What do you expect to happen in the Steelers game?
Posted December 20th, 2013 @ 09:12pm
Just guessing here, but if I'm Dr. Pat McKenzie, I'm not expecting a Holiday gift from Mike McCarthy...or Aaron Rodgers for that matter. When the head coach faced the media on Friday, moments after Rodgers was declared out for Sunday's game, he looked annoyed, irritated and disgusted. Not necessarily in that order. He was wearing the face he probably wore when a driver drove off without paying, back in his Pennsylvania Turnpike days.
Clearly the decision was a divisive one. One one side you have Rodgers and McCarthy. On the other, McKenzie and GM Ted Thompson. One side is most interested in the here and now, the other in the long-term. For us Packer fans, 2014 is a long way off and the possibility of a post season run is foremost in our thoughts (though the path through the NFC even with Rodgers looks like a perilous one).
For all we know, the good doctor has no intention of clearing Rodgers this season. But if the Packers take care of business on Sunday, setting up a likely clash for the NFC North next Sunday at Soldier Field, you have to think it would be virtually impossible keeping off the field for that one.
For now let's focus on the task at hand. In come the proud, physical Steelers who, for all intents and purpose,s are out of the playoff conversation at 6-8. A home loss to the Dolphins a couple weeks back took them out of the race. Here's how they qualify: win out and hope the Ravens and Dolphins lose twice, the Chargers lose once and the Jets win out. That simple. They're facing a roster purge, with serious salary cap problems beginning next year, so the group is set to be dismantled.
Despite their disappointing season, they'll likely come to Lambeau ready to battle. They're well coached and some of the guys may remember the last times these teams met, a little game we like to call the Super Bowl. Dashing the Pack's playoff hopes wouldn't erase that memory but it would make for a merry plane ride home.
Offensively, they'll be more than a handful for the Pack's overly generous defense. Big Ben is having one of his best seasons statistically, despite playing behind a patched up offensive line that has gone through six combinations this season and has allowed the sixth most sacks. Rookie back LeVeon Bell was injured for most of the first half of the season, but is healthy now and has fresh legs. Job number one is to contain him on Sunday. The passing attack hasn't missed Mike Wallace. Antonio Brown has emerged as a star and guys like Heath Miller, Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders make hit hard to pay Brown too much attention.
It's the Steelers defense that has changed the most since their Super Bowl season. They no longer have DT Casey Hampton and their line is not anywhere near as dominant as it used to be. LB LaMarr Woodley was placed on IR this week and James Harrison is plying his trade in Cincinnati these days. Their secondary remains intact from the Super Bowl year. It's very good, but aging. Troy Polamalu remains a vicious hitter but still gambles too much and it tends to cost him in big moments.
So Matt Flynn will need to grab hold of the confidence he gained after his big second half in Dallas and hope it carries over to Sunday. He'll need to be sharper than he was against the Falcons. It looks like Eddie Lacy will be able to go, after sitting out a couple of days of practice. With snow in the forecast and temperatures in the low 20s, the Pack will likely lean on the rookie to carry a good chunk of the offense. Andrew Quarless will also need to continue his emergence as a primary weapon. With Brandon Bostick out for the season, Quarless will be relied upon to move the chains and be a red zone target.
This one can go one of two ways: the Pack takes the early Christmas (or late Hanukkah) gifts from the Cowboys and Ravens and uses that momentum to clobber the Steelers and move one win away from the division title. Or they fall flat after the high of last Sunday night and can't muster the focus needed to take care of business.
A win like the one we saw in Dallas, followed by the 61 yarder that knocked off the Lions on Monday night, leads me to believe there's a wee bit of fairy dust sprinkled on this team right now. It may not be pretty and it may not be easy, but I say the Packers live for another week.
Packers 23 Steelers 20
Posted December 19th, 2013 @ 08:12pm
This particular blog entry will have a very short shelf life. In less than 24 hours we'll know whether Aaron Rodgers will return Sunday to face the Steelers, in what the Packers are calling a semifinal playoff game in their hunt for the NFC North title.
By now you know where each side is coming from. Rodgers has yet to be cleared medically, and took second team reps in practice for a second straight day. The biggest Thursday surprise came from the mouth of Mike McCarthy: "He looks sharp...he looks ready to play." Rodgers has echoed those sentiments.
But the decision on when the $110 million man returns is not theirs to make. It rests with team doctor Pat McKenzie and GM Ted Thompson, both of whom went to the Rush Limbaugh school of conservatism (not politically, but in how they go about their business).
The hunch here is that Rodgers misses another week and the organization hopes that Matt Flynn, along with his suddenly playoff-relevant teammates can dispatch of the Steelers, a proud franchise that played wretched football early, but has shown signs of life in recent weeks.
The Pack will also be without premier run-stopper Johnny Jolly, putting more pressure on Dom Capers' troubling unit, which will have its hands full with rookie back LeVeon Bell.
But for the next day there will be much teeth-gnashing. Will he or won't he? Rodgers has spoken about risk-reward in recent days, basically saying to McKenzie and Thompson, 'look, you know I'm not 100% and I know I'm not 100%, but let's roll the dice and try to win a division title.' It's a nice stand to take and it helps the fans understand that he wants more than anything to be out there. But the truth is, the Packers won't put him out there if they think there's a chance he could re-injure the collarbone and risk a long rehabilitation.
We all want to see #12 out there. But I think the next time we see him on the football field will be at Soldier Field.
Hopefully, that game will mean something.
Posted December 16th, 2013 @ 02:12am
As season-savers go, this one ranks right up there. Here was my Sunday afternoon: I watched little to none of the first half, cheering on my eldest at his basketball tournament.
While juggling scorekeeper duties and keeping an eye on the Red Zone on my Droid Maxx, I caught a play here and a play there. What I saw was disheartening. Dallas was moving the ball at will and the Packers offense couldn't muster a thing. The Cowboys' final touchdown of the first half was the last thing I saw on the Chanhassen Rec Center TV as we headed for home. 26-3. Ugh.
So I settle in for the inevitable. After giving up a Cowboys record 300 yards of offense in the first half, the Packers defense looked finished. But a funny thing happened in the second half. Dallas continued to throw the ball, despite the big lead. You gotta love the Cowboys. They ran it down the Packers' throats in the first half, yet handed off to DeMarco Murray just seven times in the second half.
Then Eddie Lacy opened the second half with a 60 yard burst and Jordy Nelson made a circus touchdown catch and the Pack had a pulse. A faint pulse, but a pulse. Matt Flynn found his rhythm and the Packers got closer and closer.
The back of our brains were reminding us that if we could get within a score we could factor in the Tony Romo effect, one that takes hold in the fourth quarters of games and increases in frequency as the calendar moves closer to the end of the year.
First we had to go through some heartbreak. It looked like the Pack was poised to take the lead trailing 29-24, when Tramon Williams appeared to pick off Romo. Replay took it away and the 'Boys converted the third down when Mike Neal was mistakenly flagged for encroachment. It triggered Romo's last scoring drive, putting them up 36-24 and it looked like it was over.
But Flynn wasn't finished. His 80 yard drive was a lot of Lacy but also some key throws, like the third down conversion to Andrew Quarless (whose emergence the last couple weeks has been huge). When he hit James Jones for the score cutting the lead to 36-31, the ball was back in Romo's court. But they couldn't resist putting the ball back in the air. Sam Shields' athletic interception put the Pack in position to take the lead and Flynn delivered again. Starting at midfield, the Flynn/Lacy combo platter moved effortlessly down the field against Dallas' putrid and exhausted defense.
Romo had one more chance, but of course he threw another pick. In a play that was called as a run, but audibled to a pass by Romo, Tramon Williams made the play of the day, the acrobatic pick that this time was not reversed. Romo and his receiver Beasley were not on the same page and Williams served up the dagger.
It goes down as the Pack's greatest comeback ever and the Cowboys' biggest collapse ever. A december clash that could have huge post-season implications for both teams. The Cowboys will still win the East if they win their last two, but they had a golden opportunity to take a one game lead, after the Vikings shocked the Eagles.
As for the Pack, they'll be cheering on the Ravens to spring the upset on Monday night. But even if the Lions win, they have to keep winning. The final weekend is looming as gigantic, since Minnesota has proved that they're not quitting. If Rodgers can come back Sunday to shake off the rust against the mediocre Steelers, the North could be decided at Soldier Field on the final day of the year.
At about 5pm on Sunday, it was beginning to look like that game might be irrelevant. But after a heroic second half by Flynn, Lacy, Shields, Williams and the rest, the Packers somehow are right back in it. With a healthy Rodgers they might actually become dangerous.