Want is your Monday morning headline?
Posted November 23rd, 2015 @ 03:11am
After watching that one, I can't get the "Welcome Back Kotter" theme song out of my head. It was a day of welcome backs. From Eddie Lacy and James Jones on the offense, to the overall pass rush and dominance up front from the defense. And big picture: a welcome back to the Packers we thought we knew.
They took a little three game hiatus, which may cost them a home game come January, but this incarnation of the Pack will compete against anyone, anywhere. Let's hope they're here to stay.
The defense set the tone in the first half, containing Adrian Peterson and making life miserable for Teddy Bridgewater, whom many Vikings fans will blame, but who got very little help from his linemen and was running for his life all afternoon. Mike Daniels and Datone Jones were dominant--three sacks between them--they set the tone for the unit. Teddy was sacked six times and was hurried and pressured too many times to count. Where in the world has that been all month? Clinton-Dix was all over the field and the Pack contained the Vikings receivers (if not the tight ends), holding Wallace without a catch and keeping Diggs in check.
But what really set the tone was the job they did on Peterson, holding him to less than 3.5 yards per carry and then punching the ball out for a crucial fumble which served as the dagger in this one.
As I preached all week, the Pack needed to run the ball to turn their offensive fortunes around. They ran it 34 times, led by the resurgent Lacy who looked like the Lacy of old, running hard, breaking tackles and breaking the 100 yard mark, finally. Kudos to the banged up offensive line for stepping up in a big spot and winning the battle against the Vike's vaunted front seven. JC Tretter stepped in for the injured Corey Linsley and handled his business, not bothered by Linval Joseph and company.
The passing is getting closer. There were still too many drops, by everybody by most notably Randall Cobb. But James Jones' Top 10 worthy catch in the first half that set up a touchdown was a thing of beauty, as was his toe tapping TD in the second half. He needs to be an every week playmaker from here on out as the Pack deals with injuries at WR. Jeff Janis finally got a little run, targeted twice by Rodgers deep. His 70 yard kickoff return showed just how dangerous he can be. You have to think he will continue to get more and more chances.
Rodgers didn't crack the 100 mark in passer rating, in part thanks to a lot of drops and in part because of some bad passes. But he made all the plays he needed to make at just the right time and orchestrated a solid performance with two TDs and no picks--he was sacked twice.
This was precisely the kind of performance we dared hope for, but couldn't possibly predict. The Packers played like the team that had more to prove, that needed to demonstrate that rumors of its demise were a tad premature. They did that on this night in Minneapolis, winning for the fifth time in the last six years. Never again will they get to play them here outdoors, which is a shame, but as I recall they've had pretty good success indoors as well.
What the Packers did on this day was remind the Purple that the NFC North continues to run through Green Bay, as it has the last four years and counting. They'll get another shot in week 17. We'll see where both teams sit in six weeks. The Vikings have a tougher road ahead and will need to go down to Atlanta and take care of business in Week 12.
With two more divisional games left in this all NFC North quarter of the season, the Pack has a chance to enter the fourth quarter of the season with most of its goals still reachable. If they continue to play with this kind of energy and emotion, they will be tough to beat on most Sundays...and Thursdays.
Posted November 19th, 2015 @ 08:11pm
It's been an uneasy week for Packer fans, who are treading in unchartered waters, suddenly questioning everything about their football team. Funny what a home loss to the Lions will do for your psyche.
Clearly, the biggest issues this team is facing right now reside on the offensive side of the ball, where virtually every starter appears to be playing to less than their potential or to a lesser level than we've seen them play.
As long as #12 is around, the passing game should be what sets this team apart from most others. In today's NFL, an average defense and mediocre special teams can be masked by a maestro at the controls of a high powered offense. Only, that offense has been grounded most of the season. Rodgers hasn't looked right since early in the Denver game and his appearance on the injury report this week to his shoulder injury should not come as a surprise.
Add to that the fact that defenses are not respecting the Pack's outside receivers, challenging them physically at the line to take away what Rodgers likes to do best: get rid of the ball quickly and let his receivers operate in space after the catch. It's causing Rodgers to hold on to the ball too long, hoping to see some separation, and when he doesn't, the play breaks down and drives stall.
The running game has also failed to get going, no matter who is getting the football. Before this three game skid, the team was eighth in the league in rushing. In these three losses they've ranked 28th. If the offense is to get untracked, it starts with running the football effectively and it won't be easy this weekend at TCF Bank Stadium. But it won't be impossible, either. The Vikings are middle of the pack against the run and the Pack needs to commit to running the ball. 61 pass attempts, 29 in the 4th quarter like last week and the Pack won't have a chance.
The passing game will continue to be shorthanded, with Jared Abbrederis out for a few weeks and Ty Montgomery dropping out of practice on Thursday. If this isn't the week Jeff Janis gets a shot, I don't know what is. This guy must be one lousy practice player to not be given snaps during games. We've seen him shine bright in limited opportunities this season and in the last couple preseasons. It's time to see if he can serve as a deep threat. Opposing defenses aren't taking the deep pass seriously right now. Janis and Davante Adams present the only real options on the roster.
Defensively for Green Bay this week it obviously comes down to containing Adrian Peterson for four quarters. A month or so ago, they did a good job against Todd Gurley, holding him to three yards per carry until he busted open a 55 yarder late when the game was already decided. There were positive signs form this unit in the fourth quarter in Carolina and last weekend. The Vikings have been held under 20 points in regulation in their last two home games against the Chiefs and Rams. I think the Pack has a chance to keep them near that number on Sunday.
After watching their last three efforts, I find it difficult to see them rising up and playing at the level needed to beat a supremely confident Vikings team that smells blood in the water. But a couple of intangibles work in the Pack's favor. They come in as the more desperate, angry, embarrassed, focused team. Their demeanor might give them a slight edge against a team suddenly being told how wonderful they are and one that's wearing t-shirts this week exhorting them to beat the Pack.
Whatever happens on Sunday will not signal the beginning or the end of anything. A win by the Vikes gives them a two game lead in the North, a head of steam and a little breathing room with the Falcons, Seahawks and Cardinals looming (a letdown next week would be very possible). A win by the Pack would slow the Viking love nationwide and right the Pack's ship, in time for two straight Thursday night divisional games on tap.
We all know these two teams will meet again on January 3rd. I had hoped a month ago that game might mean nothing. Regardless of what happens on Sunday, it looks like it might mean everything. For now, I expect the Vikes to grab the upper hand.
Vikings 20 Packers 19
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Posted November 16th, 2015 @ 02:11am
Halloween wasn't that long ago. On that night we passed out treats and perhaps imbibed on treats and looked forward to the matchup of unbeatens in Denver between the Pack and the Broncos.
Nothing has been the same since--for either team (though Denver's collapse unfolded after easily dispatching with the Pack ). The place we find the Pack sitting is unfamiliar territory. They look like a shadow of their former electric selves: out of sync, off balance and about to fade out of sight.
I've been tough on the defense the past few weeks--surrendering 1,500 yards in three games was tough to watch. But this embarrassing loss is not on the defense. True, they couldn't get off the field when it mattered most, surrendering that late touchdown after whiffing on Matthew Stafford a couple of times and missing tackles on Golden Tate's big play. But for the most part, the defense held the Lions in check. As it should have; the Lions' offense has been putrid all season.
The Packers lost this game because for a third straight week, they couldn't move the ball. The running game was non-existent. And for a third straight week, Rodgers didn't look like Rodgers. He just doesn't look comfortable in any phase of the game right now and he's getting pounded.
You have to wonder if Mike McCarthy decides to do an about face and take back the play calling duties. It would look like a panic move, but when you lose to the Lions at Lambeau, and play the way they've played this month, it's not too soon to panic.
I think it's safe to say the wheels are off the bus right now. The defense might have been good enough to bail the team out on this day, but special teams did them no favors. From the play that flipped the game, the kickoff return that opened the second half, to Mason Crosby's shank at the end. Of course, if Matt Prater kicks a couple of extra points, Crosby never takes the field.
This was supposed to be an opponent and a game that got the Pack back on track, where the offense once again Lambeau Leaped to its heart content and the Lions were dealt with like a Bloomington dentist. Instead, this head-shaking performance raises more questions than we've needed to raise in years.
1. What's wrong with Rodgers?
2. Why can't the offensive line run block any more?
3. Should McCarthy take back play calling duties?
4. Why can't the defense record a sack?
5. How do they plan on slowing AP next week?
You can go ahead and look for silver linings in this one. Maybe you liked the 10 catches between the two tight ends, or the emergence of Jared Abbrederis. Maybe you liked the overall play of the defense, the last drive notwithstanding.
Bottom line: the Pack has lost its identity as well as its hold on the North. Next they travel to play the team they are suddenly looking up to. A team that's won five straight and will take the field oozing confidence. After what we've witnessed the past few weeks, it's hard to believe the Pack will be ready to compete for 60 minutes.
And to make matters worse, we'll still be in November.
Lucky me: I get to do some trash talking with KFAN Vox Paul Allen Tuesday night at Joe Senser's in Bloomington, from 5:30 to 7. We're raising money for Loaves & Fishes MN. There will be a silent auction, including a pair of tickets to next Sunday's game. Former Viking great Carl Eller will be on hand, not that P.A. needs a wing man right now. It's one of those rare times where I don't have much ammunition. Actually, I really have no ammunition. Come on out to say hey, if you can. Maybe we can convince ourselves we can win next Sunday.