In Mitch We Trust.

Posted November 27th, 2020 @ 05:11pm

2020 has turned into a year unlike any we have ever experienced, but there are a few welcome constants, including a Packers-Bears prime time game. The NFL's oldest rivals meet on Sunday night at Lambeau--the 15th straight season these bitter rivals have played under the lights.

Here's an opportunity for the Pack to put the NFC North to bed and re-establish a little Lambeau Field swagger, with four of the next five games at home. The last two home games have been, how should I say this, less than inspiring. As you know, the Bears have been gracious visitors over the years, losing 10 of their last 12 in Green Bay, though I was there for one of those wins, five years ago on Thanksgiving night--the night the Pack retired Brett Favre's #4.

Once again, Green Bay faces another team coming off its bye, though the Bears haven't won off their bye since 2013 (a rare victory over the Pack). The biggest change will be familiar face Mitch Trubisky at quarterback. With Nick Foles still nursing a hip injury suffered against the Pack, Trubisky has taken all of the practice snaps and appears ready to try to reclaim his job--at least as an audition for another team, since it appears likely Chicago will bring in yet another guy under center next season.

So Green Bay will face a motivated Trubisky, who will have his hands full on offense that looks putrid, even by Bears standards. They'll be helped by the return of David Montgomery at lead running back, but are still dealing with massive injuries on the offensive line. Mitch will  likely use his legs a lot to try to frustrate the Pack's aggressive pass rush.

I can see him convetring a handful of third downs by running for his life. He'll likely look early and often for WR Allen Robinson, who should draw Jaire Alexander's attention all night long. That will leave opportunities for rookie speedster Darnell Mooney and Packer castoff Jimmy Graham. But make no mistake, the Packers defense should dominate against this team.

One thing that would be nice would be to see the special teams group elevate to that of a competent unit. The Bears always seem to have good return guys and if Green Bay doesn't contain Cordarelle Patterson on kick returns and Anthony Miller on punt returns, they will be giving the Bears offense the only thing that gives it life: short fields. Make them go 70 yards and they're sure to break down at some point. But give them good field position and you keep them in the game. On the positive side, it appears Tyler Ervin will be back, so we can all breathe a little easier after watching Darrius Shepherd and Josh Jackson the last couple of weeks.

Like last week, the heavyweight matchup is the Pack's offense against the Bears D. The biggest question is the availability of D-lineman Akiem Hicks, who is the heartbeat of that defense. He left the Vikings game with a hamstring injury and has not practiced this week (Friday's practice has not yet happened as I write this). Dalvin Cook found no footing while Hicks was in there and ran loose once he exited. Aaron Jones need to be a major factor in this game and if Hicks is out, he has a good chance to accomplish that.

Billy Turner will likely have to deal with Khalil Mack for most of the night, but should get help from the tight ends.  Their entire linebacking corps is elite and all the others need to be dealt with: Roquan Smith, Danny Trevaithan and Robert Quinn. The Pack expect center Corey Linsley to play through his back injury. As good as Elgton Jenkins looked last week, their at their best with their preferred starting five on the field, obviously.

On the back end, the Bears get their leader back: safety Eddie Jackson was activated Friday from the COVID list (he did not test positive). If CB Kyle Fuller is tracking Davante Adams all night (Adams is expected to continue to play through his ankle injury, even though he missed practice on Thursday), Allen Lazard will face impressive rookie Jaylon Johnson. We'll have to watch MVS's availability; he pulled up in practice Thursday with an Achilles injury.

Watching Aaron Rodgers duel against this defense is always worth the price of admission and he'll likely be the ultimate difference in this game. He's 18-5 against the Bears with 47 TDs and 10 picks and a passer rating of 104, against defenses that are usually among the league's best.

That said, I don't expect it to be easy. The Bears come in with their season hanging by a thread. They've lost four straight and are in desperation mode. I think they keep it close in a relatively low scoring game (caveat: if Hicks is out, the Pack could put 30 on the board), but ultimately they'll take a commanding three game lead in the division.

Pack 23  Bears 16

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There's Plenty of Blame to Go Around.

Posted November 23rd, 2020 @ 02:11pm

It's so easy to blame MVS for the Pack's overtime loss in Indy. In fact, a few sorry excuses for human beings went so far as to issue death threats to the Pack's wide receiver on social media following the game.

We love this game and we love our team, but those despicable people should be rooted out and publicly shamed for their act of cowardice and social terrorizing. Besides, there were so many other reasons the Packers turned a 28-14 halftime lead into an overtime loss.

We should start with the coaching, on all three levels. Matt LaFleur failed to counter the second half adjustments made by the Colts. His play call on the late fourth and one play was a complete head scratcher, as was time management at the end of regulation. Mike Pettine's stubborn refusal to get out of his dime package in the third quarter allowed the Colts to run the ball down his unit's throats and caused the defense to be on the field for basically the entire third quarter. Shawn Menninga's special team's units were a disaster for a second straight week. Turns out Tyler Ervin appears to be one of the most valuable players on the team and JK Scott may as well start perusing the classified ads (Darrius Shepherd may want to join him).

MVS's fumble was simply the final big mistake made by the Packers on day they went toe to toe with a playoff contender and its big boy defense. By halftime, the Pack had put up 28 points and 200 yards and its two turnovers had resulted in zero points by the Colts. Then came the painful third quarter, where the defense softened and the offense curled into a fetal position.

Despite how the game script got flipped in the second half, the game was there for the taking, as the Pack was moving downfield late with a chance to tie or take the lead. It's gotten to the point that when the Packers face short yardage situations, like third or fourth and one, we hold our breaths and wait for disaster to happen. For as sharp a play caller as MLF is, he is awful on short yardage calls, and his decision on fourth and one was just the latest example.

Then came the weirdest series I've seen in a long time, after the Pack turned the ball over on downs. Penalty after penalty on the Colts. With an eye on preserving time, the Pack declined a penalty that would have put Indy a first and 30 situation, instead deciding that the defense would hold and not allow a first down conversion. Whoops. Philip Rivers and his offense did convert the first down, but thanks to an endless stream of holding penalties, they were forced to punt and give Rodgers one last chance.

Third and ten from the six yard line and it looked like the Pack was cooked, but there was MVS flying down the middle of the field and hauling in a 47 yard reception that breathed life into the offense. The following sequence was not what we're accustomed to seeing in the final minute of a game. Rodgers spiked the ball twice and the Pack seemed to be content to settle for a field goal and go to overtime, rather than go for the kill and end the game. The had the Colts on their heels and their own defense was gassed, yet they never took a shot in the end zone.

It was a maddening second half and a quick, deflating overtime, eliminating the chance to basically wrap up the NFC North before Thanksgiving and stay positioned atop the NFC. All is not lost: over the last six games, the Pack will face just one team with a winning record (the Titans) and they can get the bad taste out of their mouths by kicking around the Bears next Sunday night at Lambeau.

But this game showed us once again, that the Pack is missing that little something that championship teams have: the ability to put mistakes behind them and make the big plays against good teams when it's needed most. Yes, their QB is great and will always give his team a chance. It's time for his coaches to rise to his level, or we'll be in for another big disappointment come January.

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Road Sweet Road.

Posted November 20th, 2020 @ 03:11pm

I'm shedding a tear as I write this, but thankfully the Packers are not playing the Colts at Lambeau Field on Sunday. This team could you use a good, old fashioned indoor game on a fast track, to see if they can get their mojo back. Not to mention, the Colts are built to play an ugly game in bad weather, while the Pack are built to play indoors...but I digress.

They're stepping up in class this week, after facing two one-win teams and a seriously undermanned 49ers team in their last three games. Let's hope they rise up and play to the level of their competition, because the Colts are a very solid team on both sides of the ball and on special teams. But they're not a great team and the Packers are equipped to bounce back from last week's near disaster.

Indy is led by its defense, which leads the league in yards allowed and is near the top in points allowed. When they traded for DeForest Buckner before the draft, they added an elite D-lineman who now anchors a terrific front seven. Linebacker Darius Leonard is just the latest in a line of great linebackers the Pack has faced in recent weeks (Eric Kendricks, Fred Warner, Joe Schobert/Myles Jack). He's the emotional leader of the defense and has Aaron Rodgers on his hit list, after Rodgers deigned to call Warner the best linebacker in football.

If the Packers hope to win this game they have to run the football better a whole lot better than they did last week. Derrick Henry gained over a hundred yards against them last week and averaged almost five and a half yards per carry. Yes, I know, he's Derrick Henry, but Jones is solidly in the next tier of backs and the defense will have to respect the pass a lot more than it did last week.

The biggest question right now is whether Davante Adams plays, and if he does is he anywhere close to 100% with that ankle injury. He has had a lot of success against Xavier Rhodes in the past and the former Vikings corner is having a resurgent season, after the Purple kicked him to the curb. We also have no idea if or how much Allen Lazard will play. He's been activated from IR but Matt LaFleur is making it sound like they will ease him back in very carefully. Maybe that's a ruse, but the Pack could really use their top three receivers on the field against this defense. The offense sounds like it will be without Tyler Ervin again and Robert Tonyan is trying to fight through an ankle injury.

The Colts' offense is middle of the road in all respects. They don't have a skill position player that scares you to death and Philip Rivers is nearing the end. But they have a stout offensive line that protects him and Rivers rarely holds the ball for more than 2.5 seconds. He gets rid of it quickly, with lots of slants and screens--he's only been sacked eight times all season.

His biggest weapon Sunday will likely be running back Nyheim Hines, who had 115 yards against the Jags, 70 on the ground and the rest through the air. He will share the rock with former Badger Jonathan Taylor who seems lost right now. He gained 12 yards on seven carries last week and seems like he runs with a blindfold on. He can't seem to identify the right running lane right now and just crashes into his linemen looking for a hole.

The Colts' young receivers are starting to shine as their veteran begins to fade. TY Hilton has been very quiet all season--he has yet to score. But youngsters Michael Pittman and Zach Pascal are gaining confidence every week. Pittman, the rookie from USC, was drafted at the top of the second round and was one of the WRs the Pack could have considered with their first pick.

It sounds like both Jaire Alexander and Kevin King will be back for this game, giving the Pack the edge in both matchups. The pass rush needs to show what they showed late last week and do all they can to make Rivers uncomfortable. By the way, he's 1-3 against the Pack, finally breaking through last season with the Chargers.

The Pack's defense has crept into the league's top ten, though it doesn't really feel like it. They still need to get more takeaways and get tough in the red zone--the Colts are not one of the better red zone offenses, so this is an opportunity to force field goals.

I like this matchup for the Pack and will extremely confident if I knew Adams was 100%. Yes, the Colts have had three extra days to prepare and are coming off a big division road win in Nashville, but the Packers seem to bounce back strong after poor performances. The Colts defense is legit, but the best passers they've faced this season are Matthew Stafford and Joe Burrow (both threw for more than 300 yards and Burrows played at Indy).

Rodgers doesn't have to worry about the weather conditions and he may have the healthiest offense around him since week one. He knows this is a test his unit needs to pass to send a message to the rest of the NFC. I think they pass the test.

Packers 27  Colts 24

 

 

 

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