Monday, December 30, 2013

Packers Overcome All Odds to Win NFC North

It certainly wasn't Aaron Rodgers' prettiest game ever, but with the season on the line he showed everybody why he is a legend.

Rodgers' 48-yard touchdown to Randall Cobb on fourth-and-eight with the NFC North hanging in the balance will go down as one the greatest plays in Packers history. Other than winning Super Bowl XLV it might have been Rodgers' greatest moment of his career to date.

"Those two making that great, great play will be running on the highlight reel for the rest of my time on this earth," said head coach Mike McCarthy.

The Bears sent a seven-man rush with a cover-zero look behind it on the touchdown. The Packers were not set up well to block this blitz, as they only had six guys blocking, and fullback John Kuhn tried to make a line adjustment before the snap.

"I can't really really recall what the first protection call was," said guard T.J. Lang, 'but John Kuhn was coming up and telling us to change the protection. I think only half the guys ended up getting the call."

The protection left Julius Peppers unblocked for an instant, as left tackle David Bahktiari blocked down on blitzing nickel back Isaiah Frey. Kuhn came across the formation and was able to cut Peppers just enough so that Rodgers could escape out of the pocket to his left and find Cobb. Cobb flew right by safety Chris Conte on a vertical route after Conte got caught playing the first down marker and peaking in the backfield.

That play showed just how special Rodgers is. Not every quarterback in the league has the awareness and athleticism to elude Peppers like Rodgers did. Also, the throw may seem simple because of how open Cobb was, but it isn't that easy.

A lot of quarterbacks struggle rolling to their left and firing a deep ball like that. Rodgers set his hips beautifully and fired a perfect strike to Cobb right in stride. The weather conditions and game situation made the throw even more incredible.

The touchdown gave the Packers a 33-28 that won them the NFC North Championship with a 8-7-1 record. This was an amazing accomplishment for everything that the Packers had to go through this season.

Rodgers returned from his seven week broken collarbone layoff just a little bit off. He orchestrated a beautiful opening drive until he was intercepted by Conte in the end zone on third down. Conte came off covering tight end Andrew Quarless, and Rodgers never saw him as he stepped right in front of Jarrett Boykin for the interception.

On the second possession Rodgers moved the ball again, but threw high and wide to Jordy Nelson, and the ball deflected off his hands for another interception. However, while Rodgers was finding his way, the Packers defense stepped up. They forced three first half three-and-outs and a fumble by Alshon Jeffrey.

Rodgers made yet another mistake when he didn't feel the oncoming pressure by Peppers and held on to the ball too long. He was stripped by Peppers, but the ball propelled forward and looked like an incomplete pass to everybody on the field. Boykin casually picked up the ball and did not look like he was going to do anything with it until the sideline told him to. He took into the end zone to give the Packers a 10-7 lead.

"I was throwing the ball the way I wanted to," Rodgers said. "I missed some, but I think the weather and the cold and the wind had something to do with it. I didn't feel any of the rust. I just missed a couple of passes and unfortunately they went for interceptions."

Rodgers looked more like himself in the second half and guided the Packers to touchdowns on three of their last four possessions. Still, the Packers were down 28-27 and need at least a field goal on their final possession to take the lead because McCarthy failed to go for a two-point conversion after Eddie Lacy's fourth quarter touchdown. McCarthy was very fortunate the Packers did not lose by one.

The Packers faced three fourth downs on the final drive and converted all of them. The first was a fourth and 1 from their own 28-yard line. McCarthy almost made another awful decision and initially sent out the punt team before being convinced by the offense to change his mind. Kuhn easily picked up the first down.

Rodgers converted a key third and 3 by faking Lance Briggs out of his shoes on a run. Another fourth and 1 came up, and Rodgers found Nelson on a quick hitch along the sideline in which Nelson made a great diving catch.

This all lead up to the 48-yard touchdown pass to Cobb. Rodgers had been knocked in the past for his lack of come from behind wins. He should never have to hear about that again.

Think about what had to happen for the Packers to be at this point. The Packers had to make a big comeback to tie the lowly Vikings. Robbie Gould had to miss 47-yard game winning field goal indoors in OT that is usually automatic for him. Justin Tucker had to hit a 61-yard field goal. Matt Bryant had to miss a 52-yard field foal against the Packers. Tony Romo had to throw two fourth quarter interceptions. The Lions had to finish 1-6 in their last 7 games.

If one of those things does not happen the Packers season is likely over. That gets you thinking that they could be a team of destiny.

They now have a home playoff game with their nemesis the San Francisco 49ers. This will be a huge redemption opportunity for the Packers after losing three games to them in the last two years. With Rodgers back at quarterback and everything that has happened to this point you can never say never at this point.

"That's all we play for, we play to get in and then all the records, you're 0-0," said defensive lineman Ryan Pickett. "We get a chance to play for our goal. We want to win another Super Bowl. We get to continue our journey. But I like our chances. I like this team. I think this team is mentally tough. We're wired to play 60 minutes. I feel good about our chances."

Friday, December 27, 2013

Rodgers Makes Packers a Contender

After eight very long games Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers finally got the medical clearance he was looking for and will return to the field on Sunday in Chicago.

With the return of Rodgers the Packers went from four point underdogs to three point favorites in the matchup that will decide the winner of the NFC North. The Packers have gone through three quarterbacks since Rodgers got hurt in Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn. They went 2-4-1 in games without Rodgers, but managed to stay in the division race due to major help form the Lions and Bears.

Rodgers' return as perhaps the best quarterback in the NFL should be a huge boost for the Packers. Rodgers' backups have been able to move the ball pretty well in his absence, but the major problems have been turnovers, red zone efficiency and third down efficiency.

Wallace, Tolzien and Flynn combined to throw for 8 touchdown to 10 interceptions and a 78.0 passer rating. Rodgers hasn't thrown more than 10 interceptions in a full season since 2010 when he only threw 11.

The Packers have only scored 21.7 points per game without Rodgers as compared to 28.7 points per game with him. The red zone is a place where having a backup quarterback really shows. There is not as much space in the red zone, so the throws have to be made into tighter windows, and that is where Flynn really struggled. Also, the Packers only converted on less than 35% of third downs without Rodgers.

The Packers are averaging a full more yard per play (6.4) with Rodgers than without him (5.4). Also, according to ESPN Stats & Info the Packers average 2.63 points per drive with Rodgers and 1.67 without him. With an average off 11.7 drives per game that equates to 11.2 points more with Rodgers than without him.

Rodgers comes back to face the perfect opponent for him. He has historically owned the Bears even when they had a good defense, and now they have a deplorable defense. Rodgers is 8-1 in his career against the Bears, with 19 touchdown passes and a passer rating of 102.1.

Rodgers should also be getting Randall Cobb back in the slot and Eddie Lacy should be good to go as well. Lacy should have a field day if healthy, as the Bears rank 32nd in the NFL allowing 161.5 rushing yards per game. He had a career-high 151 yards rushing in the first meeting after Rodgers went down in the first series.

Lacy should be able to take the pressure off Rodgers in his first game back. If he is not healthy enough than James Starks should be able to do the same, as he is averaging 5.2 yards per carry this season.

The offensive line has been a concern for some people, but other than Don Barclay they have been performing fine. Josh Sitton an T.J. Lang have combined to form one of the top guard duos in the NFL this season and David Bahktiari has been a revelation at left tackle.

The line was being hurt by Flynn holding the ball way too long and locking into receivers. A perfect example of that was on the last play of the game against Pittsburgh when Flynn had Jordy Nelson wide open on a slant in the slot, but he never looked at him and threw the slant on the outside incomplete to Jarrett Boykin. Rodgers does hold onto the ball too long at times, but at least he goes through all his progressions.

With Rodgers back the team needs to keep the same sense of urgency. They cannot relax just because he is back. Any team with Rodgers is a contender because he can get hot at any time and carry a team. The biggest concern for the Packers right now is the pass rush without Clay Matthews and with Nick Perry and Mike Neal banged up. The run defense also must improve in a major way.

Usually there has been a "hot" team that gets on a roll and wins the Super Bowl lately. Teams playing on Wild Card Weekend have had much more success than the top seeds lately. Rodgers gives the Packers the opportunity to be that "hot" team. The Seahawks and 49ers, the perceived two best teams in the NFC, looked very beatable last week. You just never know.

The Packers are very fortunate to be where they are right now. They are not big favorites to get to the Super Bowl, but all the NFC teams have showed that they have flaws. Rodgers gives the team hope that anything is possible again. That is all you can ask for with what the Packers have had to go through this season.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Should Aaron Rodgers Be Playing?

By: Matt Bove

The Green Bay Packers have been getting a lot of gifts lately.

They have seen Minnesota, Atlanta and Dallas choke three huge leads against them. The Packers had a lot to do with it as well, but the ineptitude of those teams certainly helped. They also saw Justin Tucker hit an improbable game winning 61 yard field goal against Detroit, and Detroit also contributed to the Packers' cause by choking as well.

Somehow, after not winning a game for over a month, the Packers find themselves controlling their own destiny in the NFC North. It was thought that after seemingly being so close last week that quarterback Aaron Rodgers would finally be able to return from his broke collarbone Sunday against Pittsburgh. However, after still not being medically cleared yesterday and after watching practice in the media portion this afternoon, that would not appear to be the case.

I am certainly in no position to challenge Dr. Pat McKenzie's medical rulings. I am not a doctor and do not pretend to be one, so it would completely be unfair. However, I am allowed to have my own opinion, so I am going to do it anyways. I may be wrong, but I have also been wrong before of course.

If Aaron Rodgers think he can play and can physically do everything that he is accustomed to on the football field then he should be playing. The beat writers at yesterdays practice said that Rodgers looked sharp and was throwing with great velocity. I find what Mike McCarthy said in a Jason Wilde column last week very interesting.

"Frankly, I think if Aaron was asked the question he wants to play. He feels ready to play," said McCarthy. "Based on what he's accomplished physically and what he was able to do at practice on Wednesday and Thursday, he's ready to go. The hurdle that I know Aaron wanted to get over, he achieved it this week. He feels really good."

This was from last week too, so Rodgers has had even more rest time. So, if Rodgers is physically ready how on earth is he not out there for a season deciding game? Obviously, it is because Dr. McKenzie fears Rodgers breaking it again. Sorry, but every time Rodgers or anybody steps out on the field they have a chance to suffer an injury. They all know this and you cannot play scared.

Rodgers has been playing football since he was a little kid and this was the first time that he took a hit at the perfect spot to break his collarbone. How much risk is there of Rodgers re-breaking his collarbone? We obviously do not know, but if McKenzie is holding Rodgers out because say there is like a 10% chance of him re-breaking it that is being too conservative.

Rodgers is an extremely smart guy and knows his body and risks better than anybody. I completely understand taking the long term approach and get it. However, you have no idea if the Packers will be in a position to make a run at the Super Bowl next year or beyond. You would like to think that they will be able to with Rodgers, but you never know in the NFL.

The Packers find themselves in a position to be playing their best football at the bets time of the year and ride a huge wave of momentum into the playoffs. Other than Seattle, I do not see anybody in the NFC who doesn't have big weaknesses. the Packers have an opportunity to get the third seed and void them until the NFC Championship game. Also, the Packers should have beaten Seattle in the famous "Fail Mary" game in Seattle last year, so they're not incapable of winning there either.

This has been a very frustrating process for everybody involved and it continues to get even worse. As the Packers learned with Brett Favre you never know if you're going to get back to another Super Bowl. Wasting opportunities if there is little risk is a decision that deserves to be at least questioned.

Kdiggs74's Keys to the Game 12/22/13

What an odd weekend.  From Romo throwing 2 INT after being up 12 points in the 4th quarter, to Justin Tucker kicking a 61 yard FG as time expired, I just don't think anyone could have predicted this weekend.  Now we are riding a 2 game winning streak and face the Steelers at home in what is still a must win situation for the playoffs. 

Here are some of the matchups that I think the Packers need to win to win the game. 

--Win the turnover battle

We fell behind big time against the Cowboys by giving them a few opportunities in the first half, and without Rodgers on the field, we simply cannot afford that.  Lacy needs to hold the ball tight, and Flynn needs to make smart decisions with the football. 

--Our OL vs Steelers DL

I would like to see us have a balanced run/pass attack against the Steelers.  Sometimes our line is strong, and other times it looks like swiss cheese.  We can't afford any injuries here because our backups are not good enough to play against NFL quality talent.  I won't say Lacy has to run for 150 yards for us to win, but if he got there I would be fairly certain that the win is imminent. 

--Shields/Williams vs Brown

Antonio Brown has been having a great season.  He is fast and elusive.  Obviously he had the great punt return against the Bengals, and almost had the long touchdown late against the Dolphins (but he ironically stepped out).  I just am worried about the matchup, and don't think we can double team since we need to stop Bell too. 

--Red zone victories

Whether on offense or defense, I think scoring is going to be coming at a premium in what looks like it will be a snow bowl game.  When we are in the red zone, we cannot settle for FG.  When we are on defense, we need to force turnovers or make them settle for FG.  It's a tall task, but it's highly urgent this week. 

Those are my thoughts, if you have any others you can post them in the comments below or back in the forum. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Wild Ride, Ending to be Determined

I'm pretty certain, that nobody expected us to be at 6-6-1 after 13 games.  Even if that had happened, I doubt that they would think that we would have a good chance at the division, because the Bears and Lions were both expected to bounce back.  So here are a few thoughts on the season so far and then looking forward to the end of the season.

Considering what a carousel we have had at QB for the past 6 weeks, I'm counting the whole Bears game as a game without Rodgers, since he was hurt in the first quarter, we could be doing a lot worse.  When I look at teams who have played multiple QB's this year, like Browns and the Vikings, we have a much better record.  As far as yards per game is concerned, the Packers are still 5th in the NFL with 394.5 YPG.  We are in a 3 way tie for scoring per game, 24.3 PPG, tied with the Chargers and 49ers.  Lacy has been doing great, but with a lot of injuries, especially on offense, McCarthy is still doing a great job there.

Defensively, we are around the middle of the pack for yards per game overall, rushing, and passing defense yards.  Our defense has 39 Sacks, which is only 5 behind the NFL leader which is Buffalo.  But our defense is at it's best when it is forcing turnovers, an issue that our defense has always had in the 3-4 under Dom Capers.  When we won the Super Bowl in 2010, Tramon Williams had a pick to guarantee the victory against the Eagles at the end of the game.  Everyone remembers the pick 6 right before the half by Williams against Atlanta.  BJ Raji had a pick 6 against the Bears.  Collins had another pick 6 against the Steelers, and Clay was able to force a fumble in the 4th quarter also.  But only 7 INT this year, is horrible.  The Tampa Bay Bucs have 21 INT on defense this year.

Crosby and Masthay have been at the top of their game all year.  Probably been a difference maker in some of the closer games we have had this year.  But I don't think we can blame much on our current special teams players from this year (Jeremy Ross, that is completely different).

So here are some rooting interests for the rest of the year.

As much as it pains me to say it.  I will be rooting for the Cowboys tonight, but only because then we would be second in the division.  We need the Bears to lose, and technically if we both win out until week 17, and then we beat them in week 17, we would finish ahead of them.  But you can't blame me for wanting to make this a two horse race instead of 3.

Week 15
--Ravens over Lions (MNF)
--Browns over Bears
--Packers over Cowboys

Of course, right after I have us cheering for the Cowboys, I want us to turn around and beat them.  I have hope that we can win the game against the Cowboys with or without Rodgers, because their defense is miserable.  It is the worst defense in the NFL, and I think that we should be able to run and pass against them.  Browns over Bears is probably pretty wishful, but it is in Cleveland, and they almost beat the Patriots this past week, and their defense is strong, and the Bears defense is pretty rough.  Ravens over Lions is a very strong one for me.  It is probably the Lions toughest opponent left on their schedule.  If the Lions don't lose that one, and they have to lose at least one for us to pass them, then I don't know for sure where they will lose.

Week 16
--Eagles over Bears
--Giants over Lions
--Packers over Steelers

Eagles over Bears would be a likely result in my opinion.  Giants have been very inconsistent, but they might be able to beat the Lions if they can avoid turnovers.  Steelers are still a tough team and have been improving later in the year since they have Le'Veon Bell.

Week 17
--Packers over Bears
--Vikings over Lions

Let's be honest, the Packers beating the Bears is the only likely result listed above here.  I just don't trust the Vikings to do anything right, and the Bears are going to do everything they can to knock us out of the playoffs and put themselves in.  Right now I think that the Packers probably have about a 20% chance of winning the division.  Both the Panthers and 49ers would have to lose out and have some other things happen for us to win a wild card, that's why I didn't bring up that possibility.  I don't claim to know what will happen by the end of the year.  But I'm hanging onto my seat, wearing my green and yellow with pride, and hoping and cheering for the best.