Test #3???

The Atlanta Falcons sure looked like they’d be the next test for the Green Bay Packers in what was supposed to be the easiest schedule in the NFL entering the 2016 season.  With Atlanta getting jobbed on a no-call of Pass Interference by Richard Sherman on Julio Jones in the waning seconds of a 26-24 loss in Seattle AND what can only be described as a choke v San Diego, the Falcons’ record (4-3) could easily be 6-1 and a major matchup.  However, with consecutive losses, with the latest coming against an average San Diego team, the Packers have a better shot at heading into the Georgia dome and contending with the high-powered Falcons offense.

Again, I don’t believe this Packers team is great, or can be great with the current makeup of the GM, Head Coach, and QB combination, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK for them to continue looking like they’re stuck in neutral on offense.  The Falcons defense isn’t loaded with great talent, but possess a great defensive-minded head coach in Dan Quinn (formerly Seattle’s defensive coordinator) and will likely approach the stale McCarthy-led offense in the same manner the Cowboys and Giants did, as was laid out by the Broncos last year – show up in a 4-3 defense (4 defensive linemen, 3 linebackers), play man coverage and only rush 3 to 4 defenders.  The idea is to keep Rodgers in the pocket and not have him make a quick decision…it’s a recipe for success, sadly.  It’ll be interesting to see if Green Bay continues to use Ty Montgomery in the same fashion they did last Thursday night v Chicago.

POTENTIAL NIGHTMARE – If you have Julio Jones on your fantasy team, expect a lot of points.  Julio Jones, with megatron retired, is the most-gifted and physically built WR in the NFL.  He’s a 6’3” 220lb matchup problem that ran a 4.39 forty-yard dash at the combine (and doesn’t seem to have slowed any since).  With the Packers’ top 3 cornerbacks possibly out, the pass rush for Green Bay must get home, and get home fast if they have any visions of slowing down Julio (who earlier this year had a 300-yard game).

The major issue is this Packers offense, if it hasn’t been talked about enough already, and seems to need gimmicks and every play in the book just to get 1-2 drives to move the ball…all in all I’m not too optimistic with this matchup.  Hopefully Aaron can duplicate his production from the playoff game in Jan 2011 and light up the scoreboard in Atlanta, but I won’t hold my breath.

Packers 23
Falcons 31

*13-11, with obvious hopes of going 13-12 after this game :)*

2 Tests, 2 Fs…

Recap – no way around it, the Packers got their asses kicked Sunday.  In every facet.  Further proving this offense is all screwed up and I believe there’s plenty of blame to pass.  However, in the interest of time (as it’s 6:56p CST and I need this posted before 7:26p CST) we can cover who’s to blame and why sometime next week.

Preview—the Bears are arguably the worst team in the NFL, but based on how the Packers have been playing and they’re missing their top 3 cornerbacks could prove to be an issue v a Chicago-led passing attack of Brian Hoyer.  With the Packers wearing ALL WHITE (would be absolutely awesome if the NFL allowed Green Bay to wear a white helmet), the Packers need to run the ball well with newly-acquired Knile Davis and practice squad-caliber Don Jackson.  If all were perfect, a lot of under center with fullback formations could do wonders if Green Bay is able to run the ball effectively (see 1st half v Detroit) and it opens up the entire field for any type of play.  I don’t see Rodgers’ accuracy returning unless he somehow fixed his footwork/mechanics in 1 practice since Sunday ‘nor do I see the offense switching completely in that same amount of time.

However, the Bears are awful and just based on pure talent alone, the Packers should win in spite of offensive scheme, horrendous QB play, and 4th and 5th corners starting.  Albeit short, I promise to elaborate next week in what’s hopefully a recap of a win.

Bears 20
Packers 23

*Overall record is 12-11 (god last week should be an eye-opener, again I’ll explain next week).*

2nd True Test

The Packers came out with another strong defensive performance against a struggling frustrated Giants offense.  While the run defense was again nothing short of great, the pass defense benefited from multiple ugly throws by Eli Manning.  There were 2 in particular Manning missed which likely would’ve resulted in 10-14 point swings.  However, give credit to the defense for getting consistent pressure on Manning and forcing some bad throws while keeping him uncomfortable all night.

Now…if you’ve listened to any of the local sports radio, or even some national radio outlets the Packers’ offense has struggled all season – outside of the 1st half v Detroit.  Green Bay also has failed to score a touchdown in the 2nd half of any game this season, which should be more than alarming.  This has been going on since the NFC title game at Seattle in January 2015.  The greatest drive I can remember in the past few season occurred to open the game this past week against New York – 16 play, 75 yard, 8 minute 42 second drive that ended in a touchdown.  The Packers were NOT in a no-huddle, went under center often (I didn’t count this time, sorry) and used play action…hell, it resembled a true west coast offense.  Eddie Lacy displayed his great vision, yet again, rushing 11 times for 81 yards (7.4 yds/carry).  Now just imagine if he weighed 30lbs less like he did at the NFL combine…something incredible, ehh?  Jordy Nelson had a couple of nice catches but were outnumbered by the horrific, and almost catastrophic, drops.

Let’s take a look at the next opponent, the Dallas Cowboys.  They come in boasting the #1 rush offense which is the best test Green Bay’s #1 rush defense could ask for.  Expect Dallas to pound the ball with #21 (Ezekiel Elliott), the former Ohio St. star has rushed for >130 yards in each of his last 3 games.  Dallas has a nice backup in Alfred Morris (formerly with the Redskins) who has 30 carries for 128 yards and 2 TDs.  The Cowboys are considered to have the best offensive line in the NFL as well, which is a major reason why rookie quarterback Dak Prescott (#4) is having such an incredible start to his career.

The match-ups: Dallas has the #2 overall offense (1 rush/21 pass) going against Green Bay’s 9th rated defense (1 rush/24 pass).  If the Packers can keep Dallas under 100 yards rushing that should be the key indicator to how this game will shake out.  Green Bay’s secondary has given up some big plays but the pass rush should create enough havoc – barring they stop the run to not become susceptible to play action – to limit Dallas’ passing attack.  While being different teams, last year’s rain-soaked matchup (if memory serves me right) the Packers struggled to contain the rush giving up 171 yards on 20 carries.  The Packers benefited from Dallas trotting out Matt Cassel at quarterback…Dak has already proven he’s effective enough to take Romo’s job.

It’s a tough matchup, and with how #12’s awful play the last 22 games, I wouldn’t be shocked should Green Bay lose this game (or any game for that matter), but I don’t think Dallas has enough on defense to shut down Lacy or get enough pressure on Rodgers to keep Green Bay under 24 points.

Cowboys 16
Packers 24

*After the victory, the record now stands at 12-10. *

Here comes Eli…

Review – the bye week has come and gone, and somehow Damarious Randall injured his groin and is QUESTIONABLE for Sunday night.  The good news is Clay Matthews and Morgan Burnett are returning and hopefully that’ll help the communication in the defensive backfield and apply more pressure up front.  The Giants were out-manned by the Vikings last Monday night and the lead story stemming from that game is New York’s star wide out, Odell Beckham Jr.  I’m sure you’ve seen his sideline antics over the last few weeks and even dating back to last  year’s matchup v (then Carolina CB) Josh Norman.  Regardless of his spoiled bratness, #13 can play and wreak havoc on Green Bay’s secondary.

Preview – let’s take a look at the numbers and rankings for this match up on Sunday Night Football, shall we?

(GB Off v NY Def)  The Packers offense is ranked 29th overall in yards/game…yep, 29th.  Somehow they’re off to a worse start than their finished last season.  The Packers and Aaron Rodgers possess the 29th ranked passing offense and 16th rushing offense.  They welcome in a Giants defense which ranks 18th v the pass and 9th against the run, while possessing the 11th overall defense.  This matchup favors New York, just based on numbers, but with such a small sample size and so many unknown factors, let’s take a look at the other side of the ball.

(GB Def v NY Off)  Green Bay holds the 13th overall defense (29th v the pass and 1st (by a wide margin) against the rush) while the Giants are ranked 6th overall in offense (4th pass/19th rush).  This matchup would favor NY again, but let’s take a look as to why the Packers can, should, and likely will win this game.  While the Packers haven’t been “right” since the divisional round playoff game v Dallas in Jan. 2015, Green Bay has managed to win 6 of their last 9 home games while building up – what looks to be – a great run defense.  The Giants can score and have playmakers at the wide receiver position, but if Nick Perry and Mike Daniels keep playing at the level they have been since the postseason last year, that should prove difficult for Eli Manning to tear them apart.

The pessimist in me focuses on how this offense vanished in the 2nd half v a bad Detroit team and a player I have high hopes for (Randall) has had an Ahmad Carroll-like season so far.  The optimist in me sees that this team is playing playoff football, successfully.  Rules #1A and 1B, run the ball and stop the run.  The Packers have shown the ability to run the football when they so choose, even though Lacy should drop another 20-30lbs his vision is spectacular, and the Packers are giving up just over 40 yards/game.  If this trend continues, and the passing offense can return close to 2014 form, this team very well could be on its way…but the realist in me needs to see it grow and improve over the next 13 games.

Giants 23
Packers 28

Covering it All??

With the bye week, there’s plenty to cover.  Let’s try and take an organized approach to this week and see if I can follow it, shall we?

  1. Is the offense fixed?
  2. Did McCarthy get conservative?
  3. Am I justified criticizing #12? (my close friends and co-workers are aware)
  4. What’s wrong with Randall?
  5. Is Nick Perry really this good?
  6. Is the BYE coming at a good time?

Ok, let’s tackle these (pun intended)…

(1) Offense – The production certainly increased, especially in the first half v Detroit.  They’re not a premier defense, but I believe the Lions’ defense is a good test to see where this offense is at.  Let’s take a look at the 1st half play-calling…there were 29 plays run by the Packers: 14 from under-center; 15 from shotgun.  There were 21 called pass plays and 8 called rushing plays.  If you know me, I’m a big proponent of running the ball and running an offense from under-center.  It’s the quickest method to get the QB the ball, and there’s much more you can do from under center with more effectiveness.  A play that us Packer fans haven’t seen was the TD to Richard Rodgers (TE), a stretch play-action to the left with Rich Rod (Richard Rodgers) pulling across the formation to open in the flat for an easy TD.  That was a sight for sore eyes.

(2) Conservative – The Lions scored a quick TD right before the end of the 1st half to cut the score to 31-10.  Then came out in the 2nd half and took the ball down for another TD holding it for about 5 ½ minutes.  Looking at the play-calling, one may say the play-calling was conservative, others might say Lacy is in a groove and use and abuse the Lions’ D which should be beat up and tired.  Another factor is the Packers’ D had been on the field quite a bit and with all of the injuries (and suspension to Pennel) was in much need of a break.  Either way, let’s take a look at it…in the 3rd quarter, Green Bay ran a total of 9 plays with quite a bit of production from Lacy, however had to settle for only 3 points.  In the 4th quarter, and the score 34-20, the Packers came out with an under-center, single-back look – went play action to Lacy and tried for a home-run to ice the game, but no one was open.  Then it came to a few runs which garnered a couple of 1st downs, but no points.  Then the next possession was Green Bay’s last, and with it was a bit predictable, but on 3rd and 7 and 3+ min remaining, Rodgers had Davante Adams open across the middle and either A. didn’t see him or B. wasn’t comfortable making the throw, so he pulled it down and ran for the 1st, essentially icing the game.  All in all, I think there was a method to the play-calling, with the factors being: the Defense had been on the field a lot and struggling; Lacy and the offensive line were creating space and producing chunks of yards.

(3) Is the “real” Rodgers back? – He played exceptionally well in the first half, to the level that’s expected of him.  I don’t think it’s realistic to expect him to throw for 4 TDs in the 1st half all the time, however, it’s plenty reasonable for him to be 11/14 for 150 yards.  My main concern, is him throwing off of his back foot especially with a pocket.  It didn’t affect any production or specific throws until the 4th quarter on a key 3rd down with Cobb crossing the middle.  Had Aaron stepped into the throw and lead Randall, I believe it would’ve lead to a large gain (15+ yards) and may have catapulted the offense to another score and putting the game away early in the 4th.  Overall, he played quite well and let’s hope that play (efficiency from the 1st half) continues next Sunday night v the Giants.  If the Packers have sights of raising the Lombardi trophy in early February, they’ll need the rush defense to stay atop or near the top of the NFL, the pass coverage to improve greatly, AND the former MVP QB to play like one in Jan and Feb.

(4) What’s wrong with Damarious Randall? – in week 2 at Minnesota Randall was the primary cover corner on Stefon Diggs, the Vikings’ premier WR was targeted 10 times with 9 receptions for 182 yards and a TD.  In the following week v Detroit for the home-opener, Randall was tasked with covering Marvin Jones.  The final stat line for the Lions’ 2nd WR????  6 receptions on 8 targets for 205 yards and 2 TDs!?!?!?  From what I saw, re-watching the game, Randall’s great play striping the ball from Eric Ebron (Detroit’s up-and-coming TE) in the 2nd quarter may have led to him getting torched later in the game on the long TD right before the half.  Damarious seemed to have jump the under-route (another defender’s target) thus leaving Jones wide open for an easy completion.  I’m not sure what happened in Minnesota, however the TD to Diggs was a well-thrown ball on pretty good coverage.  I’m still holding out hope that Randall will be good because he’s shown lock-down ability.  The sooner that arrives, the better!

(5) Is this the real Nick Perry? – I’ve always liked Perry, but just thought he was an ideal 4-3 Defensive End and it has taken him this long to fully adapt to a 3-4 Outside Linebacker.  On top of that, his health has always been an issue, I believe this is the longest stretch of health he’s experienced since being drafted.  There was a key play that stood out to me in his first game as a pro that lead me to believe there was potential for the stiff-looking, bulky body of #53.  The opening game in 2012, hosting San Francisco, there was a dump-off pass to HB Kendall Hunter in the flat which was a great play design by then Head Coach, Jim Harbaugh, and Perry was able to make the tackle in the open field v a shifty HB.  That athleticism combined with his brute strength could make for a very dominant 3-4 OLB, and we’re seeing that play pay off now.  It’ll likely result in a hefty payday for Perry and if he continues to stay healthy, could prove to be a key component of a very good defense in the coming years.

(6) Bye timing convenient? – Aaron Rodgers said he hates the early bye, as do most of the other players, but did mention that it might help due to all of the injuries the Packers are experiencing: Sam Shields; Clay Matthews; Morgan Burnett; Letroy Guion; Mike Pennel (suspension, back for Dallas).  The key player the Packers need returned is Sam Shields.  That slides Randall down to cover the 2nd or 3rd WR with Rollins covering the other.  LaDarius Gunter (#36) has played quite well and is showing growth since being a breakout star in 2015’s training camp.  A player that got quite a few snaps last week was undrafted free agent rookie Kentrell Brice (#29) from Louisiana Tech.  I’ve loved him since camp based on his speed and athleticism.  Brice was not invited to the NFL combine this past year, and he wasn’t drafted, however credit Ted Thompson and his staff for finding this player.  If developed correctly could be a real player in this league for a long time.  He’s arguably the fastest player on the roster with running a 4.38 40-yard dash at his pro day.  If he plays sound football and keeps the ball in front of him, allowing him to attack by using his speed, he could be quite the compliment to HaHa Clinton-Dix and present a formidable challenge for opposing offenses.

Well, if you’re still with me, thanks!  We’ll preview the Giants next week coming in for Sunday Night Football and we’ll get a good look at them this Monday Night when they head to US Bank Stadium to take on the rolling Vikings.

After correctly picking the Packers v Detroit, I’m 11-10. Stay tuned for next week and thanks for reading!