Monday, January 18, 2016

Packers lose in OT to Cardinals, season ends with a thump

The injury-plagued Green Bay Packers took arguably the best team in the NFC -- the Arizona Cardinals -- to overtime in a Divisional playoff game Saturday evening in Arizona. But as quickly as the exhilaration of a last-second comeback occurred, it was gone in a final score of 26-20, in favor of Arizona. It was, amazingly, disappointingly, the fifth time in seven playoff games that head coach Mike McCarthy's team has lost on the final play of the game. Wrap your heads around that, Packers fans. Geesh.

Getting the game to overtime itself involved a miracle on the order of what we shall call Hail Mary #2 by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and second-year receiver Jeff Janis. With five seconds remaining in regulation and no timeouts left, and the ball on the Cardinals' 41-yard line, Rodgers scrambled under pressure to his left and launched a remarkable throw to the endzone from the Packers own 45-yard line. Janis was the only Packer near the ball. He lept, high-pointed it and came down with a TD to make the score 20-19. Mason Crosby's extra point tied the game at 20-20 and sent it to overtime. By the way, not to be lost in the loss is the fact that Crosby set an NFL record for most consecutive field goals made in postseason play with 20. Congratulations, Mr. Crosby.

Oh, and all this happened without WR Randall Cobb who was lost for most of the game with a lung contusion following an amazing one-handed catch near the Cardinals' goal line that was wiped out by penalty; he actually spent Saturday evening in a Phoenix hospital until being released Sunday morning. Do you think not having Cobb affected the game? You bet it did.

Packers WR Jeff Janis is congratulated by fellow WR Jared Abbrederis after catching QB Aaron Rodgers' Hail Mary pass to send the Division playoff game vs. the Cardinals to overtime.
(Photo by Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

As noted above, the amazement of that tying score was short-lived. After winning the coin toss (actually, the second as the first "flip" never actually flipped), Arizona took three plays, featuring future Hall of Fame WR Larry Fitzgerald, to extinguish the Packers' hopes of going to a second straight NFC Championship Game.

The first play appears to have been a blown coverage after a blitz by the Packers' defense flushed Cardinals QB Carson Palmer to his right. Just missed being sacked, Palmer looked back to the left and found a wide open Fitzgerald...let's say that again: wide open. How the Packers defenders do not cover the best receiver on the field in a situation such as this is remarkable in itself. How Fitzgerald was then able to take that reception 75 yards to the Packers five-yard line is another matter; he eluded five tacklers on the way, all of whom could have and should have made tackles. You can read all about this collapsed defensive series here.

Arguably, the game shouldn't have come down to this. The Packers had opportunities to turn the game totally in their favor. In fact, the Packers did have the lead at one point. And for about 56 minutes, the Packers defense performed admirably. CB Sam Shields, returning after being inactive for several weeks due to a concussion, had not just one but three opportunities for interceptions. In fact, he had an opportunity late in the game near the Packers' goal line to pick off Palmer and return the ball about 97 yards the other way for a 14-point swing and, likely, putting the game solidly in the Packers' favor. But, not.

It wasn't just Shields, of course. Was veteran LB Julius Peppers out of position on the blown coverage play...or was it rookie Damarious Randall who seemed to drop to a zone when everyone else was in man-to-man coverage? Or was it the rushers not getting to Palmer? And those are just the questions related to a couple plays in overtime.

This is yet another game that will stick in the craw of Packers fans for what might have been. Head coach McCarthy said himself in post-game comments that he saw this game as a "microcosm" of the season as a whole. Glimpses of greatness, yet too many missed opportunities and outright failures. How much of that is on the coaching staff and how much on the players is a conversation that will go on and on. Bottom line is that it is another lost year and chance of a Super Bowl with one of the best quarterbacks in the league under center.

How many of the players on this year's team will be back? How many will move on or be forced to move on? It will be an interesting offseason for the Packers. There are many questions after yet another bitterly disappointing end to the season.

Still, we remain...Packer Fans United.

We'll be continuing our coverage of all things Packers during the coming days and offseason. So please be sure to keep stopping in. We appreciate your readership. Also, be sure to keep checking out our Amazing 2nd Page (link also at the top of this page) which is a non-stop feed of Packers coverage from all over the Packersphere. It's always current.

Now...Go Pack Go!!!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Divisional Playoff Game: Packers vs. Cardinals

Fast update on last Sunday's Wildcard game versus Washington (for those who may be unaware...but, c'mon...really???): Packers won. Handily. In a manner on all sides of the ball we haven't seen since the Packers were 6-0.

Great. Restored hope and confidence -- kinda -- to many if not most of the Packers faithful.

But that was then. This is now. And that means the Green Bay Packers are in the desert to face the high-flying Arizona Cardinals. You know...that team that dismantled the Pack just a couple weeks ago. (Gulp!)

The Packers will need constant pressure by Mike Pennel and others on AZ QB Carson Palmer tonight in order to stay in the game.
(Photo by Getty Images)

Defensive pressure will be key for the Packers
It could be argued that the Packers' defense has been the surprise -- and unexpected savior -- of the Packers 2015 season. It was clearly in evidence in the Wildcard win over Washington. It will need to be equally aggressive and persistent in tonight's game against the Cardinals. Why? This great article by Milwaukee Journal Packers writer, Bob McGinn, puts it all in context. Among the points made, Palmer is a drop-back quarterback, not mobile. If the Packers can get to him with a four-man rush, it could make the difference. Arizona's offensive scheme is built upon deep drops by Palmer in the pocket and protection from his line so that the Cards' fleet of speedy receivers can get open deep. If Palmer's allowed to stay upright without pressure, it's going to be a long game...especially for the Packers' secondary.

The entire Packers squad was flat in the first match up. They had nothing. Got behind early. Only got two sacks on Palmer; clearly that's not going to do the trick. Likewise, if and when there are opportunities for takeaways, the Packers have to come up with them. They've been pretty middle of the road in that regard this season. Big games are times for big plays. The defense will have to make a few.

Offense needs to get -- and stay -- in rhythm
The Packers' patchwork offensive line was beat like a rented mule last time around (metaphor only, animal lovers!), leading to two turnovers that led immediately to touchdowns for the Cardinals. You can't give away fourteen points to a team like this and expect to win. You can't let Aaron Rodgers get sacked eight times and expect to have a chance to win.

Early indicators are that LT David Bakhtiari will be able to start the game tonight, meaning all the regular starters should be on the line. How long he will be able to last...who knows? We saw last week, however, after giving up that early sack leading to a safety, that J.C. Tretter is a battler and could provide serviceable protection to Rodger's blind side if needed.

Having the full line ready to go should also help the run game. When the Packers run at least 25 or more times a game, they have a great shot at winning. LG Josh Sitton is even more insistent: run it at least 30 to 35 times during the game, he says. It opens up the passing game. Although, to be fair, some say it's the other way around with the Packers: if the passing game is fast and furious it can open up the running game. Well, however they do it, the Packers will need both the running and passing attacks to be in championship form tonight. Anything less and we could be looking at the end of this NFL season for the Pack.

Packers WR Jared Abbrederis catches a 2-point conversion in the game vs. Washington. He'll need to come up big tonight against the Cardinals.
(Photo by Nick Wass, Associate Press)

The passing game will affected by the absence of second-year WR Davante Adams. Adams was having a good game against Washington until he sustained an MCL sprain. This means WR Jared Abbrederis becomes the third wide receiver, with Jeff Janis bumping up to the fourth spot. Abbrederis has shown glimpses of greatness in the little playing time he has had. Rodgers likes him and has confidence in him, to the point of saying several weeks ago he thought Abbrederis deserved more playing time. Now he'll get it. Having all week to work on their timing together, Rodgers and Abbrederis could combine for some great plays tonight. They'll need to, perhaps out of the slot and via quick-hitting slant routes. If Janis can run disciplined routes downfield to stretch the defense that would be a bonus, as well. But Abbrederis might wind up being an unsung hero tonight, as this article suggests.

The Prediction
The Packers come into this game as 7-point underdogs. If someone watched the first game between these two teams they might question why it's not larger than that. And, certainly, listening to and reading many of the predictions for this game you get the clear sense that most aren't giving the Packers much of a chance. Does that sound similar to last week? You bet.

Now, the Cardinals have had a week off and the Packers are coming in off a short week. Advantage would seem to go to the Cardinals, especially with the home field advantage. But sometimes that week off can throw off a team's own rhythm. Been known to happen. And for a team such as the Packers that limped into the playoffs following a disappointing NFC North Championship loss at Lambeau Field to the ViQueens, getting a bit of mojo back with the win in D.C. (or Maryland or wherever Washington plays) is just what the doctor ordered. They believe in themselves...even when no one else does.

Call us believers. We're calling this game: Packers 27 - Cardinals 26.

Go Pack Go!!!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Wildcard Playoff Game: Packers vs. Washington

The Green Bay Packers, following two straight losses to end the 2015 regular NFL season, including the NFC North Division title game loss to Minnesota at Lambeau Field last weekend, travel to Washington, D.C. today to take on the Redskins, who are coming into this game having won four straight and averaging 33 points per game during that stretch.


Packer fans know how we got here: the Pack started the season strong -- despite the exhibition game and season-ending loss of WR Jordy Nelson -- going undefeated in their first six games. Then the bye week arrived. In the 10 games following the bye, the Packers went 4-6 and struggled to get any type of offensive consistency going. Special teams and the defense became the strengths of the team. Thank goodness, or making the playoffs might not have happened at all.

Packers LB Clay Matthews and the entire defense will have to shut down Washington's offense today to have a chance to win.
(Photo by Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

So, the Packers limp into this Wildcard round against a hot Washington team, with a young quarterback in Kirk Cousins who's been on a roll the last month or so. He has confidence in himself and those around him. They're making plays. It will be up to the Packers defense to slow down that offense. Not an easy thing, particularly if the Packers offense can't stay on the field and put up points. But it's what they need to do for the Pack to have a chance today.

The Packers offense will have opportunities against the league's 28th-ranked defense. Washington's secondary is banged up, missing three starters. This is the type of situation QB Aaron Rodgers and his receiving corps used to be able to exploit with few difficulties. But of late, the offensive line's inability to protect Rodgers, the receivers' inability to get separation from defenders, the running backs' inability to consistently gain yardage and/or hold on to the ball, and Rodgers' seeming lack of confidence in the whole system mean the Packers have been battling themselves as much as their opponents. If that continues today, they are one and done in the playoffs.

Can the Packers win this game? Yes. The oddsmakers are calling this game a toss-up. Past performance is a good predictor of future performance. Given thant, for 10 weeks, we haven't seen much that gives us confidence that the Pack will win this game. They'll be missing CB Sam Shields again as well LB Jayrone Elliot, both of whom could definitely help in holding down the Washington offense. LT David Bakhtiari is questionable for the game, meaning the banged up and sieve-like O-line will once again be performing at a less than ideal level just in terms of personnel let alone performance.

The Prediction
My head tells me that the Packers haven't shown enough to tell me they will somehow flip a switch and perform differently and at a higher level than they have over the past 10 weeks. But, I'm also a Packers shareholder and fan. My heart tells me they can get out of their own way for at least this game and win a close one.

We're calling it 23-20 in favor of the Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Packers lose NFC North Championship to Vikings

Well, Packer fans...that was certainly depressing, wasn't it? A 20-13 loss to Minnesota -- at Lambeau Field -- to put the Packers four-game NFC North division winning streak to an end. (Sigh)

But honestly, we've come to expect being disappointed ever since the Week 7 bye week passed, haven't we? Undefeated going into the bye...4-6 afterward. What the heck happened?

Oh, we know very well what's happened: no big plays, receivers that can't get separation, receivers that drop passes and can't break tackles, an offensive line that has been banged up since the start of the season and has a hard time opening lanes for runners and setting pass protection for the quarterback. And speaking of the quarterback...missing throws that used to be automatic and under constant pressure.

A familiar scene in recent weeks: QB Aaron Rodgers getting sacked.
(Photo by Rick Wood, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Everyone knows what the problems are, including opposing teams. But apparently, not even the coaching staff or players are able to correct course. Still, nobody can get this sorted out except the players themselves. They need to execute, whatever the game plan is.

For whatever the reasons, this has been a woefully underperforming team since Week 8. How bad is it? Even the players think they are going nowhere, according to former Packers TE Mark Chmura on ESPN Wisconsin yesterday; that sure can't help. You can listen to his comments here.

For the first time since 1968 and the era of head coach Phil Bengston, the Packers lost all their home games to their three division opponents. a bad sense. In their last two games of the regular season, the Pack, as we know, went 0-2. If they had gone 2-0, they would have gotten the number 2 seed and a bye in the NFC playoffs instead of being on the road with a number 5 seed. Two more wins. Two. More. Wins.

So many missed opportunities game to game and as a season.

The Packers were exposed in many ways and became easy to defend by team after team. The Packers defense held opponents to high-teens scoring for the most part; but the offense had a hard time getting first downs let alone touchdowns.

Can the Packers beat Washington? Of course the possibility exists. The probability??? The Packers are currently listed as 1-point underdogs against a Washington team that won 4 of its last 5 games behind a red-hot quarterback by the name of Kirk Cousins. "Voice of the Packers," Wayne Larrivee, when asked Monday if the Pack could beat Washington, replied that Washington, particularly because of its defense, could be beaten. But considering the Packers have scored a total of just 4 touchdowns in the last three games...?

Unless the Packers find their lost confidence, believe in themselves and each other, and execute, this will be a one-and-done playoff experience. There will be some big changes in the offseason for the Packers, whenever it starts. What those changes will be is anyone's guess.

We'll have more on the upcoming playoff game against Washington as game time nears. Stay tuned for more.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

NFL Week 17: Packers vs. Vikings for NFC North Championship

It's taken many Packers fans -- including yours truly -- a good week to get over the "Debacle in the Desert"...the embarrassing loss by the Pack to the Arizona Cardinals. Readers of Packer Fans United will know that we picked agains the Pack last week, so the loss itself was not a surprise. The way the Packers lost, and to the extent they lost, yeah, that was shocking.

But, it's done. More important matters confront the Pack this evening at Lambeau Field in the form of a rising Minnesota ViQueens team.

The Packers are going to have to find a way, again, to stop Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson from taking over the game.
(Photo by Jim Matthews/P-G Media)

The Packers had one of their better performances of the season -- certainly the second half of the season, anyway -- in their 30-13 win over the 'Queens in Minnesota on Nov. 22. They held RB Adrian Peterson to a mere 45 yards rushing. It would be wonderful if the Packers are able to do that again this evening. Truth be told, if the Packers wish to have a shot at winning tonight they'd probably be happy to keep Peterson under 100 yards for the game. The Packers defense will likely have both B.J. Raji and Mike Neal back in the lineup which will go a long way towards making that a possibility. LB Clay Matthews hasn't had a sack in the last few games and admitted this week that he needed to be more "impactful." Well, frankly, yes. This is exactly the type of game -- for the NFC North Division Championship -- that you need your best players to perform like your best players.

We haven't seen that out of many on this Packers squad in recent weeks. It's been pretty much a train wreck on both sides of the ball, although the fact that the defense has been carrying this team for most of the second half of the season has been what's gotten them to the 10-5 record; the offense, following the bye week in week 7, has been ineffective overall. Tonight would be a good time for that side of the ball to regain some of its mojo.

What needs to happen to win tonight?
Where shall we start? It's football, right? A simple game, really. Score more points than your opponent. Whether they come from plays by the offense, defense or special teams -- or, ideally, all three! -- more points wins.

On the offense, the banged up Packers line somehow has to hold off a fairly good defensive front, create running lanes for Eddie Lacy and James Starks and protect the franchise, i.e., Aaron Rodgers. Packers receivers, somehow, must get separation from their defenders. That hasn't been happening for a good part of the season and the lackluster results have been on display for all to see.

The passing scheme has to be actually somewhat similar to that of Minnesota which has a serviceable but not great offensive line: quick, short to medium yardage passes so that the line doesn't have to protect Rodgers for 5 seconds or more while he waits for a receiver to get open downfield. The Packers have continued to use their isolation sets despite receivers who can't get separation. Unless head coach Mike McCarthy changes up that scheme in this game, Rodgers will be under constant pressure and a good defense will get sacks it otherwise should not get.

It's going to be cold at Lambeau this evening: in the low 20s with windchills in the teens or below. The running game needs to dominate this game for the Packers to come out with a win. If the line is unable to open holes and the running backs are unable to pound the ViQueens defense continuously to open up the short to medium range passing game, the likelihood of a Packers win is not great.

Defensively, the Packers must, first and foremost, shut down RB Adrian Peterson. If he's able to run loose tonight -- and the Packers defense has give up some huge runs in the last few games -- it will again be a tough game to win. The Packers pass rush must also get pressure on second-year QB Teddy Bridgewater. Let's not forget that the 'Queens put up nearly 50 points last weekend against the Giants. Their offense has an ascending rhythm that we only wish the Pack had right now. Coverage of speedy receivers downfield and constant pressure on Bridgewater is key to a needed defensive performance.

The Prediction
The Packers are favored by 3 points at the time of this writing. Spreads have meant little of late in trying to assess the probabilities of a Packers win. Recall that twice the Packers were favored by a touchdown or more recently only to lose both games. It happens.

But we happen to think this spread is about right.

Some argue that the Packers might actually have an easier playoff run if they were to lose today. A Packers loss means a first round wildcard trip to Washington, potentially followed by a division-round trip to Carolina. In the minds of some, that's preferable to a wildcard home game against either a dangerous Seattle team (do we really want to play them again???) or trying to beat a team -- Minnesota -- three times in the same season, followed by a trip back to Arizona for a reprise of last week's debacle. Oy.

Still, you have to grab the brass ring that's in front of you. Right now, that means winning the division championship tonight and let the cards (just not the Arizona Cards, please) fall where they may.

We're calling this game 27-24 in favor of the Packers in a game that could go right down to the wire. This writer hopes that's not the case as the Packers have already taken years off his lifespan in this season alone.

Go Pack Go!!!