I've Always Liked Zebras.

Posted October 15th, 2019 @ 02:10pm

You know, everything is so different when you go to the game. You don't see replays. You don't hear the commentary. You just watch the game and experience the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.

I left Lambeau on Monday night, absolutely amazed that the Packers pulled out the win. From the opening flea flicker, through the three turnovers, it appeared like this was Detroit's night. And then I got back to my hotel and checked Twitter. And I saw the angst and the consternation. Tuesday morning, I turned on ESPN's Get Up and saw the highlights.

There's no question: the officials screwed the Lions. The penalty on the Allison hit. The non-call on Will Redmond for pass interference. Lazard's TD (he was down at the one). And of course, the two hands to the face penalties on Trey Flowers. All bad calls. All went the Pack's way. They should have had to kick the go ahead field goal with a minute and a half left, and Matthew Stafford should have had a chance to give Matt Prater a chance to win the game. The way he was kicking, they only needed to get to midfield.

Officiating in the NFL sucks. It sucks because we now have cameras that catch and show us everything. It sucks because there are a lot of new, inexperienced officials. It sucks because they feel like they have to throw the flag all the time to prevent being criticized for missing something. Every fan base feels like they're being picked on, but only Vikings fans feel like there's a conspiracy to help the Packers.

The last game I attended, the Eagles game, also ended on a horrible non-call. When Philly intercepted Rodgers on a deflection at the goal line, Marquez Valdez-Scantling was being absolutely mugged. His arms were wrapped up and he had no chance to make the catch. The play should have been reviewed, and maybe it was, but it was clear pass interference that prevented the Packers from having a chance to win the game.

On this October night, the Packers were handed a gift. But they did a lot of good things to put themselves in that position. The Packers defense was fantastic, after giving up the 66 yard flea flicker and the other bomb early in the game. They held the running game to 56 yards (while gaining 170 themselves), they held them to under 300 yards for the game. The three Packers turnovers turned into just three field goals. They held the Lions to just 23% efficiency on third down and sacked Stafford three times.

Offensively, they dealt with injuries all night. Aaron Jones appeared to injure his shoulder early and was not himself all night. Jamaal Williams rescued the running game with a great night. And then there was Rodgers, who for much of the game was without his top three wide receivers, but made do by resurrecting Marcedes Lewis and by leaning on Allen Lazard who made the most of his opportunity with some great contested catches down the stretch.

The talker coming out of the game was the blown calls by the officials, and rightfully so. But big picture, we saw a Packer team that leaned on its defense to keep them in a game when they were minus three in takeaways, a team whose quarterback again showed that he is still firmly planted in his prime and a team that is poised to improve as they get healthier.

The Pack's 5-1 and 3-0 in the division. They've played like one of the top teams in the NFL, despite being led by a first time, rookie head coach. After the Monday night Fail Mary, after the hands to the face non call in the playoff game against the Cardinals, we will not apologize for catching some breaks in this one. We're on to the Raiders.

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Lions Appear Ready For Their Only Prime Time Closeup

Posted October 14th, 2019 @ 11:10am

The Pack get set to play under the lights for the third time in their first six games, with a couple more to come, in Kansas City in a couple of weeks and in Minnesota in Week 16. For Detroit, this is their only prime time game, their one chance to show the nation who they are (not counting Thanksgiving, of course). You can bet they're dying to show that this is indeed a four team race in the North.

So here come the Lions, well rested coming off their bye and ready for their prime time close up. Seen as an afterthought in the tough NFC North coming into the season, Detroit has opened eyes with their play through the first four weeks and will come into Lambeau hungry, confident and healthy.

After serving as the Pack's doormats for most of the last 25 years, the Lions have turned the tables of late, winning the last four and jumping out to big leads in both matchups last season. Darren Bevell was brought in to run the offense and he has Matthew Stafford playing at a high level, aided by a solid running game led by Kerryon Johnson. Stafford has no shortage of targets, led by big physical Kenny Golladay, Packer-killer Marvin Jones, slot guy Danny Amendola and rookie tight end TJ Hockenson.

Mike Pettine's defense has been terrific getting after the passer and taking the ball away and they'll need to be at their best on Monday night. They'll be without rookie standout safety Darnell Savage, who's nursing an injured ankle. Will Redmond stepped in and played well against the Cowboys--we'll see if he continues to improve. His play against the Eagles was subpar.

Like last week, the Packers need to be dominant on first down, putting Stafford into obvious passing situations, where he tends to force things at times, especially in big spots on the road. His record against winning teams is Kirk Cousins-like. But he's looked very comfortable in Bevell's offense and won't lack confidence facing the Packers.

Obviously after watching Aaron Jones dominate the Cowboys, Matt Patricia and the Lions will come into this one knowing they need to shut him down and see if the Pack's passing attack can beat them without Davante Adams. Wide receivers caught just four balls last week--obviously that's not sustainable. That unit will need to step up this week against a Lions defense that is still average at best. Cornerback Darius Slay will likely return after missing their last game against the Chiefs and Rodgers will look elsewhere to find big plays. It's a big opportunity for unheralded guys like Jake Kumerow, Darrius Shepherd and Allen Lazard to announce themselves.

The Lions' defense is near the bottom of the league against the run and their should be room outside the tackles for Jones to find daylight. Jamaal Williams returns from his concussion so he'll provide a nice complement and help keep Jones fresh. Once again, this offense needs to be productive in the red zone--something they did well last week--and needs to stay balanced. Rodgers has just six TD passes through five games,a far cry from what we're used to. But the team is winning, Rodgers is happy and you figure the touchdowns will come.

In a quirk of the schedule, this is the first of three straight Packer opponents who will get extra time to prepare. The Lions and Raiders will be coming off byes, and the Chiefs will be coming off a Thursday night game. That definitely favors the Pack's opponents--at least the first two games are at home. Having lost their last prime timer at Lambeau, the Pack needs this one badly. They still have dicey road tests in KC, SF, Minnesota and Detroit to deal with. They need to take care of business at home these next two weeks.

I think this is going to be a tight one. The Lions know they will be sitting atop the division if they can pull the upset and will be talked about as NFC contenders. But on a chilly night at Lambeau, with temps hovering around 40, I see Rodgers making a couple more plays than Stafford. It might take a late drive, but the Packers escape to make it 3-0 in the division.

Packers 27  Lions 24

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How 'Bout Them Cowboys!!

Posted October 7th, 2019 @ 01:10pm

There was so much to like about the Packers' 34-24 beatdown of the Cowboys in the house that Jerry built on Sunday.

The two biggest takeaways for me: the resurgence of Aaron Jones and the confidence, swagger and physicality of Mike Pettine's defense. Both were on full display on a day the Pack made a statement to the rest of the NFC. This is a new team. There's a new vibe. Last year, this team was lucky to win one road game and one division game all season. Five weeks in, they've eclipsed both of those marks and if they can stop losing guys to injury, the sky's the limit.

The offense was short-handed, missing Davante Adams and Jamaal Williams and I figured it would be a receiver-by-committee approach. While Rodgers completed passes to nine different players, non-running backs caught a total of 11 passes on the day. Jimmy Graham caught three, Geronimo Allison two and nobody else had more than one reception.

This was a game won on the ground, with Aaron Jones reprising his role from his 2017 appearance at AT&T Stadium, when he rushed for 125 yards. His whole family was in the house and he provided a game for the ages, tying the Pack's franchise record with four touchdowns and befuddling the Cowboys' defense all afternoon. Most impressive was his inside running, where he and the offensive linemen dominated, gashing the defense all day, especially late, when the Cowboys made a run to make things a little too interesting.

Just as impressive was the defense pitching a shutout into the third quarter, helped by a couple of interceptions that stalled Dallas drives. Pettine's unit had ten days to hear about how overrated they were, after the Eagles torched them at Lambeau. They responded by taking advantage of the loss of Tyron Smith and making sure Zeke didn't run wild. My only concern is the lack of discipline at times. Za'Darius Smith, battling a sore knee, had a great day getting after Dak Prescott, but his three penalties were unnecessary and could have caused big problems. I didn't like seeing him trash talking Dak on one occasion. He's the defensive captain; he needs to lead by example.

Jaire Alexander had a tough time with Amari Cooper, but he's not alone there. He also made some big plays and we have to salute Kevin King, who was listed as doubtful on Friday but played the whole game, though he aggravated that groin injury late. The Pack even got solid play from Will Redmond, who replaced Darnell Savage, when he exited with an ankle injury.

The injuries are piling up. Corey Linsley's ironman snap streak ended when he left with a concussion, but it looked like Lucas Patrick did a nice job in his place, other than a couple of wide snaps that fortunately went right to Aaron Jones. Add in Savage, King, Za'Darius, Robert Tonyan and BJ Goodson and the Pack have some issues as they get ready to face a healthy Lions team, coming off a bye, next Monday night.

Big picture: the Pack corrected much of went wrong in their loss to the Eagles: they won the turnover battle, were much better on special teams and were more productive in the red zone. They proved they could go on the road in a tough environment, without their best (and some would say only) receiver and take care of business.

Gone are the days that the Packers will go only as far as Rodgers can carry them. He's still an elite QB who can put the team on his shoulders--and he'll likely be called upon to do that once or twice this season. But with a talent like Aaron Jones and with an opportunistic, nasty defense to complement his elite play, the Packers appear poised to be a contender in a wide open NFC.

With a first-time rookie head coach, they've managed to get past NFC powers Chicago, Minnesota, Philly and Dallas and come out with a 4-1 record. If they can take care of business these next two weeks at home, they'll likely be sitting on top of the NFC at 6-1, with seven of their final nine on the road, including a four out of five stretch to start. Impressive road wins in Chicago and Dallas have given us reason to dream that this team will be able to handle a grueling back half of the schedule.

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Poll

Officiating aside, what made you smile about the Pack's play?

Packer Review

Here you will find my weekly "Packer Review" podcast the morning after each game. 
https://www.iheart.com/podcast/462-Packer-Review-28487532/episode/packer-review-week-10-28645854/

Power Rankings

The Baker's Dozen Why 13 and not 10? To celebrate the Pack’s 13 NFL titles, of course. 10/15/19

  1. New England (1)
  2. New Orleans (2)
  3. San Francisco (4)
  4. Packers (5)
  5. Seattle (9)
  6. Houston (11)
  7. Buffalo (8)
  8. Kansas City (3)
  9. Minnesota (12)
  10. Philadelphia (6)
  11. Indianapolis (-)
  12. Chicago (-)
  13. Detroit (13)
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