first half will likely be played relatively close, while the Pack turns it up in the second half.

My prediction: Packers 41 - ViQueens 20.

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Packers vs. Rams Preview

It's only about 30 minutes or so to game time, Packer fans. I've been under the weather and have roused myself to do my duty and at least get my prediction posted before game time (that is one of the criteria of a prediction, after all...saying what will happen before it actually does happen). The 5-0 Green Bay Packers are favored over the 0-4 St. Louis Rams by 14 points (or 15, depending upon which spread source you're looking at), with the over/under points being set at 47.5...most of which you'd have to figure will be coming from the Packers.

Still, head coach Mike McCarthy was reminding the Packers players all week that the Rams were coming off their bye week and had plenty of time to rest and get ready for the Pack. To be honest, he had to say something to try to keep the players motivated to not sleepwalk through this game. The Rams are simply not very good, owing to injury and player depth. All we need to do to illustrate this point is note that former Packers QB Al Harris -- whom we admire for his great years with the Pack -- will be starting at cornerback for the Rams. Do you think Aaron Rodgers might target his ol' teammate for a few passes? Actually, the Packers should have a big day no matter where Rodgers throws.

On offense, Rams' QB Sam Bradford hasn't been getting much protection. This would be a good day for the Packers' defense to crank up the pass rush. Running back Steven Jackson has always seemed to come up big against the Packers, but he can't do it all.

So, let's get this party started -- or at least this post posted -- and call it 38-14 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Packers vs. Falcons preview

Well, Packers fans, I'm baaaaaaack. Know you've missed the posts. But time away was needed. 'Nuff said about that.

Let's get on to the real reason you and I are here: the Green Bay Packers vs. the Falcons tonight in Atlanta. To be frank, I haven't had as much -- in fact, any -- time to do my usual preview and prediction the way I'd like to.

So, in the interest of time, let's just cut to the chase, shall we? The Packers are listed as 6-point favorites, with the over/under set at 53.5 points. So, the oddsmakers figure the scoreboard will be lighting up all night long, with the Pack winning by 6. Many of the pundits are also calling for a shootout.

The Packers' secondary is capable of surrendering big plays, but also capable of coming up with turnovers. The Pack's defensive front has generally been pretty darn good against the run, which is a good thing since they have generally had trouble corralling RB Michael Turner in games played. The Pack's defense can give up points, but the Pack's offense will get 'em back and more.

This could be a game the Pack let's slip away from them. But I still believe the Packers are the better team, Aaron Rodgers is the better quarterback, and the Pack comes out on top. Let's call this one in favor of the Packers, 34-27. For the record, someone else I know and admire (she knows who she is) is calling it 38-17 in favor of the Pack. Is she great or what?!

Go Pack Go!!!!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Packers handle Bears, 27-17

The Green Bay Packers are sitting atop the NFC North at 3-0 after beating Da Bearz 27-17 in Chicago today. Yes, Detroit is also 3-0. Wait...wha-a? Detroit? Well, yes, but this isn't about the up and coming Lions. This story is about the defending Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.

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

Packers vs. Bears: this is what it's all about

OK, actually, it's not what it's all about. But a cliche sounded appropriate at the moment. It's actually all about winning Super Bowl Championships. But beating Da Bearz is a close second for most Green Bay Packers fans. As we know, this is the NFL’s oldest rivalry, and Sunday's game marks Game No. 184 in the all-time series. The season series has been split two of the past three years (the Pack swept Da Bearz in 2009).

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

Packers' Nick Collins lost for season

It's not a matter of whether Green Bay Packers safety Nick Collins will be ready for Da Bearz this coming Sunday, now it's a matter of having him ready for next season. That's if he will be back next season. Yes, that's right. The Packers have lost Collins for the remainder of the 2011 season due to the neck injury he sustained in yesterday's game against the Panthers; he was carted off the field strapped to a board.

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.

Packers escape Carolina with second win

We've now had a night to sleep on the events that transpired during the Green Bay Packers' victory over the Carolina Panthers. It was a game which certainly didn't play out as many, including yours truly, expected.

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

Packers vs. Panthers preview

It's less than three hours to kickoff between the Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers as I write this, and a prediction needs to be made. Is there any doubt what that will be? No. The Packers will win this game. Not that it will be a cake walk, of course. After all, there is a rookie quarterback on the other side who put up record passing numbers in his debut last week. But that was against Arizona. Puh-leze.

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

Packers DE Mike Neal out indefinitely

The man pegged to replace DE Cullen Jenkins in the Green Bay Packers defense this season is now on the shelf for a while. How long will Mike Neal be lost? Don't know. All head coach Mike McCarthy would say today is that Neal would be out "a significant amount of weeks."

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

Packers vs. Saints: just a few points

Finally getting the time to jot down just a few points about Thursday night's NFL season-opening extravaganza in Green Bay. A lot has already been said and written about the Packers 42-34 win over the Saints.

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

Packers game 1 review: 42-34 over Saints

Alrighty, Packer fans, we have one win in the books to start the 2011 season for the Green Bay Packers. Yes! It was a shootout with the New Orleans Saints, to say the least. When the final score is 42-34, and there's over 800 combined yards of offense, that pretty well qualifies.

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

Packers vs. Saints: Season Opener Preview

Alrighty then, Packer fans...this is the moment we've waited for since our beloved Green Bay Packers hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl XLV: kickoff to the 2011 season and a run at back-to-back Super Bowl championships.

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!!!

Season Prediction
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

Packers set 2011 roster and practice squad

Saturday was the day the Green Bay Packers decided on the 53 players that will take them back to the Super Bowl. In the process, 27 players were either cut, traded or put on injured reserve. Today, Sunday, was the day some of those players got a reprieve by clearing waivers and getting signed to the Packers' practice squad.

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
Undrafted rookie wide receiver/returner Shaky Smithson and rookie defensive end Lawrence Guy were placed on injured reserve.

Quick takes on this roster: long on linebackers, defensive backs and tight ends, a bit light on offensive linemen and running backs.

Practice Squad
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
Still, having two unproven rookies as your only O-line backups for depth leads many in the sports world to believe that Ted Thompson will pick up a veteran, perhaps before the season opener against the Saints on Thursday.

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!!!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Packers' cuts begin with Havner, Swain

All NFL teams have to get their rosters down to 80 players by Tuesday's deadline. With 86 players on the roster for Friday's game versus the Colts, the Packers today released veteran TE Spencer Havner, WR Brett Swain, and undrafted rookie OT Theo Sherman. Both Havner and Swain were victims of the upgraded quality and number of players at their respective positions, as well as injuries which have hampered them last season and this camp.

There will be three more cuts by Tuesday. The more difficult cuts for Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy will come after the last preseason game versus the Chiefs.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Packers vs. Colts preseason recap

First things first. It was a lackluster performance. I'm referring to my golf game in the charity scramble I played in yesterday. Guess that's what happens when you don't swing a golf club for two months. Good shot, bad shot, good shot, bad shot. Yikes. But at least the kitties and dogs at the shelter benefited from my angst-filled participation. And really, that's the important thing, right?

I guess in some ways, though, we could say this scenario played out a bit for the Packers in Indy last night. Now, to be honest, I saw only the very end of the first half and the first few minutes of the second half. Listened to more of the second half on the radio. But...and here's the important part...I missed the ending. And never heard the final score. I went to bed last night thinking the Packers had lost 21-13.

Soooooooo...imagine my shock -- and awe (wait, where have I heard that expression before???) -- when I hit the 'net this morning to find that the Packers WON 24-21. Huh? Really? What the heck did I miss?

Apparently, a great ending. and for the rest of the Packer fans out there who also missed out, allow me to quote the great Packers reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Bob McGinn, who said in his article, "The Packers won it with their shock troops, scoring a touchdown on an 11-yard pass to tight end Ryan Taylor with 35 seconds left, a 2-point conversion on another pass to Taylor and a field goal from 50 yards by Mason Crosby as time expired."

I guess it didn't surprise me that the Packers scored a late TD and 2-point conversion. But when I read that Crosby hit a 50-yarder to win the game as time expired...? Especially after he missed a 41-yarder earlier? A 50-yarder at the end of the game to win? This has been the knock on Crosby. Strong leg. But like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, when it comes to Crosby with the game on the line you never know what you're going to get. To be honest, we still don't. But let's look at this kick as the proverbial glass-half-full type of thing: perhaps there is hope that Crosby can do this with the game on the line in the regular season. Coach Mike McCarthy never seems to hesitate to throw him out there for those 50+ yard kicks. So, fingers crossed on this front.

Other than QB Aaron Rodgers slicing and dicing the Colts from the no-huddle offense, and getting hit more times than you want to see because of the O-line (particularly Chad Clifton and Josh Sitton) having breakdowns, the other key observation that reports of the game make clear is that third-string QB Graham Harrell is showing that he may just have what it takes to be the backup to Rodgers when Matt Flynn is either traded or lost in free agency next season. While tossing an interception that led to the Colts going up 21-13, Harrell had the moxy (there's a word you don't hear every day, Edgar) to get his you-know-what together and engineer an 11-play, 73-yard TD drive that made the score 21-19 Colts. On both the TD pass and the ensuing 2-point conversion, Harrell connected with WR Ryan Taylor who, truth be told, is another one of those young receivers that is showing that he can play. If not in Green Bay, somewhere in the league.

And then, the Packers pulled off an onside kick. Cool. Well done.

Next up, Harrell gets the Packers close enough for Crosby to boot the game-winner as time experied. Even more cool.

But let's back up a second. Why, late in a preseason game, would Coach McCarthy go for a 2-pointer and an onside kick? Most coaches (e.g., Lovie Smith) would have mailed it in. Take the loss that doesn't count anyway and go home. Not McCarthy. He wants to set a tone with his players that winning matters. Always. Hmmm...sounds a great deal like another coach that walked the sidelines for the Packers once upon a time, doesn't it? That coach built a dynasty. And with the depth of personnel the Packers have now, especially at key skill positions, with the coaching staff, and with GM Ted Thompson working his magic, Coach McCarthy could also be creating a new Packers dynasty. Not as straightforward as it may have been in Lombardi's time; not that it was a piece of cake then, either. But it's still possible. And McCarthy's got the mindset, it seems, to draw the best from the players he has to work with.

Interesting stat: the Packers had 45 different players start last season. The Colts had 38. They were the two teams devastated by injuries more than any other last season. And yet, McCarthy and his staff got those players and guys off the street (in football terms anyway) ready to roll all the way to and through the Super Bowl.

That attitude has to permeate the entire organization and the players have to get it. Really get it. That starts in the preseason. And that's why Coach McCarthy played out the end of the game the way he did. And, apparently, to see the way the players reacted they definitely were taking this as not just another meaningless preseason game. They're getting it. To read a great article about McCarthy's choices at the end of the game, check out Rob Demovsky's piece at packersnews.com.

One other good outcome, at least as far as we know, is that there were no major injuries. However, both Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley did get nicked up a bit before halftime. Nelson had a knee bruise and Finley sprained an ankle. Neither of them were going to play in the second half and both stayed in the locker room for treatment.

Next up: the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night at Lambeau Field in the preseason closer.

Go Pack Go!!!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Packers vs. Cardinals preseason game recap

The Green Bay Packers defeated the Arizona Cardinals 28-20 at Lambeau Field last night in the second of four preseason games.

What were this writer's observations? Probably the same as many who either were at the game or saw it on TV: it's a preseason game. In other words, there was some good, some bad and lots of so-so. How's that for an insightful analysis? Actually, it must be on target because many of the folks who get paid to cover this stuff have said basically the same thing. (By the way, for any media enterprises out there that would like to pay me to relate these pithy commentaries to your readers/viewers/listeners...let's talk...and now, back to your regularly scheduled programming....)

On offense, the first few series for the number one unit were pretty lackluster until things shifted into gear with the no-huddle offense. QB Aaron Rodgers seemed to get into more of a rhythm, connecting with multiple receivers and finally hitting on a great back shoulder endzone toss to Greg Jennings. It was nice to see TE Jermichael Finley back in the lineup and he looks ready to go. Ditto for Ryan Grant, although head coach Mike McCarthy made it clear in his post-game comments that he knows Grant needs more reps this next week at Indianapolis. Second-year RB James Starks was held out, which helped set the stage for our first look at rookie RB Alex Green. Green didn't disappoint. He reeled off a 25-yard gain on a screen play and two plays later powered into the endzone for a two-yard touchdown score. Green needs help on his Lambeau Leap, however. That'll come around. As, hopefully, will his blitz pick ups; he missed one which resulted in backup QB Matt Flynn taking a hit.

But Green wasn't alone in the missed-blocks area. More concerning were the hits and sacks allowed by the starting offensive line on Aaron Rodgers. T.J. Lang, starting at left guard, missed an assignment. But to be fair, so did the usually steady RG Josh Sitton. When rookie Derek Sherrod took over at left guard it became clear he is not yet ready to start. His pad level was too high, his foot work was slow, and he did not use his hands well enough. It would seem that trying to make Sherrod into a guard when he appears to be more naturally suited to the tackle position is an experiment worth trying, but also ending. Let the youngster apprentice behind Chad Clifton.

Another standout on offense last night was WR Chastin West, who wound up converting a sideline route into a 97-yard touchdown from Matt Flynn. The Packers already have 5 receivers that are locks to make the squad: Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb. But West's performance will sure give coaches something to think about. Would they carry six receivers? Doubtful. But we didn't think they'd carry three fullbacks last season either.

Third-string quarterback Graham Harrell also had an impressive performance. Given that Matt Flynn will be a free agent next season, it's great to see Harrell really step up his grasp of the offense and decisive play. He had some great throws, as well.

On defense, C.J. Wilson, filling in for the injured Mike Neal, who was replacing the departed Cullen Jenkins, had to leave the game early with what was reported to be a concussion. That meant Jarius Wynn and others got more playing time at defensive end. Asked about the injuries, GM Ted Thompson indicated that he still didn't think he'd have to look for a free agent to help bolster the D-line.

Defensive back Josh Gordy continues to get playing time and make an impression. He's giving Pat Lee, and maybe others, a run for the money in a backup role.

The defense played things pretty vanilla last night, and at times seemed to be a bit lost, especially in coverage by the backups. Starting outside linebackers were giving the corners far too easily on the runs by Beanie Wells in particular. Not much on this side of the ball to write home about...as I said at the outset, so-so.

But the bottom line was a win. It doesn't really count, of course. But on a beautiful August evening in Green Bay, Wisconsin -- Titletown -- the fans got to see some of the favorites for a few plays and then got to take a look at some of the young players competing for a handful of spots on what still looks like a championship caliber team.

All that can be said a the moment is that it's great to be a Packer fan!

Go Pack Go!!!