Packers XLV

Lose a Third Straight at Lambeau? Nevermore.

Posted November 17th, 2017 @ 04:11pm

For the second straight week, the Packers find themselves in must-win territory, facing a team rested and ready coming off a bye. At 4-5, the Baltimore Ravens have been an enigma this season, but they are usually ready after extra rest, 7-2 under John Harbaugh.

This is a team that opened the season with a 20-0 shutout at Cincinnati. Since then, they've gotten smoked 44-7 to the Jaguars, shut out the Dolphins and lost at home to the Bears. They've been even more inept on offense than Chicago, but have a tough, physical, bend but don't break defense and a top tier special teams unit.

The Packers return home from their much needed win over the Bears as two point underdogs to Baltimore, hoping to ride that momentum to a second straight win. With a prime time game in Pittsburgh on the horizon, the Pack can't afford to lose a third straight home game if they want to stay in the NFC race long enough for Aaron Rodgers to heal. Realistically, the Pack needs to win three of the next four and this one looks like the second toughest game during that stretch.

Complicating matters is the Packers' health at running back. They're without the top two guys on the depth chart in this matchup: Aaron Jones will miss at least a month with a sprained MCL and Ty Montgomery will sit this one out after re-aggravating his rib injury. So Jamal Williams will need to follow up on his impressive showing last week, complemented by fellow rookie Devante Mays, because make no mistake: the way to beat these Ravens is with the ground game.

Baltimore's run defense ranks 28th in the league, having surrendered 231 to the Bears and more than 160 to the Steelers, Vikes and Jags. With temperatures likely hovering around 30 on Sunday, it will be a good day to run the football. Baltimore will load the box to stop the run, so Brett Hundley will need to loosen them up early and complete some passes to keep that unit honest.

He will have to deal with ageless pass rusher Terrell Suggs, who will probably match up against Justin McCray. At 35, Suggs still has juice, with 5.5 sacks this season. His fellow pass rushers will get help with multiple blitzes, as the aggressive Ravens D will look to force Hundley into mistakes. The Ravens' strength is on the back end with three solid corners: Jimmy Smith (who's dealing with an Achilles injury, but will likely play), Brandon Carr and rookie Marlon Humphrey. Former Charger FS Eric Weddle remains the quarterback of the unit.

The Ravens' defense is #2 against the pass this season and have a league leading 13 interceptions. Hundley has been good at protecting the football the last two games, but faces a much stiffer test on Sunday. We'll need to see last week's fourth quarter version of Hundley on Sunday if the Pack is to spring the mild upset.

Meanwhile, the Pack's defense will meet up with a pedestrian offense that might get a huge shot in the arm with the potential return of running back Danny Woodhead. He's played exactly one series in the last 23 games; he missed last season, then caught three balls on the Ravens' first series in the opener this season and then left with a hamstring injury. He's still on IR as I write this, but is eligible to play Sunday if he comes off before 3pm Saturday. When healthy, Woodhead is one of the most dangerous pass catchers out of the backfield--something the Packers have had trouble dealing with for years.

Otherwise, the offense has not been able to get going most of the year. This week, Flacco went public about the team's conservative play calling, saying 'We need to get after it.' So don't be surprised if coordinator Marty Morninhweg accommodates him with some deep shots and gadget plays. The Ravens are dead last in passing (165 yards/game) and in yards per play. Their reaching duo of Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace would sound better if this was 2012.

The Packers must be as successful with the pass rush as they were last weekend. Clay Matthews draws a favorable matchup against right tackle Austin Howard. After Nick Perry's breakout performance last week, let's hope Clay decides it's his turn. Flacco is immobile and will look to check down quickly. Making him uncomfortable is paramount on Sunday.

Special teams were a concern last week, with a terrible punt return decision by Trevor Davis and a bad hold by Justin Vogel. The Pack gets some relief with the return of long snapper Brett Goode, but they need to be better on Sunday. The Ravens are always great on special teams, with the best placekicker-punter duo in the league and a good return guy in Michael Campanaro. The Pack needs to match them this weekend.

I don't like the idea that the Ravens are coming off a bye and that Woodhead might be back. I'd also feel a lot better if Aaron Jones, Ty Montgomery and Morgan Burnett were playing. This feels like a coin toss game to me. I'm going to go a bit with my heart this time and say somehow the Pack finds a way to squeak out a win.

Packers 20  Ravens 19

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Home Sweet Home Away From Home

Posted November 13th, 2017 @ 01:11pm

It turns out, as long as the Packers start a QB named Brett or Aaron, they can handle the Bears. Hundley was the first QB not named Favre or Rodgers to start against Chicago since 1991 and happily, the results were the same as usual. Make it eight straight wins at Soldier Field and suddenly the Packers have a pulse.

This was a major step forward for Hundley who played much of the game with a tight hamstring, causing him to rely more on his arm than his legs. Despite playing in chilly, rainy conditions, Hundley looked more comfortable than he had in his previous three games, particularly in the fourth quarter. His touchdown pass to Davante Adams was a thing of beauty and his 42 yard strike down the sidelines to Adams late on third and ten was perfection.

With Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery both knocked out with injuries by halftime, the Pack's offense was down to just Jamal Williams at halfback, limiting McCarthy's play calling ability a bit (Devante Mays was inactive). Williams delivered in a workmanlike performance and his role in this victory was huge, even if his yards per carry was average. He fought hard through tackles and earned some key extra yards when they were needed most. Looks like he'll be the primary ballcarrier for the next few weeks. Overall, the Pack ran for 160 yards--something they have to continue to do for as long as Rodgers is out.

On the other side of the ball, we finally saw the pass rush come to life, thanks to a monster game by Nick Perry. Facing a rookie quarterback helped, but whoever was back there, it was nice to see him on the ground five times--with Perry notching three sacks and Mike Daniels getting his first since the season opener. The run defense was solid as well, limiting the Bears to just 55 yards on the ground on 17 carries.

The pass defense is still a concern as Trubisky threw for nearly 3oo yards. Let's face it: this will be a problem all season. Davon House got torched for a long touchdown and Kevin King got knocked out with a shoulder injury. Fortunately for the Pack, of the next four opponents, only Big Ben and his passing attack scare you. The other three QBs they'll likely face over the next month are Joe Flacco, Ryan Fitzpatrick and DeShone Kizer.

The Pack didn't turn the ball over--a positive sign for sure, but special teams did them no favors. From Trevor Davis taking a punt out of the end zone, to multiple penalties on punt returns, to the bungled hold by Justin Vogel on a late field goal attempt that would put the game away. The Packers have to clean things up on special teams: the margin for error is razor thin when Rodgers in on the sidelines.

We know there's no guarantee that #12 will be back this season. But we also know there's no chance he'll return if the Pack is out of the playoff hunt. The team has a legitimate chance to win three of its next four, with home games against the Ravens and Bucs and road games in Pittsburgh in Cleveland. If Hundley can continue to show the growth he displayed at Soldier Field (and if that hamstring settles down), the Pack has a good chance of still being in the thick of things when they head to Carolina in Week 15. That, of course, is the week Rodgers is eligible to return.

For now, we turn our attention to the Ravens, another team coming off its bye. What we watched on Sunday should give us hope that Hundley, Williams, Perry and the rest of the team will get a little swagger back. A win at Lambeau next Sunday would keep our dreams of a ninth straight post-season alive.

 

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Role Reversal: Bears Look Like Goliath in this Matchup

Posted November 10th, 2017 @ 06:11pm

It's come to this: the Packers are 5 1/2 points underdogs in Chicago on Sunday. The sad thing is, if I were in Vegas this weekend, I'd be tempted to lay the points.

The Pack limps into the Windy City coming off a non-competitive effort on Monday night, while the Bears have had two weeks to reset, get their rookie quarterback even more comfortable and game plan for a Packers team that embarrassed them by three touchdowns in prime time in late September, a game that effectively ended the short-lived Mike Glennon era.

Think about what's happened since the Pack took the field last Monday (besides the flat performance by Hundley, the running game and the Packers defense): Bryan Bulaga was lost for the season with a torn ACL, Morgan Burnett got hurt again and is back on the shelf and Martellus Bennett quit on the team and now finds himself on the Patriots.

So the Packers come to town, with the season spiraling down the drain, needing to right the ship these next two weeks, before they prepare to hit the road for three out of four that will define whether an Aaron Rodgers return is even in the cards.

The forecast calls for a light rain/snow mix, with temperatures in the mid-30s and both teams would like to run the ball early and often. The Packers were unable to get the ground game going against the Lions, but should have better luck against against a middle of the pack run defense that will likely be without linebacker Danny Trevaithan, aka the guy who almost killed Davante Adams. Aaron Jones needs much more than five carries, though if the Pack decides to explore working up tempo more often (since Hundley seems to thrive in no huddle), expect Ty Montgomery to get the snaps in that scenario.

With Bulaga out, Justin McCray will likely fill in at right tackle, even with his injured ankle. He should be fine as a run blocker, but will likely struggle against pass rusher Leonard Floyd. The Bears defense is strong up front, with Akeem Hicks and Eddie Goldman up front and linebackers Pernell McPhee and Floyd leading the second level.

It's a unit that has kept the Bears in virtually every game it plays: in the last month they've beaten Carolina and Baltimore and lost close games to the Vikings and Saints. They've been forcing takeovers--eight in the past three games. They're rested and mostly healthy: though they're missing Trevaithan.

This will be Hundley's first road start and the weather won't be great for the kid from Arizona. The Soldier field turf will be sloppy, rough and uneven as usual. We'll see if he's ready for much different conditions than he's dealt with the last two games. I expected much more from him. Maybe he'll get more comfortable as the weeks go by, but right now that fourth round pick the team could have gotten last spring is looking pretty good.

When the Bears have the ball, they will likely lean heavily on the run: they have run it 60% of the time since Trubisky took over. But with a bye week to put in some new wrinkles, coupled with the debut of wide receiver Dontrelle Inman (acquired in a trade with the Chargers), don't be surprised if John Fox tests the Pack's meager pass rush and cornerbacks.

Hopefully the return of Ahmad Brooks and Vince Biegel's second career game will add a little juice to the pass rush and force Trubisky into quick decisions and a couple mistakes. The Bears' receiving corps is as thin as any in the league. If the Pack gives up big plays on Sunday, I don't know where they go from there. The biggest problem will likely be rookie running back Tarik Cohen, who is a major receiving threat. The Pack has struggled with backs in the passing game all season.

Barring turnovers, it feels like a game where points will be at a premium. In the post-Rodgers era, the team has scored just 44 points in 29 possessions and most of that has been at home. Now they're heading to a place where they haven't lost since 2010 to face a team that's been on the wrong end of the league's oldest rivalry for a quarter century.

This is meeting number 196 in the series, with the Pack holding a razor thin 95-94 edge (with six ties). Based on what we've witnessed the last three weeks, it's hard to believe the Bears won't once again draw even in the series.

Bears 20  Packers 16

 

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