Friday, January 20, 2017

My Take -> NFC Championship

Greetings, G-Force.

Super Bowl or Bust. At 4-6 that seemed like a farfetched notion. A 10-game table stood in front of us. 8 of those games are behind us. All victories. Now, we're 60 minutes away from achieving what seemed impossible 8 weeks ago. The #1 mission: Put the emotion of Dallas behind you. The sole focus is Atlanta. A Dome that has been good to us. Until then, we enjoy the journey and the sensational buzz that was the Divisional Game in Dallas. Mason. Freakin'. Crosby. Two kicks of 50+ yards in under 100 seconds. In the Fortress that Jerry Jones built. Building a Fortress in My Mind.

My excitement for this weekend needs to be calmed. So, I put on my favorite musician, Michael Franti, in a mellow manner with his Songs from the Front Porch album. I marinate to the soft beats and a chilled out version of his emphatic voice. I poured not one - but two - flavorful beers. A 2015 Evil Twin Lil' B and a Russian River Sanctification from 01/28/14. The Evil Twin Lil' B ages magically. 11.50%. An immaculate Porter that pours like chocolate syrup into a glass. The head on this gem remains perfectly carbonated after 13 months in my beer bunker. Think chocolate, caramel, raisins and brown sugar. Yes, that good. I've coupled it with the classic Sour Blonde from Russian River. Full on Brett. 6.75% ABV. Tastes like a funky, wild, apple glass of wine. Carbonation is still healthy, but slimmed down a bit. Tart. Well balanced. Grandiose!

Here are my quick vibes from the last week:

* Mike McCarthy. Aggressive. Victorious. He's coaching with heightened senses that are singularly focused on utilizing the near super-human powers of his 2-time MVP QB. Giving his season to his XLV MVP QB. Trusting him to be decisive at the line. And, when faced with severe peril, he even gives his brilliant QB the opportunity to utilize his sensational abilities to draft a play in the huddle.

* Aaron Rodgers. Fully concentrated. Focused on a Super Bowl title. He realizes how precious this year resides in the annals of his career. Rodgers needs a title. A 2nd title would do wonders for his legacy. He needs it to solidify his place in the NFL's History. Right now, he's flat out dominating opponents. He's in the zone. He needs to stay there for 120 more minutes. If so, the Packers will be the team to beat. Anything less than Aaron Rodgers' best and the Packers will likely be on the outside looking in.

* Mason Crosby. Man. Just thinking about it makes me tap my head while looking at the computer screen. Tell me that you weren't standing in front of the TV with the same lean that Julius Peppers was offering on the final kick. And, the way Letroy Guion runs away may or not have been a reaction similar to mine.

* I cried after the win. Pure joy. Seriously.

* Ty Montgomery. 17 touches. 81 yards. That's 4.76 yards per touch. He added two TD's. He was fantastic. He has a nose for the first-down marker. He trusts his blocking. He's seeing the field well. I wish he'd hold onto the football a little more carefully as he's punching it up the gut between the tackles.

* RIP! Loved seeing him pound his way for 20 yards. Wish he'd have stuck a stiff arm into the chest of the DB and walked into the end zone. Was really looking forward to that exclamation point as he broke into the open field.

* David Bakhtiari. He might be the 2nd best player on the team this year.

* Jared Cook! What a difference he's making. A match-up nightmare. Utilized in multiple different positions in the formation. Loved seeing him lined up tight in the 3-point stance. He was often looking to get down the seam, but didn't have the explosion to get loose. When utilized in the slot and/or on the perimeter, he was able to get off the line of scrimmage and then utilize his big frame to get separation. 6 catches. 103 yards. 1 TD. He seems to pick up a 1st down every time he catches the ball. And, man, if this season ends in Super fashion, we'll be watching video of his footwork for the rest of our lives.

* Davante Adams. Emerging. Really hope he's healthy to go this weekend. He's matured so much over the last 12 months. He's confident. He's comfortable. He's playing with inimitably jerky movements. He was free off of the line of scrimmage on nearly every play. He was also playing tougher than he has in the past. Really impressive performance.

* Randall Cobb. Lost in the beauty of Cook's end of game sideline footwork was the magnificence of Cobb's footwork when Rodgers was rifling it down the sidelines for a Packers first down. Rodgers leaned on Cobb throughout. On each of the TD drives, Cobb had significant plays.

* GERONIMO! 3 catches. 46 yards. Love watching him work when plays break down. He's always moving. He's elusive on broken plays. Rodgers seems to look for him when scrambling like he used to seek out Cobb. Rodgers trusts Allison over the middle of the field. Also, fantastic to see Allison working in the run game. A willing blocker. Fun to witness the rookie grinding.

* COME ON, JORDY! Be healthy!

* Richard Rodgers. Fantastic concentration. Not an easy catch. Got the Packers off to the quick start that was needed.

* MASON CROSBY! Unbelievable. Amazingly ridiculous.

* Thought McCarthy called a perfect game. Except for 1 call. 2nd & 8. Ball on the 33. 1:48 to play. One more first down and the Packers could have essentially run the ball down to the last 10-15 seconds for a game winning FG. McCarthy should've stuck with Rodgers. Instead, he went conservative. He went jumbo. He brought in Spriggs. He tried to run Montgomery. Spriggs was slow off the ball. Linsley got blown off of the ball. The play lost 5 yards and nearly knocked the Packers out of FG range. I saw the formation. I yelled, "WHY?!?!" at the TV screen. I said, "PLEASE BE PLAY ACTION." The results were so predictable. Totally bummed me out. Thankfully, Crosby was true from 56 yards out.

* TJ Lang. What a gamer. Really hope he stays in GB. Hope he's cap-friendly. Doubt he is.

* Lane Taylor. Really solid game. Even when he was beat near the goal line, Ty's speed allowed him to burst thru. Overall, thought that Taylor played very well. TT made a risky call at the beginning of the year when he released Sitton. Taylor has made TT look wise.

* Bulaga. Bookend. Another terrific game from Bulaga.

* The Packers have to clean up their awareness of blitzes coming from the slot. They were vulnerable. Montgomery was slow to recognize it. It was almost really costly.

* Christine Michael has to catch the kickoff cleanly. Was almost a huge momentum swinging play.

* MICAH HYDE!! Gotta lock him up. On two of the first three possessions, Hyde was present on the third down play that got the defense off of the field. He also had a great sack on the blitz when he beat Witten to the inside. And, oh, that interception. Glorious!

* Kentrell Brice. Really solid game from the rookie. He has such a bright future. Really wish he'd have grabbed the pick. Would've been a nice game changing, confidence building play for him. Luckily, Hyde bailed him out. Still, would really like to see him come through and make the most of his opportunities. Still have an inkling that he could force a turnover with a vicious tackle. Much like the one he had in the open field against Dallas.

* Thought Joe Thomas had a strong game. Since Clay is strictly playing OLB, Thomas has been our best ILB.

* Kenny Clark. Great recognition. Great instincts. Liked to see him slapping at the ball as he made the tackle on the screen as well. He had a solid push most of the game.

* Dean Lowry is offering high-effort, productive snaps. Hasn't been getting box score results per se, but he's been a worthwhile player. He hasn't been offering wasted snaps.

* NICK PERRY! Another super game from Perry. Wish he had two hands. He's a difference maker. Hope he sticks around.

* On the final 3rd down play, it was Clay who got to Prescott to force the throw that Perry knocked down. Still, the Packers need Clay to be a difference maker from here on out. We need sacks. We need a turnover.

* Julius Peppers was quiet. I expect him to be a monster against ATL.

* On the final drive, I felt bad for Josh Hawkins. He was in perfect position on the first play. Had the ball been on target, Hawkins was in position to make a play. Instead, it was just behind Williams and Williams was able to shield Hawkins from being able to make a play.

* Datone Jones. YOU NEED TO MAKE A PLAY. Get to the QB on 3rd down. Burst through. You're on the field with Perry, Matthews and Peppers. We're counting on you. You need to show up, Datone. Be the hero. I believe in you.

* I have a weird attraction to Jordan Tripp. Really like his presence on the sidelines and on special teams. Really good late season signing. Brings natural leadership.

* Still holding onto the thought that Hyde makes a significant special teams play as a PR.

* Hope you are healthy, Morgan Burnett.

* Great punting, Jacob Schum.

* Bene Benwikere. Liked his signing to the Practice Squad. I really liked him coming out of college. In fact, prior to the 2014 NFL Draft, I had him projected as the Packers 6th round pick and I wrote: Round 6 (b) - Bene Benwikere, CB, San Jose St. "Not an elite tackler, but he wants it. Plays the ball exceptionally well when it's in the air. Solid playmaking skills with the ball in his hands as well. Could develop into a REALLY good player." Benwikere has played in 27 games and started 14 of them. He has 2 interceptions, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries. He hasn't developed into the player I thought. He was having a decent year in 2015 prior to breaking his leg. He started all 4 games that he played for Carolina this year. But, he struggled in those 4 games. Still, I like his addition to the Practice Squad. A lot.

* Ted Thompson. I'm grateful. You've been phenomenal. I'm curious about a couple of things that I read this week and it worries me that he's nearing the end of the line. This is from the Great Blue North Draft Report: "Let me mention the most shocking thing about this week in my world. For the first time in my 8 years covering the Shrine Game, since it’s move to Florida, PACKERS GM TED THOMPSON is conspicuous by his absence. It is clear that he has not and will not be attending the Shrine Venue this year. I fully expect to see him next week in Mobile. If I do not then I will be concerned about his health and/or status as the key football man in the PACKERS organization." And, this from "One of the yearly standards of Shrine Game practice is for Packer GM Ted Thompson to wander onto the field during live action, often to accost an unsuspecting punter or defensive back trying to make a play in the end zone. Alas, I have not seen Thompson at any of the practice sessions. It doesn’t mean he’s not here, but if he is he’s far less visible than normal." If it's true that Ted Thompson isn't prowling around the East-West Shrine Game practices, I'm worried about the upcoming NFL Draft. That's where he's done some of his best work.

* Mike McCarthy has coached the Packers for 11 years. 4 of them, the Packers have played in the NFC Championship Game. As a reminder, the year before McCarthy joined the Packers, we finished 4-12.

* Mason Crosby. MASON CROSBY!

This week - it's the Falcons. In Atlanta. The home of the greatest Quarter in my Packers lifetime. I take you back to the Divisional Playoff Game in the heart of the XLV run. If you haven't watched this is a while, do yourself a favor, turn it on. All of the Packers stars show up in vintage form. The Packers were trailing 7-0. But, driving to start the Quarter. Just under 3 minutes into the 2nd Quarter, Rodgers hits Nelson to equalize! A special teams blunder makes it 14-7 Atlanta on the ensuing kickoff return. Then, the nearly unparalleled excitement begins. Kuhn gets the Packers even after he bulls his way into the end zone from a yard out. On this play, the "Freezer" was born as BJ Raji leads the way! Atlanta looks to respond as they move the ball inside the 20. But, Sir Charles wills his way through the Atlanta protection for a big sack to force 3rd and long to slow the Falcons as they entered the Red Zone. The following play, T-Mon kills the drive by baiting Matt Ryan into a bad pass. T-Mon grabs the pick and the Packers get the ball back. The MVP goes back to work. 5 times in the 2nd Quarter, Rodgers connects with passes of at least 20 yards. Yes, 5 passes of at least 20-yard yards in a Quarter. Fancy that! Punctuated with a tremendous 20-yard TD pass to James Jones in the corner of the end zone. Then, on the final play of the Quarter, it's T-Mon to close the half. Ecstasy! I can't get enough of Joe Buck's call of that play. Seriously sensational! "He tried to bite off more yardage. And. He. Just. Got. Burned." Nintendo Nick makes an appearance as he brings the flair and escorts his good buddy, T-Mon, into the end zone. Pure happiness.

That win brought us to the NFC Championship. This one is for the NFC Championship. It's for all of the NFC's marbles. It's all real. And, the Packers need to bring 60 minutes of intensity.

While the Packers offense has been tremendous for the last 8 weeks, Atlanta's has been arguably the best in the NFL all season long. Matt Ryan is playing at an MVP level and he's utilizing all of his weapons. Julio Jones is in the top 2 WR's in the NFL. Mohammed Sanu is a talented #2 WR who is a tough cover for the Packers with his size/speed combination. Taylor Gabriel, where did he come from? All he does is catch first downs and TD's. He can't get over the top with speed. He wins with speed out of the slot. He's shifty. He'll annoy. Justin Hardy is a really good 4th WR. He has the ability to get deep and he's also a talented possession receiver. Austin Hooper is a dependable receiving TE. A good blocker as well. Levine Toilolo is a Red Zone threat. Devonta Freeman is a do-it-all back who hits the hole as well as any back in the NFL. He's also a lethal pass catching RB. He's arguably a top 5 back in the NFL. Tevin Coleman does not get the credit that he deserves. He's one of the best pass catching RB's in football. He, too, hits the hole with a quick burst that is tough to stop. Freeman averaged 4.8 yards per carry this year. Coleman averaged 4.4 yards per carry. They're a dangerous RB duo. The Falcons OL has played better than advertised. Alex Mack is arguably the best Center in football. He's stabilized the line. Jake Matthews has been solid at LT. Andy Levitre, Chris Chester and Ryan Scharaeder have all over-achieved. If the Packers DL can't win the line of scrimmage, this could be a long, frustrating day for our defense. It should be noted that the Atlanta OL gave up 37 sacks on the year.

Defensively, the Falcons will be without Adrian Clayborn. Clayborn had 2 sacks, 2 QB Hits and 2 tackles for loss in the first meeting. In the first meeting, the Packers led 24-19 at the half. The Packers had two 3rd Quarter possessions. Both drives ended due to third down sacks by Clayborn. His loss can't be overstated. Grady Jarrett, Jonathan Babineax and Tyson Jackson will fill in. Babineaux has had a solid career for the Falcons. The veteran is a high intensity DL who offers push. Grady Jarrett plugs holes and offers a decent pass rush for a big guy. Tyson Jackson has all of the talent, but he's been an underachiever throughout his career. Vic Beasley has been a beast. He crushed the Packers in the first meeting. He finished with 15.5 sacks in the regular season. It is imperative that the Packers contain Beasley in the pass rush. If so, I feel really good about the Packers putting up points in abundance. Brooks Reed is a high effort pass rushing OLB. Deion Jones is an active, pursuing ILB who plays with fantastic speed. De'Vondre Campbell is a guy I was high on coming out of college. I thought he'd have fit into the Packers system. Atlanta selected him earlier than I thought he'd go, but he's filled in nicely and had a good season. With Jones and Campbell, the Falcons will have two rookies starting at LB. Hopefully, Rodgers' mind will outthink them. Robert Alford has emerged into a legit CB. Jalen Collins hasn't been the player I thought he'd become. He gets beat on double moves, but he's physical at the line of scrimmage. Keanu Neal is a beast of a safety. Ricardo Allen can be beat. The Falcons have little to no depth in the secondary.

Like most people, I envision a full-on shoot-out. But, I'm feeling good. I believe that the Packers will be able to spread out the Falcons defense. We'll force the Falcons to come on a variety of blitzes and I expect Rodgers to see the blitz. When he does, he'll pick the Falcons secondary apart. With the Packers OL winning the line of scrimmage, Rodgers is quick to release. Cobb gets loose underneath.

Much like the Dallas game, McCarthy calls a number of empty sets. He's looking for Rodgers to get rid of the ball quickly. He's daring the Falcons to send extra blockers to force single coverage. If Rodgers recognizes the single coverage, he'll hit on big plays. If not, the Falcons will get home. I'm betting on Rodgers.

Defensively, we'll struggle to stop Atlanta, but hopefully, we can slow them down. I look for the Packers to rush 4. Often. We'll try to defend the 5 Atlanta receivers with 7 defenders. We'll bank on the front 4 to make plays.

I'm expect Clay Matthews to be motivated as he goes nose-to-nose with his younger cousin. I expect Clay to make two really big plays.

I expect Julius Peppers to have a forced fumble.

I expect Nick Perry to apply pressure.

I expect Mike Daniels to be present in the run game.

I expect Micah Hyde to make a 3rd down play.

We grab 4 sacks. We force a turnover. Atlanta has 2 sacks. They don't force a turnover. That's the difference.

Another big game for Cook. Another nice game from Allison.

Hyde with a big punt return.

Packers 38.
Falcons 34.

We are going to the Super Bowl!

Go Pack Go!

Talkin' S-Mac.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

My Take -> NFC Divisional Playoffs

Greetings, G-Force.

It was emphatic. It was commanding. It was convincing. Over the last 25 years, when the Green Bay Packers weren't winning Super Bowls in the playoffs, they've dealt with playoff heartbreak. They've been losses that lingered painfully into the summer months. Twice, those losses have come at the hands of the New York Giants at Lambeau Field. This years Wild Card contest wasn't about to be the third time that Eli Manning walked into Lambeau and left victorious. In fact, it was the exact opposite. Wild Card Weekend in Titletown, U.S.A. appeared to be rowdy. It looked like a celebration that could propel the Packers onto another rival that destroyed playoff runs in 1993, 1994 and 1995. We found revenge against the G-Men. It's now time to do the same to the Cowboys in Dallas.

When you see as much live music as I do, you occasionally encounter nights where the music lives within you for an extended period of time. For me, seeing Railroad Earth on 1/17/14 was one of those nights. It was a magical night in Denver. They were on point. The crowd was on fire. The music was magic. Well, as I write, I'm reliving that night as I listen to the recording of the show. I sip a New Holland Dragon's Milk that was brewed on 8/31/15. Most Bourbon Barrel Stouts I'd prefer to have a little age on. They're often brewed too hot. This one measures in at 11% ABV. It's billed as having "roasty malt character intermingled with deep vanilla tones, all dancing in an oak bath." I've always felt like it had a chocolate backbone to it. With the vanilla introduced heavily at the front. With the age, I'm having a hard time finding the chocolate. Seems like it's left. The bourbon still lives on. I'm fond.

Here are my quick vibes from the last week:

* Mike McCarthy. Most will remember McCarthy's boneheaded decision to go for it on 4th and 1 from his own 42 with a 14-6 lead as his defining moment. Not me. Even though I firmly disagreed with the decision, I'll never complain when McCarthy is aggressive. An aggressive Mike McCarthy is a good Mike McCarthy. Granted, there's a difference between being aggressive and being smart and the decision to go for it on 4th and 1 was flat-out stupid. Nonetheless, McCarthy rallied. He kept his team focused. As the dictator of the offense's design, he led 4 more drives. The results: 4 plays, 63 yards and a Packers TD; 5 plays, 23 yards and a Packers FG; 10 plays, 80 yards and a Packers TD; 9 plays, 55 yards and a Packers TD. Mike McCarthy is in a play calling rhythm.

* Quick asterisk: Last week, I had a major typo. I accidentally wrote this: "Want to see a stat that is bursting with goodness? Here's how hard it is to win in the NFL: there are 4 coaches in the HISTORY of the NFL who have guided their teams to 4 consecutive playoff berths. Tom Landry, Chuck Knoll, Bill Belichick and Mike McCarthy. Packers fans, don't ignore Mike McCarthy's greatness. That's esteemed company. Hall of Fame company." It's not 4 consecutive playoff berths. McCarthy has been to 8 consecutive playoff berths. I'll make the change in my previous blog. But, to highlight, that's 8 consecutive playoff seasons with Mike McCarthy as Head Coach of the Green Bay Packers. That's good stuff.

* Aaron Rodgers. What a rebound! The Packers will only go as far as Aaron Rodgers will lead them. If he plays as he did for the first 26 minutes of the game, the Packers will be eliminated. But, if Rodgers plays as he did over the last 34 minutes, the Green Bay Packers will be tough to defeat. Rodgers has been patient, he's been precise, he's seeing the field well and he has his mobility. When those things are in play, the Packers are as good as any team in the NFL.

* Get well, Jordy. Hurry back. We need you.

* CHRISTINE MICHAEL! What a spark! Adding a burst. Bringing a bounce to the Packers offense at a time when it needed to be uplifted. He also added goodness to the Packers special teams units. Christine Michael needs to be a Packer next year as well.

* Ty Montgomery. 68 yards on 14 touches. 4.85 yards per touch. Guy is a weapon. Keep on feeding him.

* RIP! He's sure handed as a receiver. And, love seeing him punch it into the end zone near the goal line.

* Jared Cook. What a mismatch. Had Rodgers hit him in stride on the opening possession, it's possible that Cook might've had an 86-yard TD. Amazingly, I get the feeling that there are packages designed for Cook that we've yet to see. We haven't seen him streaking down the middle of the field a whole lot. Especially out of a three point stance. I wonder if that's coming up this week.

* Davante Adams! Another big week for the youngster. I'll never understand why CB's don't jam him at the line of scrimmage on every play. When he gets a free release, Adams has a shake to him that'll set him free against any CB in the NFL. But, when he's jammed off his spot, he can be quick to give up. When Adams got the free release on the opening play of the first TD drive, Aaron Rodgers found his rhythm. After that play, the Giants never had hope.

* Randall Cobb. He's back. With a vengeance! Grand to see the lil' guy come down with the magical HAIL MARY! The play of the weekend. The type of play that could live in Packers legend forever if the Packers can continue to walk away victorious. Cobb was matched against a back-up CB for most of the second half. When that's the case, Cobb will win that battle every time. Especially if he's given a free release off of the line of scrimmage.

* The Green Bay Packers OL has to be revved up for this weekends battle. They are outright dominant. They're a steady pass protecting wall. It's widely assumed that Dallas has the best OL in football. I hope the Packers OL proves otherwise this weekend. They were fantastic against the Giants.

* The Packers need more from Clay Matthews. Sure the sack, forced fumble, super hustle, fumble recovery play was glorious. It was vintage Clay. But, too often, he was dancing with the OT. He needs to be the aggressor. Play in and play out.

* Julius Peppers wants a ring. We have to get him one. He's fresh for the stretch run. And, he's playing with an edge. 1 sack. 1 tackle for loss. 2 QB knockdowns. 2 passes defensed.

* When Mike Daniels is constantly winning his 1 on 1 battle, no one is going to run on the Green Bay Packers. Daniels was fierce early in the game vs the Giants.

* Really solid game by Jake Ryan. He was active. He was a sure tackler. 3 passes defensed. Has to be a career high for him.

* Another really impressive game by Joe Thomas. He's really emerged as the season has progressed. He needs to continue to see playing time.

* Jordan Tripp has been a really nice special teams addition. He's smart. Has a chip to him. Have the feeling he could force a turnover on special teams before the year is over.

* Jeff Janis looked explosive as a KR.

* Huge kick by Mason Crosby to extend to a 2-score lead.

* Jacob Schum with a really strong day punting the football.

* I've been saying it weekly, but Micah Hyde is going to make a huge play as a PR.

* CHAMPIONSHIP DRIVE. Long time followers know my take on this. 14:33 left in the game. The Packers take over at their own 20. 80 yards from victory. 10 plays. 80 yards. 5:14 off of the clock. Play of the drive: 3rd & 10 from their own 30. McCarthy splits Montgomery wide right. Presumably, the Giants expected him to be in the backfield. Montgomery comes on an underneath route. Adams sets a "pick" on the CB covering Montgomery. Montgomery catches the pass in stride and jets up the field for 34 yards. Twice more on the drive, Rodgers connects on 3rd down, including the 3rd and 3 16-yard strike to Cobb for the dagger. Championship teams drive home that drive for the TD. The Packers did just that.

* As I've been saying for weeks, this Packers team doesn't need to win with defense. This defense can bend, but it can't break. We were fortunate over the first 23 minutes of the game. It could've easily been 21-0. But, the Giants didn't finish. And, the Packers defense kept a sputtering Packers offense in the game. In addition, this Packers defense needs to force a turnover or two a game and they need to get the occasional 3rd down sack. Against the Giants, they forced two turnovers and grabbed two sacks. If they can do that weekly, we'll be in position to win every game.

* 7 in a row! Ain't it sweet when everything comes together?

* The Lambeau crowd was terrific. If you were in attendance, pat yourself on the back. You made a difference!

* If you're like me, you've probably watched the HAIL MARY thirty times or more. But, the clip that is tear jerking for me is to see the little boys jubilation in the front row of the end zone. Who is that little guy? I want to send him a Packers gift. He was stoked. He literally almost brought a tear to my eye when I saw the replay during halftime with him in the background jumping for joy. That - to me - is the beauty of the purity of sports and why I revel in the life of being an ultimate fan.

This week - it's the Cowboys. In my life, the Packers and the Cowboys have played in the playoffs in 1982, 1993, 1994, 1995, and 2014. Every time the home team has won. Sounds bad - except we must remember that the Packers won the XLV trophy in Dallas. They have confidence walking into this Stadium. The Packers believe that they have command over Jerry's Dome. Now, we must prove it on Divisional Playoff weekend. The Divisional Playoffs are my favorite football weekend of the year. It's fitting that the cap to the weekend will be Green Bay at Dallas. Two of the most storied franchises in football getting ready to duke it out on Sunday afternoon. For a date in the NFC Championship. Let's party!

The Cowboys present match-up issues for the Packers. Dez Bryant is a head case, but he's also a phenomenal football player. Terrance Williams runs a slant route as well as anyone in the game and he's lethal after the catch. Cole Beasley is a star as a slot WR. Brice Butler gets no props, but he can run a go route and get off the line of scrimmage like a first-class WR. Jason Witten can't move very well anymore, but he still knows how to sit in the zone and he's a 6th OL as a blocker. Gavin Escobar can stretch the middle of the field. Zeke Elliott has masterful vision. He's the best one-cut RB in the game. He wants the ball. He gets better as the game goes on. Alfred Morris is a terrific back-up RB who knows how to get 1st downs in short yardage situations. Darren McFadden is fresh and ready to make an impact. He can still hit the hole with conviction. Lance Dunbar is an average 3rd down receiving RB. The Cowboys OL doesn't have a weakness. They wear you down. They beat you up. They beg for you to say mercy. They dominate games. And, often, the Cowboys win in the 4th Quarter as their OL has completely defeated the oppositions DL. LG, Ronald Leary is the worst of the 5-man wrecking crew. Dak Prescott. What a gamer. A rook who plays like a veteran. He handles play-action as well as anyone in the league. And, his mobility is tough to prepare for. He's tough, he's athletic. He wins. And, he takes care of the football. Annoying.

Defensively, the Cowboys get all of their players back. Tyrone Crawford returns. As does Morris Claiborne. They've been a defense that has given up yards, but they've been opportunistic. They battle you. They outwork you. They out hustle you. They rotate their defensive line extensively to try and keep their line fresh. I imagine that the Packers will be thinking that they can get a couple of free plays out of the Cowboys substitution patterns. Or, in a worst case scenario, the Packers should be able to force Dallas to burn a timeout or two by hurrying to the line of scrimmage. Tyrone Crawford isn't a superstar, but he gives maximum effort. Every time I watch David Irving, he's making a big play. Like every single game, Irving seems to make a game-altering play. Maliek Collins has all kinds of talent. When the effort is there, Collins wins. Demarcus Lawrence isn't overpowering nor overly quick, but he's savvy. And, he grinds to find his way to disrupt plays. Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson are athletic LB's who play very well in space. Sean Lee has been healthy. He's the glue to the Dallas defense. He is a machine. Dallas has good versatility in the secondary. Brandon Carr is a physical CB. He'll use his hands. If the game is called tightly, he'll be called for a penalty or two. If they let the CB's play, Carr will pester the Packers WR's. Morris Claiborne will have to knock off the rust, but when he's up for the task, he lives up to his 1st round billing. Byron Jones can play either CB or S. Orlando Scandoick can either play the slot CB or he can drop as a S. Barry Church is a S who can also cover in the slot. JJ Wilcox is a nice dime defender who is best when he's used as an in-the-box safety.

Dan Bailey is a fantastic kicker. Lucky Whitehead is an ok PR. Don't be surprised if the Packers force him to fumble this week. Just a gut feeling.

Look for the Cowboys defense to aggressively come after Rodgers. They'll blitz early. They'll blitz often. Expect Rodgers to utilize the check-down. 10 yards at a time. Montgomery has a big game catching the ball. Taking what the defense gives the Packers. Rodgers sticks with the underneath routes early. The Packers also go with the run game early to try and soften the pressuring Cowboys defense. The Dallas defense pesters the athletic Packers offense.

In theory, Dallas could run the ball 45 times. Keep Rodgers off the field. Beat up the Packers at the line of scrimmage. Make it tough for the Packers to slow them down. Even on 3rd & 7, Dallas could consider it a run down. They're that much more powerful than the Packers. But, Jason Garrett is too bullheaded. He'll want to show flair. He'll try to throw the football. And, oddly, I have a feeling that the Packers secondary will show up.

It's a low scoring first half that opens up in the second half. Dallas gets FG's. The Packers get TD's. Plainly stated - this game is won inside the 30 yard line. Not necessarily even in the Red Zone. But, inside the 30. Both teams move the football. Both teams offer bend, but don't break defenses. Unlike the regular season contest, this time, Rodgers is up to the chore.

Cook goes over 100 yards and scores 2 TD's. Allison has 4 big catches.

We're going to the NFC Championship.

Packers 31
Cowboys 26

Go Pack Go!

Talkin' S-Mac.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

My Take -> NFC Wild Card

Greetings, G-Force.

The Green Bay Packers. Kings of the North. Right where we belong.

The Renegade Depravity is a celebratory gem. A chocolate and peanut butter eruption. At 11:00 ABV. A total gem. A special release from the United States best beer City. Made with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. It's sticky. It's sweet. It's delicious. I'm bummed I missed out on the can distribution. They sold out in 90 minutes, but at $30 a growler, a smiling face is found at $7.50 per pint of this release. I listen to Oliver Mtukudzi. His music keeps me happy. If you don't know the songs "Hear Me Lord" and "Todii" - check them out. I promise that you'll enjoy.

Here are my quick vibes from the last week:

* Mike McCarthy. Let it be known, the last 6 games have been the greatest coaching stretch in the Packers organization since Vince Lombardi. The Packers had their backs against the wall. Both the media and the fans were calling for massive changes inside of 1265 Lombardi Ave. It would've been easy to fold. Instead, McCarthy rallied the troops in brilliant fashion. He adjusted his offensive strategy. He kept focused. His offensive design catapulted an offense that was in dire need of a jump start. Because of McCarthy's coaching imagination, the Packers kicked off your 2017 calendar year in riveting fashion.

* Aaron Rodgers. The Table was Run. Rodgers looks healthier and more confident than he has since 2011. He's expected to play at a Championship level. He's not zone in on 1 receiver. Instead, vs the Lions, he connected with 8 receivers. He's also using his mobility. He was credited with 10 carries (1 of which was a kneel down) for 42 yards. He's patient. He's taking what the defense is giving him, but he's also aggressive. His vision is incredible right now. If he continues to play at this level, the Packers will be tough to beat. And, in reality, it might take Rodgers playing at this level throughout the playoffs in order for this team to be Super. If he has a bad game, it'll be tough to win.

* Everyone expected Ty Montgomery to get the early touches. McCarthy went with Ripkowski. Rip hammered away for 61 yards on 9 carries. 6.8 yards per clip. Rip caught 2 balls of 15 yards and a TD. The Ripkowski/Montgomery combination is eating away at defenses. They both need to improve their pass protection though. Teams are beating us with inside blitzes.

* Jordy Nelson. 6 targets. 6 catches. 66 yards. He's back. He's mentally connected to Rodgers. They're seeing the field together in unique fashion. And, when they're on the same page, they are as good as any 1-2 combination in the league outside of Big Ben & Brown and Julio & Matt Ryan.

* Geronimo! 4 catches. 91 yards. Yes, that's quite exhilarating! He's really brought something to the Packers offense. He, too, seems mentally in lock-step with Rodgers. As Rodgers has been extending plays, Allison has been able to get free in back-to-back weeks. And, therefore, we've seen humongous plays from Allison when the play was seemingly broken. His height has brought an added dimension as well. Rodgers can float the ball and Allison is going up and getting it in traffic. He's the down-out and up route with precision. Defenders haven't been able to stop it. Even if Cobb comes back, Allison deserves significant playing time. GERONIMOOOOOO!

* Jared Cook. 4 catches 56 yards. 3 of them were for 1st downs, 2 of which came on 3rd down. The other catch got the Packers into FG range right before the half. Cook has brought great value to the Packers offense. He is a match-up nightmare. You can spread him out wide. You can put him in the slot. You can line him up tight to the Tackle. You can line him up in the backfield. Look for the Packers to utilize him in big fashion this weekend.

* Davante Adams. 6 grabs. 31 yards. 2 superfly TD's.

* Richard Rodgers. Pleasantly surprising with an elusive move after the catch.

* Ty Montgomery touched the ball 11 times. He totaled 61 yards. Roughly 5.5 per touch for the 2nd year stud. Montgomery did show flaws though. Seemed to run the wrong route early on. He's struggled on blitz pick-up. And, he dropped a pass on what was a perfectly executed wheel route play call. Would've been a TD. Rodgers threw it where it needed to be thrown. Montgomery just dropped.

* The Rodgers to Allison TD. Could watch that on replay all-day. Worthy of a BELT!

* The Mason Crosby FG to end the half was a tone setter. Big kick by Crosby. On the contrary, can't afford to miss extra points.

* Crucial play of the game: 1st & 16. Packers leading 17-14. Ball at their own 25. Under 14:00 to play in the 4th. Traditionally, McCarthy goes conservative here. He tries to get 6-8 yards. Not this time. McCarthy goes to attack mode. Rodgers hits Allison for 31 yards to the Lions 44. The Packers are in business. That's an exclamation point to how you deliver on a CHAMPIONSHIP DRIVE.

* Defensively, it wasn't a spectacular performance, but it was a gritty one. It got the job done. As I've been saying, give me a turnover or two a game and give me some 3rd down pressure and the Packers defense has done its job. They did just that in the NFC North Championship game. Micah Hyde grabbed a pick in the end zone. Blake Martinez and Nick Perry both had sacks. The Packers defense did enough to get the win.

* Micah Hyde is earning himself a paycheck. He was forced to play as a perimeter CB. I'm not sure that he's done that since college. He played solid football. He was jamming receivers off their routes. He was turning and running. He trusted himself. Additionally, once again, as a punt returner, Hyde looked good. I believe he is going to make a game changing play before the season is over.

* I've been critical of Dom Capers. Somehow, someway, the Packers did just enough to limit the Lions offense with a ridiculously beat-up secondary.

* It should be noted that Marwin Evans seems to be making a nice special teams tackle every week. He had 2 tackles last week.

* Joe Thomas. Playing good football. His deflection on the first 3rd down of the game was a really nice start towards slowing the Lions tempo.

* Liked how the Packers started with Burnett at ILB and Brice at Safety. We were quick. We played faster than we've looked in recent years. I also feel like Brice has the potential to lay a ball-jarring hit.

* Great game, Ladarius Gunter.

* Julius Peppers was just a step late or he'd have leveled Stafford to get the Packers off the field.

* Clay Matthews has to catch that interception.

* I'm all about Ha Ha. An intimidator. He's around the ball. He's looking for the big play.

* Thought Kenny Clark offered a nice push against the Lions. He also got his hands in the air. Good game from the 1st round pick.

* Want to see a stat that is bursting with goodness? Here's how hard it is to win in the NFL: there are 4 coaches in the HISTORY of the NFL who have guided their teams to 8 consecutive playoff berths. Tom Landry, Chuck Knoll, Bill Belichick and Mike McCarthy. Packers fans, don't ignore Mike McCarthy's greatness. That's esteemed company. Hall of Fame company.

This week. It's the Giants. At Lambeau. In the playoffs. We've seen this before. We haven't liked the result. But, that was 2007 and 2011. Oddly, in both of those years, I felt as though the Packers were the better team. This year, I'd argue that the Giants are the better team. I've wondered how much carry over would exist from the 2007 & 2011 games. It should be noted that the only Giant on the roster from the 07 game is Eli. The only Giants from the 11 game are Eli, JPP, and Marshall Newhouse. JPP won't play. Newhouse was a Packer and he was one of the mega goats of the game. We can only hope that Newhouse plays this weekend as he did the last time he played in a playoff game between these two teams.

The Giants are a scary opponent. They're mostly healthy. JPP is seriously the only noteworthy injury on the team. They're coming fully armored to Lambeau. They're confident. They believe they're going to win. Making things even more difficult for Packers fans is that even though the Giants have thwarted two postseason run previously, they're a franchise that demands respect. They operate with class. They are a well run organization. Outside of OBJ, they're represented by mature professionals. OBJ plays like he should be a Cowboy. His demeanor mirrors Dez Bryant. But, other than the way OBJ has carried himself, over the last 40 years, the Giants have been a winning organization that mostly has had football players who won with class.

The Giants will attack the Packers banged up secondary with a slew of WR options. All talented. All can play on the outside. All can play in the slot. They're dangerous. OBJ is as talented as any WR in the NFL. Sterling Shepard is a fast rising WR who looks to have the skills to become an elite WR in the NFL. Victor Cruz isn't what he was before his injury, but he's still a threat. Dwayne Harris is a better return man than he is a WR, but he's tough to bring down in the open field. Will Tye is a gifted receiving TE who seems to always be open. It's is rare for the first guy to take him down. Larry Donnell is a match-up problem, but his hands are inconsistent. Jerell Adams is a rookie TE with all kinds of promise. McAdoo probably envisions him as his eventual Jermichael Finley, but Adams has yet to live up to his billing. He's a developmental prospect who has the gifts to make a big play. The Giants OL is suspect. They have trouble giving Eli time. Ereck Flowers has played worse as the season has gone along. Bobby Hart is not a bookend RT. Marshall Newhouse sees time as the Giants occasionally play with 6 OL. John Jerry doesn't scare me at RG. Justin Pugh is a solid LG and is fully healthy. Weston Richburg has emerged in the second half of the season. In fact, the Giants have quietly established a run game running between Pugh and Richburg. A large part of the reason for the run game is that McAdoo has finally turned to Paul Perkins as his featured back. Prior to the Draft, I wrote this about Perkins: " Perkins is the 2nd best one-cut runner in the Draft, behind Elliott. He'll leave defenders in the dust with his ability to stop on a dime and to change directions. His style might fit in Green Bay better than any other runner in the Draft. He'd be an exceptional runner in a zone blocking scheme. He has great vision. Sound awareness. He sees the hole and he hits it. He makes good decisions as a runner. He's not powerful, but he picks up tough yards. The ideal runner for a blocking system designed around a one-cut RB. He drives the ball up the field." I stand by those comments. Perkins' addition to the Giants attack scares me more than anything else. They legitimately have a back who can take it to the house on every play. He has to be accounted for. Rashad Jennings is a good back as well. He's not a long distance threat, but he's a straight ahead runner who doesn't fear contact. Bobby Rainey is a decent third down back who possesses great hands.

The Giants defense has played really well without JPP. Romeo Okwara has elevated his game and held the edge. Kerry Wynn has become more physical. Damon Harrison and Jonathan Hankins have demolished OL's. Olivier Vernon is consistently getting more comfortable in his role within the Giants defense. Giants DC Steve Spagnuolo is a mastermind at getting his teams ready for December football. Much like McCarthy getting his teams ready to peak in December, Spagnuolo has done that throughout both of his tenures as DC in NY. Jonathan Casillas might have limitations as a LB, but he's a 2-time Super Bowl Champion who knows what playoff football is all about. Keenan Robinson has improved as the season has progressed. He's long and has utilized his length well in pass coverage. Devon Kennard is oft used as a pass rusher rather than someone who drops in coverage. On passing downs, Spags like to become athletic on the front 4. He'll often line up Wynn, Vernon, Kennard and Owamagbe Odighizuwa. Odighizuwa is a high effort pass rusher. He'll never give up.

The Giants have had the best secondary in football over the last 10 weeks of the year. And, thus, they've become a favorite in the NFC. Landon Collins is arguably the best safety in football right now. Janoris Jenkins isn't a shut down CB, but he's a play making CB. Jenkins is small but he's also physical. I do expect him to be called for multiple penalties as he grabs on double moves. DRC has been dynamite since recovering from his injury. Eli Apple continues to grow in the Giants secondary. Andrew Adams has greatly improved as the season has gone along and has patched up the Safety role next to Collins. Leon Hall remains a decent slot CB. Trevin Wade is pathetic. When he's on the field, he needs to be attacked.

GET LOUD LAMBEAU! I've said it before and I'll say it again. Both the Giants OL and Eli Manning struggle with noise. We'll see delay of games. We'll see false starts. If Lambeau is off it's ass and on it's feet. Show some pride. Make some noise, Lambeau.

Eli will give the Packers two chances to make plays. If we capitalize, we're in good shape. If we don't, we could be in trouble.

The Packers will have opportunities to get to Eli if we rush 5. If we get home, we'll knock Eli off of his spot and he'll be throwing off of his back foot. If we capitalize on those pressures, we'll be in good shape. If we don't, we'll be in trouble.

We have to force the Giants to play from behind. McAdoo becomes one dimensional when he's playing from behind. If the Packers don't have to worry about the run, I don't feel like the Giants can block the Packers front. And, if we can't beat Flowers, Hart and Newhouse around the edge, frankly, we don't deserve to win. If Julius Peppers, Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion can't beat up John Jerry, we don't deserve to win. Those are the match-ups that the Packers are built to win. With the injuries in the secondary, we can't be expected to win consistently on the outside.

McCarthy has to come out in attack mode. Give the ball to Rodgers. Let him work his magic. STAY AGGRESSIVE. If we try to run at Harrison and Hankins, we'll struggle. If we utilize Rip and Montgomery as receivers out of the backfield, Harrison and Hankins become limited. They don't offer much as pass rushers. It'll be crucial for the Packers to limit Harrison and Hankins' effectiveness. You can get Harrison and Hankins off the field by spreading the Giants out. That - in itself - will open up the run game. And, if they keep Harrison and Hankins on the field, then let's throw the ball around the field. Let's force the Giants to both cover and tackle our weapons.

I see the Giants preparing for the run early. Rodgers comes out with a play action roll-out. A big ball to Jordy down the field. The Packers start fast.

The Giants don't have a match-up for Jared Cook. Cook is ripe for this battle. Remember - Cook didn't play the last time we matched up. I see a big day in his future. The Giants have talent in the secondary. But, the Giants haven't seen an offense with as many weapons as the Packers have.

I look for the Giants to come with a multitude of inside blitzes. They'll attack our weakness and force our RB's to pick up the blitz. If we're up for the task, I think we can score some big plays. Especially with Cook. If not, we could be in some trouble.

I expect a physical contest. One that I hope doesn't come down to a tipped ball. Luck hasn't been on the side of the Packers in the playoffs since 1996. The tipped passes haven't gone our way. But, this is a new year. And, the vibe is real.

Peppers make a game changing play. The Packers pick off Manning twice. The Lambeau crowd is fired up. The Packers mentally grind out a victory.

Packers 23
Giants 20

Go Pack Go!

Talkin' S-Mac.