Packers XLV

In (the other) Aaron We Trust.

Posted November 12th, 2018 @ 02:11pm

Packer fans had waited a long time to watch their favorite team play a game at Lambeau; they've been waiting even longer to see Aaron Jones be featured in the offensive game plan. It was worth the wait.

Jones demonstrated the impact he can make on this offense right from the start, gashing the Dolphins defense for chunks of yards at a time, setting the tone for what turned out to be a solid win against a banged up Dolphins team.

For much of the afternoon, it looked like one of those annoying games where the Pack made some big plays, but made enough mistakes to keep an inferior opponent within striking distance. The fumble by Tramon Williams, the blocked punt: these miscues prevented the Pack from putting the Dolphins away early. Fortunately, the defense stepped up to force field goals--which was great to see, but also what you should expect to see when you're facing a backup QB who has a makeshift offensive line in front of him.

The concern with the defense is the injuries that are starting to pile up--something that gets magnified when you're working on a short week. With Kentrell Brice, Nick Perry and Bashaud Breeland all dropping out, it's safe to assume the defense will be without them in Seattle. The Reservoir Dogs re-enforcements will likely be called on again: Mr. Brown and Mr. Green. Both saw their first significant action on defense, and both Tony Brown and Raven Green made their presence felt. Their test gets a bit more difficult on Thursday when they face Russell Wilson, who rushed for nearly 100 yards against the Rams.

While the defense stepped up as hoped, it was Jones who set the tone early, rushing for 96 yards in the first quarter, fueled by a career long 68 yard run, something we haven't seen 'round these parts since the Ahman Green days. He's now averaging a league best 6.8 yards per carry and his 15 rushing attempts were a season high and seems like the right number to help ensure that his body holds up. at 5'9" and 208, he's not built to pound the rock 25 times a game.

That kind of production on the ground opens everything up for the passing game, including play action, which guys like Goff and Brees are able to flourish with because of their dangerous running games. With the passing game still not clicking on all cylinders, the kind of balance the Pack had on Sunday makes life for Rodgers much easier.

Yet despite all the good things we saw, it was a 14-12 game with 12 minutes to play and when you let teams hang around you can get burned. The Dolphins didn't have the talent to make the Pack pay. They kicked off out of bounds, setting Green Bay up at the 40 and then Rodgers hit the seldom used Marcedes Lewis for 30 yards, sandwiched between a pair of nice Jones runs and the Packers found the end zone quickly to take a nine point lead. A Breeland interception let to another quick score and finally the Pack had the breathing room they needed to waltz to their fourth win of the season and remain unbeaten at home.

But if they are really going to turn things around they're going to need to win a couple road games and with two tough ones coming up in prime time, they need to start now. Seattle will treat Thursday night as if their season's on the line, now that they've dropped to 4-5. With the Pack playing a late afternoon game and then having to board a plane on Tuesday, recovery time is reduced and they'll need to play a whole lot better than what we've seen this season when they're away from home.

With three winnable home games left on the schedule, plus a game they should win at the Jets, the season will likely come down to needing to win at least one more road game: at Seattle, at Minnesota and at Chicago. Might as well take care of that on Thursday night. Continuing to feed the other Aaron would be a good start.

 

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Packers Must Deliver In Their Only November Home Game.

Posted November 9th, 2018 @ 05:11pm

The Packers come home for the only time in November at a crossroads.

On the one hand, they had a chance to win their last two road games against Super Bowl caliber teams. On the other hand, they didn't and now find themselves needing to win two of the next three to have a realistic chance to remain in the NFC playoff hunt.

Three games over a 15 day period that will define their season. Of course, that means they will have to win a road game; they're 0 for four so far this season. And both of those games are in prime time in very difficult stadiums to win. The Seahawks will likely be coming off two straight losses (they're at the Rams on Sunday) and will feel like their season is on the line. The Vikings will be playing the third of three straight division games, maybe with a chance to take hold of the North.

But first things first. Here come the 5-4 Dolphins, led by backup QB Brock Osweiler, I've been to two Packer games this season. After watching the Pack have to fight from behind to beat Mitch Trubisky and CJ Beathard, I'm taking nothing for granted this Sunday.

The Dolphins come in still feeling like they're in the wildcard hunt in the AFC. They really aren't, but they don't know that yet. What are they good at? Defensively, they can rush the passer, with the ageless Cameron Wake, Robert Quinn and Andre Branch. Offensively, they can move it on the ground with another ageless guy, Frank Gore and Kenyon Drake. And they have some decent receivers in Danny Amendola, Devante Parker and Kenny Stills.

But there's a reason the Packers are ten point favorites in this matchup. It's an obvious must-win game for the 3-4-1 Pack and represents their only game at Lambeau between October 15th and December 2nd. Temperatures will be in the low 30s and both teams will look to pound the rock. The Dolphins are 28th against the run so maybe McCarthy and Rodgers will find a way to run the ball 25-30 times.

It sounds like Bryan Bulaga dodged a major knee injury when he went down early against the Patriots so the Pack will have him back to deal with Quinn. It will be interesting to see if rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick draws the assignment to cover Davante Adams. They just moved him to outside corner last week against the pass-challenged Jets. This will be a good test, as Rodgers has said he wants to feed Adams more. With Geronimo Allison done for the year, MVS will step into a starting role. His speed could cause the rookie problems as well.

Defensively, Green Bay may be a bit short-handed, with Kevin King likely to miss a game, again, and Mike Daniels suddenly questionable with a shoulder injury sustained in practice. Those losses might not hurt to badly on Sunday, but they will be needed for the road games that follow. After seeing Blake Martinez carted off the field after rolling his ankle, it looked like he'd be lost for a while. But he surprisingly came back into the game--we'll see if he's anything close to 100%. He's been limited in practice this week.

The Packers are unbeaten at home, though only the Bills game has been easy. I have a hard time believing the Packers are in a position to coast against anyone right now. I expect the Packers to move the ball well on the ground, with Rodgers connecting on a couple of big plays. I'd like to believe the defense will shut down this mediocre offense, but with some key guys banged up and the safety position razor thin, it will probably be a bit closer than we'd like.

Packers 27  Dolphins 20

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Pack is Outcoached, Outplayed and Nearly Out of Time.

Posted November 5th, 2018 @ 02:11pm

We should've seen it coming when Josh Jones was flagged for being offsides on the opening kickoff. This Packers' road performance looked much like the first two (at Detroit and Washington), rather than last week's effort in LA that gave us hope that they had turned the corner.

On this night in Foxborough we were back to the team that got flagged at inopportune times, hurt themselves with poor offensive execution and then turned the ball over at the worst possible time (OK, that last one happened in LA too, but you get my point).

It's hard not to look at this game and realize that the Packers were outcoached--not a sin against Bill Belichick, But Josh McDaniels also outdueled Mike Pettine as the Pack had no answers for the array of trick plays that the Patriots OC unleashed. Foolish penalties (i.e. the roughing the kicker call on Tonyan, delay of game in the red zone), ejections (Jermaine Whitehead's boneheaded helmet slap): these are not what well-coached teams do on a big stage when your season may be hanging in the balance.

This game was all set up for the Packers to make a statement. They were catching the Patriots on a short week, coming off a ho-hum performance in Buffalo. When the inactives were announced 90 minutes before kickoff, and the Patriots' best receiver and ball carrier were on it, the Pack should have been galvanized that maybe this would be their night to erase the bad taste in their mouths from LA and put themselves solidly in the NFC North race by winning in the toughest NFL road environment over the past 15 years.

And despite all the issues, things started to go the Pack's way in the the third quarter. Suddenly the defense stiffened and  Tom Brady threw seven straight incomplete passes and suddenly the offense began to find a rhythm, as Rodgers and MVS hooked up on a pair of big plays. But as they approached the red zone, poised to take their first lead of the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Aaron Jones fumbled for the first time as a pro. Brady and McDaniels seized on the opening with another big gadget play and the Patriots were back in control. A meager three and out by the Pack's offense later and New England scored again to take a two touchdown lead. Ballgame.

What's most concerning to me is how difficult everything is for the offense right now. In a game that was billed as the second and perhaps final matchup of two of the greatest QBs ever, Rodgers never looked comfortable and confident. McCarthy called twice as many pass plays as run plays and the pass plays always take so long to develop. Where are the quick slants and screens, something to keep the defense off balance--and this was a defense that lacks premier pass rushing talent.

We'll wait to hear how costly the game was from an injury standpoint, as Bryan Bulaga, Kevin King and Kentrell Brice were knocked out early. Blake Martinez returned after being carted off with an ankle injury, so hopefully the defense escaped losing its captain for an extended period.

So the Packers are now 0-4 on the road this season, and while they have yet to lose a home game, they have whittled down their margin of error to just about nothing. Heading into this brutal five game stretch, I felt like they had to go no worse than 2-3 to keep their postseason hopes alive. It's not a sin to lose to the Rams and Patriots on the road, but they absolutely must win two of these next three, which means they have to win a road game. A novel concept.

It will likely take at least a 6-2 second half for the Packers to sniff January. For a unit that has yet to string back to back wins together, this seems like a long shot. But we've been down this road before. A 4-6 start two years ago turned into running the table into the postseason. But this team has yet to show that it can play consistent, fundamental football over 60 minutes week in and week out.

If they don't figure things out soon, the clock will start ticking on Mike McCarthy's future in Titletown.

 

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