Around the NFC North in Week 9

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 9

Week 9 brings us to the start of the 2012 season’s second half.  Quick trivia:  Which is the NFL’s only division with three teams over .500?  You’re correct if you guessed the NFC North.  Let’s dive into the matchups around the division this week.

Chicago Bears (6-1) at Tennessee Titans (3-5)

The Bears are rolling, the Titans are not.  About the only thing in Tennessee’s favor this week is that it’s a home game.

The Bears narrowly escaped with a home win over Carolina while Tennessee came up just short against the Indianapolis Colts in overtime.  As the saying goes, good teams find a way to win and Chicago keeps doing it week after week.  They find themselves alone in 1st place atop the NFC North.

Tennessee has had solid play from backup QB Matt Hasselbeck in place of injured Jake Locker.  Hasselbeck will start Sunday against the Bears.  Unfortunately, Hasselbeck is the only Titans player who has played well consistently and the team has not been able to string consecutive wins together.

Titans RB Chris Johnson has flashed some of his vintage self lately, but not enough to put the team on his back.  The Bears are giving up a stingy 77 yards/game rushing and Johnson will be the focal point of their defensive game plan.

The big focus for the Titans and Hasselbeck is taking care of the football.  Chicago has mustered 16 interceptions in 7 games this season and they lead the league in takeaways.  They are also a top-scoring defense so they are making those turnovers count.  Hasselbeck has thrown four interceptions compared to six touchdown passes.  His task will not be an easy one this Sunday.

For the Bears, the game plan is simple:  run to daylight.  Tennessee is surrendering 140 yards/game on the ground and the Bears happen to have a guy named Forte on their side.  I’m no fantasy football expert but I say: start Forte!  If Chicago builds a solid lead, you’ll see a good dose of Michael Bush as well.

While the rest of the North needs the Bears to slow down a tick, it likely doesn’t happen this week.



Game Balls and Lame Calls: Packers 24, Jaguars 15

Aaron Rodgers

QB Aaron Rodgers was good but not spectacular for the Packers in their 24-15 win over the Jaguars

It was ugly but the Green Bay Packers will take it.

The Packers offense was not firing on all cylinders Sunday without their top two receivers in Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, but thankfully the defense was up to the task against a relatively impotent offense as the Packers hung on in an ugly 24-15 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Aaron Rodgers was good but not stellar as he missed his two favorite targets and Alex Green had a fair if not unimpressive performance against the Jaguars.   The defense, despite a third quarter touchdown, played solid in the red zone and kept the Jaguars out of the end zone for the rest of the game.

It would be unfair to say the Packers offense suddenly regressed thanks to injuries at wide receiver, but the running game needs to get going.  The defense also has been hobbled by injuries, but some bad habits seem to be resurfacing despite the unit’s overall solid play in the win.

Here’s who stood out and who didn’t in the win over the Jaguars.

Game Balls

S Morgan Burnett

People were watching to see how the secondary would do with the loss of Charles Woodson and Burnett came up big.  He had an interception, a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and led the team with nine tackles.

When he wasn’t forcing turnovers, Burnett was constantly around the ball.  He showed solid tackling technique and took care of business in the defensive backfield. It’s not enough to help people forget about a special talent like Woodson, but it’s a reminder of how much young talent the Packers have in their secondary that will continue to improve with experience.

LB Brad Jones

Not to be outdone by Burnett, Jones played well in place of both the injured DJ Smith and Desmond Bishop.  Jones was touted at one time as the heir apparent to Aaron Kampman but thanks to the Packers’ commitment to the 3-4 scheme and the emergence of Clay Matthews, Jones became a forgotten man on the linebacker depth chart.

Thanks to Bishop and Smith landing on season ending injured reserved, Jones finally gets another chance and made the most of his chances against the Jaguars.  Jones also had one sack and a forced fumble plus he finished behind Burnett with seven tackles.



Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Green Bay Packers: Key Matchups

Aaron Rodgers

Jacksonville may be seeing a lot of Aaron Rodgers unloading the deep ball

The Green Bay Packers return home after a rare three game road trip where they managed a 2-1 mark.  They are dinged up and dealing with a plethora of injuries.  This seems like the perfect time for the schedule to ease up a bit and give the Pack a break.  Enter the Jacksonville Jaguars who are also limping into this game.  They will be without starting RB Maurice Jones-Drew, aka MJ-D and QB Blaine Gabbert is dealing with a sore left (non throwing) shoulder.  Let’s look at the key matchups in this week’s contest.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers vs. Jaguars defense

There’s not a whole lot to say here other than it’s MVP Aaron Rodgers against the 31st ranked defense in the league. . at Lambeau Field.  Barring an injury or a hurricane rolling through town, I expect Rodgers to continue the tear that he is currently on:  9 TD’s, 0 INT’s and a QB rating of 140.8 in his last two games.  Rodgers has found his swagger and he’s very likely to take it out on the Jags’ secondary on Sunday.

The Jaguars are giving up 264 passing yards/game.  Green Bay averages 266 through the air.  Don’t be surprised if Rodgers’ total is close to that mark or even a bit less.  The Pack are dinged up at wide receiver and will surely be without Greg Jennings (groin) and likely won’t have Jordy Nelson (hamstring) available.  I expect the Pack to try and establish the run early and work the clock.  If that is the plan of attack, Rodgers likely won’t have to throw more than 25 times.

Either way, I expect to see some explosive throws come off the arm of Rodgers and it should be fun to watch.

Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert vs. Packers defense

With Jones-Drew out, that leaves Gabbert as the key hope the Jags have on offense.  The Packers have had their issues stopping the pass this season, but that was against Drew Brees and a very gifted Andrew Luck.  Gabbert is neither of those two.  By virtue of the number of pass attempts he has, Gabbert may put up some yards, but I hardly expect to see Jacksonville marching down the Lambeau Field turf at will.



2012 NFL Regular Season Week 8: Packers vs Jaguars Preview

Aaron Rodgers

The Packers offense and Aaron Rodgers should keep rolling against the Jaguars

The Green Bay Packers seem to be on a roll.

One week after their statement victory over the Houston Texans, the Packers followed it up with a 30-20 win over the improved St. Louis Rams.  Aaron Rodgers continued his recent hot streak, going 30 of 37 for 342 yards and three touchdowns.  The offense seemingly has emerged from doldrums it was in early in the season.

This week, the Packers go into a game that by all signs appears to be a cakewalk against the Jacksonville Jaguars.  The Jaguars very likely will go into the game without their star running back Maurice Jones-Drew and their improving but still struggling starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert.   In their places will be Rashad Jennings at running back and Chad Henne at quarterback.

The Packers come into the game without Greg Jennings and perhaps without Jordy Nelson, who is nursing a hamstring injury.  This would leave a receiver group of James Jones, Randall Cobb, Donald Driver and Jarrett Boykin.  The Packers will also not have Charles Woodson on defense who will be out for six weeks with a broken collarbone.

Scouting the Jaguars

On paper, it looks like the Jaguars don’t have a fighting chance against the Packers but it’s still the NFL.  They still have to play the games and anything can happen.

With Henne likely at quarterback, it bears revisiting that Henne beat the Packers at Lambeau Field in 2010 when he was with the Miami Dolphins.   Yes, he had Brandon Marshall at receiver but Henne also took care of the ball and didn’t cost the Dolphins a chance to win the game.  Sometimes that’s the best an underdog can hope for from a mediocre quarterback.

Rashad Jennings has 34 carries for 90 yards and one touchdown.  He’s definitely no MJD and the Jaguars will definitely miss him more than they will miss Gabbert.

At receiver, the Jaguars hoped Justin Blackmon would be the next superstar receiver in the AFC South when they selected him with the fifth pick in this spring’s NFL Draft.  So far, not so good for Blackmon. 14 catches for 126 yards and zero touchdowns.  Maybe he will have some better luck with a veteran like Henne throwing the ball, but so far it seems like Blackmon is in the running for poorest performance by a top five draft pick.