Packers XLV

Fit To Be Tied.

Posted September 17th, 2018 @ 01:09pm

I'm not sure where to start. You come away from the game feeling like the Pack dodged a bullet, courtesy of the ineptitude of the Vikes' rookie kicker. But you also feel like Green Bay gave away an opportunity for a big home win, in a game that they controlled all afternoon.

Beginning with the Geronimo Allison blocked punt that culminated in a Josh Jackson touchdown, the Pack had this one in control. Clearly Rodgers was operating at about 70%, but the line was doing a solid job keeping the ferocious Vikings defense away, for the most part.

Fans were left complaining about a barrel full of officials' calls, but I'm going to leave that alone. There were terrible calls that affected both sides. I decided long ago not to engage with the Twittersphere during Packer-Viking games. It served me well on Sunday. The truth is, bad calls aside, the Packers gave the Vikes a chance to get back in the game with their preposterous play calling down the stretch.

McCarthy's decision to pass twice in the red zone with Green Bay clinging to a five point lead and Minnesota holding two precious timeouts was mind-numbing. From his perspective, a touchdown there puts the game away. But the offense was not operating at peak efficiency all afternoon and at that point Rodgers had to be hurting. By forcing Minnesota to use their timeouts, it would have changed everything on their game-tying drive.

The Pack had struggled in the red zone all day, getting just one touchdown in five opportunities. Give the Vikings defense partial credit and understand that Rodgers' lack of mobility was partially the cause as well. In my mind, McCarthy should have played it safe there and run the ball, force Minnesota to use its timeouts and then turn it over to the defense to try to make one more stop.

Which leads us to Kirk Cousins. I've been vocal for months that I thought they made a mistake by paying him all that money when they had a similar QB in Case Keenum. Cousins was terrific on Sunday, extending plays, making good reads and keeping the Pack's pass rush at bay. He was aided by the fact that Davon House was called in to replace Kevin King in the fourth quarter--House couldn't stay with Stefan Diggs and the 75 yard touchdown was the play of the day. King's inability to stay on the field early in his career is becoming a talking point--and one the defense really can't afford.

The Pack's defense is a work in progress. There is much to be encouraged about, but there will be growing pains against top offenses. Let's hope this is the last 400 yard passing day they surrender. The run defense was solid, so that's encouraging.

These teams will look strikingly different in the rematch on Thanksgiving weekend. The Vikes will have a different kicker and, one would assume, a healthier offensive line. The Pack hope to have Rodgers and Adams operating at 100%, running back Aaron Jones in the fold and a defense that is much more comfortable running Mike Pettine's system. It should be a great battle to watch as these two teams wrestle for the North crown.

Let's just hope both fan bases don't bemoan the officiating next time--and that we're talking about the success or failure of our teams' play on the field. That's what makes us love this game.

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Pack's Chances on Sunday: Questionable.

Posted September 15th, 2018 @ 02:09am

Will he or won't he?

That is the question that defines the Week 2 showdown between the Pack and the Vikes. Most believe there is no way Rodgers won't be out there. I put it at about 80%. For the purposes of this blog, I'm going to assume #12 will be under center, or more accurately, in the shotgun when the offense takes the field. I mean, let's be honest, if Kizer is the starter the Pack has no shot.

So let's look at this matchup: when the Packers have the ball, they'll likely employ a similar strategy that was used when a one-legged Rodgers returned in the second half. Rodgers will avoid being under center, remaining in the shotgun or pistol all afternoon. A more effective running game would be his best friend in this one and I expect to see a lot more of Marcedes Lewis parked next to Bryan Bulaga to slow the pass rush of Danielle Hunter, as well as assisting with run blocking duties.

I expect Jamal Williams and Ty Montgomery to find it difficult to be real productive on the ground, but there should be considerable opportunities from them in the passing game against what is certain to be a fierce pass rush. The tight ends also figure to be used much more in this one. Look for Jimmy Graham to be targeted at least six times, especially with Davante Adams dealing with a sore shoulder and the Vikings aware of where Randall Cobb is at all times. If Cobb is matched up with the rookie Hughes, give the veteran the advantage. He and Rodgers are in sync and that's a matchup they can exploit.

When the Vikings have the ball, the story will be the guys in front of Cousins. The Vikings' makeshift offensive line will have its hands full with Daniels, Clark and Wilkerson. If they can make Kirk Cousins uncomfortable they'll force him into some mistakes. After getting no takeaways last week (except on the final play), it feels like the Packers' corners will have a couple of opportunities to take the ball away.

This will be the Pack's first look at Dalvin Cook, who was injured before these teams met. He showed last weekend how dangerous he can be as a receiver. If rookie Oren Burks is able to go, and he's listed as questionable, his speed and coverage ability should help limit Cook. The second year back was not able to do much on the ground in the opener, averaging just 2.5 yards per carry. Much of that was due to the run blocking by the line, which frankly is not good. The Pack should be able to keep him and Murray in check for the most part. We'll see whether Perry, Matthews and Gilbert can exert pressure from the outside. We didn't see enough of that against the Bears and being at home, the Pak needs to make Cousins uncomfortable.

This will be the first road game for rookie kicker Daniel Carlson, so special teams will be interesting to watch. Throw in a pair of inexperienced punters and Cobb assuming the punt returner role for the near future and there are lots of interesting story lines here.

Look, we know the Pack dodged a bullet last Sunday night, thanks to one of the most incredible quarterback performances we'll ever see. Mike Pettine's defense got better as the game went along. There were too many missed tackled and roughing the passer penalties, but the early returns were encouraging, particularly the play of the three young corners. The Vikes, meanwhile, turned the Niners over four times and still only won by one score. They didn't run effectively and gave up a bunch of passing yards.

If Rodgers is about 80% of his usual self, the Packers will have enough to stay in this game.   I'll call it a bit of a back and forth affair, with Mason Crosby winning it late.

Pack 24   Vikings 23

Just like last week.

 

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I Don't Believe What I Just Saw.

Posted September 10th, 2018 @ 02:09pm

I've been fortunate to witness some amazing moments in Packers history since Brett and Reggie rescued the franchise. I celebrated in the stands for two Super Bowl wins, an NFC championship in Soldier Field and some memorable regular season victories over the years. But the roller coaster of emotions that accompanied the greatest comeback in Packers history will always sit near the top of that list.

It's hard to describe the feeling at halftime, having just seen Aaron Rodgers carted off the field and DeShone Kizer get completely owned by Khalil Mack, turning what might have been, at worst, a 10-3 deficit into a 17-0 hole. Was Rodgers done for the season? Was the season over before it started? Will Mack singlehandedly revert the Bears into the Monsters of the Midway? Where oh where was Brett Hundley when you needed him?

Spent halftime refreshing Twitter on my phone. How bad is it? What are the early medical reports? And then the roar. The deafening roar. Here comes Rodgers out of the tunnel, Jogging across the field. You could see a medical sleeve on his knee, but he was freaking jogging.

My first thought was, ok, he's going to try to gut it out, clearly bothered by the knee--the same one that got cleaned up three years ago. What if he looks good for a series or two and then crumples to the ground for good? On the other sideline, Tarik Cohen was holding a drool bucket under Mack's face, to prevent flooding (I imagine this is close to being true).

But then we were reminded how unbelievably fortunate we are to watch a master of his craft operate, assisted by a huge shot of adrenaline and an understanding that he would have to change his approach if he wanted to stay vertical.

Suddenly, the protection got better. Suddenly, Rodgers found Allison streaking down the sidelines and laid a perfect pass in his arms. Suddenly, Mack, Floyd, Hicks et al were nowhere to be found. Suddenly Davante Adams took his turn and made two big plays to bring the Pack within one score. Suddenly the defense made plays and got key stops when they absolutely had to have them. And suddenly, on third and ten, after Kyle Fuller dropped the easiest interception he will ever get, Rodgers bought just enough time to find Randall Cobb, who did what he does, YAC all over the field, scampering 75 yards to give the Pack an unbelievable lead--a lead the defense was able to hold in the final two minutes.

We always get caught up in Super Bowls, post-season success and rivalry games. Big picture, the artistry at quarterback we've been fortunate to watch over the last 25 years, week in and week out, is what will always stay with me, as someone who loves football. We know that every week we might see magic happen. Every week. I'm old enough to remember what it's like to love a team that doesn't have that. Being a Packer fan in the 70s and 80s felt how it must feel like being a fan of, say, the Dolphins over the past 20 years.

We all figured we'd never see a Packer quarterback like Brett Favre in our lifetimes. But it's undeniable that Rodgers is better, maybe the most talented to ever play the position. What he did on Sunday night, as the Pack began its 100th season against its oldest rival, will live forever in Packers lore.

As Rodgers started to bring the Packers back, a funny thing happened. The Pack's defense fed off the energy Rodgers delivered. After surrendering 160 yards in the first two series, Pettine's unit gave up just 160 the rest of the way. You knew they'd be up against it early, as any defense would be--facing a new coach's system and a whole bunch of new offensive weapons, with 15 scripted plays that had been massaged over the past month. But when it counted, they made just enough plays down the stretch to allow Rodgers to do his thing.

There were some issues: the run defense was not great, with Jordan Howard averaging more than five yards per carry. There were too many missed tackles, by just about everyone. There is still a serious issue with the pass rush. And then the roughing the passer penalties: first Wilkerson, then Perry and then Matthews, whose ridiculous penalty on fourth and long gave the Bears new life and could have cost the Pack the game.

But overall, Pettine's unit made enough adjustments and found their footing, aided by Nagy's conservative play calling in the fourth quarter. He'll toss and turn thinking about the call on third and one--a pass play that had no chance. It forced them to settle for a field goal, keeping the Pack within six. Two minutes and change left, no timeouts, and Rodgers gimpy. First down, incomplete. Second down, incomplete. Third and ten, over the middle to Cobb--to the house. The unthinkable comeback was complete.

Now we wait to hear the extent of Rodgers' injury. He assured all of us that he would be on the field against the Vikings, but we'll wait to hear what the medical team has to say. At the very least, his mobility will likely be extremely limited for a few weeks, which will be a problem in Week 2. Fortunately, we aren't facing the prospect of heading into that showdown already 0-1 at home in the division. Rodgers made sure of that. Did he ever.

 

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