Sunday, December 27, 2015

NFL Week 16: Packers vs. Cardinals

Packers fans, our apologies for not posting a post-game review of the win against the Oakland Raiders last Sunday was a busy know, with Christmas and the sun was in our eyes. No, really, it was an unseasonably warm and (generally) sunny week overall. So, that's our excuse.

The Packers won 30-20 as the whole world knows (or at least, that part of it paying attention to the NFL)...and still there was plenty of grumbling among the Packer faithful. It was a 10-point win, and yet it didn't seem like it. You win by 10 points in the NFL, that's pretty darn good. And for the seventh year in a row, the Packers qualified for the playoffs, something that had never been accomplished before in Packers history. Imagine that!

But...the offensive inconsistency was still present and even players in the locker room seemed not to be happy with their performance. The good part was that the defense was fairly consistent, even helping the Packers jump out to an early 14-point lead via two interceptions including a pick-six TD return; those points obviously were the difference in the game. There were a couple of breakdowns which led to giving up big yardage. But the bottom line is the bottom line: a win. The good defense has been the strength of this Packers team. Thank goodness.

Cardinals to present biggest challenge yet
Second-year Cardinals WR John Brown is just one of the speedsters the Packers will have to defend today.
Photo by Getty Images, in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

There's a great article in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Packers writer extraordinaire, Bob McGinn, entitled Slow-footed Packers face severe speed deficit against Cardinals; we highly commend it to your reading time. It sets out the difference between two of the league's better teams, although McGinn's analysis -- hard to argue with -- is that the Packers are built for more of a power game, while the Cardinals are built for speed. In short, the Packers lack speed and the Cardinals don't.

What's that saying? Speed Kills? Yup, that's the one. What will that mean for today's game? We'll know when things are all said and done about eight hours from now.

While Carolina is undefeated, most pundits are saying the Cardinals are really the best team in the NFC -- if not the entire NFL -- right now. Behind veteran QB Carson Palmer and his speedy receiving corps, the 12-2 Cards are hitting on all cylinders. They are the league's top-ranked offense. The Packers will have to somehow minimize the impact of veteran WR Larry Fitzgerald and powerful and speedy running back David Johnson. The Cardinals defense ranks just behind the Packers in overall defensive ranking. They don't get many sacks, ranking 28th in that statistical category.

The Packers will be without CB Sam Shields for a second week, as well as LT David Bakhtiari who was downgraded yesterday, and LB Jayrone Elliot. Reliable veteran long-snapper Brett Goode is done for the season after tearing his ACL in last week's game. Undrafted rookie free agent Rick Lovato was signed early this last week to take his place. Let us pray.

While Clay Matthews, Aaron Rodgers and Josh Sitton all got Pro Bowl honors this week, we're wondering if the report of an upcoming undercover probe by Al Jazeera about performance enhancing drugs and pain killers in sports -- posted online this morning and airing on TV later today -- will have an impact on some players' performances. Matthews, Mike Neal, and Julius Peppers were all named in the report. (The big name, however, was Peyton Manning who, as one would anticipate, denies the allegations.)

The Prediction
We, of course, look at the world through Green 'n' Gold-colored glasses here at Still, unless the Packers defense can somehow find a way to consistently get to Cardinals QB Carson Palmer while covering his bevy of fast receivers and the Packers offense can somehow get back to their early season 6-0 form, we just don't see this game going the Packers way today, regrettably. The Packers are 5-1/2 point underdogs in the desert. Frankly, we'd be happy to see it that close.

We're calling this one...Cardinals 34 - Packers 24.

No matter what: Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

NFL Week 15: Packers vs Raiders

The Green Bay Packers and the Oakland Raiders meet today for a rare game between the two franchises. The Packers, with a win today (or a loss by either Washington or the New York Giants) will secure their seventh consecutive post-season appearance. Are we spoiled or what, Packer fans? Answer: yes. Believe it or not, this accomplishment under head coach Mike McCarthy is something that no other coach in Packers history achieved. Again, this has never been achieved before in Packers history! In the language of this Christmas season, let us rejoice and be glad!

The 6-7 Raiders are still in the AFC playoff hunt, as well. They are a young and upcoming team, no doubt about it. Oakland GM -- and former Packers personnel man -- Reggie McKenzie has taken the lessons he learned in Green Bay and is building the Raiders accordingly. He's got big offensive and defensive linemen, including a sack-monster in the person of linebacker Khalil Mack, a hot young quarterback in Derek Carr, formidable receivers in veteran Michael Crabtree and rookie Amari Cooper, and a wise old veteran in the defensive backfield by the name of Charles Woodson, who made a habit of intercepting Packers QB Aaron Rodgers in practice when he was in the Green 'n' Gold.

Packers offensive linemen will have to contain LB Khalil Mack if they hope to come away with a win in Oakland.
(Photo by Jim Matthews/Press-Gazette Media)

But seeing how the Packers kicked the Cowboys to the curb last Sunday we can certainly feel a bit more confident going into this game than we might have been had the game been played a week or two earlier. It seems as if some of what ailed the Packers -- primarily a lackluster offense -- was cured in that game...or at least, we hope so. Rodgers and his receivers finally looked as if they were back on the same page of the playbook, the special teams players, particularly Jeff Janis, were in full-on mode, and the thunder-and-lightning running combo of Eddie Lacy and James Starks racked up rushing yardage that the team hadn't seen logged in years.

The only player listed as questionable today is C Corey Linsley, but it can certainly be argued that J.C. Tretter resumed his starter role without missing a beat. The offensive line is still a bit beat up, but who isn't at this time of the season. They need to do what they did last week and if running early and often is what gets them into beast mode, then by all means, Coach McCarthy, run! Of course, we still expect Rodgers and company to have a good day, as well...especially if that running game can help keep Khalil Mack from bull rushing on every dropback.

The Packers defense today should take care of business. They are holding opposing offenses to an average of 15.6 points per game. That's pretty darn good, especially when you expect Rodgers et al to put up at least 17 points in their sleep (at least, on a good day).

The Prediction
We know the Raiders, especially coming off their upset win in Denver last week, will be playing with gusto to keep their playoff hopes alive. That effort will go up a notch, if that's possible, with the Raiders playing at home. The Packers are playing for playoff positioning, too, of course. So, there's that. The Packers are the better team, but that still didn't stop them from losing to Detroit and Da Bears at Lambeau, did it? This game, in The Black Pit of Oakland, will certainly not be easy. The Pack will have to be at their best, as they were last week, in order to come away with the win.

But if the Packers do what they should do, the current 3-1/2 point spread in favor of the Packers should hold.

We're calling this game 24-17 in favor of the Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Packers kick Cowboys to the curb, get ready to rip Raiders

As noted in our Packers vs. Cowboys preview last weekend, we said we expected RB Eddie Lacy to have a big game. He did. After being in the doghouse the prior week for missing curfew, he and fellow running back James Starks generated the best ground game -- more than 200 yards rushing combined -- that the Packers have seen in years. Kudos to the offensive line for opening lanes and for Lacy and Starks for running with a passion that hasn't been present in quite a while.

After being a tight 14-7 game deep into the third quarter, the Packers finally went on to win 28-7. The Packers offense, with head coach Mike McCarthy once again calling plays, looked more in sync than it had since before the bye week. And the Packers defense once again was stellar in shutting down the opposing offense. The Packers lost CB Sam Shields early in the game to a concussion; he will reportedly be held out of Sunday's game against the Raiders as he still has not passed the league's concussion protocol. Shields was replaced by rookie Damarious Randall who, as Shields did, shut down Dallas WR Dez Bryant all day long.

Packer Jeff Janis greets Cowboy Lucky Whitehead on punt returns.
(Photo by Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Another perhaps overlooked aspect of this victory was the performance of the special teams. While K Mason Crosby was not called upon to make a game-winning field goal, P Tim Masthay had a great day punting aided in no special measure by the tremendous coverage play of WR Jeff Janis, who was clearly the fastest man on the field. In one fantastic play, Janis was pushed about 5 yards out of bounds by the defender, but ran around and by him to meet Dallas punt returner Lucky Whitehead at the same time the ball arrived. No fair catch? Meet Mr. Janis! Not so lucky, Lucky! (Sorry, couldn't resist.) Janis had three coverage plays in total that were superb. If he can only learn to run his pass routes as effectively as he covers punts, the Packers will at long last have their deep downfield receiving threat.

This the performance Packer fans have been looking for. Combined with the ViQueens loss, it increased the Pack's lead in the NFC North.

Next up: the 6-7 Oakland Raiders. In Oakland. Some interesting story lines emerge with this game: Charles Woodson playing where he started, but against his old Packer compatriots; Oakland GM Reggie McKenzie building a team with the lessons he learned while in Green Bay; WR James Jones playing against the team for which he was the leading receiver just last season before being cut in the offseason; Packers QB Aaron Rodgers trying to outwit Woodson...lots of possibilities for drama. Not to mention the Packers offensive line having to take on one of the better young defenders in the league, Khalil Mack, who had five sacks last week in a 15-12 Raiders upset win in Denver. The Raiders are still in the AFC playoff hunt and will be playing like it.

This trip to the West Coast is an important one for the Packers. With another away game coming up at Arizona (currently 11-2 and arguably the best team in the NFC despite the undefeated record of the Carolina Panthers) before the final home game at Lambeau Field against the ViQueens, the Packers need to win this game against the Raiders. If they play as they did against the Cowboys, that should happen. If they revert to the level of play of some recent weeks, it could be a challenge. The Packers, at the time of this writing, are favored by 3 points. It could very well be that close. But more on that in our game day preview on Sunday. Please check back then for more on the Packers vs. Raiders.

In the meantime, Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

NFL Week 14: Packers vs. Cowboys at Lambeau Field, McCarthy to call plays

Late Breaking News: Head Coach Mike McCarthy is taking back the play-calling duties today!!!

After the Miracle in Motown a week ago Thursday, the Green Bay Packers got some much needed rest. Lots of players were banged up, particularly on the offensive line. They will need as many healthy bodies as can be found as the Dallas Cowboys come to town later this afternoon. They will also need a rejuvenated Eddie Lacy to resume his 100-yard-per-game rushing effort as he had in back to back weeks before his curfew violation earned him time on the bench in the game vs Detroit. Expect Lacy to run with a vengeance today.
Packers RB Eddie Lacy (27) is looking for redemption today against the Cowboys.
(Photo: William Glasheen/P-C Media)

But beyond that, what can we expect? The Cowboys are averaging a little more than 16 points per game under backup QB Matt Cassel. The defense has been..meh. Despite the presence of Greg Hardy, the defensive standout is LB Sean Lee. Keep him under control and that will go a long way toward helping the Packers win this game, whether or not Dallas decides to blitz. Actually, the Packers seem to prefer teams to blitz because then Rodgers et al can improvise out of the pocket where QB Aaron Rodgers is most dangerous.

Hopefully, some of the issues that the Packers have been having on offense -- slow starts, dropped passes, bad routes, no separation with defenders -- have been mitigated, especially since head coach Mike McCarthy is taking back the play-calling duties today, something fans and pundits alike have been calling for for many weeks now. Also, if that electrifying no-seconds-on-the-clock win at Ford Field doesn't help jump start this team nothing will. The Packers defense has been carrying this team; time for the offense to finally do its part at the level at which they are entirely capable of performing.

The Prediction
The Packers are currently favored by 6-1/2 points over the Cowboys. Despite what might be wet weather conditions later today, expect the Packers to cover the spread...if you're a betting person that is...which this writer is not, so...

We're looking for a performance similar to what the Packers had against the ViQueens. In short, something unexpected in the way of both offensive and defensive performances. Look for the Pack to extend its NFC North first place position with a win today.

We're calling this one 31-17 in favor of the Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

Saturday, December 05, 2015 Packers...WIN!!!

For nearly 60 minutes Thursday evening in Detroit, it was the worst of times for the Green Bay Packers. They went down by 17 points in the first quarter to the Lions and then were ultimately down 20-0 in the second half before staging one of the most remarkable comebacks in recent memory and, overall, the fourth-greatest points comeback in team history. Final score: 27-23 Packers over the Lions.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and teammates celebrate a zero-seconds come-from-behind win at Detroit.
(Photo USATSI)

The winning score, as the entire football world now knows, came on an untimed "extra" down courtesy of a defensive penalty on the Lions with the clock reading zero. It was a "Hail Mary" pass of epic proportions -- 61 yards from scrimmage but about a million miles in terms of the arc on the pass -- from QB Aaron Rodgers to TE Richard Rodgers who made a leaping grab in the endzone to resurrect the Packers from their recent doldrums and send the Lions back to their den for yet another year thinking about what might have been.

The pass -- the Miracle in Motown -- has been discussed for the last day in terms of its scope. Not only for what it did to get the Packers to 8-4 and stay clearly in the NFC Division title and playoff hunt, but also in terms of just the pass itself. Check out the photo below for how close the arc of the pass came to actually hitting the rafters inside Ford Field. Amazing.

This photo above was clipped from a fan's cellphone video of the final play. You can view that video here. It's worth your time to check it out. Really amazing.

There was a lot of what has been typically wrong about the Packers for the last six games on display in this game, ever since the bye, particularly on offense. The defense, once again, kept the team in striking distance if only they could figure out a way to score.

Somehow, someway, the improbable -- the near-impossible -- happened. Perhaps it was just what this team needed to see them through this final stretch of four games. The team now has a few extra days to get healthy -- and they are definitely banged up, especially on the offensive line -- before taking on the Cowboys at Lambeau Field on Dec. 13. They then have back-to-back road games against the Raiders and the Cardinals, with the final game of the season at home against the ViQueens...a game which might very well be for the division title.

Go Pack Go!!!

Lacy missed curfew, Smith cut, Crockett gets opportunity

The big news coming out on Friday was that the reason RB Eddie Lacy didn't get the start and didn't see more than a handful of snaps was because he and fellow RB Alonzo Smith missed curfew Wednesday night. The result for Smith was worse than for Lacy: he got cut with no chance of return according to reports out today.

The situation opened an opportunity for practice squad RB John Crockett to get a chance. He did. He was signed to the active roster three hours before game time. He started the second half of Thursday's game and injected some energy into what had been up to that point a moribund rushing game.

Will the Packers keep three running backs (including James Starks) active for the remaining games? We'll have to see. Whether Lacy emerges from the doghouse he seems to have put himself in, only time will tell.
Packers RB John Crockett made the most of his first NFL opportunity Thursday night against the Lions.
(Photo by Mark Hoffmann, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Voice of the Packers, Wayne Larrivee, had said in post-game comments that Crockett had been playing the part of ViQueens RB Adrian Peterson on the scout team during the Packers build up to the game against Minnesota. He was running hard and really showing great ability during those practices. Crockett has obviously made a positive impression on head coach Mike McCarthy: "I'll just say, it just puts a smile on my face when I think of Crockett," McCarthy is quoted as saying. "You come off the field here at Lambeau, he's the first guy in the tunnel, greets the team. He's got unbelievable energy." For more about Crockett, be sure to check out this great article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Tom Silverstein.

Personally, this writer liked Crockett coming out of college as an undrafted free agent. He may finally get his chance to show what he can do to help the Packers this season and beyond.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Packers Look to Halt Slide Tonight vs. Lions; Can They Do It?

We know the story, Packers fans: the woeful 1-7 Lions came limping into Lambeau Field a few weeks ago. It was just what the doctored ordered for a team underperforming at the time (that would be the Packers, not the Lions). Or so we thought. Instead, it was the Lions winning in Wisconsin for the first time in 24 years.

That started the Lions on a three-game winning streak as they play host to the Packers tonight at Ford Field in Detroit. They've got some confidence going on both sides of the ball, and now stand at 4-7 on the season.

What about the Pack? As we know all too well, they've lost four of their last five games and in doing so are performing at woeful levels on offense. The defense has been playing, generally, well enough for the Packers to win...if only the offense could convert some third-and-shorts, catch some passes, and not fall asleep between the first and last drives of the game. It hasn't been pretty.

So, what can we expect tonight? That's anyone's guess. Whether Packer pride will finally kick in for some of these players is a big question. The offense is underperforming, particularly in the receiving game. Yes, the receiving options are limited. But the receivers still need to catch the balls thrown to them...something not greatly on display during this downturn.

The Packers offensive line is banged up, which also doesn't bode well for tonight. If they can't protect Rodgers, or open holes for Lacy and Starks, we could well be looking at the Packers losing 5 of their last 6 at the end of this evening.
Perhaps the Packers will get a kickoff return from Jeff Janis tonight that will make the difference in the game against the Lions.
(Photo: Kyle Bursaw/P-G Media)

The Packers defense should be able to hold the Lions offense to 20 points or less. Unfortunately, the Lions defense has been equally stingy during their winning streak. Can the Packers actually score more than 20 points tonight? That is the question. If they play to their capabilities they should be scoring 30 points or more. But there's little in what we've seen from the Packers over the last five games -- with the exception of the must-win game at Minnesota -- that makes one think they can put those kind of points up. The Lions have been playing with renewed energy at home. That was something that helped them win on the road against the Packers a few weeks ago: they wanted it more. Given that the Packers might be in real danger of falling out of the playoff hunt if they got to 7-5, you'd think that there would be a sense of urgency that we haven't seen out of this underperforming Packers team in quite a while.

The Prediction
The Packers are favored in this game by 3. Spreads haven't meant much recently. We shouldn't be so concerned with whether the Pack will cover the spread as much as if they will win. And, frankly, that's very much in question given the team's recent performance.

Until the Packers offense can show us some life and consistency, it's hard for us to pick them right now. Heart says "Packers"...head says, "Nope."

As much as the Packers need this game, the still apparently unresolved problems will get in the way of them doing so...barring a defensive or special teams touchdown.

We're calling it 20-17 in favor of the Lions.

Wish it wasn't so. Still...

Go Pack Go!!!