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.)