7-7-1. Yet, almost amazingly, we control our destiny. They say that cats have 9 lives. Clearly, so do the 2013 Green Bay Packers.
You'll have to pardon my excitement in this blog. While I'm 100% sober in the mind during this writing, I'm absolutely drunk with Green & Gold flavor. I just spent 6 days in Titletown, U.S.A. A trip that included a marvelous Christmas with the family, the baptism of my niece, lunch at Kroll's, a Lambeau Field tour with my Dad as the guide, hundreds of dollars spent at the Pro Shop, a lunch at Kavarna's, a dinner at Zesty's, beers at Titletown Brewery, my Mom's cinnamon rolls, and multiple New Glarus beers. Oh, and it also included a snowfest at Lambeau Field. Ah, it also included one more newsworthy piece: breaking news that Aaron Rodgers will lead the Packers into Soldier Field with the NFC North title on the line. It's worth mentioning that he'll arrive with TRUMP CARD FOREVER in his pocket.
Sure, the Packers lost to the Steelers. But, man, what a game! It was beautiful outside. The energy in the stadium in the second half had a bit of magic to it. The fans were into it. The defense came alive when we needed them. Down 10 points, the defense forced a turnover and came away with two more consecutive stops. Meanwhile, Matt Flynn was engineering drives. Down 7, Micah Hyde raged a kick return 70 yards to put the Packers within striking distance. Yes, team fell short. However, it didn't come without a fight and it didn't come without excitement. No, I'm not finding consolation in a loss. What I'm saying is that I left Lambeau Field feeling proud to be a Packers fan. The 2013 Green Bay Packers team carries a NEVER SAY DIE mentality to the bone. Injuries have undoubtedly taken a huge toll on this roster. Still, with one game left, if the Packers win, we're in.
Before I get into takeaways from the loss to the Steelers, I want to write one playoff thought: Assuming Rodgers and Cobb are healthy, the only team in the NFC that I'd favor over the Packers would be the 49ers. San Francisco has the Packers number right now. Do I want to see the Packers play at New Orleans? Not necessarily. I'd pick the Packers over the Seahawks in Seattle. Yes, I'm drinking the Green & Gold Kool-Aid, but I've said that since early in the season.
Here are some vibes from the game:
* Mike McCarthy's team fought to the finish. In the end, they didn't get the job done. But, they never quit. McCarthy called a really good game. He was aggressive. In attack mode. If he stays that way for the rest of the year, the Packers might have 5 more games on their schedule.
* The "EDDIE! EDDIE! EDDIE!" chants are alive and well. After the blocked FG/illegal bat play, you had to love the EDDIE chants. Most of the Packers huddle was trying to quiet the crowd down. Not Lacy. He was asking for more volume. On the next play, Lacy pounded it in for 2 yards. That was an epic moment at Lambeau Field.
* Some will criticize Dom Capers for the defense giving up 38 points. Not me. Flynn gifted Pittsburgh a TD. On the Flynn fumble, the defense held only to have special teams choke it away with a penalty. On the opening drive of the 2nd half, the defense held, but a fake punt extended the drive and gave the Steelers the ball at the 26. By the way, I was sitting next to my brother, Chad, and called that fake. It was so predictable. Terrible awareness by our special teams unit. Special teams also cost us field position before the half and thus, the Steelers were able to get 3 points. In all, I thought the defense played fairly well.
* For the third consecutive game, the defense forced two turnovers in the 2nd half.
* EDDIE! EDDIE! EDDIE!
* The Packers defense is better with Jamari Lattimore on the field than they are with Brad Jones on the field.
* The Packers defense is better with Sean Richardson on the field than they are with MD Jennings on the field.
* AJ Hawk with a fun interception!
* The Packers best run defender last weekend? Andy Mulumba. Gulp.
* Actually, Mulumba holds his ground well against the run. He has no pass rush moves.
* Dear BJ Raji & Ryan Pickett, what happened? At one point, I thought you were a robust duo. Now? A lot to be desired. Raji seriously walked away from $8 million? That's crazy talk.
* Sammy Swagga is a stallion.
* I dig T-Mon.
* Victor Aiyewa is an above average special teams player.
* It hurts to lose Clay and Jolly for the year. A lot.
* Micah Hyde. An artisan. He's vastly improved out of the slot over the last two weeks.
* Matt Flynn is what he is. He's a back-up QB who knows the Packers offense well. The team has confidence in him. McCarthy is comfortable with him as they've worked together long enough. Because the Packers have multiple weapons, Flynn can succeed on this team. Hell, without him, the season would be over. He's been good enough to keep the Packers alive. He's a top-10 back-up QB in the league. But, he's a back-up who has plenty of deficiencies. Namely, he struggles to see the field. On multiple occasions, Jordy Nelson had big gains coming out of the slot. Flynn rarely looked his way. With 10:07 seconds left in the 2nd Quarter and the game tied at 7, the Packers took over the ball at their own 7 yard line. On the first two downs of the drive, Jordy Nelson was WIDE OPEN. On the first one, he'd likely have scored a 93-yard TD. No one was near him. On both occasions, Flynn never looked his way.
* Congrats to Eddie Lacy for breaking the Packers rookie rushing record.
* I'll eat crow for my earlier EDS comments. He's a fighter. He'll never be a Pro Bowler, but he plays with guts.
* David Bakhtiari is a very good player.
* TJ Lang and Josh Sitton have become an elite Guard tandem.
* EDDIE! EDDIE! EDDIE!
* Jarrett Boykin is a baller. So is Jordy Nelson. So is JJ.
* Here's how the Packers could win the next 5 games and leave the 2013 season as Super Bowl Champions: James Jones spread wide to the left. Jordy in the slot to the left. Cobb in the slot to the right. Boykin split wide right. Rodgers in shotgun. Lacy lined up next to him. Jordy & Cobb are both lined up a 1/2 step off the line of scrimmage to avoid the jam. Rodgers is given two plays before each down. He's in control of the game at the line of scrimmage. How could you defend that? You'd need 6 DB's on the field or else you're covering Jordy or Cobb with a LB. Would the DB's be willing - much less able - to tackle Eddie? This offense could put up 38 points per game. Lethal. One game at a time. With five games in sight.
* Last weekend - I bought my wife an Eddie Lacy jersey and multiple Eddie Lacy rookie cards. EDDIE! EDDIE! EDDIE!
This week - it's the hated Chicago Bears. At Soldier Field. For all of the NFC North marbles. Clearly, the Packers have had the edge at Soldier Field in recent history. In the 2010 season, the Packers gained TRUMP CARD FOREVER as they took home the Halas Trophy at Soldier Field. Yes, that's right. Halas Trophy. Soldier Field. Visitors Locker Room. TRUMP CARD FOREVER. Then, in 2012, the Packers captured the 2012 NFC North crown at Soldier Field. This year, they're gunning to do the same.
Thankfully, Ray Nutler will be the starting QB for the Bears. Throughout his career, the Packers have owned Nutler. In his career against the Green Bay Packers, Ray Nutler has combined stats that read: 9 games. His team carries a 1-8 record. 9 TD's. 17 Interceptions. He also limped out of the NFC Championship Game with an injury that the media questioned and Bears fans burned his jersey in the parking lot following the game. He was labeled a quitter. Yes, the Packers have dominated Nutler in his career. Let's hope it continues for another week.
This version of the Bears is different. They're loaded with weapons. Jeffery and Marshall are superstars. Martellus Bennett is a mismatch. Earl Bennett is a solid 3rd WR. Matt Forte is elite. The Bears OL is vastly improved. Marc Trestman keeps Defensive Coordinators guessing with a large playbook. The Bears have a first-class offense.
Oddly, while the offense is in the upper echelon, the defense is among the worst in the league. They don't tackle well. They apply limited pressure on the QB. They can't stop the run. They're safety play is as bad as the Packers' safety play.
Expect a high scoring game. Thus, the edge goes to the Packers. Rodgers > Nutler.
Give credit where credit is due. Had the Bears not knocked Rodgers out, the Packers would have won this Division already. The Bears did what they had to do. Therefore, with one week left, they have home-field advantage in the winner-take-all contest.
Trestman loves to send Jeffery on the end around. He doesn't always give it to him on the reverse, but it's good trickery. Often, he'll send Forte into the short side of the field on those plays. The Bears run the reverse often enough that you have to take Jeffery seriously as he's running across the backfield.
The Bears will also run the pitch to Forte a couple of times. They'll have Martellus Bennett lined up tight against the tackle. Brandon Marshall will be lined up wide. He'll come in motion. Slowly. Towards Bennett. The design will appear for the play to go the opposite direction. Instead it'll be a wide pitch, which makes it easy for Forte to get to the outside. Jon Gruden used to run this play often with Charlie Garner. It's consistently effective.
Trestman is a river boat gambler. He's aggressive in a video-game style. It doesn't always seem sensible, but on occasion, he's scored big with his tactics. He'll attack the Packers secondary early in the game. He'll send Marshall in motion and hide him in the slot. Then, Marshall will sit down beyond the first down marker.
Even with winds exceeding 20 mph, expect a shoot-out. Like most Packers v Bears contests, it'll be a back-and-forth game. It's Nutler who makes the big mistake. And, therefore, it's the Packers who walk away with the NFC North title.
Lacy runs for 120 and 2 TD's. Rodgers throws for 300 yards and three TD's.
Packers 38. Bears 34.
GO PACK GO! THE BEARS STILL SUCK! TRUMP CARD FOREVER!