10-4. Winners of three in a row. Leading the NFC North. Yet, somehow, Packers fans are up-in-arms over this team. Not me. Just as the Spirit of Santa will live forever, so will my belief in the Green Bay Packers.
I sip a 2014 Crooked Stave St Bretta. It's a dark ale that is brewed with citrus and fermented in Oak Foeders. Last year - it was bursting with citrus. Now, the Brett is taking over. It's becoming funky. The fruit is disappearing quickly. Time to pop open your St Bretta's that are at least a year old. Unless, of course, you want a mouthful of Brett, which isn't a bad buzz. The music is soft as the kids are sleep and my 3 month old is a really light sleeper. I have a quiet addiction to the Of Monsters & Men "My Head Is An Animal" album. I find it to be calming, yet happily inspirational.
Here are my thoughts over the last week:
* If you're looking to read something about how the Packers are currently in the doldrums, please stop reading. You can turn to a variety of other internet outlets for that. You can also get it from most of the local news sources in WI. You can also get that from most of your fellow Packers fans. You know - those same Packers fans that begged for the Packers to trade for Steve Smith before the trade deadline and those same Packers fans that were pissed that the Packers didn't make a move for the likes of Vernon Davis. Well, Packers fans, let me tell you how that would've played out: Steve Smith got injured shortly after the trade deadline and he's done for the year. Vernon Davis has been an absolute stiff in Denver. In the last two games, he's dropped crucial 3rd down passes late in the 4th Quarter. He's been such a disappointment that their are many Broncos fans that'd like him cut. Packers fans need to remember to TrusT Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy. Yes, it's spelt TrusT. Capitalize those T's because Ted Thompson should've earned your respect by now. If the Packers are going to fix what's happening on offense, it's going to have to happen from within the Locker Room. Someone on the depth chart has to play the role of next man up. At this point, Abby seems like he's our best option.
* I often hear about the stats of the Packers players or the Packers team. Growing up, I was a stats junkie. I loved Fantasy Football. I'm no longer attached to Fantasy. I feel that - in many ways - it's ruined fandom in the sport. Now, the only stat I care about in a football game is the final score. Style points don't matter in sports. The chief objective is to win the game. The Packers have won 10 games. They've lost 4 games. They lead the NFC North. And, they're in striking distance of gaining a first-round bye. Yes, there's room for improvement, but there's a lot to like. The Packers are winning games. Games in which they are seemingly being out played. But, Mike McCarthy's team is finding ways to win. Without Jordy Nelson and Ty Montgomery. Without a productive Eddie Lacy. Without a healthy OL. That, to me, is exciting.
* Clearly, Aaron Rodgers is disgruntled. He has issues with Mike McCarthy. Their relationship is broken. I hope it can be repaired. As they're both better with each other. Rodgers needs to be reminded of what it's like to be coached by someone like Mike Sherman or Ray Rhodes. McCarthy rejuvenated Favre's career. He made Favre a better QB. Rodgers better be careful as to how he chooses his words and his actions in the near future.
* The Packers offense is getting close. While the offense didn't start off with fire, I loved that Lacy or Cobb touched the ball 4 of the first 5 plays. McCarthy knows to get the ball to his playmakers. McCarthy loves to hide Cobb. He disguises him in an attempt to get him running forward with pace. I know I'm alone on this, but I liked a lot of what I saw out of the offense. I liked the design. There were play-action roll-outs. We saw crossing routes lead to first-down conversions on 2 & !7 and on 3rd & 7. After blowing the 14-0 lead, we witnessed a potent 3 play, 53 yard TD that gave the Packers a lead that they never relinquished. We saw a tough minded 19 play, 92 yard drive that ate up 8:11 off of the clock. At times, offensively, we showed a "Lion Heart." Sure, there were still a lot of errors. Adams dropped two balls, Janis dropped one, Richard Rodgers dropped a ball, and so did Kuhn on a perfectly designed screen. We also saw James Jones questionably push off in the end-zone that negated a TD. There were also two turnovers that showed poor form.
* The Raiders are an underrated team. They've beaten Denver, in Denver. They should've beaten Denver in Oakland. They had Pittsburgh on the ropes in the Steel City. Therefore, I find it easy to take a glass half-full view of this game. Had either Janis or Adams caught passes by the goal line and had Starks held onto the football...and had Rodgers not thrown the interception near the goal line...and had Crosby's FG not been blocked, this would've been a blow-out and the Packers might've put up more than 40 points. Yes, there are a lot of ifs and ands, but we showed promise last week.
* I am happy that AQ81 is back. I hope he's fit. I hope he's ready. Aaron Rodgers trusts him. We need to get the MVP's mojo back. It's time to surround him with receivers that he has confidence in. Right now, it feels like he trusts Abby, JJ and Cobb. We know that he's been comfortable with AQ81 previously. I'd play single back and go 3-wide. Also, AQ81 is a much better blocker than Richard Rodgers. AQ81 should benefit the run game.
* Davante Adams. My least favorite Packer. Full of athleticism. All the talents that you look for in an elite WR. But, he's soft. Both mentally and physically. He can't play the ball in the air. His hands are suspect. And, he complains more than any Packer that I can remember. He's hard to cheer for. I had huge expectations for him. He's been a total disappointment. His playing time should be significantly cut back.
* Need to see more of Abby. Liked his footwork down the sideline. If we're going to make a run this year, we might need his naturally instinctive route running and his sure hands.
* Great game, JJ. Good to see you rocking out in that hoodie.
* Randall Cobb showing a bit of his tough as nails persona. You know, the one that we've loved since he arrived in Green Bay.
* I'm as big of an Eddie Lacy supporter as you're going to get, but I didn't think he ran hard in the 2nd half. Want to see him trying to punish defenders in the secondary. He got to the second level on a couple of occasions, but he didn't explode. He left yards on the field. Lacy also was slow in blitz pick-up.
* Great game, David Bakhtiari. He was physical. He was quick. He used his hands well. Hurt to see him get injured. Hope he's healthy.
* TJ Lang is clearly not healthy. I find him to be our best OL. But, he was pushed around, at times. He's gutting it out and I give him mad props for that, but he doesn't appear to be healthy.
* Another solid performance by Tretter.
* The Packers have to figure out 3rd & 1. They're getting blown off the ball. Right from the snap. Next time, I'd go play action to AQ81 in the flat.
* The DL elevated in a big way. JP played his best game in 2015. Letroy Guion appears to be taking steps. Two weeks in a row, Guion has flashed in the run game. Datone Jones held the edge in the run game. Mike Daniels got pursuit. Mike Neal looked quicker than he's ever looked as a pro. BJ played with force. Once again, Mike Pennel held the point.
* YELLOW JAKE. He's growing into his role. He's around the ball. He's responsible. He's getting to the sideline. He's shedding blockers. Looks to have a little Keith Brooking in him.
* Clay Matthews wasn't himself against Oakland. Even though his bull rush was solid. He was guessing wrong in the run game. He missed a couple of tackles. Wasn't the Clay that we know and love.
* Joe Thomas had a good push on the Micah Hyde interception.
* Speaking of, tone setting play by Hyde! Great coverage. Loved how he undercut the route. And then, always a treat to see him putting his return skills on display.
* Jeff Janis. He's turning into a Pro Bowl caliber special teams player. He had a great KO return and as a gunner, he was first class on multiple occasions.
* Morgan Burnett made an appearance. First in the run game. And, then I really liked the pass deflection. Wished he'd have picked it off, but a good play nonetheless.
* Damarious Randall with the pick 6! Big play, rook! Sure, he had troubles, but that'll happen to a newbie. Huge 1st Quarter play to give the Packers a 2-score lead on the road.
* Q-Rollins. Love this kid's game. He gets his hands on the football. He sees the ball. He'll learn to catch those picks, I think. He could've easily had 3-4 interceptions. Had his hands on the ball. Didn't hang on. Love how he tackles with aggression as well. Kid has a future!
* Get well, Sammy.
* Sad to see that Ty Montgomery is done for the year. Thought he'd play a major role down the stretch.
* Enjoyed seeing Jayrone Elliott playing meaningful snaps early in the game. Brought energy.
* Aaron Ripkowski is a special teams guru. Pure hustle. He gets down the field with grit. And, he finds the returner. Fun to watch.
* Sir Charles Woodson. ONE. Forever. Happy Retirement. I love you, man.
This week - it's the Cardinals. With a win, the Packers will trail the Cardinals for the #2 seed by 1 game. But, the Cardinals play Seattle in Week 17. It's also possible that the Packers v 'queens game in Week 17 will be flexed to the night game. If that happens, the Packers will know whether they're playing for the #2 seed. This could all play into the Packers advantage. But, the Packers have to win on Sunday. I hear that their will be numerous Packers fans in the Stadium. Get loud!
It wouldn't shock me if the Cardinals won this game 38-20. But, this team has flashed greatness on a couple of occasions. Most notably against Seattle and Minnesota. Their have been 5 games that felt like the Packers were playing playoff teams: SEA, KC, DEN, CAR, and MN. In those games, the Packers are 3-2. In their 3 wins, the Packers have played really inspired football. Arguably, their 3 best performances of the year. I'm not going to be surprised if that same type of thing happens this week.
The Cardinals are loaded at talent on offense. Carson Palmer has found youth in Arizona - much in the same way as Kurt Warner did before him. Larry Fitzgerald is still a star at WR. Michael Floyd is a big target who can run. John Brown can get deep with the best of 'em. Jaron Brown is a long WR who high-points the ball and consistently wins jump balls. At TE, Jermaine Gresham and Darren Fells are both steady targets who couple as willing blockers. Prior to the draft, I had this to say about David Johnson: "He's a sublime one cut runner who sees the hole. He catches the ball with elite style. He runs with elegance. He lowers his shoulder with desire. He reminds me of Matt Forte." I still feel that way. Johnson scares me. The Cardinals have invested in their OL. They've added Mike Iupati and Jared Veldheer via FA to man the left side of the line. They drafted Jonathan Cooper in Round 1 in 2013 to play Guard. Bobbie Massie can be beaten at RT. And, Lyle Sendlein can be pushed back with an inside rush.
Defensively, Arizona packs a punch. They'll be without Tyrann Mathieu, but they'll be getting Rashad Johnson back from injury. Even without Mathieu, they have a tremendous secondary. Patrick Peterson is elite. Tony Jefferson is undersized, but he's still physically dominant. Jerraud Powers is a talented cover CB. Rashad Johnson plays the football in the air at a high level. DJ Swearinger is a physical presence who swarms in the middle of the field. They have depth in the secondary. And, they rotate often. Up front, outside of Calais Campbell - who is a staple - the Cardinals rotate their DL often. Rodney Gunter is tireless in his pursuit. Dwight Freeney can still bring the spin move on passing downs. Cory Redding and Red Bryant are beefy run stoppers. Coming out of college, I was pining for the Packers to draft Deone Bucannon. I saw him as inside the box S. The Cardinals play him at LB. Bucannon has been a menacing force. Bucannon has 11 tackles for loss, an interception, a TD, 99 tackles, 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries. What a beast! This offseason the Cardinals added both Sean Weatherspoon and Markus Golden to bolster their LB crops, but neither has been a high performer. Kevin Minter and Alex Okafor have been the weak links on the defense.
Bruce Arians is an offensive wizard. A dynamic play caller.
The Packers need Sammy Swagga healthy. With Sammy, I think the Packers can match up well with Arizona's talented WR's. Sammy can play Floyd. Randall fights Fitzgerald. Rollins and/or Hayward runs with Brown. I also think that Hyde matches up well with Gresham in coverage. It'll be crucial for the Packers to win the run game and to slow down David Johnson early in the game. If Johnson can be slowed early, it won't give as much merit to the play action deep ball that Arians is sure to try on multiple occasions. Arians - it seems - tries the deep ball more than anyone. And, Palmer has been a pin point passer on those routes.
Look for Josh Brown to get at least two bombs thrown his way. Look for Floyd to get a deep ball on a fly route and a couple of 20 yard come back routes. They'll use Larry Fitzgerald on crossing routes and on 15-20 yard posts.
Carson Palmer is throwing with confidence. He's fitting the ball into tight spots. Look for him to make a mistake.
And, call me crazy, but I feel like the Packers DL will come to play. I think Clay will be shooting gaps. I think he'll be making plays at the line of scrimmage. I believe he'll rebound from a disappointing performance. Expect Raji, Daniels, Guion and Pennel to all play big roles in the run game.
I've been waiting for the MVP to have a break out game. A precision performance. Where he's in the zone. He's had big games in Arizona before. He has one again. Arizona will come on a multitude of blitzes. The Packers will pick them up. The MVP will get rid of the ball quickly. He finds Cobb on crossing routes. He connects with Jones a quick back-shoulder route. He finds AQ81 on a down and out. There's a well-timed screen. Abby grabs a comeback route. Adams shakes for 6 yards after a 4 yard hitch. Almost oddly, the timing clicks.
Lacy runs hard. Starks does the same. It's a coming out party - of sorts - for the Packers offense.
Out of a DT spot, JP makes a big play getting in the face of Palmer on third down.
Keep the faith! Merry Christmas!
Go Pack Go!