Saturday, October 25, 2014

Week 8: Packers vs. Saints Preview and Prediction

The 5-2 Green Bay Packers travel to N'awlins Sunday evening to take on the 2-4 Saints. Despite the records, the Saints are currently two-point favorites given that their two wins are at home this season, and generally the Saints do win at home. It's a tough place for opponents. Even for a team as hot as the Packers, who thoroughly demolished the Carolina Panthers last weekend at Lambeau.

We have to remember, though, that the Saints offense can put up a lot of points if given the chance. Oddsmakers apparently expect this to be a shootout in the Dome, establishing the over-under line at 55-1/2 points, the largest point total of this NFL weekend. One other stat of note for Packers fans is that historically the Packers do not do well the game before their bye week, which is the case with this game. Will the team be focused on football or a week away from football? We'll see.

We won't have to worry about the Packers offense, despite the Dome noise and the defense which the Saints will likely bring hard and often to put pressure on QB Aaron Rodgers. The best way to help offset that pressure will be to get the running game going. That means Eddie Lacy is going to have to have one of his better games of the season. And he's geared to do just that if you take him at his word. We don't know about RB James Starks' availability just yet as the injury list hasn't been put out at the time of this writing. With a good showing in last week's game, he had to leave late with an ankle injury. We think it's likely he's going to be listed as probable for the game, but if he can't go DuJuan Harris might be the main backup to Lacy. That would give the Packers a quickness and elusiveness that neither Lacy or Starks brings, particularly on artificial turf. We'll have to wait to see what shakes out.

Packers DB Davon House has been coming on strong since his injury last season.
Photo by Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

As for the Packers defense, it will likely be missing some key players. Datone Jones is already listed as out, with Morgan Burnett questionable and Sam Shields doubtful. If Burnett can't go, both Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Sean Richardson will get plenty of playing time. You hate to lose Burnett, but Packer fans certainly have to have confidence in the play of both Richardson and Clinton-Dix. From an area of weakness last season, the Packers have arguably assembled one of the best defensive backfields in the league at this point in the season. They are deep and talented. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Packers reporter par excellence, Bob McGinn, is actually proposing that the Pack trade one of their cornerbacks before the 3 p.m. Tuesday deadline...although he admits that's not Ted Thompson's M.O.)

The Packers defensive line will need to pressure Saints QB Drew Brees, not an easy thing to do. He's one of the elite quarterbacks in the game. He has plenty of tools in his offensive arsenal. It's unclear whether TE Jimmy Graham will play or how much. But if he does, he's exactly the type of tight end that gives Packers defenders fits: big, strong and with good hands. He's a coverage nightmare for defenders. Let's hope he stays on the bench.

The Prediction
I'm posting this preview and prediction a bit earlier than it may be subject to revision before game time.

But as of this moment, I see it this way: Packers 34 - Saints 30.

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Week 7: Packers vs. Panthers Preview and Prediction

After a nailbiter last weekend in Miami, with the Green Bay Packers pulling out a 27-24 win over the Dolphins in the final seconds of the game to squish the Fish, the Packers today play host to the Carolina Panthers and one of the most dangerous players in the league, Cam Newton.

What do we look for today? Packers QB Aaron Rodgers should have a big day against a porous and aging Panthers secondary. The front seven for Carolina can and likely will present challenges to the Pack, but as fast as Rodgers gets the ball out of his hands, he and the Pack's talented receiving corps should rack up yardage and points.

It would help, of course, if the Packers could once again get their running game going. Eddie Lacy had 14 carries for just 40 yards in the game against the Fins. James Starks provided a much-needed spark late in the game and particularly in the game-winning drive. We may see a similar rotation today unless the offensive line can create enough push for Lacy to get up a head of steam. Starks provides a different running style for the defense to worry about and head coach Mike McCarthy has apparently figured out if Lacy isn't making it happen there's another very good back available who just might do so.

On the opposite side of the ball, the Packers defense has two things to worry about: Cam Newton and Cam the runner, one the passer.

With limited offensive weapons, Carolina has resorted to running a read-option type offense. Newton, at 6'5" and 245 pounds, has a strong arm and strong legs. If he has someone to throw to, he can rack up the passing yards. Today, however, especially given the Packers well-known troubles stopping an option-style offense, I'd expect to see Newton run often. Until the Packers defense shows they can contain a running quarterback -- whether it be Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, or, today, Cam Newton -- they will always be tested early and often.

The Packers defense has swarmed to get key stops when needed this season.
Photo by Rick Wood, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The Packers defense has come up with big stops when they've needed them this season. They've generated turnovers. And, thankfully, they have depth in the defensive backfield because they will be without Sam Shields and most likely Tramon Williams, as well. Fortunately, Casey Hayward and Davon House are there to step in. With LB Brad Jones returning to the lineup after the injury to Jamari Lattimore last week, the Packers linebackers can and will be challenged to contain Newton. If they can do that, it's the Packers game.

This is a game the Pack should win, especially at home. If they let one player -- Newton -- take over the game, they don't deserve to win. But they will. Green Bay is slotted as 6-1/2 point favorites today. I think the Packers blow this game open...but I think the final score may be closer than the actual game play would indicate.

We're calling it 31-27 in favor of the Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Week 6: Packers vs. Dolphins Preview & Prediction

The Green Bay Packers travel to balmy Miami to take on the Dolphins about an hour from now. The weather forecast is hot and muggy, just the kind of weather that can wear down defensive players in particular if they are on the field too long. Throw in the possibility of thunderstorms and this could be a game where the conditions perhaps more than the talent determines the outcome of the game.

Favored by anywhere from 2-1/2 to 3 points depending upon who you are looking at for your spread, the 3-2 Packers will find themselves challenged by the 2-2 Fins. Perhaps to the surprise of many Packer fans, Miami actually leads the head-to-head series, 10-3.

Coached by former Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, the Dolphins run a spread offense with Ryan Tannehill as the quarterback. He's fast and can scramble, which is exactly the type of quarterback that seems to give the Packers defense all sorts of problems (e.g., Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick). If the Packers defense can keep Tannehill in the pocket and force him to pass, however, they have opportunities to generate turnovers; he's not so great with his decision-making or downfield accuracy. The Packers defensive line will be tested with a pretty solid running attack; Lamar Miller is expected to split carries with Knowshon Moreno throughout the game.

But the defensive line is perhaps the best asset the Fins have going for them. If the Packers offensive line doesn't maintain the aggressive attitude they put on display early and often against the ViQueens, it could be another tough rushing day for Eddie Lacy, who will split carries more often today, it is expected, with James Starks.

QB Aaron Rodgers
Photo by Mike Dinovo, USA TODAY Sports

It could also be a day where QB Aaron Rodgers -- who plays in his 100th career regular-season game -- sees pressure like he did earlier this season. But we expect that Rodgers, his linemen, tight ends and wide receivers will present enough challenges to the Fins defense that his 100th career regular-season game will also get the Pack their fourth win of the 2014 NFL season.

The Prediction
Assuming the Packers can weather the weather (see what I did there?), the better quarterback should lead his team to victory. In the match up between Rodgers and Tannehill, "Who ya got?". I'll take Rodgers.

I'm calling this one Packers 27 - Dolphins 20.

Go Pack Go!!!

Friday, October 03, 2014

Packers stomp Vikings 42-10 in Thursday night blowout

This was the Green Bay Packers team we've been expecting to see: prolific on offense, both rushing and passing, and dominant on defense. This was the Pack's first real complete game of the 2014 NFL season. It came at the expense of the Minnesota Vikings who were without their All-Pro MVP running back, Adrian Peterson, and their potentially outstanding rookie QB, Teddy Bridgewater.

But on this night, on the hallowed turf of Lambeau Field, it probably wouldn't have mattered much who the ViQueens had available. The Packers had the pedal to the metal from the get-go, jumping out to a large lead seemingly at will. It wasn't perfect; there were still a few more three-and-outs than you might like to see. But the positives were there, especially run blocking that enabled Eddie Lacy to have his first 100-yard-plus rushing game of the season and two touchdowns. Lacy had had 132 total yards, including 105 on the ground in just 13 carries. He and his offensive line were apparently tired of hearing all the fan and media questions about the running game. They provided a solid answer on this night. This early run from Lacy set the tone for the evening...
Eddie Lacy with the big gain!

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers threw his 200th career touchdown pass, this one to rookie WR Davante Adams. Coincidentally, this was Adams' first career NFL TD reception; he, not Rodgers, got to keep the ball. There was also an earlier 66-yard TD pass on play-action to Jordy Nelson who does nothing but continue to be the league's leading receiver in yardage and receptions.

But perhaps the biggest and nicest surprise of the evening for Packer fans was the dominant play of the defense. Going back to the Chicago game on Sunday, the Packers defense actually played five quarters of shut-out football. In the end, they held Minnesota to just 10 points, all put up basically in garbage time in the fourth quarter. For a defense rated dead last in the league against the rush, it stopped two very good running backs who the prior game had combined for more than 200 yards rushing. The defense also generated three turnovers on the night, ultimately turning them into 14 points. Seven of those points were direct, courtesy of a roughly 50-yard interception return for a touchdown by veteran LB Julius Peppers.

The Packers have now completed half of their division schedule for the season, finishing with a 2-1 record in this stretch, the only blemish being the loss at Detroit. Next up are the Dolphins in Miami a week from Sunday. The schedule until the bye week seems favorable overall in terms of opposing teams' records.

These are the Packers we hope to see week in and week out. If that turns out to be the case, the division championship is once again in sight, as is a deep run into the playoffs and...well, let's not jinx it. :-)

Go Pack Go!!!

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Week 5: Packers vs. Vikings on Thursday Night

A few weeks out since their first and only home game of the 2014 NFL season and just a few days removed from their beat-down of the Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers return home tonight to take on the Minnesota Vikings.

Do we know what to expect from this ViQueens team? For that matter, do we know what to expect yet from this Packers team? I think we saw glimpses of what the Packers offense can be when almost all cylinders are firing: great performances from the offensive line in terms of pass protection and great performances from QB Aaron Rodgers and the receiving corps, especially Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. But we still are waiting to see what happens once the Packers can get their running game going. That still seems stuck in low gear.
Packers RB Eddie Lacy is still getting used to running out of the shotgun formation. Photo by Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Of course, we also saw a schizophrenic Packers defense, giving up more than 500 yards in total offense to Chicago, including more than 200 rushing yards, generally gained right up the middle. Still, the Packers defense intercepted "Smokin'" Jay Cutler twice and shut down a dangerous Bears offense entirely in the second half.

While the Packers are 7-1-1 against the 'Queens since 2010, their new head coach Mike Zimmer was 2-0 against the Packers when he was defensive coordinator with the Bengals and new offensive coordinator Norv Turner has certainly been around the block. He helped engineer three straight wins against the Pack when he was OC with the Cowboys...but that was almost a generation ago: 1991-93.

This is not a cakewalk game for the Pack by any means. The 'Queens have several solid performers on defense and two running backs, Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon, who combined for 213 yards rushing on Sunday against the Falcons. Even without Adrian Peterson, the Packers will be challenged to once again figure out a way to stop the run. So far, the results have not been good in that regard.

Rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater had a bit of a breakout performance against the Falcons, throwing for more than 300 yards and leading Minnesota to a win at home against Atlanta. But he sprained an ankle and the expectation is that he will not play tonight. Instead, the Packers will likely face Christian Ponder, who had a good performance in Green Bay last season.

Prediction Time!
The weather conditions at Lambeau Field this evening might be wet. Thunderstorms are in the forecast. Who gets the advantage in those conditions? Theoretically, it goes to the members of the offense who all supposedly know where they are going on each play while the defense has to react. If this is the case tonight, which offense has the upper hand? C'mon. The Packers, of course.

The Packers are anywhere from 8 to 8-1/2-point favorites at the time of this writing.

We're calling this one 38-24 in favor of the Packers.

If conditions are very bad, that score could be held down. But the outcome will not change. The Packers pick up their third win of the season tonight.

Go Pack Go!!!