Sunday, December 25, 2011

MMQB: Packers wrap up home field advantage but questions still remain about the defense...

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and goodwill towards men. And women. And any assorted girls and boys trolling along underfoot this holiday weekend!
I have been admonished by all the after-Christmas party-goers at my house tonight to not go into my normal “glass half empty” rants tonight. The fact that my team has won just about everything they can in the regular season, with only a nothing-left-to-play-for game against the Lions remaining, should put me in the bestest of holiday moods, right? I mean, I’ve got a four day weekend to spend with Mrs. MMQB, I’ve been surrounded by friends and family, I’ve received some excellent gifts, spent some quality time with my parents and kids (even long-distance holiday time with #2 Son and his gal via Skype), and the Packers beat the Bears! What’s not to love, right?
Darn, this is hard. OK, I’m pressing REAL hard on the keyboard, trying not to rain all kind of derision upon the Packer defense. If you watched this game, you know what I’m talking about, making a third string QB look like Johnny F*****g Unitas and a third string running back look like Barry F*****g Sanders. Whoa. That was very negative. Slap my wrist and take away my pumpkin pie! (HEY! I meant that figuratively. I was eating that!)
No, I think I have to be on by best behavior (I still think that pie-forfeiture was uncalled for) since it’s Christmas. Soooo here is my best imitation of a glass WAY more than half full writer:
  • Wow, that Aaron Rodgers is good. Five TD’s, no picks and 283 yards. Plus, the dude rushed for some vital yardage as well. Sure, he was off target on a few throws but he more than made up for them with more great plays. His play has eclipsed that of old whatshisname Bent Somebody in every category. Except for interceptions and game-crushing plays.  
  • James Jones and Jordy Nelson stepped into the void left by Jennings tonight. As much as they were absent in the loss to KC last week, these two guys were vital to the Packer efforts tonight. And don’t forget the contributions of Driver (2 for 29), Grant (2 for 34) and Cobb (2 for 22). Those were some tough yards and big plays.
  • Jermicheal Finley (sigh) is really trying my patience. I don’t mean this to sound negative but in the last two games after Jennings went down, he has had to step into the role of playmaker and has not measured up. Yes, he did have that very nice TD catch but he had two outright drops and two more balls thrown that he should have caught. I’m happy he’s on the team, he’s out best receiving TE but he is not the man he needs to be in terms of taking over a game. Early this year (and last year before he was injured) J-Mike could not be covered. Now, it’s 50-50 if he does get open that he’ll catch the ball.
  • I’m loving what I’m seeing from Clay Matthews. The sack totals are way off but his impact in the running game and in coverage (two picks in the last three games) is 112% over and above where he was a year ago when he was racking up those massive QB sack numbers.
So now the Packers have secured home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They’ve set franchise records for victories, consecutive victories and just about every passing mark there is. Tons and tons of records are being set by Rodgers and if he’s not the league MVP this year, the voting is rigged. So what can they possibly be playing for against the Lions next week? The Lions are in the playoffs for the first time since Boy George was popular. The Packers are in and have everything a regular season can give. What to play for on either side? Pride and momentum, that’s all. Will McCarthy sit his starters? Will we see Matt Flynn in the second quarter? Will this look like a preseason game? Quite possibly. But I sincerely believe that MM and the Packers want to go into the post-season on a roll and with a 14-1 record. They have not looked great the last two weeks against, quite frankly, teams that are just coasting along on fumes. What will happen against a powerful offensive team like New Orleans or a defense like San Francisco? Nothing good. They can treat this game against Detroit as a great way to warm up, get some momentum going into the bye and work out some of ugly kinks (you know I’m looking at you, Defense) that have reared up lately.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

MMQB: XPOSED! Packers play their worst game in a calendar year and are shown up by Kansas City

Besides the normal black depression that all Packer fans are feeling right now after a loss, we are all dealing with the knowledge that we let a clearly inferior team beat us. It happens every year and I had hoped that we would get through this miracle season without it but you knew it was coming: the game the Packers mail in.
I should have seen it coming! We had one weak-ass opponent left on the schedule. Not going anywhere, no reason to think that they have anything but “please don’t hurt me” left in the tank. Last year we saw it against the Redskins and the Dolphins (and, to be honest, in the first Bears and Lions games) and here it was again!
Everybody and his mother are going to be all over this, looking at the loss of Jennings and the problems along the offensive line and the pressures of trying to accomplish the perfect season...blah, blah, yadda, yadda. You want to know why the Packers lost? I got it here for ya:
  • Jordy Nelson: In what should have been the biggest opportunity of his career, Mr. Nelson was flagged for two offensive interference plays in the first quarter (first was good, second was totally bogus) and ended us with a pedestrian two catches for 29 yards. And he got flagged one other time for a false start. 
  • Jermicheal Finley: He ended the day as the top Packer receiver for the afternoon (3 catches, 83 yards) and set up the first Packer TD of the day but his three (or four) drops in the first half set the tone for the rest of  the day. J-Mike makes those grabs and the Packers are maybe up by 10 at halftime. I am totally over him. 
  • Aaron Rodgers: As good as A-Rodg has been in 2011, he stunk up the joint today. 17 for 35, 1 TD and 235 yards. An OK game for most QB’s but pretty poor based on his production so far. He was high, low and all over the place. He should have been picked off at least two times and maybe three.
  • The entire Packer defense: one would think that forcing four field goals in four KC trips inside the 20 would be total victory for the defense but one would be wrong in that assessment. Those drives, while ultimately not successful in scoring a TD, chewed up large chunks of clock and kept Aaron Rodgers and his offense sitting on the sidelines. Win for the Chiefs. And if you add in a lack of turnovers (the Packer D never even got a glimmer) you  should have seen the loss coming.
  • Mike McCarthy: With a stuttering offense, MM decides to attempt a 59 yard field goal. It missed but a defensive penalty allowed a second chance and darn if that one didn’t miss too. In the first quarter, those are the WRONG DAMN CALLS! You punt the freaking ball and you let your D do  their job. And if KC didn’t have a direct line into the Packer huddle, it sure looked like it.
  • The KC defense:   No one else has been able to do it and I still don’t know how the Chiefs did it but they covered literally everybody and were still able to put all kinds of ugly pressure on Aaron Rodgers. No doubt some of that is due to the unsettled nature of the Packer O-line but you have to give a huge amount of credit to the KC secondary.
  • The KC offense: If the KC defense looked like they had a direct line into the Packer huddles, the defense might have been even more in the know. When the Packers brought pressure, they had a screen called. When the Packers dropped off, the Chiefs found the seams. You want to know the difference maker? When the Chiefs needed a catch, the Packer defenders were playing soft and there was always a man open, completely undefended. Conversely, there was not one (no a singe damn one!) Packer wide-out who was open all day! Every single pass was contended. Even the completions were into tight coverage.
So you and I can go on an on all day long about how the Packers missed Jennings or they were looking past the Chiefs. Those are all just excuses. The reason the Packers blew their chance at a perfect season was that they were out-played, out-executed and out-coached (by Romeo Crennel!) in every phase of the game!
So now the 24/7 NFL media will be able, with a clear conscience, to devote 100% of their coverage to Tim Tebow and the Broncos. I’m sure the Packer’s pursuit of history was just a distraction from the true biggest story of the year. And maybe that’s an OK thing. Mike McCarthy said it best after the game: “We were beaten.” At 13-1, the Packers are still the #1 seed in the playoffs. They are still the best team in the NFL and they are still the favorites to get to and win the Super Bowl. The shot at legendary status is all done with. We can quite worrying about when and if Mike McCarthy will sit his starters. There is no reason to do so now. Now all they need to do is win.
Visit The Packers Sandlot ( for the new home of The MMQB. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

MMQB: Packers go up big early and win going away by 30: Can anybody slow them down? The Tee-Broncos? PLEASE!

Did the Green Bay Packers play on Sunday? If you watch the post-game highlights or scan the Intert00bs, you would have thought that the only game going was Broncos vs. Bears. Yes, it was a miracle finish, for Teebow and the Broncos to beat the Bears (or maybe we should credit the Bears for sucking so completely) but the real story was going on in Green Bay, Wisconsin as the Packers were dismantling the overmatched Oakland Raiders.

How can you not love the Broncos? Simple: the Broncos and their QB are an awful team for 55 minutes. Then they suddenly come to life and play out of their heads and win. I will say this now and shout it from the highest mountain top: I WANT the Broncos vs. Packers in the Super Bowl. The Packers will not be within one score in the last five minutes against that team. In fact, I would predict the Broncos to be down by at least 21 in the last five minutes of a potential Green Bay/Denver SB tilt.
But I’m sick to death of the Broncos. I’m here to praise the best team in the land:
  • Where has Ryan Grant been hiding all year? Has it been the steady production of James Starks that hid Grant’s resurgence? I’m not sure but I have to say: Grant looked like Ahman Green back there catching passes, bursting through the holes, scoring TD’s. Gotta love having that in your hip pocket down the stretch.

  • Donald Driver, the venerable one in the Packer receiver corps, has his third straight big game. Never the guy with the most catches or the most yards, just biggest catches and the biggest yards. With the injury to Jennings looming, Double D will need to step up and fill a role. I can’t imagine a guy more able to do it.

  • Jermicheal Finley, loosing a battle for possession in the end zone, has officially fallen off my list of Packer weapons and moved into my dog house. And probably Aaron Rodgers’ too: after that fiasco, he wasn’t never thrown to again. In the final year of his contract, I cannot see Ted Thompson shelling out big bucks to retain a guy who has become inconsistent and edging into the area of a liability. 
  • Can you do more than Mason Crosby? Damn that guy is good. After two weeks of iffy play, he went 4 for 4 including a long of 49. On a night when the Packers red-zone magic was suddenly absent, Crosby salvaged 16 points for his team. Gotta love that.
  • For the second straight week, the Packer defense adds points to the scoreboard. You just can’t put a value on that kind of play. It not only short-circuits an offensive opportunity, it puts points on your side of the ledger and demoralizes the opponent. No one in the NFL is doing what the Packers are doing in that arena.
  • I simply love he NFL Mobile ad that has Matthews making a tackle-for-loss and throwing the “Predator” move, repeated by fans watching including sportscaster Rich Eisen. Too much fun.
  • The Raiders hang their hat on being able to run the ball and stopping the run. The Packers are just not the team you would expect to run the ball. How did that turn out? Grant and Kuhn ran for 131 and 2 TD’s, Bush found 78 yards and 1 TD. I’d say that’s a win a for the passing team, wouldn’t you?
  • The opportunistic Packer defense should really have been able to post a shutout over the Raiders but for two poor series. The safety given up by the offense in slop time was troubling (who the hell was blocking on that play? Anyone? Buehler?). On a Sunday when they Packers won by 30, it really wasn’t that close.
Now we get down to the last three games of the season and 16-0 is within reach. Can any of the final three opponents beat the Packers? Chiefs: not even in the same league. Their only advantage is home field. Bears: they are missing their starting QB and franchise running back. And they lost to the Broncos. Their season is done. Lions: Did you watch them against the Vikings? Up by 21 in the first quarter, they barely hung on for the win. If the Queens were even the teensiest bit better, it’s a miracle come back and a Lions loss. No, I’m sorry: any team can beat any other team on any given Sunday, but I just can’t see the Packers losing to any of these stiffs. Unless, of course, Mike McCarthy sits his starters. I just don’t see that in his character, but the ultimate goal is a Super Bowl win. I will trust MM to do what needs to be done to meet that goal.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

MMQB: The Packers Pass the "Character" Test

The Green Bay Packers are the undefeated, consensus class of the NFL. You’ve got folks that talk about the Ravens and the Pats, some who put up the Steelers or the Saints and even the Niner-lovers. And if I hear one more word about the Tee-Broncos, I will absolutely vomit. But all of these teams are in the running for the Best Team Not Named Packers award. 
But there was one thing missing from the Packer’s win portfolio: the gritty come-from-behind, fourth quarter victory. This, to me, is the ultimate test of character for an NFL team. Can you absorb the bets shot from an opponent, get down and find a way to win at that very end. And they haven’t had that opportunity to pass that test for one very good reason: the Packers have not trailed in the fourth quarter for the entire 2011 season.
So when the Packer defense went into “please don’t hurt me” mode late in the game and pretty much handed a tie to the Giants, it was up to Aaron Rodgers and the offense with the ball on their 20, only 58 seconds remaining and one time out to go get the win. Four plays later Mason Crosby was set up with a 31-yard game-winner and the Packers were 12-0. They had passed the test.
Should the Packers have been in that position? No way. How did they get there? The reasons are many:
  • The Packers had six dropped passes (I actually counted eight) with Finely being the worst offender. You just can’t drop that many passes and expect to win many football games.
  • The Packer defense was torched repeatedly for long passes. Completions of 42 and 51 yards and a TD to former Wisconsin Badger for 67 made the Packers secondary looks foolish. I kept hearing the Benny Hill theme watching the DB’s attempt to cover and tackle.
  • Mason Crosby has suddenly become a 50-50 kicker, missing a field goal as time expired in the first half off of fumble recovery. He looked so great through ten games but he’s missed two over the span of that many weeks.
  • Aaron Rodgers was off target in several critical moments. The pick he threw was a pure and simple mis-read.
  • The Packer offensive line, patched together after injuries have ripped up the starting line, is not doing well. Rodgers was facing more pressure that he should. The run game was almost laughable in places. Smith and Newhouse are not starter-worthy and it showed big time tonight.
  • The play calling of Mike McCarthy was surprisingly pedestrian. How many times do you run the ball for under two yards on first down? Why call a reverse/wide receiver pass and take the ball out of Aaron Rodgers hands? I appreciate MM trying to create balance but he has to go with what’s working and not with what isn’t.
  • The lack of pressure on Eli Manning was a huge factor. The younger Manning brother is well known for making errors when hit and sacked. The Packers made valiant attempts to rush him and they were successful in many instances but all too often the Giants double-teamed Matthews and then watched the rest of the Packer front seven flop around ineffectively and BOOM! Another big pass play!
So with all that going on, how did the Packers win this game? How did they win the battle of character on the last drive of the game?
  • Clay Matthews and his pick-six in the first quarter was a huge turning point. If Eli Manning has time to make the correct read (one of those rare QB pressures) he might have a TD going the other way. A 14-point swing on one play.
  • Donald Driver has four catches for only 34 yards but two of those were for TD’s. Double D stepped up for the second game in a row.
  • Catches by Jordy Nelson on the last two Packer drives were absolutely crucial to the win. As with the phenominal run into and through the playoffs last year, Nelson knows when to step up his level of play.
  • Rodgers, even with his slightly erratic play, was able to put together not one but TWO scoring drives to win this game. The passes to Finley, Nelson and Jennings to set up the winning field goal were as precise as you can get. When it was most important, Rodgers as most effective. Mason Crosby may have put that game winner between the uprights but it was Aaron Rodgers who made it possible.
There were some pretty big injuries in this game and as I write I have no idea how severe they are. Starks went out on the cart and it doesn’t look so great for him. Grant needs to step up. Quarless’ injury looks to my uneducated eye to be season-ending. Good thing we have five tight ends on the roster. Woodson got his head impacted and we might be looking at a concussion. I’d love to point to someone in the secondary that is able to fill in but I don’t see them. But the way Woodson was playing today, it was probably an upgrade to the Packer defense. These are all worrisome.
Again, this game was touted by some as “the one the Packers are going to lose” and again, the Packers found a way to the W. With four games to go, the Packers have locked up a playoff berth and will win the North if the Lions drop one to the Saints tonight. Three of the four remaining games are in the friendly confines of Lambeau Field, so you have to give the Packers the edge. Can they go all the way? Sure. Does it have to be this exciting? No, but why would you want it to be boring? This is a special season and a special team. Let’s hope it can all result in a special trophy.