Let me come clean. Today, yes, today, is the first time this year that I write without a drop of alcohol in my system. No, I'm not an alcoholic. Nor am I a recovering boozer. But, when I write, it's my one-hour a week in which I block everything else out. The baby is in bed. The wife is out shopping. It's my music on the speaker system. Today, that's Lucky Dube's "Live in Uganda" album. Normally, I'd be having a beer, a glass of whiskey or a glass of vodka on the rocks. Well, I'd likely throw a marinated onion in my vodka. Not today. Today, it's water, a bowl of strawberries and a tortilla that's wrapped around macadamia butter. You'll have to pardon me. Here goes nothing.
4-2. Emphatically! In first place. By ourselves. Clearly, the earth is back on its axis. The seasons have changed. The weather becomes an issue. Finesse is replaced with physicality. And, the Green Bay Packers have both a running game and a dominant Defensive Line. I always enjoyed that fall game against an AFC opponent at Lambeau Field. Generally, since 1992, they turned into celebrations. Last Sunday, as the Packers hosted the Browns. The same applied. Here are some takeaways:
* How can you not love Mike McCarthy? Other than Andy Reid, who else is even in the running for Coach of the Year? Seriously. The evolution of this offense is brilliant. As I watched the game, I felt like a lil' kid playing "GO FISH." I wanted Rodgers under center. Got what I wanted. I wanted play-action early in the game. Got what I wanted. I wanted Boykin targeted 8 times. He was targeted 10 times and caught 8 balls. As fans, please realize what McCarthy has accomplished with the decimated roster that he's trotted out since 2010. Every year, it seems as though the Packers are punished with severe injuries. Every year, McCarthy produces a winner.
* The Packers mental mettle is being challenged right now. While other teams seem to be folding with each passing injury, McCarthy keeps the Packers plugging along. Victoriously. Plainly stated, McCarthy is a level-headed, players coach.
* Cheers to Dom Capers. I did not believe the Packers would have success without Clay Matthews this year. But, between Capers' designs and Kevin Greene's teachings, Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer have been more than serviceable.
* In the Packers XLV run, Capers utilized a lot of the Big Beefy formation with Howard Green, BJ Raji and Ryan Pickett all on the field at the same time. Green's failures in 2011 didn't allow it to be effective. Largely, he played with 2 down lineman in 2012. I like this version of the Big Beefy package. The Jolly, Pickett, Raji combo has been robust. Well done, Dom.
* Aaron Rodgers is brilliant. In control of everything. Loved his trust in Boykin. His ball placement on his passes to Boykin were spot on. Vintage performance by the XLV MVP.
* EDDIE! EDDIE! EDDIE! This guy has changed our franchise. Literally. We are a threat to run the football. Consistently, we seem to be facing 2nd & 6. Defenses are absolutely cognitive that the 2013 Green Bay Packers can punch you in the mouth. Thanks to Eddie Lacy!
* Great game, Jarrett Boykin. Exciting to see him get up and grab it. Liked the run after the catch. The extension for the TD was thrilling. Now, we need more.
* May the Good Lord shine his light on J-Mike. Finley has been an absolute beast this year. He was becoming the player that we'd all wanted him to become. Now, that we know there's not permanent damage, I feel like it's OK to state that I really hope he can make a comeback this year.
* Big props to TJ Lang. Fun to see him finishing plays to the whistle. Exciting to see him pulling in the 1st Quarter.
* Each week - Datone Jones gets closer to the QB. The Packers need him to develop into a legitimate 3rd down pass rusher. His 1st sack is coming soon. I can taste it. He's showing signs of being slippery. I like his hustle. He's tenacious. Importantly, it looks like he expects results from himself.
* The Packers have to be impressed with the run play of Andy Mulumba. Over the last two weeks, he's fought off blocks to make multiple plays.
* Great to see Cleveland run right at Nate Palmer on the first play of scrimmage. Palmer was up to the task in fairly convincing fashion.
* Mike Daniels! Every week he makes a play. Every. Single. Week!
* Like BJ Raji's push. Have to believe that he has a sack coming soon.
* AJ Hawk looks like an All-Pro. He's a different man. He's quick. He has burst. He's tackling with a vengeance. Let's hope it continues.
* Jamari Lattimore will make a big play if he continues to see playing time. My prediction is that he'll pick off a pass and take it to the house. He's instinctive. He anticipates well. I wish he'd pursue harder on the blitz, but I think that will come with time.
* Sammy Swagga is an elite CB.
* Morgan Burnett continues to bring a presence to our secondary.
* Micah Hyde is pure. Organically created. Crafted by an artisan.
* Ras-House is a baller. Love his game. Great to see him get the interception.
* Johnny Jolly stuffing the run!
* T-Mon with the sack!
* Good to see Chris Banjo active. Looks like he's earning more playing time. He's jumped Jerron McMillan.
* MD Jennings puts himself in the right spot, but he has a hard time finishing plays.
* It was a highly questionable call, but how does Jerron McMillan not make the tackle with ease on the fake punt?
* Sublimely designed wheel route to Franklin. Wish Rodgers would have hit him. Would have been a supreme TD.
* Can we please sign Jordy to a 6-year contract? I want him in Green Bay for the rest of his career.
* It should be noted that Eddie Lacy had 5 catches.
* Jamari Lattimore's stat line: 12 tackles. 9 solo. 1 sack. 1 PD. 1 Tackle for Loss. 1 QB Hit. Dude can play.
* Thought Jake Stoneburner was active on special teams.
* In limited action, I felt Mike Neal applied nice pressure.
This week - it's the Viqueens from Minnesota. You know - the team that wears Purple. They play in a Dome. A Dome that's named after a shopping mall. Yeah, we play them. Once again, it's a mystery as to who will play QB for the 'queens. Ponder took the first team snaps, but only because Josh Freeman was experiencing concussion-like symptoms. I want to play Josh Freeman. While we've beaten him since 2009, I am still not over that loss at Tampa.
It's interesting that the 3 RB's that I consider to be the best in my lifetime have all played within the division: Barry Sanders, Walter Payton and AP. AP is a total stallion. An unbelievable force. A thrill to watch. Even when he's abusing you. He does it with absolute authority. Nothing but respect for that man.
On offense, the 'queens have some weapons. The artist formerly known as "Be Great" - Greg Jennings - can play. We know this first hand. Jerome Simpson is an underrated WR who can beat you deep. Cordarrelle Patterson is an athlete. Jarius Wright has talents. Kyle Rudolph is a rising star at TE. Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt are steady at Tackle. But, Minnesota does not have a QB. Their QB play has been pathetic, to put it lightly.
Defensively, Minnesota has great depth on the DL. We all know Jared Allen, Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, and Kevin Williams. But, Letroy Guion, Fred Evans and 1st round pick, Sharrif Floyd, are all powerful DT's who offer good push. At LB, Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson are above average. So, what's the problem? The secondary. Harrison Smith's injury took a below average unit and made it beyond poor. Neither Chris Cook nor Josh Robinson can be expected to cover Jordy Nelson. They can't.
If Rodgers gets protection - which is a big 'if' - I expect Rodgers to pass for over 350 yards. Minnesota cannot cover us. Not even with the depleted weapons at WR. Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo can be exposed deep down the field. And, with the 'queens having to respect the run, look for McCarthy to try a deep ball to Jordy.
McCarthy does a marvelous job setting up opponents. He shows the same formation multiple weeks in a row and runs the same play. Eventually, teams read the formation and he comes with an element of surprise. Often, this surprise happens against either Minnesota or Chicago. Expect McCarthy to show some new tricks.
In 2009, J-Mike was a main target in Minnesota. In 2010, AQ81 had a big TD at Lambeau against Minnesota. Look for Bostick to be a target over the next two weeks. Bostick has been saved for something. There's no better time to use him than now.
My prediction: Look for McCarthy to stack the left side of the line. 2 TE formation. AQ81 lined up tight against Bakhtiari. Boykin lined close to the line of scrimmage, but a step back. Bostick between Boykin and AQ81. Jordy split wide right. The Packers have effectively run a pitch out of this formation all year. If I know this, so do Defensive Coordinators. They'll be preparing to stop it. This time McCarthy fakes the pitch. Bostick gets a free release and is streaking down the seam. Make the play, Brandon!
I'll assume that Freeman plays as that's what they stated to the media. Even though I predict Ponder plays. But, for the sake of timing, it's Freeman. Freeman struggles all game. The Packers get pressure up the gut. Early. Often. Freeman overthrows the crossing route and MD Jennings grabs the pick.
AP gets his early in the game. But, the Packers offense is too much. The protection isn't great, but it's enough. And, Rodgers moves the ball effectively. Thus, AP is limited to 16 carries.
It's Rodgers on the back-shoulder to Nelson. It's Rodgers in the flat to AQ81. It's Rodgers on the comeback to Boykin. It's Rodgers on the screen to Lacy. Minnesota responds by dropping the safeties even further. McCarthy responds with EDDIE! EDDIE! EDDIE!
It's always terrific to grab victory in Minnesota. Especially on Sunday Night Football.
Packers 34. Viqueens 16.
Since we're at the mid-way point of the College Football season, here's a quick glimpse of my mock draft. As always, I'm behind on OL, I only draft someone if I've watched him play and I use the CBS DRAFT SCOUT web site for my round projections unless I want to move someone up. As a side note, I'm giving the Packers compensatory picks in the 5th & 6th rounds for Jennings and Walden. Here goes:
Round 1.) Eric Ebron, TE, UNC. Not much has changed for me since before the college football season. Ebron and Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo are my top two targets. Mack would be ideal for the 3-4, but it's questionable that he makes it out of the top-20. So, as of now, the guess is that he's not around when the Packers select. Ebron would be an ideal fit for the Packers offense. He's a gem who isn't afraid of running across the middle and making plays in traffic. Additionally, he can get deep down the field. He's an average blocker, but if Finley doesn't stick around, Ebron would fill-in. Two others that fit: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vandy and Kyle Van Roy, OLB, BYU.
Round 2.) Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State. Previously, I had him listed in my Mock Draft as a 3rd Round selection. While he's still projected as a 2nd or 3rd round pick, I wouldn't be disappointed if he were our 1st Round pick. He slaps wrists. Goes after the football. He's an intimidator. A brute tackler. He plays the ball in the air. He's become my favorite player to watch in college football. He reminds me of Brian Dawkins. The complete package. He'd start today. He'll be the mock until next years draft. Guaranteed. I don't care how much he rises. I'll take him in Round 1. Others to watch: Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU & Odell Beckham, Jr, WR, LSU. Both are ideal for the Packers system.
Round 3.) Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia. Give Murray the ball in a close game. And, he's going to put his team in position to win. Seems like a natural fit for the Packers offense. Can throw on the run. Has great instincts. Confident. Takes command of the huddle.
Round 4.) Rashad Greene, WR, FSU. An ideal slot WR in the NFL. Moves like Victor Cruz. If you miss him in the open field, he's taking it to the house. He's reliable. Plays with flair. Not ideal size, but he makes up for it with grit.
Round 5.) Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State. Every time I watch Hyde, I become more impressed. He does it all. Plays with hunger. At times, he's carried OSU.
Round 5.) Max Bullough, ILB, Michigan State. He's a Ted Thompson "football player." A leader on defense. Great size. A student of the game. Great family lineage.
Round 6.) Michael Sam, OLB, Mizzou. Sam can get to the QB. Hand in the dirt pass rusher. Savvy. Knows the game. Understands the angle to the QB. Has been a game changer.
Round 6.) Gus Handler, C, Colorado. The Packers did well with a Colorado OL last year. Handler has NFL ability. Not the best size as he looks like he could add weight. But, he's fairly athletic and is a developmental prospect.
Round 7.) Beau Allen, DL, WI. I like that Allen has gained exposure to a 3-4. I like the way he plugs the hole. Is he a 1st year starter? No. Can he be groomed? I believe so.
Go Pack Go!