Early Musings on the Pack's 2018 Schedule

Posted April 20th, 2018 @ 04:04pm

So now we know precisely when each of the Packers' 2018 games will be played. We still don't know what this team will look like. Next week's draft will answer most of those questions, but there will still be some roster tinkering between now and the start of training camp.

What will the right side of the offensive line look like? Who will line up opposite Davante Adams at WR? What will the back end of Mike Pettine's defense look like? Who will emerge as the starter at running back? And on and on. So there will be no game by game predictions yet, that will come in early September.

For now, let's look at the rhythm of the schedule and what it means for the 100th edition of the Green Bay Packers.

For the 13th straight year, the Pack and Bears will play in prime time--this time in the coveted week 1 Sunday night spot: an homage to the Pack's 100th season. While the Bears are likely to be improved, with offensive free agency acquisitions to make things easier for Mitchell Trubisky, this is a perfect opening game for the Pack to begin to get their swagger back and prepare them for the Vikings in week 2.

Long time readers of this blog know that I look at the season in quarters, and the Pack's first quarter includes three home games, against the Bears, Vikes and Bills--with a road game in Washington in between. The Pack couldn't have asked for a more desirable way to get the defense acclimated. It stands to reason that it will take a little time for that unit to get comfortable with Pettine's system. Facing Trubisky, Cousins, Smith and McCarron is about all they could ask for--compared to some of the QBs and offenses they will face later.

The Pack's second quarter includes three road games, beginning with a division game at Detroit. Next, the 49ers come to town for a Monday night game. Jimmy G fever has already reached fever pitch--the Niners have the maximum five prime games on their schedule, as the Packers do (the Vikings only have four...hmmm). With road games looming on opposite coasts at the Rams and Patriots, the Pack will need to take care of business on Monday night. It's their only home game between September 30th and November 11th. And they'll have the bye following this game, a chance to heal up and brace themselves for the toughest stretch I can ever remember: the four toughest road games on the schedule over a five week stretch.

The Sunday night game in New England will be one of the most anticipated of the season: just the second matching Brady and Rodgers. As tough as finishing this two game stretch will be, it kicks off a brutal stretch of three prime time games in four weeks--all on the road. I've never seen anything like that: New England, Seattle and Minnesota, with a home game against the Dolphins in the middle. If the Pack can steal one of those (Seattle seems the most likely), they'll set themselves up for their five December games to close the season.

If the Pack can get through November above .500, say 6-5, they'll be in good shape for a return to the playoffs, because barring injury, they'll be favored in all five December games. They will all be cold weather games, three Lambeau games: Cards, Falcons and Lions and two road games, in Chicago and at the Jets. It's nice to finally close the season at home--something that hasn't happened in a while.

So to summarize, September and December seem to set the Pack up for success, while October and November are brutal, with their four toughest road tests of the season. The notoriously slow starting Packers can't afford to slip up early this year. If they take care of business early, they should be able to withstand some Ls in the middle and be where they want to be when they enter the home stretch.

My seven round Packer mock draft will be posted on Tuesday. Please come back and check it out.

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It's a New Era in Titletown and That's a Good Thing.

Posted March 14th, 2018 @ 03:03pm

The dawning of free agency has ushered in the dawning of a new era in Green Bay. And while there will be some difficult realities to digest, the reality of a seven year Super Bowl drought has amped up the urgency meter.

Brian Gutekunst has already demonstrated that he will work the roster harder in March than we ever saw under Ted Thompson. We've gotten used to watching teams spend gobs of money in March, while the Pack waited for the Marshall's counter to open a couple of weeks later to peruse the discount bins.

The Pack's draft and develop philosophy will always hold center court, but with salary caps  in the stratosphere and a five year window to return to the top with Aaron Rodgers, Gutey understands he can do some considerable tinkering before he turns his attention to his 12 draft picks.

If you would have told me the Pack would sign two free agents before the official window opens, I would have assumed one, if not both, would be cornerbacks. Obviously, that was not the case. There was a run on corners Tuesday, but the Pack sat on the sidelines.

The first signing was the most un-Thompsonest signing ever. Would Ted have ever considered a 31 year old skill player, giving him the richest deal at his position? Um, no. But Jimmy Graham is now a Packer, taking care of the biggest hole on the offensive side of the roster. Graham was never the playmaker in Seattle that he was in New Orleans, but he remained one of the most dangerous red zone targets in the league.

The Packers will count on him to be more than a red zone magnet, envisioning that he will draw plenty of attention in the middle of the field, providing favorable matchups for Davante Adams and the running game. It's a three-year deal, but essentially two years, with the 22 million guaranteed over the first 24 months. It's been reported that Rodgers lobbied for this signing--I wonder if he knew it would cost him his favorite receiver.

It's disappointing, and a bit surprising, to learn that Rodgers didn't hear about Nelson's release until after the fact. Their production and chemistry were better than any in the NFL over the past seven or eight seasons. Packer nation will need some time to get over this divorce, but it's one of those bitter realities. Most receivers, when they get to be 33, slow down and aren't worth seven-figure contracts. With all the money committed to Adams, Nelson and Cobb (north of $30 million on the cap)--plus Graham, there was no way that was going to work. When he was unwilling to play for substantially less, he became a cap casualty. Nelson has been considerably underpaid for years--I don't blame him for wanting to get paid one more time.

Now the Pack has a hole at outside receiver opposite Adams. Geronimo Allison and Michael Clark will be in the mix, but the Pack will keep their eyes open for good value there, and will likely add another or two in the draft.

The move that most excited me was the signing of Mo Wilkerson, on a one-year prove it deal. He was at his most productive in '14 and '15 with the Jets, when Mike Pettine was his coordinator--that's undoubtedly why he made the Pack a priority. We all know that a stout pass rush can make up for deficiencies in the back end, and suddenly the Pack has a three man line that will rank among the league's best. Adding Wilkerson alongside Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark could be scary.

Obviously, there is still plenty of work be done at edge rusher and cornerback, along with figuring out what's going on on the right side of their offensive line. Bryan Bulaga's status is one of the big pieces to be sorted out, as well as whether they bring back Jahri Evans or go younger there. They'll also likely face the prospect of losing Morgan Burnett, who will likely be looking for a big money deal that the Pack will feel they can't afford. With Josh Jones and Kentrell Brice waiting in the wings, they may swallow hard and let Burnett walk away.

It's a brave new world in Green Bay. In the nine years I've been writing this blog, I've never worried that one of my posts could get outdated quickly in March. But Gutey has already demonstrated that he will look to improve his roster wherever he can in free agency. And he's proven he won't be blinded by sentimentality. Two positive developments in Titletown.

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Thoughts on Gutey and Pettine...

Posted January 19th, 2018 @ 05:01pm

Sorry, gang, I should have posted my thoughts on the Pack's big moves a week or so ago. Been traveling for my day job and just haven't had the chance until now.

Let's start with the promotion of Brian Gutekunst. This one caught me by surprise, since insiders were certain Russ Ball had the job, while Packer nation was rooting for Eliot Wolf to get the job it seemed he was being groomed to take over. Reading the tea leaves, it looks like Mike McCarthy won a power play and convinced Mark Murphy to promote a scout to the big chair, over an expert capologist.

I have no idea how close a call it was for Murphy to go with Gutey over Wolf, maybe the nine extra years on the planet was the difference. But I'm all aboard giving him a chance to run the ship. He built his name from the ground up and has worked for 20 years for this moment. I'm quite sure he'll do all he can in this 5-6 year Rodgers window to add veteran talent, while building a core through the draft.

All the upheaval on the coaching staff comes as a surprise, with the exception of the change at defensive coordinator. It was time for a new voice and a new scheme to come in and Mike Pettine has been handed the reins. I was all aboard the Vic Fangio train and was also intrigued with the idea of Gus Bradley bringing what he learned in Seattle and then implemented in Jacksonville and Los Angeles.

Pettine's name came out of left field, but then you start to think about it a bit. He sucked at the teat of Rex Ryan for years before taking over defenses with the Jets and Bills. He was successful enough to get a head coaching job, albeit in Cleveland and like so many coaches before him, saw his career careen just a bit after the expected failure with the league's longtime punching bag franchise.

So the guy's been chomping at the bit to run a defense again, spending this past year in Seattle as a defensive consultant and biding his time for another opportunity.  We all understand he needs some playmakers to make his scheme work. Most importantly, Gutey needs to identify a pass rusher and cornerback this spring via free agency and the draft to add to a solid core led by Daniels, Clark, Perry, Martinez, Matthews, King, Randall, Clinton-Dix and Burnett or Jones.

His aggressive defenses have made life miserable for quarterbacks in the past and we can only hope he'll turn around the Pack's unit to a degree where we'll actually see a decent percentage of stops on third downs and in the red zone.

Murphy's new organizational structuring is the biggest news to come out of Titletown, as he takes a more active role on the football side of things, allowing Ed Policy to handle the business side. Just how active he is remains to be seen, but he will serve as the teams de facto owner and we may see him around more and hear more from him when conflicts arise.

Big changes were needed after 13 years and now we'll see if Gutey, Pettine and McCarthy are up to the challenge.

As for this weekend's games, I got the Patriots winning a close game and the Vikings squeaking past the Eagles 19-17, with a late Forbath field goal exorcizing those playoff demons once and for all.


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