Here are Ted's Offseason Homework Assignments
Friday 01-25-2013 6:25am CT
As you may remember, I like to take ten days or so once a season ends to reflect, kick a few things and put my thoughts in order before we look at your off-season homework assignments.
You have a different kind of homework than the past two offseasons. After winning a Super Bowl, your team entered 2011 as the favorites and was historically one and done in the playoffs. Despite that quick exit, your team was still favored by many to capture its fifth Lombardi Trophy this season, but once again the team was knocked out in the divisional weekend.
Here's what we know: your team won't be considered a Super Bowl favorite by most entering the 2013 season. This is not entirely your fault. Indeed, your roster is still young and talented and you have a stable and proven coaching staff in place to keep the system running smoothly.
The team has won a lot of games over the last two seasons, but has exactly one playoff win (against a team that didn't use a real QB) to show for it. Changes need to be made. Changes are always made, but here's what I suggest you do this offseason:
1) Shake hands with Greg Jennings and Donald Driver and thank them for their years of wearing the Green and Gold as proudly as a player can. Driver's next stop will be the Packers Hall of Fame. He stuck around one year too long, but I won't blame you for bringing him back. After tangoing his way into the hears of millions of women, it would have been terrible PR to cut him loose. Jennings has some life left in the tires, but he's outpriced himself and we all know it. Some receiver-starved team (Dolphins, Chargers, Vikings, Redskins, Jets) will throw huge money at him. They will get a great locker room guy who has a ring and is a professional on and off the field.
2)While we're at it, shake hands with your best free agent signing ever, Charles Woodson. He's a Hall of Famer, but his best days are a couple of years behind him and you never intended to pay him the 10 million bucks he's due. I can't believe his pride would allow him to play for a renegotiated 2-3 million dollars, so cut him loose and go find a young, physical safety either in free agency or early in the draft.
3)Welcome back Jermichael Finley and his eight million dollar salary and then take a shower afterwards. He'll be overpaid for what he's accomplished, but Aaron Rodgers can't afford to lose two of his primary weapons in one offseason. Finley will be in a contract year, so he should be poised to put up big numbers, but he's an enigma, talks way too much--and that's just his agent. I don't have to tell you to look at tight ends in the draft too. Heck, if you think you can find a replacement for Finley in the first three rounds, I won't be that disappointed.
4)You and your staff have done a great job unearthing quality guys after the draft. Where would this team be without undrafted guys like Tramon Williams, Erik Walden, Sam Shields, John Kuhn, Don Barclay and Evan Dietrich-Smith, to name a few. I know the loss of John Dorsey will hurt, but you've got to keep mining this undiscovered talent.
5)Find a legit running back...please. I know you finally succumbed at the last minute and brought in the aging Cedric Benson last August. Many of us still dream about what this team would have been like had you landed Marshawn Lynch a few years ago. Luckily you hung on to that #3 pick and grabbed Alex Green, because he's just electric (that was sarcasm, I know you're kind of a dry guy and thought you might have missed that). Let's act a bit earlier this time around and find either a one or two year fix (Steven Jackson), a younger free agent type (Felix Jones) or draft a stud to add another dimension to Mike McCarthy's offense.
6)We look at the defenses that San Francisco and Seattle have put together and we see young, physical units that bring it every week. You need to find a few guys to bolster Dom Capers' defense. Getting Desmond Bishop back will certainly help. It would be nice to find another linebacker to pair next to him that isn't named AJ Hawk. I know you'll be looking long and hard at defensive ends, since Jerel Worthy's 2013 season is in doubt and no one else appears ready to step in and make a difference on the line. While you're at it, a hard hitting safety would be nice.
7)If you see an outside linebacker you love early in the draft, grab him. I know you went that way last year with Nick Perry, but I still think Perry may be better suited as a 3-4 defensive end. A quick, hard-hitting complement to Clay Matthews would have such an impact on this defense and would help contain those running QBs your team will face next season: Kaepernick Griffin (if he's back) and possibly Wilson in the playoffs.
8)Find a kicker to compete with Mason Crosby. Although he seemed to right the ship late, he had a train wreck of a season and deserves to fight for a roster spot in 2013.
9)I know you're going to spend a lot of time and money putting together new deals for Rodgers, Matthews and Raji. Do whatever it takes. These guys are cornerstones. Much of the rest of the roster is interchangeable and not full of game changers.
10)Figure out the tackle situation. Aaron Rodgers cannot get sacked 50+ times again. If Bulaga and Sherrod don't figure to be healthy and ready to compete to start by minicamp, find a couple of guys who can compete with Newhouse and Barclay. Look at what happened to the Ravens' offense when they switched up their tackles late in the season. What your team passes for starting tackles right now are really an affront to the Hall of Fame caliber quarterback who leads your team.
I know, it sounds like a lot of work for a guy whose team has won 26 regular season games the last two seasons. But we are looking to get back to the top of a loaded NFC, a conference with a number of young, talented teams that are poised to compete for years. Your roster needs to get better...and tougher.
A Title Game Appearance Will Depend On These Key Guys
Friday 01-11-2013 3:21pm CT
We've all been going through this matchup in our heads all week. We've listened to what the talking heads think. We know that neither team really resembles the ones that matched up in week one.
What really matters is where these teams stand right now. How healthy they are. And which match-ups does each team believe it can expose. Last year at this time, the Pack was getting set to defend their title as the top seed. This year they're a road underdog, but one that has been picked by many to move on to the NFC title game.
If they are to spring the mild upset, it will be because these guys stepped up in a big game and handled their business:
1) Erik Walden: The Niners will game plan to keep away from Clay Matthews and take their chances that right tackle Anthony Davis can handle Walden. Expect QB Colin Kaepernick to move to his right all night long. It will be up to Walden to make sure the dangerous young quarterback doesn't get around the edge. Facing Joe Webb gave him a taste of what to expect, but Kaepernick is infinitely more talented. But this is only his eighth career start and first playoff appearance so we don't yet know how he'll handle this spot.
2) Tramon Williams: Jim Harbaugh rolled the dice when he made the QB change and if he loses this game, the Monday morning quarterbacks will be out in force. While Alex Smith was solid, if unspectacular, Kaepernick is more dynamic and able to complete the big play. When he does that with his arm, he has invariably found receiver Michael Crabtree, who has become the only viable target in the passing game. Vernon Davis has been ignored and Mario Manningham is out for the year. So Williams will be charged with taking Crabtree out of the game and forcing Randy Moss to try on every play. If Williams is in shutdown mode, Kaepernick will be using his legs more than he wants to. Many of Crabtree's biggest plays have come from the slot. That may mean that Casey Hayward will be on him--big challenge for the talented rookie.
3) Charles Woodson: The old man's return was great to see and he finished second in tackles against the Vikings. It was a strange game because there was so little threat of the pass; Woodson was able to line up as an extra linebacker most of the time. This week will be much more challenging. Job one will be to shut down the run. Frank Gore's numbers have declined in the last six weeks, since backup Kendall Hunter went down with an injury and Gore was forced to take extra reps. Woodson has to keep Gore in front of him and make sure Vernon Davis doesn't awaken and make big plays across the middle.
4) Don Barclay: Let's face it: this is probably the most talented defense from 1 to 11 in the NFL. They have the best linebackers in the business, and Evan Dietrich-Smith will have to be stout and do his job to prevent Rodgers facing a rush up the middle. Marshall Newhouse will be charged with dealing with Justin Smith (more on him in a bit) and sack master Aldon Smith. But it's Barclay who needs to play huge in this game if Aaron Rodgers wants to take advantage of all of his weapons. Barclay will have to deal with all pro Ahmad Brooks, who will try to keep Rodgers in the pocket. The undrafted rookie has stepped in in a tough spot and held his own. This game will be a true test of how far he's come.
5) DuJuan Harris: The young running back has been a revelation and clearly is the favorite of the coaching staff right now. His work in the passing game last week against the Vikings' deep safeties look was huge and opened things up later for Rodgers. He runs hard and bounces off tackles and will need to show something on first downs. The 49ers are the best defense in the league on first downs. In the first meeting, Mike McCarthy had Rodgers drop back to pass on 52 of 61 plays. 31 plays were run out of an empty backfield. That will not be the case this time around. The Pack needs Harris to get four to five yards on first down to make things easier on Rodgers and they'll likely need him as a receiver against the aggressive pass rush of the 49ers.
6) Slot Receivers: The 49ers defense has been beaten all season by slot receivers. Randall Cobb was targeted nine times in the opener and caught all nine passes. Look for the Pack to use Cobb and Greg Jennings in the slot to get favorable matchups against Carlos Rogers and Perrish Cox. The outside guys, Nelson and Jones will try to pull the safeties their way to open things up along the seams. As always San Fran will be physical with the receivers are the line of scrimmage. The Packers need to fight through that and get into their routes, because Rodgers will likely be facing a lot of pressure all night long.
As for the 49ers, it boils down to one key guy on each side of the ball. Tough DE Justin Smith will start and try to play with a torn triceps. Here's what he means to the defense: the unit didn't give up 26 points all season, till his injury. It than gave up 28 to the Patriots in the second half and then 42 to Seattle the following week. They held Arizona to 13 points, but something called Brian Hoyer was starting at QB that week.
Smith's game is about using his hands and power to twist the left tackle out of the picture, allowing Aldon Smith to make his way to the quarterback. It's no coincidence Aldon got none of his 19.5 sacks after Justin went down. If Justin Smith is not close to his usual self, the Packers offense will function very effectively. If he looks good, the Pack may be in for a long day.
The second key player is obviously Kaepernick. The discrepancy at QB is the reason many of the wise guys are going with the Packers this week. As I mentioned earlier, Harbaugh put his neck out there when he replaced Alex Smith with the Milwaukee native and for many, this game will tell whether it was the right call. Kaepernick has proven to be smart, poised and electric at times. But Dom Capers will be ready to try to confuse him, show him things he hasn't seen on tape and force him into mistakes.
He's averaging one turnover per game. If the Packers get one, they'll likely win. They're 10-1 this season when they get at least one takeaway, 1-4 when they don't. Last year, the Packers put the ball on the ground repeatedly in the loss to the Giants. If they take care of the ball this time around, the 49ers will be challenged to engineer enough long scoring drives to keep Rodgers off the field.
While both teams suffered late season losses, the Packers seem to have a bit more momentum--the Niners' loss was much more punishing (in Seattle). They have the crowd, the lousy field conditions will favor the down and dirty defensive-oriented game they favor and the 40 degree temperature and windy conditions won't be ideal for a pass-happy team. I really believe the winner of this game will advance to the Super Bowl.
I'm thinking that when the clock is running out, the Pack will be trailing and have the ball. And Rodgers will be the story, leading his team in come-from-behind fashion against the favorite team of his youth--the one that passed him up with the first pick eight years ago. Rodgers daggers the 49ers late:
Pack 24 49ers 23
A Special Day: Pack Wins North Again
Monday 12-17-2012 1:37pm CT
It is always special to beat the Bears. It's even more special to beat them six straight times. It's special to win the NFC North for a second straight season. All in all, a special day at Soldier Field. What wasn't special was the Pack's special teams, which almost singlehandedly kept the Bears in it until the final minute.
More on that later. This was a game dominated by the Packer defense, which found its footing after opening the game allowing big chunks of yards on the ground. The Bears amassed only 190 yards and were 0 for 9 on third down. What a difference Clay Matthews makes to this unit. Two sacks, five tackles and a whole lot of attention from the Bears offense, which freed other guys to make plays. BJ Raji was all over the field, as was Mike Neal, and once again the young secondary stood tall.
Casey Hayward got his sixth pick and it was his easiest of the season. Sam Shields got pushed all day by rookie Alshon Jeffery, who was flagged multiple times in the second half. And Tramon Williams did a solid job on Brandon Marshall, who scored thanks to some poor tackling but was held to six catches for 56 yards. Cutler completed just 12 passes for 121 yards--his biggest play was the pass interference call on Morgan Burnett, which gave the Bears the ball on the five.
Offensively, the Pack got off to a slow start, but never gave up on the run, with 32 carries for the game.. Du Juan Harris had the best run of the day but Ryan Grant coughed up the ball in the third quarter, giving the Bears some life. The Pack was driving and leading 21-7 at the time, but the Bears only managed a field goal to cut the lead to 21-10.
The passing game was money. Aaron Rodgers found James Jones three times for touchdowns and hit a number of key third and fourth down conversions, mostly to Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley. Rodgers got hit a lot and took a bit of a beating, though I thought the roughing the passer penalty on Julius Peppers was a bad call.
Let's consider the Missin' Crosby situation. Mike McCarthy once again steadfastly stood behind his kicker after the game. "We are not changing our kicker. You can write that down right now," he said after the game. "He is our guy. He needs to make those kicks. He knows that."
Yes, Mike, we all know that. But he's a mess right now and he will cost this team in the playoffs if he doesn't shake his funk. I've been patient and slow to endorse the radical change of switching kickers this late in the season. But enough is enough. I'd bring in a couple of guys this week, if nothing else to put a scare into him. Maybe that's what he needs.
Now let's talk about that asinine punt return play in the final seven minutes. Pack's defense forces a three and out and the Bears punt the ball, trailing 21-10. Randall Cobb fields and fires a pass across the field to Jeremy Ross, who muffs it and the Bears recover and ultimately kick a field goal to make it a one possession game. I have yet to hear who made the call and what possible explanation he could give. The only one I will accept is something like this, "I completely lost my head for a minute there and had a complete brain fart." Any other reasoning will ring hollow. That was the single dumbest call I can recall from this regime.
Fortunately, it didn't cost the Pack on this day. They won their 12th straight NFC North game and have put themselves in a position for a first round bye. If they win out and San Francisco loses once, they'll grab the #2 seed.
The most encouraging takeaway from the Bears game, to me, is the play of the defense. If this team can add Charles Woodson and CJ Wilson to the mix, they should be in great shape for the post-season. And we know one thing, there will be at least one playoff game at Lambeau, giving Rodgers a chance to win one at home for the first time.
Win Over Lions Puts Division Title Within Reach This Sunday
Monday 12-10-2012 10:57pm CT
After spotting the Lions a 14-0 lead, the Pack woke up with a strong running game and good third down defense to outscore Detroit 27-6 the rest of the way and make it 22 straight over the Kitties in Wisconsin--and 11 straight wins in the division.
In the process they took a one game lead over the Bears in the NFC North. A win at Soldier Field next Sunday would give the Pack the division title and a home playoff game.
The first half was marred by penalties by the Pack: three off sides calls, a couple of untimely holding penalties in a half dominated by the Lions, who controlled the ball, allowing Green Bay to run only 16 offensive plays. The Pack only trailed 14-10 at intermission, just like last week against the Vikings. The defensive score by Mike Daniels was huge, getting the team within striking distance.
The winning drive in the fourth quarter was a thing of beauty: seven plays, 59 yards, all on the ground, with Alex Green, DuJuan Harris and Ryan Grant all getting involved. I really like the way Harris runs: he's only 5'7", but he runs hard and doesn't go down easily. The Packers ran for 142 yards, after putting up 150 last week against the Purple. The offense is evolving as teams sit back and dare them to run. They've shown the past two weeks that they can run and that will serve them well as teams game plan against them.
Once again, Randall Cobb was the main weapon in the passing game, catching 7 for over 100 yards, including a couple of gorgeous catches in the fourth quarter that extended drives.
For the first time in his last 36 home games, Aaron Rodgers failed to throw a touchdown pass, falling a few games short of Dan Marino's record. But I doubt it will keep him up at night. The team ground out a win on a night the offense wasn't really in synch and has won seven of eight, with re-enforcements set to return to the lineup. Hopefully we'll see Matthews and Woodson return to the defense next week, as well as Lang and Nelson on the offense.
Finally, hats off to Mason Crosby, who missed a 53 yarder (a sack on third down made it just beyond the dreaded 50 yard mark which spells trouble for #2), but he made a 49 yarder in the second quarter and a 41 yarder in the fourth and seems to have steadied himself just in the nick of time.
And so we move on to Bears week, where we'll monitor the health of Jay Cutler, who left the Vikings game late with a neck injury. Early reports say it doesn't appear serous, but the Bears are in trouble, losers of two straight and their defense is fading, clearly missing Brian Urlacher and Tim Jennings.
A win on Sunday will give the Pack the North title. Believe it or not, a first round bye would also be within reach, since the 49ers play at New England and Seattle next two weeks. With a division title on the line, I invite you to join me at the Park Tavern for the big game at noon on Sunday. Bring an unopened toy or a donation for Toys for Tots and you'll have a chance at a great Packers prize.
Rodgers Celebrates Birthday With Return to First Place
Tuesday 12-04-2012 5:41am CT
All in all, it was a pretty good 29th birthday for Aaron Rodgers. He led the Pack to its tenth straight divisional win, saw the Bears (and 49ers) lose in overtime, unwrapped his favorite present, Greg Jennings, who returned after missing seven weeks and will go to sleep tonight in first place.
It wasn't all birthday cake and balloons, though. The Pack lost Jordy Nelson after a sideline catch in the first quarter, and then TJ Lang shortly thereafter with an ankle injury. Huge props to rookie free agent Don Barclay who stepped in at right tackle and held up very well. His run blocking was great and he kept Robison at bay. He may stick at right tackle, with Lang returning to his left guard spot when he's healthy. Mike McCarthy said after the game that the doctors didn't think Lang's injury was serious.
On a day when Adrian Peterson's greatness was on display for all to see, the Vikings couldn't take advantage. 210 yards, including his career long 82 yard TD run. You get a guy with 200 yards, you usually win. But Ponder was brutal, completing only nine passes all day until the last series of garbage time. His pick in the end zone by Morgan Burnett was the turning point of the game. The Pack took over and kept the ball for 11 minutes, running 18 plays. It ended with a Mason Crosby field goal, putting the Pack up by nine and putting the game on ice.
The defense pitched a shutout in the second half. I don't care who you are playing against. When you're playing without starters Matthews, Woodson, Wilson and Shields, that's an accomplishment. They got gouged by Peterson a few times, but harassed Ponder and kept the ball out of the hands of his suspect receivers.
Offensively, the line protected well--a huge improvement over last week. The Vikes didn't sack Rodgers till late in the fourth quarter, giving him time to convert some key third downs and helping the running game churn out 143 yards: exactly what this team will need in the last quarter of the season.
I'm sitting in a virtually empty Lambeau Field pressbox, getting set for the drive back home to Minnetonka. Pack beats the Vikes. Bears and Lions lose. 49ers lose. Vikes fans will be demanding a QB change on KFAN tomorrow. All in all, a good day at the office.
U-G-L-Y! We Donít Got No Alibi...
Tuesday 11-27-2012 1:40pm CT
After a game like that you always hear that teams crinkle it up and throw it in the wastebasket and move on. So in the same spirit, we'll keep this one short and sweet.
It was ugly from the start. On all levels. We'll start with the offensive line.
The Giants' front four owned them. The vaunted D-line had been hearing about it for three weeks. What was wrong? Why weren't they sacking the quarterback? They stewed about it over the bye and came out tonight with a ton of urgency and energy and manhandled the Packers' O-line all night.
That allowed the Giants to play their safeties back and keep the Pack from beating them deep. Rodgers couldn't find open receivers and the running game didn't provide any assistance.
Defensively it was an absolute mess. Clay Matthews cannot come back soon enough. The run defense was atrocious from the start, putting Eli Manning into favorable second and third down situations. And Manning rarely felt a whiff of pressure. The Packers' pass rush had nothing close to the success it had last week in Motown.
The tackling was bad and the penalties were very uncharacteristic of this year's team. It felt a lot like the opener against the 49ers. The Packers were completely outplayed and were never in it. The way I see it, every team seems to have a game like this, and after a nice five game winning streak, the Packers had one.
Of the contenders, only the Falcons have yet to play a complete clunker. They've played down to their competition a few times, but have managed to win. The 49ers, Giants, Texans, Patriots, Broncos and Ravens have all had games like this. We'll tip our caps to the Giants, who hadn't won in three weeks and played like a team that needed to make a statement, like the Packers did in Houston in Week 6.
The Packers return home to begin a key three game divisional stretch, beginning with games against the Vikings and Lions at Lambeau. If the Packers take care of business the next two weeks, they'll likely play a game to win the division in Chicago in week 15 (the Bears host the Seahawks and visit the Vikes before the showdown).
Here's hoping we see some re-enforcements beginning next week. Hopefully Matthews and Greg Jennings will return to the field next week, with Sam Shields and Charles Woodson potentially back for the Bears, if not a week earlier.
This was a stinker and hopefully a wake-up call. If we expect the Pack to contend in the playoffs against teams like the Giants and 49ers, they'll need to learn from these losses and figure out a way to beat them. Simple as that.
Cobb Shines as Pack Wins 4th Straight
Monday 11-05-2012 10:30am CT
It's a good thing the Packers have next week off. They might be hard-pressed to field a complete team. After another game that saw three important starters leave with injuries (Bulaga, Nelson and Matthews), the Pack had enough left to dispatch of the physical Cardinals to move to 6-3 at the bye.
Once again, a 24-7 lead in the second half had us breathing easy, but ten unanswered points brought the Cardinals within seven. It didn't take Rodgers and the offense long to provide more breathing room. The 72 yard TD on a seam route by Tom Crabtree boosted the lead to 14 and the game was finally in hand.
The Pack took control early with a productive running attack, with over 100 yards on the ground in the game's first 2o minutes. Early on, it was Rodgers making plays with his feet, but both Alex Green and James Starks had solid games.
The running game offset a passing attack that never really found a rhythm. After the game, Rodgers was critical of his performance, despite throwing four TD passes. He finished an uncharacteristic 14-30 (including a handful of drops), missing a number of throws that he usually makes.
The offensive hero was Randall Cobb, with 191 all purpose yards and two touchdown grabs. He injured his shoulder on a brutal hit on a punt return and played through it the rest of the way. He's such a great weapon in the return game, but he is becoming too valuable as an offensive player to be a returner. I'm not sure who the team could turn to, but Cobb is becoming a stat before our eyes.
Defensively, the Pack gave up another 300 yard day to a mediocre QB, but a lot of it came late when the game was in hand. They bottled up the run game and only let Larry Fitzgerald beat them deep once.
The concerns coming out of this game begin with the injuries. I was surprised to see Jordy Nelson out there as a starter, believing they would rest him and his tight hamstring through the bye. When Nelson came up lame on an awkward catch near the goal line, many of our fears were realized. Often when a player is coming off one injury he's susceptible to another. The ankle injury does not look good; let's hope a couple weeks of rest is all he needs.
Bryan Bulaga was the next to come up lame with what was called a hip injury and was carted off. TJ Lang did a nice job moving over to man the RT spot. But an extended loss for Bulaga will weaken the line and be something to watch. The Clay Matthews hamstring injury is the last thing this defense needs. He just missed a sack on his final play of the day and immediately headed to the locker room. This has been a chronic issue for him and we'll wait and see how significant this injury is.
But the Pack fought through these losses and dispatched of the Cards. Maybe the play of the game was Rodgers covering a James Starks fumble. On a day when he wasn't razor sharp, he made a number of hustle plays that made a difference.
After a painfully slow start, the Packers have won four straight and are back in the NFC mix. The players will get a full week off before they return, hopefully refreshed and healthy to begin the second half with a big divisional road game in Motown.
What The Loss of Woodson Means
Thursday 10-25-2012 2:10pm CT
Let's start with this: at 37, Charles Woodson is not the player he was even two years ago. His collarbone injury will sideline him for at least six weeks, further testing a unit beset with injuries. Some will say, 'let the young guys step up; the defense won't miss a step. Charles hasn't been the dominant player we've grown to love anyway.'
I beg to differ. True, Woodson is on the back side of Hall of Fame career. He hasn't been the ultimate playmaker so far this season, as he makes the adjustment to more snaps at safety. But his presence on the field as the vocal and spiritual leader of the defense will be missed. For my money, he can't come back soon enough. Hopefully he'll be back for the stretch run in December, when the Pack plays divisional games in four of the last five.
You don't think the presence of Woodson makes the youngsters in that secondary better? Not just on Sundays but all week long? It's a big blow for the Packers who are finally playing at the level we expected to see after being spoiled by a magical 2011 which started with a Super Bowl and ended with a 15-1 regular season.
The good news is the Packers appear to have much more depth in the secondary than they had two years ago when the same injury knocked Woodson out of the Super Bowl. Still get the shakes remembering seeing Jarrett Bush playing corner as Big Ben tried to mount a fourth quarter comeback.
Ted Thompson appears to have hit on Casey Hayward and Jerrion McMillain in this year's draft; and if Davon House can stay healthy he should add another nice corner to put in the mix. It will be up to McMillain and/or M.D. Jennings to show they can handle Woodson's safety spot in the base defense. Assuming Sam Shields returns soon, Hayward should be able to man Woodson's nickel spot.
That means the team will have to hope their rookies are ready to step up and handle this grind of a football season. The timing is good: with the Jaguars and Cardinals (two offensively-challenged squads) coming to town leading up to the bye, the patched together defense will have some time to collect itself before facing stiffer road challenges in Motown and New York.
Losing Woodson shouldn't cause the defense to crash and burn. But getting him back in December will feel like the best present of all, as the team battles for playoff position.
Packers Head Home With Swagger In Tow
Tuesday 10-23-2012 7:42am CT
If the Packers' second half meltdown in Indy represented the worst loss of the McCarthy era, the last two weeks have served notice that the team has answered its wake-up call and is ready to head home feeling good about themselves.
This one belonged to Aaron Rodgers, who put just 10 points on the board in the first half, but you felt like there were more points to be had in the second half. Indeed there were. Rodgers fired two more touchdown passes in the second half, both to Randall Cobb, who had his best game as a pro. He caught eight for 89 yards (along with a 19 yard run) and caught a number of third down conversions. And for the second straight week, Jordy Nelson delivered as the go-to guys, with eight for 122 and the game's first touchdown.
Rodgers threw 37 times and had just seven incompletions, one of them a spiked ball at the end of the first half. After dealing with protection issues early, both from the outside rushers and good looking rokie DT Michael Brockers, the Pack rebounded nicely in the second half, giving Rodgers time to get comfortable and display virtually all the throws in his arsenal.
Defensively, they didn't do nearly as good a job against the run as they did last week. It kept the Rams in the game into the second half: the two headed monster of Jackson and Richardson showed its toughness. They combined for 93 yards on 19 carries: virtually all of it in the first half. When the Pack's offense clicked into gear they owned time of possession in the second half and forced Bradford into catchup mode. Outside of one long pass play, the screen to speedster Chris Givens, the pass defense completely dominated Bradford and his young receivers.
Playing without four defensive starters, the unit got strong play from the fill-ins. Erik Walden had nine tackles, getting most the snaps with Nick Perry out. He had two QB hits and a tackle for loss. Rookie Casey Hayward got the start for Sam Shields and played a great time, reeling in his fourth pick of the season and showing that he belongs. It was also good to see Davon House out there making plays. If his shoulder allows it, he could be another nice dimension in the secondary--he had won the starting job in camp before his injury.
So, feeling much better about the squad as they head home for games against the Jaguars and Cardinals. Hopefully the team escaped any major injuries in St. Louis. Mike Neal left the game early, so we'll monitor that.
They've come a long way in two weeks. Maybe all the way back to who we thought they were coming into the season.
Rodgers Hushes Critics, Defense Crushes Foster, Texans
Tuesday 10-16-2012 11:07am CT
.500 never felt so good. With an opportunity to make a statement on the road against an unbeaten team, the Pack did just that behind the golden arm of Aaron Rodgers and a stout run defense that completely bottled up Arian Foster and the Texans offense. The Pack played like a team that had chip on its shoulder and was playing with urgency. The result: 42-24.
When asked by Michelle Tafoya what he had to say to his critics, who were wondering what was wrong with him and the offense, Rodgers said, "Shhhhh."
Suddenly all seems right with the world. There were heroes and good signs all over the board. Let's start with the offense, which started out hot and stayed that way. Rodgers and Nelson found a rhythm early, and with the offensive line doing its job, Rodgers had time to find Nelson, Cobb, Jones and Finley all night long. It was made possible by a strong night running the football by Alex Green. He only averaged three yards per carry, but he got 22 carries and that was huge.
This was a game for Rodgers to let his performance do the talking, after answering questions day after day from folks wondering what was wrong with the Packers' offense. Six touchdowns later against the mighty Texans defense was his exclamation point. Clearly they're not the same without linebacker Brian Cushing, but the Pack's defense was even more short-handed.
Ultimately it's that side of the ball that had to make you feel really good. Holding Arian Foster to 1.7 yards per carry on 17 carries, without BJ Raji, was a thing of beauty. Pickett played very well in Raji's spot, and youngsters like Worthy and Neal stepped up big. When Nick Perry and DJ Smith went down with injuries the depth was tested. But the defense didn't miss a beat. When Sam Shields got kicked in the shin, rookie Casey Hayward came in and got two late picks--on very acrobatic plays. I'd like to see more of him, hopefully not at the expense of a Shields injury though.
They cleaned up the penalties--had no pre-snap problems in a loud environment--and forced some turnovers. Two elements that needed to change after what we witnessed last week. We saw precisely what we needed to see in Houston: a dominant 'don't forget about us' game that brought some sanity back to the world. They'll be favored to win the next three games before the bye against teams that will have a hard time keeping up on the scoreboard.
It's been an often frustrating first six weeks to the NFL season. But for one night we were reminded what this team can do. When Rodgers and company are playing at that level, there's no team they should fear.