24

December

Game Balls and Lame Calls: Steelers 38, Packers 31

Eddie Lacy had his way with the Steelers' defense and could be in for a bigger day against the Bears if he's able to suit up.

Eddie Lacy had his way with the Steelers’ defense and could be in for a bigger day against the Bears if he’s able to suit up.

After the Green Bay Packers lost a home heartbreaker to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Packers’ playoff destiny fell out of their control.

But Jay Cutler and the division-leading Chicago Bears were blown out by the Philadelphia Eagles later Sunday night, and now it’ll be Packers-Bears in the final week of the regular season for the NFC North crown and a spot in the playoffs.

And for the umpteenth week in a row, a good portion of ALLGBP’s Game Balls and Lame Calls post will be centered around the increasingly unknown status of Aaron Rodgers, which got even cloudier when ESPN’s Chris Mortensen cited potential tension between Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy on NFL Countdown prior to Sunday’s game. Mortensen tweeted Rodgers remains at “extraordinary risk” with his fractured collarbone.

But the whole will-Rodgers-play-or-won’t-he-play debate or the why-isn’t-Rodgers-playing question seems kind of pointless, doesn’t it? Clearly, Rodgers isn’t ready to play right now. He hasn’t played since November 4, and he wants to play. Whether the final call falls with Rodgers, McCarthy, Ted Thompson or Dr. Pat McKenzie, the fact still remains: Rodgers isn’t ready to play right now.

During the pregame segment, Mortensen said Rodgers pushed the “organizational decision” narrative that he and McCarthy used so often last week as an attempt to defend his toughness in hopes of fending off comparisons to Brett Favre, who undoubtedly would have played through a broken leg and a freshly amputated throwing hand.

But while I think the Rodgers debate really comes down to semantics, the Countdown segment raised some questions to me. Rodgers is who he is. He’s probably the best quarterback in the NFL, and he’s probably better in 2013 than Favre was at any point of his career, in my opinion. Naturally, comparisons will exist between Favre and Rodgers just as they did with other eternally-linked quarterbacks such as the 49ers’ Joe Montana and Steve Young and last year’s draft class that produced Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. People like to compare people to other people.

8

November

Packers Periscope: Week 10 vs. Philadelphia Eagles

The Past

Last time these two teams met was in the NFC wildcard game in 2010.  However, the Packers got to experience the beast that they themselves had created; during the season opener Clay Matthews III knocked out starting quarterback Kevin Kolb with a concussion, which paved the way for the resurgence of Michael Vick, who had been just released from jail after pleading guilty to operating a dog fighting ring.  With the more dynamic Vick leading the way with vertical receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, the Eagles boasted one of the most dangerous offenses that head coach Andy Reid had ever fielded.

However, during the playoffs the Eagles failed to get much going on offense while the Packers watched as rookie James Starks, who had been hobbled by injuries all season, burst onto the scene with 123 yards rushing, a Packers record for a rookie running back in the playoffs and saw a little glimpse of what was to come in their stunning 2011 season when an unknown undrafted rookie blocking tight end named Tom Crabtree made his first touchdown reception by sneaking past a linebacker.

On special teams, the Packers didn’t make many mistakes, which couldn’t be said for the Eagles as kicker David Akers left 6 points off the board with two missed field goals.  The Packers also enjoyed several big plays on defense, notably Clay Matthews completely destroying tackle Winston Justice and a last minute end zone interception by Tramon Williams that pushed the Packers into the divisional round against the Atlanta Falcons.

The Present

A lot has changed for the Eagles since the 2010 playoff game.  13 year incumbent Andy Reid was replaced by college football phenomenon Chip Kelly, who had lead the Oregon Ducks to a 46-7 record with 4 bowl appearances with his fast-paced, spread offense.  While Kelly and his super speed offense sent shockwaves throughout the NFL after their opening game against the Redskins after calling 53 plays in the first half, the rest of the NFL adjusted and the Eagles have been the epitome of “up and down” with some thrilling victories and some crushing defeats which explains the 5-3 record.

While Michael Vick still holds the starting quarterback position in name, Nick Foles has made a case to remain under center after a record breaking 7 touchdown, 158.3 QB rating touchdown performance last week against the Oakland Raiders.  On the other side of the ball, the Eagles defense has been largely ineffective, sorting out much like the Green Bay Packers in terms of defensive efficiency.

6

November

Game Balls and Lame Calls: Bears 27, Packers 20

With the Bears behind them, the Packers will move on without Aaron Rodgers.

With the Bears behind them, the Packers will move on without Aaron Rodgers.

On top of suffering their third loss of the season, which puts the Green Bay Packers in a three-way atop the NFC North, the team lost its unquestioned leader for at least several weeks.

On the game’s first series, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked by Bears defensive end Shea McClellin. The hit wasn’t violent, but Rodgers was slammed hard into the Lambeau Field sod and reportedly suffered a fractured left collarbone.

Of course, many Packers will point the finger at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Bob McGinn. Last week, McGinn wrote a column suggesting the Packers could win without Rodgers. The article ran Nov. 2–two days prior to Rodgers suffering what he calls a “significant injury.” If you haven’t yet read McGinn’s piece, you should do so.

Now, obviously, losing Rodgers is a tough blow for the Packers. Rodgers probably the best quarterback in the NFL, and Seneca Wallace is a significant downgrade from the 2011 league MVP, but while expectations for the rest of the Packers’ season are different now than they were Monday, the Wallace-led Green Bay Packers aren’t quite the Curtis Painter-led Indianapolis Colts when the Colts were forced to play without injured quarterback Peyton Manning.

In 2006, Manning led the Colts to a 10-6 record. The following year, which Manning missed with a neck injury, the Colts plummeted to 2-14 and “earned” the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. In recent years, losing Rodgers for any amount of time may have been a fatal blow to the Packers’ season.

But now, I’m with McGinn. This Packers team can win without Rodgers.

The team’s newfound offensive balance has been a pleasant addition to the team and will now act as the crutch the team will rely on as they tackle the start of the second half of the season without Rodgers. A hungry Eddie Lacy and healthy James Starks, along with a dramatically improved offensive line have the Rodgers-less Packers offense in a much better place than they’ve been in recent years.

After losing Rodgers to injury Monday, Wallace was clearly not ready game action. This much we know. But with a week of preparation, it’s hard to imagine Wallace turning in anything short of an improved performance Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

28

October

Game Balls and Lame Calls: Packers 44, Vikings 31

Jordy Nelson caught two touchdowns, giving Myles White and the rest of the team reason to celebrate.

Jordy Nelson caught two touchdowns, giving Myles White and the rest of the team reason to celebrate.

The opening kickoff made it look like the Minnesota Vikings would have a shot to upset the Green Bay Packers in teams’ final meeting at the Metrodome, as Cordarrelle Patterson raced 109 yards for a touchdown.

But from then on, it was all Packers.

Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense moved the ball up and down the field with ease throughout the game. Despite having Myles White as his No. 3 receiver and Andrew Quarless as the starting tight end, Rodgers threw for 285 yards and a pair of scores to go along with just five incompletions.

His two touchdowns–both to Jordy Nelson–were perfect. There’s no other way to put it, really. Rodgers zipped the ball right past the defender’s earhole on each throw, leaving the defender with no chance at deflecting the pass.

After the first scoring connection from Rodgers to Nelson, I tweeted, “If I’m Aaron Rodgers, I’m putting an ongoing loop of that throw on a projection screen. Maybe in every room of my house.” And I meant it.

Then, after Nelson’s 76-yard score, I, again, wanted share my admiration. However, I just couldn’t seem to think of the words. It was simply another perfect throw by one of the best quarterbacks in football.

That touchdown, ironically, reminded me of Rodgers’ crucial third-down dart to Greg Jennings in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLV. Jennings, now with quarterbacks Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman, Matt Cassell and the Minnesota Vikings, was targeted three times Sunday night and only caught one pass for nine yards.

It’s safe to say that, while wealthier, Jennings is not having a lot of fun wearing purple this season. And that’s nothing against the color.

Speaking of Jordy Nelson, I think it’s worth revisiting the unwritten rule that you can’t compare white wide receivers to anyone other than white wide receivers. Nelson isn’t Eric Decker or Ed McCaffrey. He’s not Wayne Chrebet or Wes Welker.

The guy is every bit of 6’3″ 217 pounds. He’s not the fastest receiver in the world, but he does everything you could possibly ask a wide receiver to do, and he does it well.

26

October

Eddie Lacy starts fast, stays cool

Eddie Lacy has been a shot of life to the Packers' ground game, but he's not much of a smack talker. He's just a guy who likes football. And cartoons.

Eddie Lacy has been a shot of life to the Packers’ ground game, but he’s not much of a smack talker. He’s just a guy who likes football. And cartoons.

Following Jermichael Finley’s neck injury suffered against the Cleveland Browns, the “Jermichael Finley and M.D. Jennings Show” on WDUZ-Green Bay needed a substitute for its bi-weekly host (Finley), who was released from the hospital Oct. 24.

In stepped left guard Josh Sitton–the host of last year’s show–which airs Wednesdays from Thornberry Creek at Oneida, and running back Eddie Lacy, Sitton’s guest.

The first segment of the show features “Rookie”–the show’s mediator/host/caller-of-shots–and the host. So my job as the intern/audio-board-guy allowed me to sit down and talk with Lacy for a good ten minutes.

And for me, as a college kid/intern/audio-board-guy it was really cool.

If you didn’t know he was the most valuable player of last year’s BCS National Championship and–in his first season–perhaps the biggest reason for the Green Bay Packers’ sixth-ranked running game, you’d think he was just a regular 20-something guy. Like me, but cooler.

I had a few things written down that I wanted to ask about: a) his love for cartoons, which was brought to my attention by Ty Dunne’s awesome piece about Lacy from this past summer, b) what it’s like to play in Wisconsin after playing in Louisiana through high school and Alabama in college, and of course c) the Alabama Crimson Tide, Lacy’s alma mater, which is currently ranked No. 1 in the country.

“I’ve won a lot,” Lacy laughed in reference to his not-too-shabby career to date. “Not bad.”

He’s averaging 100 yards per game in his last three starts and leads the 2013 draft class in rushing yards through seven weeks, but Lacy is just a guy off the field. Football isn’t even his favorite sport to watch.

We talked about Alabama’s dominance, for which he was a part of three National Championship teams in four seasons, but he said the only sport he “really watch(es) is basketball.” (He’s a Dallas Mavericks fan.)

“Yeah, I like Dirk man,” said Lacy, whose excitement for his favorite player (Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki) was displayed by a smile that forced his eyes shut. “It’s not even about athleticism, at all.”

10

October

Four games in, Packers have No. 5 ground game in NFL

Rookies David Bakhtiari and Eddie Lacy have helped recharge the Packers' ground game.

Rookies David Bakhtiari and Eddie Lacy have helped recharge the Packers’ ground game.

Numbers don’t always tell the whole story, but in the case of the Packers’ new-look backfield, the early results show significant improvement running the football.

One quarter into the 2013 season, and the pass-happy Green Bay Packers have the league’s fifth-best ground game. The Packers are currently grinding out 141 rushing yards per game and 5.3 yards per attempt; Green Bay trails only Philadelphia, Seattle, Buffalo and Indianapolis running the football.

Eddie Lacy, the team’s second-round pick and clear-cut No. 1 back, was just one yard shy of becoming the team’s third-consecutive 100-yard rusher Sunday against the Detroit Loins.

Lacy was knocked out of the Washington game after suffering a concussion, paving the way for James Starks to rush for 132 yards on 20 carries. The following week against the Bengals–with Lacy still out and Starks being forced out of the game early–fellow rookie Johnathan Franklin racked up 103 yards on just 13 carries.

Improving the running game was high on the team’s to-do list this past offseason, according to coach Mike McCarthy.

“We’ll be better,” McCarthy said of his team’s running game following the 2012 season. I promise you that. Big letters.”

And better, they are. Last season, the Packers’ rushing attack ranked 20th in the league after coming in at No. 27 in 2011 and No. 24 in 2010. The last time the Packers ranked in the top half of the league was 2009, when they came in at No. 14 after averaging 117.8 yards per game.

Starks missed the Lions game and is expected to miss “a couple weeks,” according to McCarthy. Franklin stepped in as the No. 2 back behind Lacy against Detroit, but the rookie didn’t get another backfield snap after a second-quarter fumble. Instead, McCarthy opted to use receiver Randall Cobb in the backfield for a third-quarter possession.

Cobb took his first carry and bounced it to the outside for a 67-yard gain down the left sideline. He added another five-yard carry on that hurry-up drive to give himself a modest 36-yard-per-carry average on the afternoon.

Two fumbles in as many games certainly won’t help Franklin’s case to get a share of the workload. Perhaps undrafted rookie Michael Hill will get himself some spot duty depending on the team’s health at the possession. Hill was called up from the practice squad prior to the Lions game.

30

September

Does Hill Promotion Mean More Serious Injury For Starks?

James Starks injury

Is Starks headed for another early exit?

The Green Bay Packers announced on Monday that running back Michael Hill was signed off of the team’s practice squad and to the 53-man roster.  Hill fills the roster spot that was vacated when the Packers released receiver/kick returner Jeremy Ross following the team’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Hill spent most of this year’s training camp with the San Diego Chargers and was signed to the Packers practice squad after he was released.

Hill’s spot on the practice squad was filled by wide receiver/kick return specialist Reggie Dunn.  Dunn is an undrafted rookie who reportedly ran a 4.24, 40 at his University of Utah Pro Day back in March.  As a kick returner, Dunn excelled. He returned four of his 10 run backs for touchdowns and averaging just over 50 yards per return last season.

With Hill’s promotion and Dunn’s immediate signing to the practice squad to fill that spot, questions have surfaced as to which of the Packers’ injured running backs may be missing more time.

Eddie Lacy sat out the game in Cincinnati recovering from a concussion he suffered the week prior against the Washington Redskins.  Fullback John Kuhn also missed this last game with a hamstring injury.  During the game against the Bengals, James Starks hurt his knee in the first half and did not return.  Starks was replaced by rookie Johnathan Franklin, who suffered a foot injury, but did return to action.

On Monday it was reported that both Lacy and Franklin participated in practice.  Starks and Kuhn did not participate.  Kuhn’s absence is likely a precaution and given that hamstring injuries are easily aggravated.  It seems most likely that the Packers are preparing to be without Starks for a while.

When asked about his knee following the Bengals game, Starks said the following to Ty Dunne of the Journal-Sentinel:

“More time to heal and get right and get back to doing what I was trying to do,” Starks said on the bye week. “I’m hoping. I prayed about it. So hopefully everything goes how I want it to go. It’s God’s plan. I’ll just make the best of it. . .they’re just making sure everything is good from the swelling and everything. But it feels better than it did.”