11-0. A win this week and the thought of 19-0 can begin. The Run for the Repeat is about to take the first crucial step as the Packers are not only on the cusp of clinching a playoff berth, but we're also on the brink of earning a 1st round bye and capturing the 1st NFC North title in the career of Aaron Rodgers as a starting QB. It's so close I can taste. After all that Rodgers has accomplished in his short career, it'd mark the 1st time Rodgers entered the post-season as a Regular Season Champion. It'd further the legacy he's already created in 4 short years as a starter. And he's performing in what is among the toughest divisions in the NFL.
A couple of quick hits from the Thanksgiving Feast in Detroit:
* It's worth leading off with this: BJ Raji dominated. He was moving the pile. He was getting a push. He collapsed the pocket. He recorded a sack. Hopefully, this was the game Raji needed to jump start this DL into another dominating playoff run.
* Once again, the Packers had a two score lead in the 2nd half and the Packers got the ball back. What did McCarthy call? The dagger! Of course. This time - it went to James Jones. Right when it looked as if Jones might disappear for the rest of the Run for the Repeat, Jones comes out and grabs three balls for a team-high 94 yards. We're deep and we're unpredictable because you never know whose number McCarthy is calling next. But, whether it's been Jennings, Nelson, J-Mike, Jones, Cobb, or Driver - more often than not - the Packers have walked away from the play as a winner.
* And, suddenly, our playmakers are making plays on defense. Look out. The Claymaker with a pick and although he didn't record a sack, his pressure was solid. Sir Charles with a pick. T-Mon got his hands on a couple of balls. The cast looks like it's getting smaller on Morgan Burnett's hand. Big plays are coming.
* Sometimes even a hot fire needs to be stoked. Such was the case with Aaron Rodgers on Turkey Day. While Aaron Rodgers presently has a warning label that reads: "CAUTION: FLAMMABLE" - his red hot right arm caught potency after the thuggish defensive line from the Detroit Lions went cheap on him in the 2nd Quarter. Granted, two of the hits weren't called for penalties, but clearly, they were late hits that were meant to inflict harm. After the game, ESPN Analyst said it best, and I paraphrase, "As a coach you either teach that style of play or you discipline that style of play. And in the case of Schwartz, it appears as though he teaches that style of play." They went after Rodgers in a dirty fashion. Rodgers responded with another near flawless performance. Aaron Rodgers, ladies & gentleman, is the unquestioned MVP of the NFL thus far. Consider this - and I thank my cousin Ryan for pointing this out to me - but, presently, Rodgers is 17th in the NFL in passing attempts. He's 4th in completions. He's 1st in TD's. He's 1st in yards per attempt. He's 3rd in yards. Of the starting QB's in the league, he's thrown the least amount of interceptions. He's 1st in completion percentage. He's yet to lose a fumble. His team is undefeated after 11 games. It's almost unbelievable to consider the level of QB play that were witnessing out of the XLV MVP.
* Of course Charles Woodson was picking off a pass in Detroit. He went straight gangsta on Matthew Stafford. That play was inhumane. One of my favorite defensive plays of the year. Straight gangsta, man. Straight gangsta! Giving him 53 interceptions in his Hall of Fame career.
* Marshall Newhouse, dude. His best game of the year. Might he be the Left Tackle of the future? At times, he's showed it's legitimately possible. Should the Run for the Repeat end in the XLVI crown, I'll couple him with Bruce Wilkerson as saviors. For the most part, Wilkerson shut down Vanden Bosch.
* Champions have depth. And, on Turkey Day, the depth came through. Struggling though the most physically taxing portion of the schedule, the Packers endured the injuries that you had to assume were on the horizon. Bishop, Hawk, and Clifton all went out. In came DJ Smith, Robert Francois, and Evan Diedrich-Smith. DJ was abusive. 5 solo tackles. 1 assist. He was a menace to the Lions OL on the pass rush. He gets low. He hits with might. He was fresh. He wanted success. He found success. He has a future in this league. Francois came up HUGE with the interception that preceded the deep ball to James Jones. Francois also pitched in with 3 solo tackles. And all Evan Diedrich-Smith did was pin Suh to the turf with an epic pancake. He frustrated Suh so vigorously that Suh's retaliation led to his ejection. Pure domination.
* Another solid game for Sam Shields.
* Mason Crosby drilling a couple of big kicks.
* Say what you want about Dom Capers' defense, but man, 2 of the 3 three games, this defense has looked pretty dominant. And on the season the team has 25 sacks, picked off 22 passes, recovered 3 fumbles, has 27 tackles for loss and has scored 3 touchdowns. They give up a boatload of yards, but they have a pension for making the big play.
* Another 4 catch day for Jordy Nelson.
* Rodgers connected with 9 different receivers. How great was it to see Saine catching the swing pass and falling forward after contact and grabbing extra yards!?!? He's not a life saver as a back, but he provides a decent option. I like his moxie. I like his approach. He is a competitor. I've thought this since the first time I watched him play. And there he was - grabbing big yards after contact. These plays were supposed to go to Alex Green. Saine is making the most of his chances.
* Greg Jennings. Man. A 5 catch, 74 yard, 1 TD game is so ho-hum. What a superstar!
* J-Mike - mate, I got your back. Through thick and through thin. But, mate, you gotta hold onto the ball.
* Glad Walden kept himself out of jail. He's playing his best ball of the year.
* I'm curious to see what happens to Reggie McKenzie and the Raiders GM job. It'd be a bummer if we lost him. He's a key to continuing to build on this franchise during the offseason. He's been a staple. If Oakland grabs him, they're getting a real talent.
* Didn't agree with P-Lee's ejection. Once again, I want to reiterate that J-Bush and P-Lee have had very good seasons and have been weapons as gunners on special teams.
* Have to love Matt Flynn's beard. After watching a number of back-up QB's over the past couple of weeks - especially last weekend - it wouldn't surprise me if Ted Thompson gives Matt Flynn the money he wants during the offseason to keep him around.
This week - it's the Giants. The Packers and the Giants have developed a mini-rivalry over the last couple of years. In '07, we know what happened in the NFC Championship Game. Then - last year - the Giants were the team that allowed the Packers to get into the playoffs after DeSean Jackson danced all over the New Meadowlands and then the Giants came to Lambeau and Aaron Rodgers went bananas on the Giants secondary. Rodgers threw for over 400 yards and 4 TD's as the Packers routed the Giants 45-17.
Don't be fooled by the Giants performance last Monday Night in New Orleans. They're a physical team. They can win games with their front 4. They can pressure the QB. They can make life miserable for the oppositions offensive play caller. With that said, the G-Men are beat up on the DL. Tuck is playing at less than 100%. Osi got banged up against the Saints. Still, JPP is an absolute beast. When Kiwi puts his hand in the ground and rushes the passer, he's also a legitimate threat. Tollefson can also put pressure on the QB. Canty gets a push. They have depth on the DL. They'll try to expose Diedrich-Smith as a weakness as Sitton will be out. They'll try to attack Newhouse to see if he's sturdy enough on the outside. They'll run stunts to try and confuse our inexperienced guards. If we're not prepared, it could be a long day for Aaron Rodgers. The G-Men made a mess out of Tom Brady - in New England. This will be a tough task for our OL. Expect our TE's to chip the Giants ends. Expect Kuhn or Starks to be kept in the pocket to help block and then they'll jump out as safety valves for the NFL's MVP.
If Rodgers has time, he'll torch the Giants defense. The New York LB core is beat up. They can't cover. They don't play well in space. The Packers will own the middle of the field if Aaron Rodgers has time in the pocket.
The Giants secondary has gained depth with the return of Prince Amukamara. Amukamara is a talented CB. Ross can play. So can Webster. But, oddly, the safeties, Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips have not lived up to expectations. They can be beat down the middle of the field. In the past, Jordy Nelson has given Rolle nightmares. It'll happen again on Sunday. Look for Nelson to grab a deep ball.
Last year, the Packers attacked Corey Webster down the outside of the field with Greg Jennings. Webster couldn't run with Jennings. I expect the Packers to target this same match-up on Sunday.
Offensively, Eli Manning has some talented options, if they're healthy. Victor Cruz has emerged as a legitimate threat. Hakeem Nicks is an absolute weapon. When healthy, Mario Manningham has been tough to defend. Ramses Barden has disappointed, but physically, he has all of the tools to be a big time target and a match-up nightmare. Jake Ballard has been a great resource for Manning. With these receivers, Manning has had the best year of his career.
The Giants running game has been in flux. Brandon Jacobs is still a staple in the ground game. Ahmad Bradshaw has been out for nearly a month with a foot injury. DJ Ware has some wiggle to him, but his skills are limited. And while Da'Rel Scott is a Giants-fan favorite, he's yet to have the game in which he bursts onto the scene. And frankly, in the little I've seen of Scott, I'm not concerned that he's going to be someone that beats up. I'm hoping Bishop and/or Hawk can play this week. While Smith & Francois both played well last week, it'd be asking a lot of them to perform at that level for a 2nd week in a row.
Look for the Packers to force turnovers once again. They'll pick Manning off twice and force a fumble. Manning will float the ball down the middle. Burnett better be ready. He'll have an opportunity to swing momentum.
Rodgers gets just enough time. His receivers make plays after the catch. J-Mike has a big game as he scores twice.
Packers 34. Giants 23.
The playoff berth is clinched. Essentially, so is the Division Crown. And, so is the 1st round bye. It's a celebration. 3 of the last 4 are at Lambeau. The other is at Arrowhead. I'm making the trip to KC. 16-0 is within reach. So, is 19-0. Let's get it!
Go Pack Go!