Who would you rather see return from IR this season?
Posted October 21st, 2016 @ 03:10pm
It was just one night. But it was fun to watch, interesting and different. Faced with no proven, trusted running backs, Mike McCarthy aired it out and Rodgers and his receivers delivered. But it begs the question: is that type of offense sustainable over ten weeks?
We'll discuss that in a moment. For now, let's enjoy it for what it was. The second half awakening dawned after Rodgers once again got careless with the ball, giving the Bears a brief lead early in the second half. Prior to that, we saw a Packers offense that showed itself in spurts, but failed in the red zone. And McCarthy's play call on fourth and goal was laughable. You don't ask your wide receiver turned running back to punch it in from a yard out. You roll out Rodgers and let him work his magic. If it fails, it fails.
After Clay Matthews and company likely ended Brian Hoyer's season in the second quarter on a hit that broke his arm, it felt like the Packers had no chance to lose this one. Yet there we were, early in the third, trailing 10-6 and you could almost see the smoke coming out of the players' ears.
Finally, the offense took off. Credit McCarthy and company for crafting a creative offensive game plan on a short week that took advantage of the guys who were able to suit up. We didn't know whether Davante Adams would clear the concussion protocol in time for the game, but he was active and had the game of his career. Let's hope we can bottle that Davante Adams for the rest of the year.
Ty Montgomery has to share most valuable player honors, after his hard-nosed effort as a running back and receiver. I keep asking myself whether his body can handle all the pounding and that's where I come back to the sustainability question. Asking Rodgers to drop pack 50+ times in November and December seems like a recipe for disaster, as does asking Montgomery and Cobb to carry the football. If Starks is back in a few weeks, and maybe Lacy for the last couple of weeks and playoffs, this Air Aaron attack might work in the short term.
As expected, the defense bounced back after the Cowboys debacle. Sure, the Hoyer loss rendered the Bears clawless, but the Bears weren't doing much when Hoyer was in there. Hopefully the ten day break will be enough time for Randall and Rollins to heal and the defense will be as close to healthy as possible for a date with the Falcons, the league's top offense.
Weather won't be an issue in that game and the Falcons defense is still a work in progress, with just one real playmaker, Vic Beasley. They rank 24th in yards allowed and 26th in points allowed, so there should be opportunities to keep the momentum going. The following week the Colts come to Lambeau and they're even worse defensively.
So it appears that the sky is not falling. The Packers are 4-2, and have ten days to tweak their new offensive reality and get guys healthy. Beating the Bears at Lambeau doesn't qualify as a major achievement, but after losing twice to them at home in the last three years, it feels awfully good. And Bears fans probably weren't even watching, with the Cubs playing a far more meaningful game at the same time.
It also feels good to know that the 'what's wrong with Aaron' narrative will be silenced for a while.
Posted October 20th, 2016 @ 03:10pm
Think of the Packers as that rock band that is coming off a flat performance. The lead singer was off-key and the band just couldn't find their rhythm (I'm aware that Vikings fans would prefer to look at them as that over-the-hill band still playing big venues, but one that's past its prime). Then that band takes the stage for its encore. Do they summon up their talents and bring the house down? Or do they get booed off the stage?
That's what we'll find out tonight, when the banged up Packers and Bears take the field at Lambeau to provide another reason why Thursday night football is ridiculous for everyone except the NFL and its owners. In all, 24 players have been on the injury report this week. We know the Pack will be without its top three corners, top two running backs and two wide receivers. The Bears will be without their top two corners, along with Eddie Goldman, Eddie Royal, Pernell McPhee, Jeremy Langford and former Packer Josh Sitton, whose big return was derailed by an ankle injury suffered on Sunday. Another seven Bears are listed as questionable tonight as well.
Unfortunately for the Pack, the Bears will also be without Jay Cutler, who notoriously saves his worst performances for Green Bay. Brian Hoyer has been better anyway, with four straight 300 yard games and no interceptions. He can't move around and doesn't have the strongest arm, but he gets rid of the ball quickly and makes few mistakes (don't tell Texans fans that, though).
While the Bears are moving the ball, they're not scoring much, ranking 31st in points, despite being seventh in yards. Where they're really suffering is in the red zone. The Pack will need to play close attention to Alshon Jeffery (who's still searching for his first TD) and tight end Zach Miller. Rookie Jordan Howard (from IU) has been solid in relief of Langford, averaging five yards per carry. But obviously he's no Ezekiel Elliott and the Pack's run defense should bounce back nicely.
Of course, all eyes will be on the Packers' offense to see how Aaron Rodgers responds to his recent spate of mediocrity. Mike McCarthy would like to lean on the running game, but with Lacy and Starks out, it's hard to know what to expect. Will Don Jackson get the call? Newly acquired Knile Davis? Montgomery or Cobb? Most likely, it will be a combination of all of the above. It's not a great time to lose Lacy--let's just hope some of the early reports are wrong and that he'll be back soon.
The passing game will likely be without Davante Adams (concussion) and Jared Abbrederis. Who will play outside opposite Jordy Nelson? Will Jeff Janis get a shot or will Cobb or Montgomery handle it? Whoever plays the slot should have a big night, opposite corner Cre'Von LeBlanc, a rookie free agent who is getting torched. Not to mention, he sounds like the bad guy in a Bullwinkle cartoon. The Bears' secondary is as banged up as the Pack's, and their healthy guys aren't that good. That said, they've only given up one passing play of 35 yards or more. The Pack should be able to add to that tonight as Rodgers looks to show a prime time audience that he's still got it.
This is meeting number 193 in the longest played series in the NFL, one owned by the Pack since Brett Favre arrived. If the Packers sweep this year, the series will be tied for the first time since 1933. But we all remember the debacle of last year's Thanksgiving night game. The Bears know they can win at Lambeau and know they're facing a team that's questioning itself a bit. With four of the next five on the road, the Packers absolutely must bounce back emphatically tonight. Then with ten days to get ready for the Falcons, maybe they can get a little healthier to prepare for the tough stretch ahead.
It's the 11th straight year that these teams have met in prime time, but it will be the least watched ever in Chicago, with the Cubs battling the Dodgers in a big Game 5 at the same time. It likely won't be easy for all the reasons listed above. I see an ugly game, where both offenses have a tough time getting untracked. But the Packers' defense will be the best unit on the field and I see them bouncing back well, despite playing without its top three corners.
Packers 20 Bears 14
Reminder: there will be no "Packer Preview" this Sunday, since there's no game to preview. I'm headed to Milwaukee to visit the family. The show will be back on 10/30 for the Atlanta game. I'll watch that one at the Park Tavern in St. Louis Park--our first Packer viewing party of the season. Hope to see you there.
Posted October 17th, 2016 @ 01:10pm
I'm going to make it brief. After a performance like we saw on Sunday, the Pack's season can go in one of two directions. It can be a wake-up call or it can be a knockout punch. With four road games coming up in the next six games against pretty good teams (none have a losing record), we'll find out pretty quickly which direction it will go.
You all watched the game. It looked the same from my vantage point, up high in the south end zone. The Packers were dominated in all phases, including coaching. Scott Linehan knows how to dial up plays to confuse Dom Capers' defense. Mike McCarthy seems unable to tweak his predictable offense.
The best quarterback on the field was not the preseason MVP, it was the fourth round rookie who will cause Tony Romo to get very accustomed to wearing a headset for the rest of the season. The Cowboys also have the better running back and offensive line. The Pack did an okay job bottling up Ezekiel Elliott early, but once the league's rushing leader warmed up, the defense had no answers.
Obviously, the game turned at the end of the first half, first when the Pack couldn't move the ball after a nice Trevor Davis punt return and had to punt, trailing 10-6. With the 'Boys backed up to the three McCarthy did what he always does. He took defensive timeouts, believing he'd get a three and out and get the ball back. Two problems with that strategy: the Pack's offense had shown no reason to believe they would strike quickly and the defense wasn't prepared for Linehan's creativity. Five plays and 97 yards later, the Cowboys had silenced Lambeau Field and taken a 17-6 lead. The Pack never recovered.
As impressive as Prescott and Elliott were, and they deserve to be the major talkers coming out of this game, for Packer nation topic number one is the offense: the sudden penchant for turnovers and the mediocre play of Rodgers. It's hard to believe our eyes when we see him throw a ball right into the willing arms of a defender or put the ball on the ground when the team is about to score to get within shouting distance.
The truth is, Rodgers has looked like Rodgers for exactly one half of one game this season. He missed about a half dozen throws on Sunday and I had a good view to see for myself that the receivers, for the most part, were not getting open. It's up to McCarthy to find ways to jump start this offense. So far, he's been too hard headed or just unable to make the changes needed.
After Sunday's performance, there's plenty of soul searching needed and not a lot of time to do it. They'll take the field again on Thursday night with a chance to wipe the taste of this one off their lips. A chance to get a little revenge for last year's loss to the Bears--the low point of the season. After that, it's four out of five on the road and if they don't figure out a way to protect the football and make some plays on offense, they'll be in danger of becoming a blip in the Vikings' rear view mirror.