Packers XLV

Bring On Da Bears.

Posted December 10th, 2018 @ 02:12pm

We learned a little something about the Packers on Sunday. We'll learn a lot more about them next Sunday.

What we learned by watching their convincing win over the Falcons was that they weren't quite ready to fold their tent and call it a season. Offensively, they looked sharper, with Rodgers getting the ball out of his hands quickly, converting third downs and leaning on Aaron Jones in the second half. Defensively, we saw an actual pick six and a unit that contained Matt Ryan for most of the afternoon. There weren't even any major special teams gaffes.

Much of this was expected following the debacle against the Cardinals and the subsequent removal of Mike McCarthy. Joe Philbin showed he was up to the challenge of taking the reins and calling the plays, despite the calamitous start which saw both challenges used up in the opening drive (I still don't understand how the Packers lost the first one. The second one should not have been challenged).

Even the scrum that broke out after it appeared Rodgers had gotten hit in the head area while sliding was a breath of fresh air, showing this team still had some fight in them and was ready to stand behind its leader.

This was the kind of December home game that we've come to expect: 34 unanswered points against a team that is running out the string. But it was only the second home game all season where the result was determined relatively early in the afternoon.

It looks like the Packers came out of this game relatively unscathed. Seeing Kenny Clark on the ground clutching his arm was the most worrisome moment. But he returned to the game and finished--albeit without really making his presence felt--he didn't show up in the box score. Jake Kumerow had more tackles than he did.

More often than not, teams represent well in the games after an in-season firing of the head coach. What happens next will be much more interesting. The Pack heads to Soldier Field to face a Bears team that announced its legitimacy with a defensive masterpiece against the Rams on Sunday night.

They will be uber motivated to knock off their rivals; to officially end their season and get a measure of revenge from their second half meltdown in the season opener at Lambeau. They are 5 and a half point favorites to end an eight game losing streak at home to Rodgers and the Packers. If the Pack can make it nine in a row, well then we can say the team has come out of their funk. It would probably be too late for any post-season fun, but it would provide a nice spring board to whatever comes next in 2019.

 

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An Early Head Coach Prediction and What We May See on Sunday

Posted December 7th, 2018 @ 06:12pm

We know two things: 1) The Packers will not make a decision on their new head coach until after the season. 2)What happens in these last four games could have a major impact on what direction Mark Murphy takes.

I have a feeling the offense will be much more productive on Sunday and will look better over the last four games. Of course, it will help if the right side of the offensive line is healthy--something we don't know yet, since Bulaga and Bell haven't practiced this week. But I think Philbin and Rodgers will work well in collaboration and things will click a bit more and look more like the offense we've grown accustomed to. Look for better tempo, look for more slants and screens and look for Aaron Jones to get much more than 50% of the offensive snaps.

Let's say that happens and let's say the defense, despite now having four starters on IR (Daniels, Wilkerson, Perry and King) and several others injured, continues to handle their business and show steady growth under Mike Pettine. I think it's in the best interest of the Packers to try to keep Pettine around amid all of the housecleaning. The players have said they love to play for him and enjoy the system. Chances are this unit could take a major step forward in the system's second year, helped in part by re-enforcements that will be coming via free agency and the draft.

Naturally, a new head coach would want to overhaul the staff and bring in people he knows and trusts. But what if the Packers go with a young, unproven offensive-minded coach? Keeping Pettine could be part of the deal and that type of candidate may have no problem with that.

If the Packers' new head man is a 30-something offensive guru-on-the-rise, it will mean that he wowed Murphy and Gutekunst and just as important, he wowed Aaron Rodgers. Because make no mistake, this hire is all about finding someone who will have Rodgers' respect and his ears. There is a narrative going around that Aaron Rodgers is uncoachable; I find that hard to believe. What I can believe is that Rodgers is frustrated by the lack of creativity and innovation in the Packers' scheme and is itching to take a page from what is happening in LA, KC, New Orleans and even Chicago.

So let's say the Packers land on that kind of guy. Rodgers loves him. Murphy and Gutekunst are equally smitten and it allows them to keep Pettine and the majority of his staff. I think there's a guy out there who could check all those boxes and it's Zac Taylor, currently the Rams' QB coach and a young man (he's 35) who is seen as one of the most promising offensive minds available. The former Nebraska QB got his NFL start from none other than Joe Philbin, who hired him to coach QBs in Miami in 2015 and is credited with getting Ryan Tannehill to play some of his best football. Maybe he would keep Philbin around as his OC. Maybe hiring Zac Taylor would remove the temptation to blow everything up.

Again, this only happens if he blows away Rodgers, Murphy and Gutey. Right now, my money says he will. Just a hunch.

As for the game on Sunday, these teams are a long way from the teams that met in the NFC Championship a couple years ago. The Falcons have dropped four straight, are even more banged up on defense and are playing out the string. The Packers should be more motivated to atone for last Sunday's travesty, which accelerated McCarthy's departure. By the way, I love the fact that the Pack brought Mike back to speak to the team one final time and provide closure for both sides--a very classy move.

With the playoffs out of the picture, these last four games are a chance for the Pack to look at some of their younger players and I believe they will--in a couple of weeks. The team needs a bounce back game on its home field this week and needs to do all it can to knock off the Bears next week. The final two games could serve as an opportunity to give some guys a lengthy audition.

Conventional wisdom states that teams usually perform very well, immediately after their head coach is fired. I think that holds true this week and Falcons coach Dan Quinn finally loses to a Packer team, after winning his first three, all at home.

Packers 27  Falcons 17

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Happy Birthday, Aaron.

Posted December 3rd, 2018 @ 02:12pm

I'm pretty sure Mark Murphy didn't wake up Sunday morning expecting to fire Mike McCarthy before day's end. But after witnessing the embarrassing, putrid performance by the Packers at Lambeau Field against one of the worst teams in the NFL, he realized the marriage must end. McCarthy and Rodgers were no longer able to coexist. And so he delivered a birthday present to his QB on his 35th birthday.

There will be much debate whether the timing was right, or whether McCarthy's resume had earned him the opportunity to finish out the season. While I was a bit surprised by the swiftness of the axe, I have no issue with the decision to cut ties following Sunday's debacle. It's clear the team is in disarray and needs a new voice to lead the way.

While McCarthy was no doubt stunned to be the first Packer coach to be fired during the season and just the third Super Bowl winning coach to suffer that fate, he'll get past the embarrassment quickly and will likely be patrolling another sideline next season. The smart money says that will be in Cleveland, where the front office is littered with former Packer executives who have to be drooling at the prospect of pairing McCarthy with their young franchise quarterback.

McCarthy will land on his feet, but will the Packers? Green Bay is a heritage brand in the NFL, a job coveted by many coaches because it lacks a meddlesome owner, drips with tradition and has a Hall of Fame quarterback on the roster. But that 35 year old QB isn't easy to harness and the ability to work with and coax the best out of him will be the number one priority for McCarthy's successor.

Back to McCarthy for a moment for a bit of an appreciation. I was among the hordes of Packer fans who were mystified by his hiring 13 years ago. His resume was underwhelming and there were hotter names out there at the time, like Sean Payton and gulp, Brad Childress. But he must be credited for helping Rodgers develop into the stud that he is and he ended up coaching this team for longer than anyone else. His 10-8 playoff record is certainly not horrible, but would have been better, if not for some crazy late game and overtime antics that he couldn't control. He gets pounded for 'only' winning one Super Bowl, but got to three other title games and we all know he should've won the won in Seattle.

He helped guide the Pack to nine straight postseason appearances and dominated the NFC North for the majority of his tenure. Someday his name will join the other greats inside Lambeau Field and the street named after him is a testament to his legacy.

But there's no question it was time to move on and now Murphy is tasked with a huge decision. Who is the best man to lead Rodgers in the twilight of his career? Will Mike Pettine be kept around as DC, or will the new coach be permitted to shape the entire staff?

I hope Pettine is retained--I think he is a terrific defensive mind that has overachieved with an overall lack of talent, specifically at linebacker and safety. The new Packer coach will be offensive minded and there are two schools of thought on the direction they will go. Either find an accomplished, veteran coach (Bruce Arians, Jim or John Harbaugh) or follow the trend to bring in a bright young mind, maybe from the college ranks (Oklahoma's Lincoln Riley is the current flavor of the month, but he's only three months older than Rodgers--that could be an issue).

The general consensus is that there is not a deep pool of available coaching talent out there right now. Murphy will have time now to get a jump on the other teams that will likely be in the market for a new head coach: the Packers' vacancy will likely be among the most coveted for all the reasons outlined above.

I would not dismiss the notion of handing the reins to Pettine, to follow in the footsteps of Bill Belichick who also failed as a head coach in Cleveland, before getting a second chance. They could then bring in a bright young offensive mind like Kliff Kingsbury to overhaul the offense. There is likely zero chance of this happening, but it's something I would consider.

Bottom line, with about five years left with Aaron Rodgers, the Packers must find the perfect guy to get him back to playing at an MVP level. Mark Murphy is now officially on the clock.

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