Houston, We Don't Have a Problem.

Posted October 26th, 2020 @ 02:10am

If you listened to me on the radio leading up to this game, you know I was a bit nervous. The combination of last week's performance, coupled with the lengthy injury report had me worried that it might take some late game heroics from Aaron Rodgers to get past the somewhat resurgent Texans, led by Deshaun Watson.

Instead, we watched a humbled Packer team rebound with a dominant performance in all phases, from beginning to garbage time. So far, it's been the trend under Matt LaFleur for this team to bounce back from defeat--they have yet to lose back to back games.

No David Bakhtiari? No problem. Billy Turner would just channel his days with the NDSU Bison and swing over to the left side and lock down Rodgers' blind side. With Ricky Wagner taking over on the right side where he is far more comfortable, the line did #69 proud by keeping Rodgers comfortable and upright all afternoon. He wasn't sacked and was knocked down just once.

No Aaron Jones? No problem. To be sure, the Packers missed him, as rush yards were tough to come by. The Pack averaged just 3.6 yards per carry against the league's worst run defense. Jamaal Williams worked hard, but found little running room for most of the day, but managed 114 total yards, 77 on the ground. Turns out, this would not be AJ Dillon's coming out party, as he managed just 11 yards on five carries.

No Kevin King, Darnell Savage and Tyler Lancaster? No problem. The Pack's defense looked a lot like last year's unit for the first time this season, getting enough pressure on Watson to keep him off balance for most of the game, getting third down stops and stiffening in the red zone. If you would have bet me the Pack would be pitching a shutout at halftime against that passing attack, I would be taking out a second mortgage.

Rodgers was coming off one of the worst games of his career? No problem. He would happily quiet the naysayers with yet another vintage performance, orchestrating the Packers offense brilliantly. He missed a few throws, but made a number of big third down plays, found the end zone four times and had a passer rating nearly 100 points higher than last week's.

And then there's Davante Adams, who reminded anyone who may have forgotten the he is one of the five most talented receivers on the planet. He finally looks completely healthy, something we haven't seen since Week One. With the Texans opting against double teaming him, for some reason, Rodgers made them pay all afternoon. He targeted Adams 16 times and connected on 13 of them. When this duo is in sync, it's a beautiful thing to watch.

But it was the play of the defense that really caught my attention. Before he left the game on the first play of the second half with a shoulder injury, rookie Krys Barnes was having the game of his life. He notched a team high eight tackles in the first half, along with a sack and a tackle for loss. He's been a revelation since being forced to play when Christian Kirksey went down. His exit paved the way for rookie Kamal Martin to make his long awaited debut and he looked good, with six solo tackles.

The Pack got production from other unheralded guys on that side of the ball, like rookie safeties Vernon Scott and Henry Black. Safety Raven Greene was forced to play some cornerback and handled it well.  Even Josh Jackson seemed to hold up well--pressed into service with King out.

And it was nice to see two of last year's biggest additions, Preston Smith and Adrian Amos make big plays late, both corralling Watson late, Amos with a sack and Smith with the tackle when Watson was trying to convert a crucial third down. This is the version of Mike Pettine's defense we need to see from here on out. It's encouraging to see that there appear  to be some rookies that are ready to handle their business when called upon.

It was just about as strong a performance as we could have hoped for and now the Pack heads home, where they will play six of their final 10 games. Next up is the Purple, as LaFleur will look to remain perfect against the NFC North. Guessing they'll have a little spring in their step and a little swagger back, when they welcome Captain Kirk and company.

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Banged-Up Pack Will Have Their Hands Full in Houston.

Posted October 23rd, 2020 @ 08:10pm

As I sit down to write this on Friday afternoon, there is reason to believe the following Packers will miss the Texans game: David Bakhtiari, Aaron Jones, Kevin King, Darnell Savage, Robert Tonyan and Preston Smith. Already ruled out are the Tylers: Ervin and Lancaster. Doubtful are Bakhtiari, King and Savage.

For a Packers team looking to rebound from its first clunker of the year, that's a load of talent missing for a game against a 1-5 Texans team that appears to have found its footing after jettisoning the in-over-his-head Bill O'Brien.

The recipe for this one seemed like a heavy dose of Jones, who would no doubt feast on a Houston team that is a league worst 32nd against the run. They give up 5.4 yards per rush and an astounding 6.7 yards on first down. Fortunately, it's the Pack's deepest position and Jamaal Williams and AJ Dillon would undoubtedly fill in capably. But neither is likely to provide the explosive opportunities that Jones gives you as a runner and a receiver.

Which brings us to Bakhtiari: by all reports, his chest injury does not appear to be a long-term thing: Matt LaFleur says he'll give him up until pre-game warmups to make the call on whether he can go. But that could also be subterfuge and he could very well be on the shelf for a while.

Ricky Wagner struggled mightily when pressed into service against the talented Bucs. Maybe with a week of practice, the coaches feel he can handle dealing with the Texans' talented pass rushers like JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus. Maybe Billy Turner swings over to the left side and Wagner plays RT. Or maybe Elgton Jenkins slides over and the Pack inserts Lucas Patrick at LG. Playing without #69 is never ideal, and coming off a game where the line was dominated makes things a little dicey. If the Pack can run the ball like they should, it should put Rodgers in comfortable second and third down situations, meaning the defense can't just tee off.

Even without those two studs, and even if Tonyan can't play, the Pack should have no trouble dropping 30 points on this defense.

The problem is, the Texans should have no trouble dropping 30 on the Pack either. In the two games since firing O'Brien, Houston has looked looser and freer, dropping 30 on the Jags and 36 on a good Titans defense. They had Tennessee beat on the road last week, till Derrick Henry and Ryan Taneyhill put on a show in the closing seconds of regulation.

Deshaun Watson will be a problem: the first mobile QB the Pack has faced and one who has a group of wide receivers that Aaron Rodgers would love to sling the rock to. He's developed a lot of chemistry in recent weeks with the much traveled Brandin Cooks. Will Fuller, when healthy, is one of the most dangerous deep threats in the game and then there's Randall Cobb, ah, Randall Cobb. Their fourth guy, Kenny Stills, would be the Pack's second best healthy receiver.

With King and Savage likely out, the secondary will be hard-pressed to keep the Texans from moving the ball through the air. This would be a great week for the suddenly benign Packers pass rush to re-appear. But with Watson's scrambling ability, Krys Barnes and his fellow linebackers will be counted on to keep Watson from killing the Pack with his legs.

The Packers have won their last six games in Texas, which doesn't mean a lot, except they seem to be comfortable playing down there. With all of the injuries, the playing field has been leveled a bit and I see an old-fashioned shootout. After his clunker in Tampa, I'm betting Rodgers gets the last laugh.

Packers 37  Texans 34

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Posted October 19th, 2020 @ 01:10pm

I'll say one thing about Matt LaFleur. When his teams lose, they lose.

Four of his five losses as Packers coach have been of the blowout variety. I have no idea how to explain this, but I think I'm ready to watch a heartbreaking, last second loss one of these days. It's no fun watching your favorite team get pummeled on both sides of the ball for the better part of 60 minutes.

Just like last year, the Pack got embarrassed and outclassed in the game following their bye. After the game, LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers referenced a lousy week of practice leading up to the game. That's an indictment of the coaches. Maybe the thing we should fear most is the Pack landing the top seed in the NFC. The bye week is probably the last thing this team would want.

After watching the Pack cruise past four hapless opponents to start the season, we knew this would be the first stiff test and they failed across the board. After jumping out to a 10-0 lead and moving the ball with relative ease early on, the script started dealing us surprises: a pick six by Rodgers (just the third in his career); a second pick soon after that which quickly put the Bucs in the lead for good, a complete inability to get any pressure on Tom Brady, a week after the Bears had him crumpled into the fetal position for most of the game; an ability to protect Rodgers (four sacks); and ultimately 38 unanswered points scored by Tampa Bay. 38.

After the game Rodgers gave the usual cliche answer about the beatdown, that maybe this is precisely what this team needed after the 4-0 start, that maybe they were listening to the noise outside the building about how good they were. Really? The combined record of the teams the Pack have beaten is 7-15. Yes, they were impressive in all four wins, but this game was a true litmus test.

The Bucs defense is precisely the kind of unit that this offense has struggled to figure out. Like San Francisco and the Chargers from a year ago, they combine a great pass rush with elite speed at the linebacker position--rendering the running game punchless and forcing Rodgers to play out of rhythm. I watch guys like Lavonte David and Devin White wreak havoc and wonder if the Pack will ever use high draft capital to find a linebacker that can cause that kind of damage.

For me, of all the problems the Packers had on Sunday, the one that surprised me the most was the inability to get to Brady. Zero sacks, hardly any pressures. What happened to the Smiths? Why didn't Mike Pettine figure out a way to make some adjustments at halftime? To their credit, the Bucs played a near perfect game. Their DVOA of 97% was the highest recorded in decades. In their first four games, they were a penalty machine. They didn't commit one on Sunday.

Their gift-wrapped loss to the Bears the previous week, along with Brady's inability to count to four, clearly pissed them off and they rose up and delivered a spectacular performance, even getting Gronk to channel 2015 and look nothing like the washed up tight end he appeared to be in the first four games of the season.

The question is, how do the Packers respond? Their next two opponents (Texans and Vikes) have a combined record of 2-10 and if they take care of business and head to San Francisco for a Thursday night game at 6-1, this game will be remembered as a speed bump and a wake up call. But until they handle a good team, there will be questions as to how legit they really are.

Now we wait to hear about the seriousness of David Bakhtiari's chest injury, as well as the prognosis for a number of banged up defensive players (Savage, Lancaster, Barnes and King). Dealing with Deshaun Watson and the Texans won't be a walk in the park, despite their 1-5 record, though even the Vikings were able to beat them. If the Pack can't bounce back, their perfect September will seem like a distant memory.


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