12-0. 18 straight. In thrilling fashion! We were battle tested. On the road. In December. Against a desperate team with a Super Bowl MVP QB, a Super Bowl winning coach, and a formidable front 4 on the DL. We were victorious. This cannot be overstated. This was a Championship type win. And it was only fitting that on the day of this victory, the Packers clinched the NFC North Crown for the 1st time with #12 as the starting QB. Pardon me, while I sip a Zyr Gibson as celebration.
Quick hits from the victory over the New York Giants:
* Sure, once again, there were faults. Again, we struggled to stop the run. We struggled to run the ball. We couldn't pressure the QB. Our pass protection was sub-par. Our secondary was soft. Still, the Packers found victory. Welcome to the 2011 Green Bay Packers. It's apparent that these "flaws" are a part of this "unflawed" Packers team. And - in some ways - the beauty of this Packers team is our ability to overcome these deficiencies. Clearly, improving the DL is the #1 priority of the off-season. Until then, we have to hope Raji impresses. We have to hope Mike Neal rids himself of rust and becomes the guy we all hoped he'd become.
* The defense gave up 35 points - including a late drive to tie the game. The final drive didn't bother me. I expected Eli to perform in the end. He's done that throughout his career. Sure, I was disappointed we couldn't get pressure up the middle to force him to throw off his back foot, however in the end it didn't shock me that we didn't get the late stop. But, what bothered me about the defense was their play during the 3rd Quarter. Up 28-17. We let the Giants move down the field with little to no hassle. Normally, that's when the Packers have been flexing their might. They've been able to get off the field defensively and then McCarthy has called the deep ball to find a 3-score lead. Our defense failed us. Then, on the following Giants possession, Masthay had pinned the G-Men deep and we not only let them out of their own territory, but the Giants also moved the ball down the field for a FG. Defensively, we didn't seize the game when we had a chance to deliver an early knock-out punch.
* Mike McCarthy has been an aggressive play caller. With supreme confidence, an elite QB and a drive to keep Defensive Coordinators confused. We saw the Cobb pass against the G-Men. Soon, we'll see the reverse to Cobb. And, we'll see the swing pass to Cobb.
* Aaron Rodgers. MVP. The two words are synonymous. 369 yards. 4 TD's. BRILLIANT!
* Double-D! Old man showing he's still got game. That smile is priceless. And the wink was sensational. Stoked that was caught on camera!
* Jordy Nelson's route running has improved tremendously in 2011. He's in tune with Rodgers. And the footwork down the sideline was beyond spectacular.
* The greeting between Greg Jennings and Aaron Rodgers after the final pass was FANTASTIC! Teammates. In unison. Greatness!
* Be great, Greg Jennings!
* With Starks hurt, Brandon Saine is our best RB. I wouldn't be surprised to see Kuhn get enhanced touches as well. Clearly, Grant is not the same player that he was prior to the injury.
* This was Marshall Newhouse's worst game of the year.
* Bulaga is our best OL in 2011.
* Diedrich-Smith struggled. Badly. But, he was a starter in a win. And we didn't have to fully change the offensive structure in the process. Be thankful.
* Catch the ball, J-Mike. Catch the ball!
* Sad to see AQ81 is done for the year.
* CM3 making plays! Loved the pick-6. Long hair - Don't care!
* Charlie Peprah covering anyone in the slot is a scary proposition.
* Liked the effort of DJ Smith & Robert Francois. But, the results left a lot to be desired. Both get a pass as it was their first start and the victory was sweet. Francois has the potential to be our best pass covering ILB.
* Erik Walden is one step away from being a really good OLB. He has 30 QB hits. Yet, he only has 3 sacks.
* In 12 games, this defense has forced 27 turnovers and has generated 26 sacks.
* MASON CROSBY! DRILLING THE DAGGER!
* J-Bush playing legitimately as a gunner.
* Tim Masthay dropping bombs!
* Don't be surprised to see Ryan Taylor earning playing Time from the line of scrimmage over the last 4 weeks.
* If you didn't buy a share in the '90's, by one now. Be an owner of the world's greatest sports franchise!
* A quick look at the potential compensatory picks heading into the 2012 NFL Draft. Cullen Jenkins has started 12 games and he's produced with 5.5 sacks. Daryn Colledge has started 12 games at Guard for the Cardinals. Ras-A-tari Bigby has played in 11 games for the Seahawks, starting 1 game. In those 11 games, he has 11 tackles, 1 sack and 1 pass defensed. Anthony Smith has played in all 12 games. He's yet to make a start, but he has produced 2 passes defensed and 10 tackles. Korey Hall has appeared in 9 games. He's without a carry or a catch. Jason Spitz has made 5 appearances in 2011. As a reminder, B-Jack has been out all year due to injury. With the way the season has progressed, though the formula is unknown as to how compensatory picks are distributed, I'd project that the Packers will get 2 5th round picks and 2 7th round picks. Had B-Jack played this year, these picks would have likely been better.
This week - it's the Raiders. Watch yourself, G-Force. Don't sleep on the Raiders! Much like Tampa Bay, almost awkwardly, the Raiders are better suited for a cold, sloppy weathered game than the Packers are. The Lambeau Faithful must be ROWDY!
While conventional wisdom would suggest that this game could be similar to the '93 game vs. the Raiders in which LeRoy Butler invented the Lambeau Leap, this game has the potential to be dangerous. The Raiders run the football. They rush the passer. They're tough minded. They're physical. They punish you at the line of scrimmage. They have speed at WR. Much like Brandon Jacobs and LeGarrette Blount, Michael Bush is tough to bring down. And, if Darren McFadden plays, he's an absolute weapon.
This vintage AFC-NFC game - the rematch of Super Bowl II - shouldn't be a trap game. There's no reason to look past Oakland, but I just hope the Packers are focused from the start. There cannot be a lull to start this game. We can't offer the Raiders hope early in this game. The Packers must grab an early lead. With temperatures expected to be in the low-to-mid 30's, this is December football in Green Bay, WI. If behind early, the Raiders will want to get on the bus. Fresh off the dramatic victory in New York, the Packers should be relaxed.
Carson Palmer has been Jeckyll & Hyde. He's had moments of fine play. He's had moments in which he's been disastrous. He'll give us chances to make plays. We must get snatch the football. Big plays are in front of us on the defensive side of the ball.
It doesn't take a genius to figure it out but there are two keys to this game: Our ability to force turnovers and our ability to protect Aaron Rodgers.
Defensively, the Raiders are talented. They pressure the QB with a highly underrated DL. Lamarr Houston is better than he gets credit for. Richard Seymour is a Pro Bowler. Desmond Bryant never gives up on a play. Tommy Kelly will beat you up.
The LB core of the Raiders is also underrated. Aaron Curry has been much better as a Raider than he was as a Seahawk. Rolando McClain - if he plays - is absolutely legit. And Kamerion Wimbley is a very good 3rd down speed rusher who will absolutely challenge Newhouse. Wimbley has 6 sacks in the last 4 games.
While I'm not impressed with the Raiders secondary, they benefit from the successes of the front 7. The pressure of Oakland's front 7 is relentless and thus the weaknesses of Stanford Routt, Lito Sheppard, and Chris Johnson are often disguised. There is not one CB on the Raiders who can cover any of our top 5 WR's. But, we'll have our work cut out for us as we attempt to protect the NFL's MVP.
The Raiders are loaded with speed at WR. Early in the game, after a couple of run plays, expect the Raiders to call play-action and to test us deep. Carson Palmer hasn't played in weather like this in a long time. The ball will be under-thrown. It'll end up in the lap of T-Mon. TRAMONDOUS!
If the Raiders come out with the 2-deep Safety look. The Packers will spread out the defense with 3 WR's, J-Mike and a single back. Through a variety of quick hits, Rodgers moves the ball with ease. The play-calling and route design by McCarthy is at a PhD. Level. His play-calling doesn't allow the physically dominant Raiders to get pressure.
The Packers get an early lead as the Raiders play ball-control. They don't abandon the run. We see a lot of Bush. A lot of Kevin Boss testing our LB's. Keeping the sticks moving. And the Raiders will annoy. But, the Faithful stays strong.
Ryan Grant has been a mudder in his career. It'll be interesting to see if he can get loose this week.
Rodgers throws for 250 yards and 3 TD's as he keeps his 2-TD streak alive and extends it to an NFL Record tying 13 games. James Jones gets into the end zone. So does Jennings. So does Nelson.
Packers 30. Raiders 20.
Bring the noise, G-Force. Bring the noise! A win gives the Packers an all-important 1st round bye.
Go Pack Go!