Packers XLV

OK, Now It Get's Interesting...

Posted December 9th, 2019 @ 02:12pm

Throughout the Packer game on Sunday I found myself constantly flipping back and forth to the 49ers-Saints game, to watch what I considered to be the top two NFC teams battle it out. And after the Pack dispatched with Washington, thanks mainly to Aaron Jones and a gimpy Dwayne Haskins, I watched the two heavyweights punch and counterpunch their way to a 48-46 instant classic.

It left me wondering how on Earth we can expect the Packers to compete with either of those teams next month. The answer is, they can't--unless Aaron Rodgers and the passing game discover some kind of magic potion. Once again, there was no rhythm--for most of the afternoon Rodgers had plenty of time in the pocket but could find nobody open--and the Washington secondary is nothing special.

The offense was bailed out once again by the electric Jones, whose 134 rushing yards on 16 carries came against a Redskins defensive plan that was designed to take him out of the game. He added 58 receiving yards, half of them coming on the biggest play of the game, on third and long with the Pack backed up near their goal line--extending a long fourth quarter drive that ended in a field goal and basically put the game away.

But their has to be major concern about the passing game, which seemed to flourish in October when Davante Adams was sidelined, but now looks more and more like the 2018 version, with throw aways, coverage sacks and a dismal performance on third down (just 5-13 on Sunday).

The Packers could get away with it against the likes of the Giants and Skins, but says of frolicking in the bunny patch are over. The Bears will come to Lambeau on Sunday treating the game like a playoff matchup, because they'll be knocked out of the post season with a loss. Not to mention, their passing game has suddenly found life and they will come in confident and poised to spoil the Lambeau party. Then come the Vikings on Monday night and we all know what we're in for in that one.

It's hard to know what to make of the defensive effort, facing a bottom-feeding offense like Washington. Losing Derrius Guice to injury in the first half (after a long run) took away their nice 1-2 punch out of the backfield and forced Adrian Peterson to handle the load. Time and time again, Washington ran the ball on first and second down and then tried to convert via the air. They just don't have the horses to be productive that way. If the Packers are going to be down two CBs (King and Brown), this was the week for it. Hopefully they'll be available against the Bears.

The brightest spot of the game was new punt returner Tyler Ervin, who showed us that it is possible to gain positive yards when you return punts. His four returns netted 51 yards, this for a team that had -8 for the season coming into the game. What a breath of fresh air and terrific mid-week pickup by Brian Gutekunst and his staff.

Big picture, the Pack is 10-3 and currently the #2 seed in the NFC. Win out and they will have a bye on wildcard weekend and host a game in the divisional round. If they beat the Bears and Lions they will be NFC North champs and likely own the #3 seed and face the Vikings on wildcard weekend.

But if they can't raise their level of play beginning Sunday, their playoff seeding will change drastically. Matt LaFleur needs to find a way to get the offense in some kind of rhythm and Mike Pettine's unit will need to limit big plays and continue to perform in the red zone and take the ball away.

Otherwise, this feel good 10-3 record won't feel so good come Christmas.

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Pack's Return to Lambeau Should Be Festive.

Posted December 6th, 2019 @ 04:12pm

Let's just get this one out of the way, shall we? Beginning on Monday, we'll be thinking about the final three games of the season, all division games, knowing that if they beat the Bears and Lions, they'll be no worse than a three seed in the NFC playoffs.

But of course the Pack first must dispatch the Redskins, a team with a historically inept offense, but one that has inexplicably won its last two games, to drop to third in next spring's draft order. OK, their two wins aren't that inexplicable. They've beaten the Jeff Driskal-led Lions and Kyle Allen-led Panthers, compiling 13 sacks and six takeaways in the process. And last week, their two-headed rushing attack of Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice shredded Carolina.

Now they come to Lambeau, for the Pack's first home game since November 10th, as nearly two touchdown underdogs. After firing head coach Jay Gruden earlier in the season, Washington has tried to embody the personality of interim coach Bill Callahan, with a ground and pound approach and relying as little as possible on rookie QB Dwayne Haskins, who in a perfect world, would have used 2019 as a redshirt season.

Haskins has the tools to be a good quarterback, but he has a lot to learn and improve on. He's completing just 54% of his passes, with two touchdowns and six interceptions. He also takes sacks at an incredible rate--on 14% of his pass plays. He does have one legit weapon in the passing game, former Buckeye teammate Terry McLaurin, who's scored five times and averages 15 yards per reception on 46 catches. Expect him to draw Jaire Alexander's constant attention on Sunday.

Washington will undoubtedly attack the Pack's offense the same way the Giants did. It's an altered universe now, as teams look to stop Aaron Jones and the Packers' running game and make Aaron Rodgers beat them. #12 was up to the challenge against the Giants in a snowstorm and the same will be the case on Sunday. With Allen Lazard stepping comfortably into the #2 receiving role, Rodgers is feeling more comfortable in this offense and will continue to feed him and Adams, while using Jones and Jamaal Williams in the receiving game as well.

Green Bay needs to get back to running the football, because that will be the recipe to win the North and make some noise in January. In the Pack's three losses Jones has not reached 40 yards rushing, and he didn't get there last week either. Jones and Williams should both get 20 touches in a game the Pack figures to be playing with the lead.

Aaron Rodgers understands how important it is for the Pack to jump out early and make Washington play from behind, where they need to rely on Haskins' arm. He implored the fans to be loud and crazy early--maybe he figures they've forgotten how to cheer since it's been so long since they've been to a game. He should have probably saved the pleas for next week when the suddenly competent Bears come to town.

The most interesting new dynamic in this game is watching the new returner make his debut. With the Pack jettisoning Tramon Smith and replacing him with Tyler Ervin, they hope they solved their historically dismal return game. Ervin has experience, two years with the Texans and another with the Jags, with nearly 100 punt and kick returns in his resume. He'll try to reverse the Packers' abysmal punt return production, where they have a grand total of -8 yards on nine returns this season. No, that's not a typo. At this point, just hanging on to the ball and not going backwards is all we should ask for.

This two week diversion through the bunny patch can't end soon enough. The Giants and Redskins will tell us nothing about this team. They've been extremely fortunate in the injury department this season, so let's just hope that trend continues and they get set for the final three games with a healthy roster.

Packers 24   Washington 10

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Taking Care of Business.

Posted December 2nd, 2019 @ 01:12pm

The Packers checked most of the boxes in their 31-13 win over the Giants. Aaron Rodgers looked like Aaron Rodgers again. They converted more than 50% of their third down opportunities and were 3-3 in the red zone. The defense took the ball away multiple times.

The only thing they weren't able to do was run the football, amassing just 79 yards on three yards per carry and Aaron Jones was a non-factor, with 11 carries for just 18 yards. It was obvious that New York's defensive game plan was to take Jones out of the game and make Rodgers and the passing game beat them.

But otherwise, the Pack rebounded the way they needed to do, on a snowy, sloppy afternoon at MetLife Stadium. There were a few sticky moments, like when the Packers' 17-7 lead was cut to just six heading into the fourth quarter. But a 14 play 75 yard drive put the game out of reach--the drive highlighted by a fourth and ten completion to Geronimo Allison.

For the most part, Rodgers was sharp and decisive, though a number of his passes were off target. He was helped by Allen Lazard's brilliant diving  43-yard catch on the team's first drive. Lazard has stamped himself as the team's #2 receiver and has earned Rodgers' trust and more snaps down the stretch. The tight ends continue to be a non-factor in the offense and the running backs found little daylight in the passing game, catching eight passes for a total of 39 yards. But the lack of a running game is a concern and needs to get better--they'll have a chance on Sunday against a Washington team that struggles against the run.

For the most part, the defense bottled up Saquon Barkley, who finished with 83 yards on the ground, but 18 of those came at the end of the first half, when the Pack was happy to let him run, rather than let the Giants try to throw downfield to set up a field goal attempt.

It wasn't a virtuoso performance by any means, but the Packers took care of business against a bad team in challenging conditions and came out of the game healthy. The fact that Bryan Bulaga started and finished was great to see. The Pack won the turnover battle 3-0, was perfect in the red zone and special teams had a good day. Punter JK Scott's three punts averaged 47 yards and Mason Crosby had a perfect day, after dealing with the tragic loss of his sister-in-law on Friday.

As I said on "Packer Preview" on Sunday, we probably wouldn't learn a lot about the Packers over these next two weeks against the have-nots from the NFC East. They just need to get these two wins, stay healthy and make sure they're ready for the key final three weeks against NFC North teams. Next up are the Redskins, who shocked the Panthers in Carolina on Sunday and come in riding a two-game winning streak. If nothing else, that should get Green Bay's attention and assure that the team doesn't take them lightly.

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