Sunday, October 25, 2009

The most complete game yet

Granted, Cleveland stinks.  But that was the most satisfying, all-around win so far this year.  This was the Packer team I’ve been waiting to see all season.  And the timing couldn’t be better – with the Vikings dropping their first game on a Favre interception against the Steelers, Green Bay is poised to get right back into the NFC North mix with a win next week.

As an aside, how do Browns fans do it?  It’s one thing to wear a foam wedge of cheese on your head – at least you can retain some dignity.  But when you’re sporting a dog mask, and you continue to watch a beat down along with approximately 75 remaining fans in the stadium, you need to question your priorities.  The only thing this dude needs more than a life is a gastric bypass.

But I digress.  Through the first 6 weeks, I could be accused of overly high expectations, of not appreciating the wins we’ve had, of nit picking.  So I’m happy to be taking a glass-is-half-full approach this week with my three observations.

1) No sacks.  Hallelujah.  T.J. Lang gets his first start at left tackle, and it was a great one.  The way an offensive lineman gets noticed in my book, is by not getting noticed.  Lang and the rest of the O-line had a great day.  Not only did they pass protect, but they busted open some serious holes in the “Cleave”-land defense.

And Rodgers made the most of it.  I have felt all season that the only thing holding him back from a Pro-Bowl year has been pass protection.  Wow, was that ever apparent today – 246 yards, three touchdowns, and a career-high 155.4 passer rating.  If the line can continue to protect like that, Rodgers will emerge this year as a premier QB in the league.  Apart from the helmet dislodging on the failed 4th and 1 in the opening drive, Rodgers was un-stoppable today.

I need to watch the game again, but I think T.J. Lang was a difference-maker.  Compared to Clifton’s abysmal performance last week, Lang was impressive – particularly for a rookie.  Maybe that’s the spark the O-line needed.

2) Running game.  Green Bay clearly came out to establish the run against the league's worst run defense.  And that they did, with 9 runs on their first 10 plays.  The O-line was playing downhill for the first time this season, and getting a great push on every play.  Grant missed a few cuts, but had a fantastic day – 148 yards on the day, one of his best performances ever.  Brandon Jackson had some kick in his step too, appearing to be fully healthy for the first time this season.

As a team, the Packers went over the 200-yard mark for the first time this season, averaging almost 5 yards per carry.  I don’t care if the Browns are the worst run defense, that’s a solid performance.  The nit picker in me can still get a little concerned that they struggled to get yards when they needed them – for example, they needed six plays from a 1st and goal at the Browns 3, and only barely got the TD; and failed to get in from the 1-yard line in the second quarter.

But overall, it was a great rushing performance, which controlled the clock, which opened up play-action, which thwarted the blitz, and so on.  The last few seasons, there has been a game in which the O-line finally asserts itself, playing smash mouth football and opening up the holes for Grant.  I’m hopeful that this was that game.

3) 3 points.  Another stellar week for the defense -- three points in two weeks now.  The Browns put up just 139 yards of total offense, only 57 in the second half.  The Packers created turn-overs.  They created pressure.  They stiffened when they needed to – included a Cleveland 4th and goal from the 1, which was turned around into a 99-yard drive scoring drive by the offense.

The maturation of the defense has been exciting to watch this year.  They really seem to be coming together as a unit.  Woodson and Harris’s ability to play one-on-one opens up all sorts of interesting schemes.  The linebacker corps is second to none.  Matthews is showing signs of blossoming into a bona fide stud.  Barnett seems to be getting healthier, more aggressive, and less swash-buckling every week.  A.J. Hawk’s penetration down by the goal line was beautiful.  And Poppinga, Chillar and Bishop are all impact players as well.  Their linebackers have gone from a weakness to a strength of this defense – they are fast, aggressive, and gaining confidence.

The secondary is really gelling as well.  Getting Bigby back was huge.  He’s such a difference-maker in both the run game and pass protection.  Tramon Williams, though tentative on punt returns today, is legit in nickel coverage with a great nose for the ball.  The only complaint I could make all day on defense was some penalties.  There were a few key ones – including Harris’s facemask that set up the first and only Browns score; a PI and un-necessary roughness penalty that got the Browns into scoring position; and the 12-man on the field penalty that kept a Browns drive alive.  But none of those proved too costly, and most I’ll accept in exchange for an aggressive style of play that creates opportunities.

Aaron Rodgers said it best in the post-game press conference, “I felt like we got back to the kind of football we’re capable of.”  That is the kind of football that got us all so excited in the pre-season.  That is the kind of football that will beat the Vikings next weekend.  That is the kind of football that will get us to the post-season.  And you could feel the energy, the confidence.  If Rodgers rides that three-piece-suit swagger into next Sunday’s game, we could be within a half game of the NFC North.

Final note: Really hope Finley can get back next week.  It’s being described as a knee sprain that could put him out for “a couple weeks.”  He’s getting an MRI tomorrow.  Although Spencer Havner did an admirable job in replacement, going 45 yards for their first TD, Finley will be a critical asset against the Vikings.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Packer Predictions: How will we do the rest of the season?

I acknowledge, it is only week 7.  There is a lot of football left.  But, as fans, we don’t need to “take it week by week.”  We don’t risk “looking past” an opponent.  We can afford to indulge in the favorite topic of any sports fan worldwide – are we going to make the playoffs???

So with that, here’s my take on each of the remaining games.

Sun., Oct. 25 @ Cleveland Browns – Clearly a game Green Bay should win.  Cleveland is atrocious.  They lost their last talented receiver with the departure of Braylon Edwards.  Their offense ranks 30th in total points and 31st in yards/game.  Their defense has given up the 5th most points in the league and more yards/game (407) than any other team.  They are probably the worst team in the league.  Losing to them would be a colossal setback.  I don’t expect it to happen.
Prediction: Win – Record: 4-2

Sun., Nov. 1 Minnesota Vikings – The NFL moved this to a 3:15 start time “due to logistical issues in Philadelphia should the Philadelphia Phillies be in the World Series.”  Yeah, whatever – what difference to a Packers-Vikings game does a Philadelphia World Series have???  They know this will be a ratings boom. Their Monday night game was the most-watched program in cable history, with 21.8 million viewers.  Favre’s return to Lambeau will have even more drama.  This could be the Packers best/last shot at winning the NFC North.  But I think they will just fall short of pulling it off.  Vikings pass rush will be too much.
Prediction: Loss – Record: 4-3

Sun., Nov. 8 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Another awful team, that the Packers should beat.  Tampa’s defense has given up the 4th most points in the league, and the 6th most yards.  Their offense is equally inept – 26th in points and 28th in yards/game – with an inexperienced quarterback in Josh Johnson that has a propensity to turn the ball over.  Should be a win.
Prediction: Win – Record: 5-3

Sun., Nov. 15 Dallas Cowboys – This may be the second time since the Ice Bowl that Dallas has come to Lambeau.  We lost to them at home last year, but we are better and they are worse than a season ago.  Romo is struggling, and they have tough games against Atlanta and at Philadelphia in the next 3 weeks.  If they lose those, they could spiral into the customary Cowboys finger-pointing, even without TO.  I think we take advantage of that and send them packing.
Prediction: Win – Record 6-3

Sun., Nov. 22 San Francisco 49ers – I have a weird feeling that the Packers are going to go 1-1 between this game and the Cowboys game.  Since I picked them to beat Dallas, I guess I need to pick them to lose to San Francisco at home.  I went to a 49ers game out here, and they looked pretty darn good (this was before their surprising meltdown against the Falcons).  If Gore is healthy, and they play disciplined defense, I think we could have our hands full and San Fran will eek out a tough win.
Prediction: Loss – Record 6-4

Thurs., Nov. 26 @ Detroit Lions – In spite of our “ugly” 26-0 shutout last week, this game scares me a little.  If Stafford and Calvin Johnson are back, not to mention most of their defensive line, this will be a very different Lions team than the one we faced last week.  They’ve shown some fight against good teams this year, and they will surprise someone -- hopefully, not us.  We never play well in Detroit.  Plus it’s the Thanksgiving game.  I still think we pull it out, but I’m worried about this game giving me an extremely bad case of pumpkin pie indigestion.
Prediction: Win – Record 7-4

Mon., Dec. 7 Baltimore Ravens – Monday night in Lambeau in December.  Should be electric.  Baltimore is on a three-game skid, but they are a really good team.  They put up 21 points in the last 10 minutes against Minnesota last week.  All their losses have been extremely close.  They could easily be undefeated at this point.  They also match up really well against us – a bruising tandem of runners, an accurate athletic QB, and, of course, a stifling defense.  Home field and the Monday night energy will give us an edge, but I think the Ravens upset us.
Prediction: Loss – Record 7-5

Sun., Dec. 13 @ Chicago Bears
– This game is always a hard one to call.  I can’t tell yet if Chicago is good, or if Cutler with no Urlacher is going to spell disaster for them.  We’ll find out between now and then, as Chicago plays Cincinnati, Arizona, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Minnesota before they play us.  I think Cutler’s inconsistency, Forte’s inability to get the running game going, and a defense that is good-not-great, will result in a mediocre team that we can beat. 
Prediction: Win – Record 8-5

Sun., Dec. 20 @ Pittsburgh Steelers – Tough game, on the road, against the Super Bowl champs, in December.  The Parker-Mendenhall duo scares me – so does Big Ben, and Hines Ward, and not to mention their defense.  They showed some weakness for a few weeks, but that was mostly due to Polomalu being out.  That’s the only reason Chicago was able to beat these guys.  I just can’t see us being able to run against them, or protect Rodgers.  And they will be in playoff mode by this time of the year.
Prediction: Loss – Record 8-6

Sun., Dec. 27 Seattle Seahawks – Very winnable game.  Matt Hasselbeck, who is still being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder for his epic blunder “we want the ball and we’re going to score” comment in OT of the first-round playoff game in 2004, will struggle.  Seattle isn’t very good, and they will be particularly bad at Lambeau in January, as they demonstrated last time they visited us.
Prediction: Win – Record 9-6

Sun., Jan. 3 @ Arizona Cardinals – If this game were in Green Bay, we’d win it easily.  We dominated Arizona in the pre-season game, and they appear to be no better than an 8-8 team.  This game could be a playoff game for both teams, though – a must win for the last wildcard spot.  I just think we match up very well against them.  Woodson and Harris can handle Fitzgerald and Boldin.  That will let us get pressure on Warner and shut down their running game.  Their defense is decent, but I think Rodgers can pick them apart.
Prediction: Win – Record 10-6

It is, unfortunately, difficult to see how Minnesota finishes any worse than 12-4 and most likely wins the division.  Between Pittsburgh this week and us the following week, they need to get a loss or two.  If they are 8-0 into their break (with two wins against us) it’s over – their only hard games after their bye are against New York, Arizona and Chicago (twice).  Even if they lose all of those, they’d still be 12-4.  What's depressing is that even if they lose both to both the Steelers this week and us the following week, they are still likely going to win 11+ games.

Here are my picks for the remainder of the Vikings season:
  • @ Pittsburgh – Prediction: Loss – Record 6-1
  • @ Green Bay – Prediction: Win – Record 7-1
  • Detroit – Prediction: Win – Record 8-1
  • Seattle – Prediction: Win – Record 9-1
  • Chicago – Prediction: Win – Record 10-1
  • @ Arizona – Prediction: Loss – Record 10-2
  • Cincinnati – Prediction: Win – Record 11-2
  • @ Carolina – Prediction: Win – Record 12-2
  • @ Chicago – Prediction: Loss – Record 12-3
  • New York Giants – Prediction: Loss – Record 12-4

Obviously, we’re all hoping for a Vikings meltdown, like the Jets had last year.  But I don’t see that happening – Favre isn’t being asked to do as much, his shoulder is healthy, and he can rely on his running game and defense much more.  Even if we beat them in two weeks, taking the Division title will be an uphill battle.  We need something flukey, like Peterson going out for the season, to have a chance of catching them.

So that means we’re most likely playing for a wild card.  I see the Falcons as a shoe-in for the other wild card, so that means we’re most likely competing against Dallas, Chicago, and either Arizona or San Francisco for the other spot – and we play all those teams.  Those become close to must-win games for us, if we’re going to make it to the post-season.  The NFC has a lot of bad teams this year, so the good teams will, therefore, have better records.  I’m not sure a 9-7 record would get us in.  But I like our chances of getting to 10-6 and I think that will do the trick.  Just hope we don’t have to open up with an away game at the Metrodome!

So those are my prediction.  Give me yours!  I want comments!!!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Thompson continues rebuilding of 2005 Packers with signing of Green

Following on the Mark Tauscher signing last week, Ted Thompson continued his effort to rebuild the 2005 Packers with the signing of Ahman Green today.

"I think Mike [Sherman] was really under-rated," said Packers head coach Mike McCarthy.  "True, we finished 4-12 that year, but I really liked the way Mike paced the sidelines in futility.  I want to get a little of that 2005 mojo."

McCarthy ended the press conference by asking if anyone had phone numbers for Bubba Franks and Samkon Gado.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Starting to cook with gas

I have to admit, I wasn't entirely sure when I started this blog at the beginning of the season if I'd be able to keep it up.  But we're at week 6, and I've posted at least once every week.  Now I feel like I'm getting into a bit of a rhythm with it.

So thought it would be a good time to up the stakes a little.  I've made a number of promotional enhancements this week, including:
  • The ability to Subscribe via Email -- sign up and get my latest rants delivered straight to your inbox
  • A "Share It" feature -- one-click post to your social network or news aggregation site
  • A dedicated TriggPack Twitter account -- follow my alter-ego at (by the way, my "real" Twitter account is
So if you're a fan of the blog so far, show me a little love.  Subscribe via email, tell your friends via Twitter or Facebook, and tweet about the posts you like.  Plus, most importantly, go ahead and spam your Packer buddies!  My goal is to reach 72,928 subscribers -- the seating capacity of Lambeau Field.

Monday, October 19, 2009

That was the ugliest 26-0 victory I’ve every seen.

We’ll take a win any way we can get it.  There’s so much parity in the NFL.  Any team can beat any other team on any given Sunday.  It wasn’t pretty, but we’ll take it.  We’re happy to get back in the win column.  We just try to take it week by week.

Now that those clich├ęs are out of the way…

What an unsatisfying win that was.  The opening kick-off return – taken back for a touchdown by Jordy Nelson only to be brought back for a holding call – was indicative of what we were in store for the entire day.  Strong play negated by bone-headedness.  The Lions are awful.  Their awfulness was exacerbated on both sides of the ball – with their second string, then third string, QB on offense; and 3 out of their 4 starting defensive linemen out on defense.

The Packers were coming off a bye.  Key players, particularly Clifton and Bigby, were back from injuries.  It was a divisional game at home against a team that hasn’t won in the state of Wisconsin in almost two decades.  It was a day in which Donald Driver could (and did) break the all-time Packer receptions record.  Not to sound like Packer nation had a sense of entitlement, but this was lined up to be a good old-fashioned Lions beatdown.  Which, I guess, it was – just not to its full potential.  Which brings me to my three observations.

1) Red Zone Offense.  Five trips to the red zone, four field goals, one turn-over.  What could have been 35 points, was instead 12 points.  What could have been a Patriots-style blow-out, was instead an under-achieving win.  You can’t put this on Rodgers – the guy was on fire again this week, completing 12 of 13 passes in the first quarter and finishing the day with 358 yards and 2 TDs.  You can't put it on the receivers.  Double D is having an outstanding season.  He is playing with urgency and emotion – making not only his record-setting catch, but also that spectacular one-handed grab.  Jennings also had a great one-hander, and had a solid overall day.  Jones and Finley both had great days as well.

So why the problems in the red zone?  Same old stuff – poor pass protection and lack of execution.  There was the sack given up when Clifton and Colledge both let Julian Peterson storm through the line unblocked.  There was the jail break that forced the fumble.  Pick your series and pick your play.  Although they racked up 458 yards of total offense and over 40 minutes time of possession, they also gave up five sacks and multiple penalties.  They just shot themselves in the foot every drive.  At least Mason was reliable.

2) Penalties.  Evidently the Packers decided that since the Lions were so inept on both sides of the ball, that they should spot them 130 yards.  That’s what it was – 13 penalties for 130 yards.  The entire Lions offense put up 149 yards in total!  At one point in the 3rd quarter, Green Bay had 100 penalty yards to the Lions 80 yards of offense.

Chad Clifton had a disastrous day.  Four penalties – two for illegal formation, which you’d think a veteran guy would be able to avoid.  One of his penalties negated a 26-yard gain because, apparently, after an injury and bye week he has forgotten a rule he’s known since pop warner by not lining up on the line of scrimmage!  Things were so bad for Clifton, I actually was mildly relieved when TJ Lang came in.  Clifton’s head just wasn’t in the game.

What else can be said about the penalties -- six in the first quarter alone -- and the overall play of the O-line?.  Maybe Tauscher’s veteran presence (and a little pressure from the rookie) can help them finally shore up the miscues.  Green Bay is currently 5th in the league with 43 penalties for 359 yards on the season. You might be able to play that sloppy of a game against Detroit, but they need to get this in check if they plan to make the playoffs.

3) Solid Defense.  Even though there were some penalties on the defensive side as well (including Barnett’s idiotic facemask penalty, followed a few plays later by another embarrassing samurai move), I need to give the defense some props.  Again, great ball hawking – Jenkins’s pick was unbelievable both for its awareness and athleticism.  Getting Bigby back was huge, and he made his presence felt with that key end zone interception.  Harris is always fantastic, with a take-away I had to watch three times on Tivo before I saw it. And Tramon Williams was also impressive.  It didn’t really show up on the stat sheet, except for his great punt return, but he has a head for being in the right place at the right time.

But Clay Matthews gets defensive player of the day in my book.  He is coming on strong, and I’m not just talking about his hair.  He had 2 nice sacks and a key stop on 4th down.  He just seemed to be around the ball all day, and in on every tackle.  He made the most out of his first NFL start.  He also seems to fit right in with that hairdo.  Is that the real reason Kevin Greene is starting him?  The man who arguably pioneered the burn-out, long-haired linebacker look.  Is it coincidence that three out of the four starting LBs, Matthews, Hawk and Barnett, are all sporting long hair???

The speculation about Aaron Kampman's adjustment to OLB has focused on the challenges of pass coverage and lining up in a 2-point stance, but there are rumors his transition pains may have more to do with his hair situation.  "I'm just not comfortable with the hair expectations being placed on me in this new position," said Kampman after the game.  "Clay looks great in the new role -- really natural, just like Kevin in his heyday.  I just look like I have a mullet whenever I grow my hair out."

One can only get so excited about the defensive performance against such an inept team.  But if we can win on the defensive side of the ball so completely (and maybe if Kampman sees a stylist), we can stay in most games.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Could someone please tell Brett he can retire now?

That was hard to watch.  Objectively, it was a great game – apparently the highest rated cable TV program of all time.  Subjectively, as a Packer fan, it was brutal.  Not just because we lost, but because the main drama of the night – Favre vs. Rodgers – was such an unfair fight.  You couldn’t reasonable expect Favre to come out and have the second highest passer rating of his career – though, somehow it didn’t seem surprising either.  It was almost surreal to be on the receiving end of the river of hyperbole that NFL commentators spew about Favre.  Trent Dilfer described him as “magical.”  That should be grounds for immediate termination.  This is football, not opening night of “Mama Mia.”

Certainly, even the most embittered Favre hater has to give him some props for that performance.  But what is tragically and frustratingly overshadowed in the chorus of Brett man crushes is the incredible performance Rodgers put up.   To throw for a career high 384 yards and 2 TDs in the face of constant, unrelenting pressure was impressive.  The two turn-overs, while ultimately the difference in the game since both resulted in Vikings scores, can hardly be put at Rodgers’ feet alone – the fumble was the result of insane, jail-break style pressure; and the INT was a savvy, veteran corner who knew that he could jump the route since Rodgers never had more than about 1.5 seconds to throw.  Which is a good segue into the first of my three observations on the week:

1) Complete inability to stop the pass rush.  8 sacks.  Unbelievable.  Green Bay has given up more sacks (20) than any other team in the league... by far.  In fact, allow me to enlighten you with the other “leaders” at the top of that list – Buffalo at 16 sacks, Cleveland at 13 and Kansas City at 13.  Playing the Packers has become a Probowl springboard for defensive linemen.  Jared Allen had 4.5 sacks.  After playing us again, he’ll be well on his way to the single season sack record.

When Colledge went down and 4th-round rookie T.J. Lang took the field at left tackle, it was like throwing chum into a shark tank.  I felt bad for the guy.  From then on, the Packers ran about half their downs out of a formation I’ve almost never seen before with a TE almost right behind LT and a back right behind him – basically triple teaming the left side of the line and Allen was still busting through.

Everyone who supports, follows, watches, plays for, coaches for, is in any way associated with, or can identify Green Bay on a map, knows that if the Packers can’t get their pass protection fixed, their season is over.  At an average of 5 sacks/week, Rodgers will eventually get injured and there will be way too many turn-overs and stalled drives along the way.  The thought of Matt Flynn stepping into that crossfire almost makes me sick to my stomach.

How do you fix it?  Good question, but here’s what I would focus on:
  • Get healthy – the bye week will help enormously.  Clifton and Colledge should both be back by the Lions game.
  • Get help – Mark Tauscher apparently worked out today.  Not sure he’s the answer, but I feel better about him than I do about T.J.  Have heard a few other names tossed around on NFL Network.  Not likely they’ll get anyone who will be a savior, but some depth and veteran leadership would be useful.
  • Run the damn ball! – Only 11 rushing attempts by Grant Monday, but he got 51 yards against a great run defense.  Why are we abandoning the run so fast?  Best way out of a O-line funk is to let them run downhill and play some smash mouth.
  • Quick release passing – I identified this as a key to victory last week, and they really had it clicking in the opening drive with screens to Grant (13 yards) and Lee (16 yards) and short passes to Jennings and Finley.  But then they seemed to get away from it again. 
2) No pass rush whatsoever. As fierce as the Minnesota pass rush was, ours was non-existent.  No sacks.  In fact, but for a little cage rattle by Kampman, there were hardly any knock downs.  Now, I’m not sure this wasn’t a good game plan coming in – they clearly focused on stopping Peterson, which they did quite effectively (only 55 yards on 25 carries).  And they probably felt that rushing 3 and dropping 8 gave them a great chance of picking Favre off once or twice.  As I said in my pre-game post “Make Favre beat you.”  But after watching Favre get a mani/pedi while waiting for receivers to get open, you need to make some game-time adjustments and manufacture some pressure.

Kampman, for the first time this season, seemed lost in the 3-4.  He was dropping into coverage too much and ended up just dwelling in no-man’s land – neither applying pressure, nor finding a man to cover.  Raji showed me nothing in his first game.  Derrick Martin starting at safety appeared, at least from Harris’s reaction, to have blown a few coverages (maybe Rouse wasn’t so bad after all).  But I thought it was surprising that there were so few of the creative blitz packages we’ve seen in previous games.  I think I only saw Woodson come once, and the linebackers seemed to be in more run blitzes when they came.  Even at 40, Favre is too good to be left un-touched.  Clay Matthews’s "strip 6" was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise lackluster defensive performance.

3) Execution.  It’s a sign of the youthfulness of this team that you still see so many problems with basic execution week after week.  By basic execution I mean too many penalties, too many drops, too many blown assignments, etc.  Green Bay was the most penalized team in the league last year with 984 yards.  They have only improved that slightly this year – currently ranking 7th in league with 229 penalty yards.

They had 7 penalties for 57 yards against Minnesota, but many of those came at crucial times – like the holding penalty on the kick return after the Vikings went up 28-14.  Rather than starting that drive at mid-field after a good Nelson return, they were back at their own 19.  Another example was the double penalties (offsides and pass interference, the latter being complete BS) that took away Woodson’s interception in the end zone – not harmful on the stat sheet (only a one-yard penalty), but effectively cost them 7 points.

Lee’s dropped pass in the end zone on 4th and goal at the 1 (and, for that matter, not being able to get in on the previous three plays) was another example.  There have been too many dropped balls this season.  Drops and penalties can seem small in the context of the game, but collectively they are a death by a thousand cuts that make it really hard to consistently win.

But probably the most painful part of Monday’s game is that despite Favre’s near-perfect game, and the complete inability of our line to stop the pass rush, we still almost won.  Both our losses have come down to an onside kick at the end of regulation.  These are the same hard, close games that we kept losing last year too.  Whatever it is – confidence, aggressiveness, determination, will, etc. – that causes good teams to persevere in those close games seems to be the biggest intangible missing ingredient in this team.  Hopefully, a bye week and games against the Lions and Browns will help them find it.  Because they will need it on November 1 when Brett is back in town.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What Green Bay needs to do to beat the Vikings this week

The hype is getting more deafening than that dude with the viking horn in the Metrodome.  The match-up we've all been looking forward to is finally here on Monday night.  And I'm pulling a late nighter to break it all down for you, cause that's the kind of dedication you've come to expect from me in my three-week blogging career.

So, in addition to my normal post-game trifecta of insights, I'm doing my first pre-game post on the three keys to this week's showdown at the Mall of America. I've busted out my favorite new Packer schwag to honor our legendary former quarterback, pulled out my keyboard, and documented what I see as the three keys to victory.

1) Shut down the fans.  I've never to the Metrodome, but it can apparently get pretty loud in there.  The storied venue, clinging stubbornly to a bygone era when domes were considered cutting edge, was rebranded recently as Mall of America Field.  "Branding the Metrodome as Mall of America Field connects two treasured Minnesota pastimes," said Maureen Bausch, executive vice president of business development at Mall of America.  "Getting fat and making an ass out of yourself."

Despite sharing a certain sympatico as the only other NFL franchise outside of Green Bay whose fans don headgear that makes them look neither tough nor intimidating, Minnesota fans make me cringe.  They jumped on the Favre bandwagon faster than Brad Childress can throw Tavaris Jackson under the team bus.  Here's some examples of what we're dealing with:

The only way to keep their XXXL butts in their seats with Cinnabons stuffed in their mouths is if the Packers can maintain possession for long, boring drives, and keep Favre and Peterson off the field.  Either that, or announce over the PA system that Sbarro is about to close the all-you-can-eat buffet.

2) Get the short passing game going.  OK, really what they need to do is get the running game going.  But with Clifton still questionable, Grant yet to get his groove on (though he's had some good games against the Vikings in the past), and facing one of the toughest run defenses in the NFL, I'm not sure they can realistically expect to run effectively.  If the Packers do what they did against the Rams and repeatedly put themselves in 3rd and long situations, it could get ugly.  They risk a horde of bearded fans coming out of their food coma long enough to put down their deep-fried Snickers bars, pick up their purple horns, and make some noise -- noise which will create confusion, chaos and turn-overs for Green Bay.

The Packers stats on avoiding 3rd and long so far this season do not look good.  According to STATS, Inc., the Packers' average yards-to-go on second down is 9.03, second-to-last in the NFL.  Stated another way, they are averaging less than one yard on first down.  And that's converting into long-yardage situations that they are not converting.  The Packers are just 33 percent on 3rd down conversions, 23rd in the league. Of those, they've faced a 3rd and 8+ yards 23 times -- of which they've only converted twice.

To avoid that situation, and a consequently depressing evening, I'm hoping McCarthy will realize he inadvertently smudged the section of his cheat sheet titled "Screens, slants and other short passes" with a jelly doughnut and start calling some of that stuff.  I'd love to see Jermichael Finley have a huge day.  I've been singing his praises since the Arizona pre-season game, along with most of the league.  If he's going to have a break-out, ship-me-a-bag-full-of-money kind of game, this is the perfect stage to do it.  Not sure yet if Brandon Jackson is going to be back, but he or Grant needs to get free for some dinks and dunks.  And the receivers need to be sure-handed with the short, hard passes.

3) Make Favre beat you.  The media talk track on Favre remains the same in Minnesota as it was in Green Bay for years.  All they can talk about is the final pass of the San Francisco game.  Lost in the ticker tape parade is the fact that Favre is 25th in the league right now in passing -- sharing company with the likes of Trent Edwards, Byron Leftwich, and Brady Quinn.  I have no doubt I'll have a tear in my eye when Favre is inducted into the Hall of Fame, but the reality in 2009 is he's just not that good of a quarterback.

Green Bay has to stop Adrian Peterson (can you put "12 in the box"??), and make Favre throw to win.  I've got to believe that results in at least a few turn-overs.  We've had relative success against Peterson (knocking on wood with one hand as I type with the other).  I was at the 2007 regular season game against the Vikings when Peterson was just bursting on to the scene.  Packers, with much of the same personnel, largely shut him down and won 34-0.  Our run defense has not been solid this year, currently ranking 23rd in the league with 128 yards per game on average.  But I feel like we actually match up reasonably well against Peterson -- solid front 3, with fast OLBs who can contain, and hard-hitting corners.  Having Bigby back would be a big help (don't think we will).  But if we can slow Peterson down (scheme like the wind, Dom!) we've got a great chance of winning this game -- then we can all go out and get Cinnabons.

Belated Week 3 Analysis

Finally got a chance to watch the game last night, so here’s my belated analysis of week 3. Overall, solid game against a team that, frankly, they should have beaten more soundly. The fact St Louis was still hanging around, down by only 6 points heading into the 4th quarter, was mildly concerning. This really should have been a blow-out. The Pack had two turn-overs inside the Ram 20 in the first quarter, but only walked away with 6 points. Which brings me to my first of my three weekly observations.

1) Red Zone Offense.
This game should have been iced in the first quarter. To have your defense hand you the football inside your opponent’s 20 twice and not convert either into a touchdown is really concerning. Let’s break these both down. With the exception of a short 5-yard pass and PI call after Jolly’s brilliant take-away, both these series went down almost exactly the same way:
  • Sub 2-yard gain for Grant
  • Incomplete pass leads to 3rd and long
  • Big pressure (sack in first series and near-sack in second) forces a field goal attempt

This sequence of plays is pretty indicative of the problem elsewhere on the field as well. Though Grant did end up at 99 yards on the day, the running game just doesn’t seem to be setting up manageable down-and-distance situations. The short passing game isn’t working either – not seeing much in the way of effective screens and slants that are signature Packer football. And, ultimately, too many drives are stalling out because they are in a long-yardage situation in which opposing defenses can pin their ears back and come after Rodgers.

This needs to get fixed. Want to see more from Finley and Lee in the short passing game. Should help to get Brandon Jackson back into the swing, for some screens and swing outs. They need a better short-passing game as part of their arsenal if they’re going to sustain drives.

2) Donald Driver. Staying with the offense for a second, Driver is the one guy on offense (besides Rodgers) who seems to have really stepped up his game this year. He leads the Pack in receiving so far. His stats have been solid, though not off the charts – at 233 receiving yards and 2 TDs so far this year, he’s on pace for a 1,200 yard, 10 TD season. But I’m more impressed by his competitiveness. His fire. He’s at that juncture in his career where he still has the physical skills, but knows he only has a few more shots at a title.

The one-handed catch he made Sunday was ridiculous. He’s playing with an intensity that I hope the rest of the receiving corps starts to emulate. As talented as this crew is, I have to admit I’ve been disappointed by Jones, Nelson and Finley in particular. Seems like they aren’t running crisp enough routes, don’t always seem to be where Rodgers expects them, and are dropping way too many balls. Even Jennings, with the exception of the game-winning catch against the Bears, seems to be falling short of his potential. Hoping Driver can provide some veteran leadership here and get this crew fired up.

3) Turn-over margin. Sunday was another impressive performance on the turn-over front. Three take-aways to 0 give-aways. Green Bay is +8 this year on turn-over margin – best in the league. They will win a lot of games if they can keep that up. After Green Bay, the teams with the best turn-over margin are:
  • Broncos +6
  • NY Giants +5
  • Vikings +4
  • Saints +4
  • Falcons +3
  • Jets +3
  • Ravens +3

All those teams, with the exception of the Falcons, are undefeated. If the Packers can stay at the top of this list, they’ll go to the playoffs.

You tend to credit the defense for forcing turn-overs, and ours has certainly done a good job of that this year. But it’s easy to overlook the job the offense has done, and Rodgers in particular, at protecting the football. Things not happening (i.e. NOT throwing an interception, or NOT coughing up a fumble) are much harder to identify. By definition, their almost invisible to the average fan.  For some of the frustrations we’ve all had with the efficacy of the offense, we should give them some props for not forcing it, getting sloppy, and turning the ball over.

Obviously, this Monday is one of the biggest non-playoff games in recent Packer history. Will try to get another post up on what I think Green Bay needs to do to win that game.