Category Archives: Packers Periscope

3

January

Packers Periscope: Wild Card vs. San Francisco 49ers

The Past: Do we really need to remind ourselves of the past?  Sometimes it seems like certainly match-ups become one sided rivalries; in the 1990′s the Packers seemed never able to beat the Dallas Cowboys and recently it’s seemed like the Packers have always gotten better of the Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears but the team that seems to give the Aaron Rodgers Packers the most problems is the Jim Harbaugh lead San Francisco 49ers.  Quarterback Colin Kaepernick stole the show in their last playoff meeting, setting a new record for yards on the ground for a quarterback and added 263 yards in the air and two touchdowns.  On the other side of the ball, Aaron Rodgers just couldn’t get anything going against the stout 49ers defense and was stymied into a 1 dimensional passing attack.

The Packers drew the unfortunate luck of having to see their rivals right out of the gate this season with similar results. Again Aaron Rodgers couldn’t get much going against the defense, the running game lead by two rookies just wasn’t ready and the defense fell apart, this time only through the passing game as Kaepernick threw for 412 yards and 3 touchdowns and made aging receiver Anquan Boldin look like the second coming of Jerry Rice.

Since then the Packers have mostly been licking their wounds quietly with bigger issues to fry such as replacing Rodgers for 8 games while his shoulder blade recovered, or having to find a new defensive line and linebacking core as players shuffled in due to injuries.  Getting to the playoffs was essentially a pipe dream until week 17 (the Packers at the lowest had a 6% shot at getting into the playoffs), when they secured their playoff berth with a miracle 4th down touchdown from Rodgers to Randall Cobb, who was also coming back from a horrific bone break of his own.  While neither the Packers nor the Bears were really expected to fare all that well in the playoffs, getting in is an accomplishment on its own, especially considering the wretched season they had to endure just to get to this point.

27

December

Packers Periscope: Week 17 at Chicago Bears

The Past: The last meeting in this storied rivalry did not go so well for the Packers; losing the game was actually the smaller matter as the Packers season essentially spiraled out of control with Aaron Rodgers breaking his collarbone, which would eventually take 7 weeks to heal.  The Packers did do a couple things well, notably Eddie Lacy rushing for 150 yards and James Starks chipping in for another 40 but without Jay Cutler being, well Jay Cutler, the Bears played an efficient and mistake free game with Josh McCown under center and ultimately won 27-20.

For the Packers, this started a team collapse, starting first with the uncertainty at quarterback; Seneca Wallace was injured and placed on IR the next week, Scott Tolzien played with glimpses of potential, but costly mistakes ultimately caused the Packers to call on their old friend Matt Flynn, who had been released by Seattle, Oakland and the Bills in this season alone.  While Flynn was completely overmatched against the Lions in the Thanksgiving game and has been a below average quarterback, he also has shown the moxie that got him drafted by the Packers in the first place, managing to win two comeback games by 1 point, something that many critics have argued Aaron Rodgers has failed to do.

Ironically, while the Packers have done about as well as can be expected without Rodgers, they shouldn’t even been in the playoff race right now as the rest of the NFC north has had an even more inexplicable collapse.  Naturally the Vikings and notably Adrian Peterson weren’t going to be able to repeat their magical season from last year one more time, and more importantly seem just as confused about their quarterbacks as they were last year.  The Bears have been an enigma this year as well; sometimes it looks like they are finally becoming a dominant offensive team, other times it looks like they really wish they had their stalwart defense, at times crushing the Dallas Cowboys 45-28 but then getting destroyed by the Philadelphia Eagles 11-54.  Most startling is the fall of the Detroit Lions, who should have clinched the NFC North months ago.  The Lions have clearly one of the most talented teams in the NFL and unlike the Bears, Packers and Vikings have had a stable quarterback position the entire season, which should have won them the division right there.  Add to that a ferocious defense, and a powerful passing game spearheaded by Calvin Johnson and the Lions should have been the cream of the black and blue.  However, in the last 6 games, the Lions have only beat the Packers and basically killed their playoff hopes by letting a kicker beat them and then sealed their fate with a loss against the Giants.

20

December

Packers Periscope: Week 16 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Past: I’ve mentioned notable games of the past in this series (the Ice Bowl, Aaron Rodgers dismantling of the Falcons in the 2010 divisional game), but perhaps the most important game in the last decade for the Packers was their win in Super Bowl XLV in 2010 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Not only did it cement quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ position as one of the NFL’s elite players but it also justified Ted Thompson’s 6 year “draft and develop” philosophy which brought the Packers back from a salary cap nightmare.  Fans will remember Clay Matthew’s “It is time” moment of stripping the ball away from Rashard Mendenhall which preserved a Packers 4 point lead in the 4th quarter, but perhaps the biggest defensive play came from defensive tackle Howard Green, who knocked quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s pass into the arms of safety Nick Collins, who returned the ball for a touchdown and at least historically sealed away the fate of the Steelers right then (no team has gotten a interception returned for a touchdown and lost the Super Bowl).

Moving back further, the Steelers and Packers last regular season game occurred in 2009 which quickly became a shootout; Rodgers threw for an impressive 383 yards but Roethlisberger proved even more dangerous, finishing the game with an astonishing 503 yards.  It also marked the rise of Jermichael Finley, who moved from a up and coming player to a serious receiving threat, which would continue until his injury in 2010.

The Present: The Steelers have been effectively eliminated from the playoffs; the Cincinnati Bengals have run away with the AFC North and are almost definitely going to win the division this year.  Baltimore trails behind Cincinnati, but also has a shot at a wild card berth.  Pittsburgh unfortunately only is predicted to get in as a wildcard team .8% of the time according to Football Outsiders, effectively making this game more of a statement game more than anything else.  Furthermore, the Steelers have always been a very deliberate and conservative organization and the coaching staff has not been rumored to be on the hot seat, this game probably does not have much meaning to the Steelers, aside for maybe extracting some revenge against the Packers for their Super Bowl loss.

13

December

Packers Periscope: Week 15 at Dallas Cowboys

The Past: In reality, the Packers and Cowboys aren’t all that different; both are storied franchises whose heydays came after hiring relatively unknown New York Giants coordinators.  Both had a renaissance of sorts in the 80s and 90s; Jimmy Johnson, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin for the Cowboys and Mike Holmgren, Brett Favre, Reggie White and Desmond Howard for the Packers both lead their respective teams back into relevance.  Both have been successful franchises in the last couple years; obviously Green Bay boasts a Super Bowl over the last couple of years that the Cowboys have no answer for but to call the franchise “unsuccessful” would be glossing over a decent team who are still the highest grossing franchise in the league.

While the Packers and Cowboys have only played each other 24 times in NFL history; perhaps the most historic game of all time occurred in New Years eve, 1967 where the temperature dropped -15F and an unassuming quarterback from Alabama drafted in the 17th round quarterback sneaked his way into the hearts of Packers nation and became a legend.

The Cowboys would probably like to forget the last time they played the Packers, a 45-7 demolition at Lambeau Field that would ultimately lead to the firing of then head coach Wade Phillips, which was punctualized by several coaching mistakes which ultimately lead to a bad call on a fumble returned for a special teams touchdown being unchallenged because the Cowboys had already wasted all their timeouts.  After that, the entire team simply gave up and let the Packers had their way with the Cowboys; Clay Matthews recorded sack/interception returned for a touchdown while James Jones logged 123 yards and a touchdown on 8 receptions.

The Present: Both the Packers and Cowboys are at a crossroads of sorts for their playoff hopes.  Frankly neither should really be in the discussion; the Packers are a completely different team without starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Cowboys have been wildly inconsistent, almost beating the Peyton Manning lead Denver Broncos but getting blown out by the Bears last week with a backup quarterback that’s just been benched for Jay Cutler.  Still the Packers are 6-6-1 and have a shot to get into the playoffs (especially if the Lions continue to play poorly) while the Cowboys are 7-6 and again are one game out from 1st place in the NFC East.  However in a league of parity, both teams with essentially .500 records are still in the playoff hunts with a reasonable chance of actually getting in says platitudes about how a team’s fortunes can change in a matter of moments.

6

December

Packers Periscope: Week 14 vs. Atlanta Falcons

The Past: While the last meeting between these two teams actually occurred in week 5 of the 2011 season (which the Packers won), most fans will remember the NFC divisional game in 2010 where Aaron Rodgers played perhaps the finest game of his career, going 31 for 36, 26 yards and 3 touchdowns, which even then doesn’t show the complete dominance of the performance.  Rodgers simply could not be brought down, often scrambling from surefire sacks, and could not be slowed down, throwing pinpoint darts to receivers who were blanket covered.

On defense, a pivotal interception returned for a touchdown by Tramon Williams at the end of the 1st half was the catalyst that sparked the Packers to dominate the second half.  With Rodgers putting up points with ease, the Falcons offense played to match the Packers point for point; however the Falcons offense buckled under the pressure, most notably with quarterback Matt Ryan making several poor decisions including 2 interceptions and a fumble which sealed the game.

During the offseason, the Packers and Falcons engaged in some more gamesmanship by bidding for the services of veteran running back Steven Jackson, who was a free agent for the first time after playing for the St. Louis Rams for nearly a decade.  In the end, Ted Thompson stuck with his draft and develop and frugal free agency philosophy and let Jackson sign with the Falcons.  However, Thompson perhaps got the last laugh as the Packers drafted Alabama star running back Eddie Lacy, who plays with some Steven Jacksons in him and is a candidate for rookie of the year honors while age and injury has finally caught up with Jackson, who has only started 8 games, rushing 97 times for a paltry 339 yards.

27

November

Packers Periscope: Thanksgiving Edition vs. Lions

The Past: Last time these two teams met was punctuated by All Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson, namely because he was absent from the game; the Lions did a fantastic job covering, deflecting and obfuscating Johnson’s knee injury up to the point that it was pretty evident that the Packers defense thew out their defensive plan right before kick off because many defensive players looked little confused as to what their new roles would be.

But the Lions offense was also left scrambling with quarterback Matthew Stafford doing his best impersonation of Aaron Rodgers, spreading out the ball to 8 different receivers for 262 yards and 1 touchdown, going 25 out of 40 but lacked the big play potential, something that’s almost unheard of since the Stafford-Johnson connection came into being.  Also without Johnson spreading out the defense, Reggie Bush found little room to run, only getting 44 yards on 13 attempts.

The Packers on the other hand were consistent but not flashy; Rodgers passed for 274 yards and one beautiful 83 yard bomb to James Jones while Eddie Lacy just missed out on his first 100 yard game of his career with 99 yards on 23 attempts.  On defense, the Packers managed to record 5 sacks, including 2 from Nick Perry, however Clay Matthews’ 1 sack also resulted in a Bennett fracture to his hand, which he still has to wear a cast for.

Overall, this game wasn’t the typical aerial bombing that has typically characterized Packers-Lions games recently, the Packers hadn’t really found their new balanced identity while the Lions were naturally adjusting to life without Calvin Johnson and it was the much maligned Mason Crosby whostole show, going 5 for 5 with a long completion of 52 yards.  In a game where only two touchdowns were scored by both teams, Crosby’s field goals were the difference.

The Present: The Lions are still perhaps the most inconsistent team in the NFL; they have the talent to easily win the NFC North but can’t get out of their own way when it comes to success.  Last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have taken over the Lions as the most mismanaged franchise in the NFL (owner siphoning funds for his “other” football team, the MRSA debacle, the mismanagement of Josh Freeman, “going for it” on knee downs etc.) the Lions gave up the opportunity to essentially win the NFC North crown and instead turned the ball over 5 times, including 4 interceptions by Matthew Stafford.  Guess who gave up the other turnover?  None other than former Packers return man Jeremy Ross who luckily didn’t cost his team any points when he fumbled the ball out of bounds.

22

November

Packers Periscope: Week 12 vs Minnesota Vikings

The Past: The Packers played their last game at the Mall of America Field at the Metrodome in week 8 and showed exactly how dangerous a balanced Packers offense could be.  In short, the offense was brutally efficient; even without Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jermichael Finley, quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 24 passes out of 29 for 285 yards and two touchdowns to Jordy Nelson while adding 31 yards on 6 scrambles.  However the running attack needed no help from Rodgers this time as Eddie Lacy ground the Vikings defense for 94 yards on 29 carries and a touchdown while James Starks provided the change of pace with 57 yards on only 7 carries (8.1 ypc) and a touchdown.

On defense, the loss of Clay Matthews and Nick Perry certainly didn’t help with the pass rush, but with Adrian Peterson’s body obviously starting to break down plus a “give up” call to put Christian Ponder back after perhaps the worst quarterback play in the history of the NFL by Josh Freeman the week against the Giants before left the Vikings offense in shambles; Peterson only managed 60 yards on a paltry 13 attempts while Ponder completed 50% of his passes for only 145 yards.

Perhaps the most interesting story of the night happened after the game where Greg Jennings purposefully pulled Aaron Rodgers aside and proceeded to awkwardly hug/presumable apologize for about 5 minutes to which Rodgers just nodded dutifully.  Neither Rodgers nor Jennings has fully disclosed what was said on the field, but as both players might be watching from the sidelines this game probably means that this will be a non-issue for either team (not that that will stop the media from covering it like it was).

The Present: The Vikings are perhaps as injury riddled in key positions as the Packers are, which is no small task.  Star running back Adrian Peterson has been hobbled by a groin injury and hasn’t been as explosive as he once was.  Leading wide receiver Greg Jennings was a surprise scratch from last weeks game against the Seattle Seahawks, much to the dismay of head coach Leslie Frasier. If Jennings does indeed miss his homecoming against the Packers, how much of it will because he simply doesn’t want to be on the field when he knows he can’t win back the fans?  The Vikings still also have questions at quarterback, Josh Freeman was expected to see the field at some point after recovering from his concussion due to his relatively large contract, but hasn’t seen the field as Matt Cassel played in relief of starter Christian Ponder when he dislocated his shoulder two weeks ago.  Aside from Christian Ponder’s shoulder injury, he will also be without his favorite target in tight end Kyle Rudolph, who is likely to be out with a broken foot.