Sunday, January 13, 2013

Packers get Kaepernick-rolled

A kid born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and who rooted for the Green Bay Packers growing up, wound up handing that team one of the most embarrassing playoff defeats in its history as quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners rolled the Packers 45-31 Saturday night at Candlestick Park.

Colin Kaepernick tore the Packers a new one, so to speak, both on the ground and in the air. He set an NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback, and accounted for more than 400 total yards. The Packers defense had no answer for Kaepernick. The Pack looked to be playing against an offense that wasn't being run. As a result, they were out of position and ultimately outplayed.

We can say more, and may very well. But the emotional hangover is one which is going to last a while. So for now, we'll point you to a great article in the Milwaukee Journal by Bob McGinn for some analysis. And if you want a real eye-opener, read this insight from Tom Silverstein about the ongoing failures of the Packers' defense year after year in the playoffs.

That will have to do until this fan recovers.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Packers vs. 49ers: let's roll!

In less than three hours from the time of this posting, the Green Bay Packers meet the San Francisco 49ers in Candlestick Park for an NFC Divisional Playoff game. The Niners are favored by three points...home field advantage. San Fran had a bye last week by virtue of their Number 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. The Packers, as we know, beat the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field in the Wildcard round. The winner of tonight's game will meet tomorrow's winner of the Seattle vs. Atlanta game. If the Packers win -- and we know they will, right? -- and Seattle wins, the Packers will host the Seahawks at Lambeau Field next weekend in the NFC Championship Game; if the Falcons win, the Pack will travel to Atlanta next weekend for the Championship Game.

Those are the stakes.

What are the chances for a Packers' win?
In a word: very good. Of course, some might say the same about the 49ers' chances tonight. These two teams are arguably the best in the NFC, despite Atlanta's #1 seeding and the hot streak that Seattle is on behind Rookie of the Year candidate (and former Wisconsin Badgers star) QB Russell Wilson. The Packers have the best quarterback in the NFC, particularly come playoff time, in Aaron Rodgers. The Niners have a dangerous, second-year QB in the person of Colin Kaepernick. The edge goes to the Packers in this department. But only if the Pack's offensive line keeps pressures and sacks to a minimum. If Rodgers is sacked five or more times during the game, stats show the odds are that the Packers will lose the game. With the return of DE Justin Smith to the 49ers' lineup, and Aldon Smith coming from the other side, the Packers' O-line will have their collective hands full. The Niners linebackers could also make life difficult for Rodgers if protection fails.

A key part of keeping Rodgers upright this evening will be the ability of the Packers' running game to keep up the pace it has over the past month or so. In the first meeting of the season between these two teams, the leading rusher was Rodgers. If that happens again tonight, the Packers will lose. The Pack will once again likely have street free agent DuJuan Harris -- who seems to be turning into another Ted Thompson diamond in the rough -- as the starter at running back. He brings elusiveness, speed and surprising power in a Barry Sanders-sized package. If he is half as good as Barry tonight, it can be a very good evening for the Packers. An efficient running game, with more than 100 yards combined via the running-back-by-committee, will likely mean Rodgers will have the ability to work the passing game. And if Rodgers can work that, and distribute the ball as he did against the ViQueens (for example, to 10 different receivers), the Pack will likely come out on top. We have more offensive weapons than do the Niners. But that will matter little if Rodgers doesn't have the time to use them.

Thus, the biggest factors on offense likely affecting the chances of the Packers winning this evening will be control of the line by the Packers and the rushing game. Oh, that and no turnovers by the Packers. That's always good. Especially on the road and in a playoff game.

As to what the Packers need to do on defense, the key will be containing RB Frank Gore, shutting down WR Michael Crabtree and TE Vernon Davis, and making QB Colin Kaepernick win the game. This will be a formidable task. Kaepernick has a strong arm. He can throw long and on target. He also can beat you with his feet. He can be 15 yards downfield very quickly when flushed from the pocket. Containing him from getting those types of breakaway runs will be key for the Pack. Facing a big running-type quarterback last week in the form of Joe Webb at least gave the Packers a chance to deal with a similar style. The difference is that Webb couldn't beat you with his arm if contained; Kaepernick could.

If the Packers defense plays at the level it did in last week's game, it bodes well for picking up the win. Especially if the Packers can generate a timely turnover or two and convert those into points.

The Prediction
To no one's surprise -- at least not to anyone who is a regular reader of this blog -- we're calling this in favor of the Packers, 27-24. I have a feeling that the Packers could actually win by a wider margin, but on paper it's a toss up and that's why we're keeping the score close. Let's hope it isn't as close when the actual game concludes.

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Packers storm Vikings 24-10

The NFL Wildcard game at Lambeau Field last evening between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings unfolded a bit differently than expected. The outcome was the same: a victory, as most had predicted, including yours truly, by a final score of 24-10. But how it all played out was...different.

Ponder out, Webb in
First, and to the surprise of many, ViQueens QB Christian Ponder was declared inactive a mere few hours before the game. The injury to his passing arm elbow sustained when it hit Packers' defensive back Morgan Burnett's helmet in last week's game led to a bad case of bursitis. So bad, he couldn't throw.

Enter back up QB, Joe Webb, who hadn't taken a snap or thrown a pass the entire regular season. Playoff game. Primetime Saturday night. January. Lambeau Field. Against the Packers. Good luck with that, young man. To no one's surprise, Webb's efforts came up woefully short. He had 6 passing yards in the first half. He finished with 180 yards, 1 touchdown and one interception. Fifty of those total yards came on a blown pass coverage that went for a late TD. Webb was also stripped of the ball in the pocket by LB Clay Matthews who then recovered the fumble. He ran 7 times for 68 yards, usually being flushed from the pocket; his longest run was 17 yards.

The other key difference to this game as compared to the first two times these teams met was that the Packers defense was able to keep likely league MVP RB Adrian Peterson from having his usual breakout game. The Pack actually kept him to 99 yards...a good day for any normal running back, but about half his average against the Packers this season. By bottling up Peterson -- who carried 22 times with a long run of 18 yards -- the Packers put the game in Webb's hands. In this regard, the Packers' defensive scheme was the same as they had planned for going into the game. The difference was that it was Webb not Ponder who would then have to win the game for the 'Queens. That became an impossibility almost from the moment the game started, despite Minnesota's first drive which resulted in them going up 3-0.

The return of Charles Woodson
Another difference from both of the two prior games between these two teams was the presence this time of future Hall of Fame cornerback, Charles Woodson. After missing about two months of the regular season with a broken collarbone, Woodson returned last evening and was his usual relentless self. He made tackles, got after the short, all the things that Woodson does best. He also seemed to be quick last night, no doubt due to having fresh legs from the time off. For sports reporters, asked about the difference Woodson makes, compare him to LeRoy Butler late in Butler's career. He makes sure everyone is lined up correctly and has their assignments. He provides the real veteran leadership among a generally young defensive unit. If some Packers fans were wondering what difference Woodson would make given how well the young secondary has performed going down the stretch of the season, I think you saw it last night. And with another young and playoff un-tested QB coming up this Saturday in the person of 49ers rookie Colin Kaepernick (born in Milwaukee, by the way), Woodson can again play a big role in defensive coordinator Dom Capers' disruptive schemes.

A tale of two offenses
For as dominating as the Packers offense was in the first half and opening drive of the second half, it stalled out for most of the second half. In fact, the Pack only had one first down in roughly the final 25 minutes of the game, and finished with five three-and-outs on the team's final six possessions. Not great. What they were doing, some might argue, was protecting a three touchdown lead, being up 24-3 early in the third quarter. Others might say they took their collective foot off the pedal. Aaron Rodgers mentioned the latter in an on-field post-game interview. He alluded to not really throwing a knockout punch when you have a team on the ropes. Guard T.J. Lang mentioned it in an article by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sportswriter, Tyler Dunne. Lang said, among other things, "Whenever you're not playing up to your capabilities, that's very disappointing, very frustrating. I'm just speaking for the line here, but we have to do a better job. We had way too much penetration, guys in the backfield, negative yardage. We have to make sure we clean up what we're doing up front."

For as moribund as the Packers offense was for most of the second half, it earlier was able to put the Minnesota defense back on its heels through a balanced run-pass attack. RB DuJuan Harris got the start last night and made the most of his opportunities, accounting for 100 yards in total combined yardage. Rodgers spread his passes around to 10 different receivers on the night, all of whom combined to give the Packers' QB 274 yards passing for the evening. The ViQueens defenders took away most of the deep threats, so Rodgers and company used swing passes and short routes to go underneath. Oh, and did we mention that FB John Kuhn had two rushing TDs on the night?

San Francisco here we come...
With the Wildcard victory the Packers now travel to San Francisco for a meeting with the 49ers next Saturday evening. The Packers are 4-1 all-time in playoff appearances vs. San Francisco, 2-1 at Candlestick Park, with the only loss being in 1998.

This is Aaron Rodgers' neck of the woods. He'll want to perform well, and all expectations are that he will. The Niners beat the Packers in this season's home opener at Lambeau. But Alex Smith was the quarterback then. Kaepernick is the QB now. He'll bring a different set of challenges to the Packers defense. But as a rookie starting his first playoff game, the Packers should be able to throw enough at him to benefit from any mistakes. How well the Packers offense can perform, for a full 60 minutes, against one of the best defenses in the NFL, will likely ultimately be the key to the game. Early odds have the Packers as 3 point underdogs going into the game.

We'll have more on this game as the week unfolds. Stay tuned...

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Packers vs. Vikings: two out of three isn't bad

When it comes to this regular season's games between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings, it's been a draw. Each team has won at home. Vikes' RB Adrian Peterson has been his superhuman self in both games, rushing for 409 yards combined...nearly as much as the Packers' leading rusher for the entire season. True (look it up!). Aaron Rodgers has been his stellar self in both games. His counterpart, Christian Ponder, was cold in the first game and quite good in the second, arguably accounting for the difference in that second game. (Well, that and the strip of Rodgers as he was attempting to throw which was eventually turned into 7 points for the Vikes. When the margin of victory is a last-second field goal to make the final margin 3 points...well, we all know turnovers can make the difference between a win and a loss.)

A view on the defensive needs
That's a very brief review of two hard-fought football games. What's on store for tonight's Wildcard game? Likely, more of the same. Figure Peterson to rack up big yards despite the Packers insistence that they will not let him run wild as in the first two games. Good luck with that. He may or may not get 200 yards. But if the Packers want to stay in control of this game, it needs to go more of the way of Game 1 in the series and less like Game 2. In the first, Peterson got big yards. But about 150 yards of his 210 yard total came on just three runs. In the second game, his 199 yards came on more than 30 carries. That difference allowed the Packers in the first game to put a lot of pressure on Ponder to win the game. He couldn't, and in fact had a very poor quarterback rating overall. In the second game, the Pack did not pressure Ponder and Ponder performed very well.

We're not sure which Ponder we'll see tonight or, in fact, how much of him we'll see tonight. The latest reports are that he's suffering elbow bursitis in his throwing arm from an injury sustained in last week's game, and might actually have to have it drained before the game. Reports say the team will work him out a few hours before the game to see how he looks. Given the temperature tonight, you can't imagine bursitis is going to help Ponder's passing game any. He has been performing better down the stretch than earlier in the season, but the Packers must get pressure on him if he plays. That pressure has to come from more than just LB Clay Matthews. With the Packers getting Charles Woodson back for this game, expect schemes to bring Woodson and others to pressure Ponder. It also has to be the case, unlike last week, that when the ViQueens are in third-and-long, that the Packers rush more than three linemen. Failure to do that last week burned the Pack on more than one occasion. They have to bring a rush or, given time, Ponder may again make plays...if he's able to play. If Ponder can't start or finish the game, back up Joe Webb was getting practice reps this week just in case. You can read more on Ponder's status here.

Pack needs to get up early
One of the real keys to this game will be a fast start by the Packers on offense. They need to get up on Minnesota early, by 10-14 points, and have the 'Queens play from behind. That will put the ball more in the hands of Ponder and not allow Minnesota to merely hand off every play to Peterson. If the Packers are able to do this, a victory should be in hand.

Getting up early should be possible especially considering that for the first time since Week 4 of the season all of the Pack's top four receivers will be available...and healthy. Combine the multiple wide receiver options with the rejuvenated play of TE Jermichael Finley and the steady running game being contributed by Alex Green, DuJuan Harris and Ryan Grant, and the Packers have the advantage.

The Pack must avoid turnovers and giving up the big play. Tackling has to be an emphasis, something they have not excelled in when playing the Vikes. Special teams play also has to be as good as it has been for most of the season. Again, last week's game saw the return teams allow Minnesota to start in far too good field position most times; a short field is not something you want to hand to Adrian Peterson.

Packers' kicker Mason Crosby seems to have put his struggles aside; he's 4 for 4 the last two games. May that continue. Kicking conditions will not exactly be ideal tonight. But Crosby has to come through when called upon. Let's hope the game doesn't come down to a field goal. Because the ViQueens have a good young kicker on their side, as well.

The prediction
The Packers are favored by 7-1/2 points. The game is at home, outdoors. The ViQueens have not won an outdoor game all season long. Everything points to a tough game, but a Packers win. The Packers have to play as they are capable of playing and not just think they'll win because of the Lambeau Field advantage. In fact, when you look at those stats, the Packers are 2-4 at home in the last six playoff games held at Lambeau, including losses to two dome teams, the Falcons and the Vikings, during that stretch. It's time the Pack gets its Frozen Tundra mojo back. That starts tonight. The Packers will finish this series winning two out of three from Minnesota this season.

We're calling it 27-20 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

Friday, January 04, 2013

Packers vs. Vikings Part 3: The Wildcard

As all the sports world knows, the Green Bay Packers will face the Minnesota Vikings for the second time in six days tomorrow evening on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. The Packers won the first game several weeks ago, and the Vikes took the game on Sunday. This game? Well, it will be cold. But as Packer fans we hope that, in the end, the ViQueens feel much colder much longer than the Packers. As in the entire offseason.

The build up in sports talk shows all week has been who will have the greater impact, Aaron Rodgers or Adrian Peterson? As fans of the Green-and-Gold, we know the answer. A-Rod will be the ultimate difference-maker. Particularly as he will have all his top receivers available for the first time since Week 4 of the regular season. Given the uptick and consistency in the Packers' running game, and Christian Ponder as the opposing quarterback...c'mon...the edge goes to the Packers.

There will be much more to say tomorrow, including our game prediction. So check back then. Or follow us on Twitter (@packfansunited) for updates throughout the day.

Go Pack Go!!!

Thursday, January 03, 2013

A flashback to Packers vs. Lions

Some special things happened during the December 2 game between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field. First, the Packers won 27-20 in the snow flurries. Secondly, the Packers kept their 22-game winning streak in Wisconsin over the Lions going. Thirdly, and most importantly, it was that game that put the Pack up a full game over division rival Chicago, setting the stage for that coming Sunday's game against Da Bearz. This was the start of the Packers nailing down the NFC North. (You can read the total recap of the game here.)

Another of the special things that happened prior to the Packers vs. Lions game was the appearance by Larry the Cable Guy at the official Packers Tailgate Party. Larry was making his last stop on a tour promoting the Wild American Flavor Sweepstakes on behalf of Prilosec OTC Wildberry. Larry, you see, is a frequent heartburn sufferer (who knew?). So this was a natural for him. He also met up with former Packers' nose tackle, Gilbert Brown, who showed him the ins and outs of how tailgating is really done.

The video below shows what they got up to.

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