Will This Be Hundley's Final Act?

Posted December 8th, 2017 @ 01:12pm

The Packers begin the fourth quarter of the season in Cleveland on Sunday, the first of three road games left on the schedule, with zero wiggle room in their chase for an unlikely ninth straight playoff appearance.

We all know the storyline: if the Pack can dispatch the winless Browns, they will likely get Aaron Rodgers back for next week's clash in Carolina in a showdown for two teams chasing a precious wildcard invitation. As it stands right now,  the Packers have a five percent chance to reach the post-season (the Falcons win on Thursday night did them no favors). We'll have to root for the Vikings to take down the Panthers and then hope the Pack can deal them a second straight home loss next week.

But first things first. How dangerous are the winless Browns? They shook up their front office on Thursday, firing GM Sashi Brown, who collected draft picks like they were rookie cards. The success of two QBs he passed on, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, likely sealed his fate. He was instantly replaced by former Packer John Dorsey, who will begin the task of evaluating his current roster beginning with the Packer game on Sunday. Will that galvanize the players, knowing that the new boss will be scrutinizing them very carefully?

The Browns are 0-12 and 1-27 under Hue Jackson, but he's been told he'll be back for a third season. They've actually been competitive in almost every game they've played, especially at home, where they lost by three to the Steelers and Titans. They tend to play well into the second half and then shoot themselves in the foot, and then the other foot.

They seemed electrified by the return of Josh Gordon last week, who's been out of football for three years as he wrestled with personal demons. He caught four balls for 85 yards against the Chargers and they just missed on a couple of big plays. With the Packers hurting big time in the secondary, there will be chances for rookie DeShone Kizer to hook up with his speedy receiver.

With Kevin King on IR and awaiting shoulder surgery and Davon House unlikely to play after missing practice this week, Green Bay will line up with Damarius Randall and Josh Hawkins on the outside and probably Morgan Burnett taking on most of the slot duties. The Pack will have to activate one of two young corners: Donatello Brown or Lenzy Pipkins. The pass rush will need to provide a boost, as it did last week against the Bucs. Besides Gordon, rookie tight end David Njoku has proven to be a dangerous red zone and third down target and second year WR Corey Coleman can be a difficult matchup.

You have to believe the Pack will want to rely on its running game, after Brett Hundley's miserable passing performance last week. He has been better on the road and the Browns don't resemble the Steelers defensively, but they are a top 15 defense, sixth against the run. The run defense has sagged since they lost DE Emmanuel Ogbah and Green Bay will deliver a healthy dose of their new thunder and lightning combination of Jamal Williams and Aaron Jones. Mike McCarthy unwrapped some read option with Hundley in overtime last weekend and its success should mean we'll see a little more on Sunday against an aggressive pass rushing unit led by last spring's #1 pick, Myles Garrett.

Will Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb continue to be faces on a milk carton or will Hundley figure out a way to get them involved? If Nick Perry misses the game, will someone step up so the Browns can't just double Clay Matthews all afternoon?

The Browns are winless, but not hopeless and this figures to be a game that will be decided in the fourth quarter. With so much to play for: the pending return of Rodgers and a slight chance at the playoffs, I have to believe the Packers will do enough things right to keep the Browns winless and their flickering playoff hopes alive.

Packers 20  Browns 16

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Bad Brett Returns, But Packers Escape To Stay Alive.

Posted December 4th, 2017 @ 02:12pm

The good news is, if all goes according to plan, that was the last game Brett Hundley will start at Lambeau. His wretched passing performance was masked by a couple of timely zone read runs late, along with a pair of defensive plays that ultimately swung the game in the Pack's overtime win over the Bucs.

I don't know what it is about playing in front of the home fans, But Hundley did not even closely resemble the guy we saw the previous Sunday night in Pittsburgh. He'll have to revert to that guy next Sunday in Cleveland, or the Pack could find itself losing to the currently winless Browns.

The Packers stayed in this one with a solid ground game that averaged nearly seven yards per carry and nearly 200 yards, led by Jamal Williams who has shown he has what it takes to be a lead back in this league. When Aaron Jones returned to spell him for what turned out to be the last play of the game, we were reminded that he can be a game changer when he's on the field. His one carry was the game winner on Sunday.

Hundley's struggles were consistent all afternoon. He missed wide open receivers and made late decisions. The Bucs came in to the game ranked dead last in passing yards allowed, yet Hundley managed just 84 all afternoon. He has become very adept at rendering Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb invisible, so maybe he could moonlight as a magician in the offseason.

Defensively, it was kind of a mixed bag. They sacked a refreshed Jameis Winston seven times and kept big play receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson in check (just four catches for 57 yards between them). Kenny Clark's strip of Winston that Dean Lowry scooped and scored on was the kind of game-changing play we haven't seen enough of this season. And when Kyler Fackrell was untouched on a punt, his block got the Pack's offense moving.

But they still seem confounded by screen passes, and when Jake Ryan and Clark exited with injuries, they could no longer stop the run, making Peyton Barber look like Marion Barber. If not for some strange play calling by the Bucs in the red zone, this game could have gotten away from the Pack late.

But the overtime gods finally gave the Pack a break, giving the Packers the ball first and this time it was Tampa Bay that never got a chance. How many times has this worked against us in recent years? Williams' and Hundley's legs carried the Pack down the field and Jones provided the exclamation point that kept Green Bay's slim playoff hopes alive.

By all accounts, a win in Cleveland would open the door for Rodgers' return the following week in Carolina. But Green Bay will need a much better game from Hundley. The Browns are competing every week and are much better defensively than the Bucs right now. The return of Josh Gordon gave their offense a boost and the Pack will need to treat this like the playoff game it represents to them.

Sunday's overtime win was a shaky first step in running the table. If they can take care of business next weekend, they'll face the prospect of Aaron Rodgers having Carolina on his mind on December 16th.

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Playoffs? Playoffs? They Begin on Sunday for Pack.

Posted December 1st, 2017 @ 04:12pm

In this wild, crazy, unpredictable 2017 season, the playoffs begin Sunday for the Green Bay Packers. Yeah, I know. The Pack has lost five of six and sits at 5-6 in a deep, talented NFC.

But you all know what's going on here. 10-6 would most likely get the Pack into the post-season. The NY Times playoff simulator puts the chances at 90%. So if the Pack can use last year's formula of running the table, they would likely earn a record-tying ninth straight playoff invitation.

To do that, they would need to begin by beating the Bucs and Browns with Brett Hundley under center. If they can get to 7-6 and Aaron Rodgers' doctors tell him that his injury is sufficiently healed to get back on the field, then we can have some fun Week 15 in Carolina for a game that would truly have a playoff feel. Rodgers plans to work out on Friday and if things go well, he will return to the practice field on Saturday.

But none of that will matter if the Pack can't take care of the Bucs on what should be an unseasonably warm December afternoon at Lambeau, with temperatures in the 40s. The big story is the return of Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston, who returns after missing most of November with a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder. He's also spent most of the  past month deflecting questions about a groping incident, alleged by an Uber driver.

I think the Pack catches a break facing the rusty Winston. I've watched most of his games this year for fantasy reasons and he has regressed in his third season in many ways, most notably with shady decision making. His timing has been a bit off all season and they've struggled to sustain drives.

Their offense took a hit last week with the loss of two offensive linemen for the season to knee injuries. Center Ali Marpet was probably their best lineman (though replacement Joe Hawley started the last two years) and right tackle Demar Dotson will be missed as well. They expect LG Evan Smith back from a concussion, so that will help a bit. Their top back, Doug Martin hasn't practiced all week and is in the concussion protocol as I write this. That would be a big loss, as there's a drop off to Charles Sims and Jaquizz Rodgers.

Their best weapon is still Mike Evans and with Kevin King ruled out with the shoulder injury, look for Davon House to get that assignment most of the afternoon. Speedy DeSean Jackson has been limited in practice this week with a hammy; if he goes, he'll be a problem for Josh Hawkins.

But the Packers defense should be up to this challenge. The Bucs are talented, but tend to shoot themselves in the foot and the Packers secondary is due for a couple of takeaways. Mike Daniels should have his way with the banged up line and be back to his disruptive self.

To me, the key in this game is which Hundley do we see? Tampa Bay has the worst pass defense in the league--there will be plays to be had if Hundley can make the right decisions. What we saw Sunday night in Pittsburgh should give us hope. But we had that same hope after his strong fourth quarter in Chicago and he laid an egg against the Ravens, who boast a far superior defense. If Hundley can take care of the football and put the ball in his playmakers' hands things should go Green Bay's way.

We may see Aaron Jones a little bit, but Jamal Williams will likely be the main ballcarrier again this week and he's earned the carries after a strong performance in Pittsburgh. The Bucs' D is led by the underrated Gerald McCoy who will be a problem in the running game and the passing game. The interior linemen have to pat extra attention to him all day. Linebacker Lavonte David is a stud too, but after those two guys the rest of the unit is average at best.

After three straight losses at Lambeau, the Pack knows it has to turn things around Sunday to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive. They are favored (by two points) for the first time with Hundley starting. I think they follow up a surprisingly strong performance in Pittsburgh with a well played, mostly mistake-free game led by the defense.

Packers 24  Bucs 17

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